Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll be briefing you virtually again today and Brenden Varma will then brief you from the inside the briefing room.
The informal meeting of the 5+1 on the Cyprus issue got under way in Geneva a few hours ago.
As you know, the Secretary-General decided to organize this meeting following the consultations conducted over the past several months on his behalf by Under-Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute.
Not long ago, the Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with the Turkish Cypriot delegation, and he is about to start one with the Greek Cypriot delegation.
This evening, the Secretary-General will host a reception for the heads of delegations.
On Wednesday morning, he will host a plenary meeting with the five parties, and he is then expected to hold bilateral meetings with each of the five delegations in the afternoon.
Later that evening, Mr. [António] Guterres will host an informal dinner for the heads of delegations.
More meetings are expected on Thursday, for which we will release details later.
As we have repeatedly said, the purpose of the meeting will be to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus issue within a foreseeable horizon.
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, concluded a two-day visit to Egypt on Monday. He met there with the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmad Abu Al Gheit, as well as a number of representatives of Yemeni political parties, tribal sheikhs, women, civil society and journalists. Mr. Griffiths also met virtually with the Yemeni Speaker of Parliament, Sultan Barakani.
The Special Envoy briefed the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the Arab League about ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire in Yemen, alleviate the humanitarian situation and revive an inclusive political process to resolve the conflict.
In his meetings with representatives of Yemeni civil society, women, political parties and journalists, Mr. Griffiths stressed the need for the attack on Marib to stop. He warned of the dire humanitarian consequences of the continued attack, and the risks to the prospects of the peace process.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues report that fierce fighting continues in Yemen’s Marib governorate.
Nearly 20,000 people have been displaced by violence in the region since early February, and dozens of civilians have been killed or injured.
Humanitarian organizations are on the ground responding to these growing humanitarian needs. Today, the UN started regular Humanitarian Air Service flights to Marib. This will cut the journey down to two hours from seven and will help the humanitarian community to deliver quickly much-needed assistance.
Over recent weeks, hostilities have also escalated in other parts of Yemen, causing devastating loss of life and hardship for Yemenis, many of whom are on the brink of starvation. We continue to call for a nationwide ceasefire.
The UN and partners also urgently need more support to sustain the life-saving response in Marib and across Yemen. The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan is currently 34 per cent funded, with $1.32 billion received out of $3.85 billion required.
**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Turning to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a team of our colleagues, working with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is in the country and in neighbouring Barbados to provide environmental assistance in support of both Governments following La Soufrière’s eruption. The volcano continues to erupt and remains at red alert level.
The 14-person team, 12 of whom are in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, includes five environmental specialists with expertise in geology, ash management, environmental pollution and green response.
Air quality, ash management and related water and soil contamination are among the main environmental concerns. Other challenges include sanitation in shelters, the excessive use of plastics, as well as the large amount of waste generated by ongoing relief efforts.
Food security and livelihoods have also been affected due to the impact of the eruption on agriculture, livestock, marine ecosystems and ecotourism.
We issued the following statement late yesterday.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the recent armed clashes in Mogadishu. He reiterates his call for all Somali stakeholders to refrain from further violence and resolve their differences through dialogue and compromise.
The Secretary-General urges all Somali stakeholders to resume negotiations immediately and forge an agreement based on the 17 September Electoral Model and Baidoa proposals.
At a Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said there hasn’t been enough progress in the compliance with international humanitarian law to protect civilians and the objects they rely on to survive.
He pointed to three areas to strengthen the protection of civilians. First, he said, we need improvements in the identification of indispensable civilian objects, as well as compliance with “no-strike” lists that include them.
Second, Mr. Lowcock renewed his plea to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.
Finally, he said that ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is one of the greatest challenges we face in strengthening the protection of civilians. Unless there is accountability, he added, miscreants will draw the lesson that serious crime pays.
Mr. Lowcock concluded by saying that what we need now is the political will from Member States and all parties to armed conflict to respect the rules and do the right thing.
**Central African Republic
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, has carried out a civil-military assessment mission in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture to document facts regarding multiple allegations of human rights violations. The joint mission was also an opportunity to raise awareness among the Central African Armed Forces, the Internal Security Forces, and civil society about the nature of these human rights violations, as well as the Mission’s mandate.
The Mission also recently organized a workshop for members of their Community Violence Reduction project in the city of Bangassou, in the Mbomou Prefecture. The workshop focused on the implementation of income-generating activities, COVID-19 prevention, and also included a call for blood donations.
This is part of the Mission’s activities to support the rehabilitation of public infrastructure to support Bangassou’s development. The project will enable its 500 participants to get back into the workforce.
I just want to flag that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has launched this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Colombia. The plan requests $174 million to reach 1.4 million people.
Humanitarian needs in the country increased last year as a result of the pandemic. Some 6.7 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 5.6 million who are in severe need.
OCHA said that 3.5 million people are facing severe food insecurity, mostly as a result of the pandemic. Women and children continue to be the most affected as well as ethnic minorities, such as indigenous communities in peripheral areas of the country.
More information is available online.
**India — COVID-19
In India, our colleagues on the ground continue supporting authorities and communities to tackle the impacts of the pandemic.
UN entities have been training health workers, including 10,000 nurses through UN-Women initiatives. Our UN team also partnered with employers’ and workers’ organizations to promote jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. Eleven help desks and on-site counselling activities on COVID-19 prevention and business continuity were set up by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). These have benefitted over 140,000 employees.
UNIDO also developed an online platform to help companies bounce back from the crisis, tailored to smaller businesses, while ILO helped over 100,000 self-employed workers to access social security measures and training on safety and health.
We are also focusing on getting jobs for 10 million young people. Over 13,000 women and youth, including returnee migrants, are being trained through entrepreneurship programmes led by UN-Women and ILO. And a web portal from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to boost e-commerce has benefitted 950 women entrepreneurs in small and medium businesses.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, Jamaica, Paraguay and Ecuador have recently received their second batches of COVAX-backed vaccines. Yesterday, Jamaica received over 55,000 doses, while Paraguay got more than 130,000 doses and Ecuador 330,000. These are UN-backed efforts at the global, regional and country levels, working closely with local health authorities, to boost the national vaccination campaign, focusing on at-risk groups first.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
A quick note to flag that today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has launched a yellow fever vaccination campaign targeting more than 16.3 million people. This is the first such drive against the disease in Africa in 2021.
The campaign, which was partly delayed because of COVID-19, is being carried out in 7 of the country’s 26 provinces. People aged 9 months to 60 years are being targeted. The campaign also includes nearly 300,000 refugees. It is a collaborative effort involving the country’s health authorities with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners.
The vaccination campaign is part of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate yellow fever epidemics globally by 2026.
And I am delighted to welcome Mali to the list of fully paid-up Member States. It is the ninety-fourth nation to pay its regular budget dues in full.
**Questions and Answers
And with that, I will turn to your questions before we hear from Brenden.
I see some hands up in the room. I’ll go first to Edie.
Question: Thank you very much, Farhan. I have a couple of questions. First, Human Rights Watch today is accusing Israel of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel itself. Does the Secretary-General have any comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding human rights concerns in Israel… or involving Israel and the occupied territories, we’ve been raising our own concerns about this. And as you know, whenever we see any signs of policies that are discriminatory in nature, whether in the occupied Palestinian territories or anywhere else, we draw attention to those, and we try to make sure that those are addressed.
Regarding the report’s characterization, of course, it’s not for me to analyse or characterize the situation in any particular way. I leave the analysis of the report over to you. But certainly, from our standpoint, what we try to do is to work with authorities, including the authorities in Israel, to make sure that our human rights concerns are addressed.
Question: The second question, today, a remotely piloted boat, packed with explosives, exploded off the Saudi coast. It, apparently, was targeting the Saudi port of Yanbu. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this kind of attack?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we would need some further details about what has happened. Obviously, we want to make sure that there are no attacks on… in particular, on areas such as ports that are used in any significant way for the sort of commercial traffic that people depend on. So, that is our point of principle, but we’d have to see whether there are any additional details concerning this particular incident.
Toby, you got your hand up?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Thank you for the briefing. My question is, do we have any more information on the diplomatic efforts of Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener? We have some indications from the junta in Myanmar that they are considering recommendations from ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and this happens as fighting is spilling over into another country, into Thailand. So, what is she doing? And can we find out more about the meeting she had with the head of the Tatmadaw?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, we were able to confirm that that meeting took place, and as I made clear yesterday, she will continue to engage with all the different stakeholders in Myanmar, including with the Tatmadaw. So, she’s going to continue with her work.
And she did meet with a number of different foreign ministers of ASEAN countries on the margins of the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and she’s going to continue with that engagement. But at this point of the diplomatic process, we’re not going to be able to give a lot of details. We’ve told you what the goals she’s trying to achieve are, and those are unchanged.
Question: The… I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the world really is looking to the UN right now for this diplomacy as this situation gets worse and worse. So, any further information that we can have is really a… very much appreciated. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. And as soon as we can do that, we will certainly try to provide those details. But as you’re aware, the nature of the diplomatic process is that sometimes we need to give our diplomats on the ground the space to conduct their work, and that is what we will be doing.
Kristen Saloomey, nice to see you again. You have the floor.
Question: Hi, Farhan. Nice to see you, as well. You mentioned the unfortunate situation in Somalia. Wondering if the Secretary-General has had the opportunity to talk to the President there and if there’s any indication or concern that the violence might spill out of Mogadishu and spread. Anything more you can tell us?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General has spoken with President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmajo in recent weeks, as I believe we’ve pointed out some time ago. And we’ve raised our concerns, both through him and through the UN office in Somalia, UNSOM, which has been raising its own concerns about the situation.
Of course, those… the concerns about how we handle the political situation on the ground do not in any way justify the sort of violence that happened over the weekend and which we commented on in the statement put out yesterday.
Question: And maybe just a follow-up on Chad?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure. Yeah.
Question: Since your remarks yesterday, two protesters have been killed. The opposition does not seem satisfied with the offer of elections in 18 months. Any updates you can give us on… any reaction to that timeline for an election? Is that realistic? Anything more you can tell us?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what I can say is that the Secretary-General is concerned about the reports of violence during the protests in Chad today, and he stresses the need to respect human rights and urges all stakeholders to refrain from violence.
And regarding the larger issue that you mentioned, the Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ support for dialogue with the aim of finding a consensual, inclusive and peaceful return to civilian rule and constitutional order.
And with that, I… there was another hand in the back. I can’t quite see from the back of your head who it is. But… oh. Oh, yeah. Yes, please. You have the floor.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a question. It has been more… 100 days since [United States President Joseph] Biden took the office. How do you evaluate the cooperation between the United States and United Nations?
Another question, the Biden Administration has decided to restore funding to UNRWA. Any comment on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Well, we’ve… we made clear, including through our comments when the decision was first taken, that we appreciate the return of the United States to the funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). That is helpful at a time when funding is crucially needed so that the Agency can conduct its work for Palestine refugees.
It’s not up to the US alone, however, and we’ve made clear that we want other nations also to step up their own funding for UNRWA so that it can go back to the levels of funding that it had previously enjoyed. And so, that is what we are pushing for, but the moves made by the United States have been welcome.
And then regarding your larger question, of course, the UN, as a general rule, tries to make sure that it will have a strong and healthy relationship with the United States given our common goals and interests. And we are continuing to do that with the current Administration of President Biden.
And with that, we’ll turn to some of the callers online. First off, Ibtisam Azem.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I would like to go to the issue that Edie had asked you about, about the Human Rights Watch report. So, you talked about the fact that the UN did also document… and also document abuses wherever they happen, including in Israel and Palestine. But the report goes beyond just documenting the regular abuses. They talk about… they came to the conclusion that these abuses are policies of… constitute the crimes of apartheid, persecutions, and crimes against humanity.
And they have recommendations and some recommendations to the UN, and their recommendations to the UN include establishing a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and reparation in Israel and Palestine and also a UN global envoy to apartheid worldwide. So, what’s your comment on these specific recommendations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we will need to study the report and see what needs to be done on our side to follow up on the report. As you know, it’s just out.
But regarding some of these issues, such as the issue of crimes against humanity, those sorts of allegations are ones that need to be addressed by mandated judicial bodies. And, of course, it’s not up to us to create. We… as you’re aware, it’s Member States or groups of Member States that can create those sorts of mandates. So, that question is really one in terms of what the Member State bodies of the UN would want to do, and we’ll have to see how they themselves wish to follow up on this.
Question: Okay. So, I have a follow-up on that, especially that you’re saying you will be studying this report and their recommendations to the UN, etc. Does this mean that the SG office is going to request a briefing from Human Rights Watch on the reports to hear how the team came fully… to fully understand the picture and how the team came to the conclusions they came to?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, no, what happens with all these reports, whenever we receive them, the respective departments, including those dealing with political affairs and those dealing with other issues, those dealing with human rights, for example, can look over and see what steps are needed on our side. So, we’ll leave those evaluations to be taken by the respective departments. I wouldn’t predict what form that follow-up would take.
Question: Yeah, but leaving this… what do you mean? Do you mean, like, different departments at the UN or… it’s like… it seems to be that you are leaving this out there without taking any action, which will lead somehow also unaware.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, no, any time there is a significant report to look at, what happens is we let the key people in our various offices, whether it’s Political Affairs, Humanitarian Affairs or others, look at that and see what to do with the recommendations. And so, that is, ultimately, what we’ll do with this report, as well. And so, that process of studying and evaluating the report has just begun.
Question: I have just a small follow-up. Would it be, then, possible to get a follow-up for us as journalists about your standing on the report or we will have to ask you again?
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll have to see as this proceeds. I mean, it’s not… it’s simply not the case that we take an immediate reaction to something that needs to be studied, and so that study process takes a bit of time, and we’ll allow them to do that.
Okay. Yoshita Singh?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Farhan. On the COVID situation in India, where we’re seeing the cases rise and also the death toll, has the Secretary-General and other UN leaders been in touch with authorities in India?
And also, is the UN and its agencies on the ground sort of ramping up support, whether it’s with critical medical infrastructure, related to vaccines, PPE (personal protective equipment), and other sort of infrastructure required right now to help the authorities stay in providing assistance to the people? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. Well, yes, we’ve been in touch at various levels. I know that our Chef de Cabinet was recently in touch with the Permanent Representative of India here, and other officials in the system have also been in touch with officials both here in New York and on the ground.
One of the things we did is we offered the assistance of our integrated supply chain if it was required. We’ve been told at this point that it’s not needed because India has a reasonably robust system to deal with this. But our offer stands, and we’re willing to help in whatever way we can.
Another one of the things we’ve tried to do, by the way, is make sure that our own staff, whether international or national, in India are taken care of so that they don’t place a burden on the health-care system of India. And luckily, we’ve maintained a very low level of cases. So, we’ve, I think, been succeeding at trying to do that and making sure that we’re not pressuring a health-care system that already is facing extreme challenges.
Question: Can we expect any shipments of related material or important material to reach from UN agencies or…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, none have been sought so far, but like I said, we do have people, including our people who deal with operational and logistical issues who are willing to help, if we’re needed, and we’re in touch with our counterparts in India to see whether that will be useful.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I’ve got two questions, first one on Yemen, second one on COVID. On Yemen, you mentioned before the launch today of UN flights, an air bridge to Marib. If you’ve got any more details about that, they’d be really appreciated. Is it a daily flight? What kind of supplies are you getting into Marib? And is… has this been opened in coordination with both authorities, the Houthis and the Government of Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, of course, in order for the Humanitarian Air Service to work, it needs clearance from all the respective authorities on the ground. So, we’ve been in touch with the various de facto authorities to make sure that this can go. We’re just starting it up, and we’ll probably get more details as the humanitarian flights proceed.
What was your next question?
Question: Yeah. It’s a second question on COVID in India. Obviously, you were just talking to Yoshita about the work that the UN is doing in India, but I’m wondering, this… major resurgence of the pathogen in India. Does that tell us anything, the international community, about the wisdom of whether or not we should host major political rallies or let big religious festivals go ahead during a pandemic?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think I’ll leave it to our colleagues at the World Health Organization to give a more formal evaluation about this. We’ve been warning about the sort of precautions that need to be taken in every country, and certainly, we want to make sure that all of the various precautions that have been recommended by the World Health Organization are followed through by every country.
At this stage, one of the other lessons, though, is we have to be clear that, until the COVID-19 pandemic is essentially confronted and defeated in every country, it won’t be solved for any country; that is to say that, although there are different places that are thankfully making progress with measures, including vaccinations or local quarantines or other different precautions, we have to remain vigilant. And as the Secretary-General has made clear, we have to cooperate and nations have to cooperate with each other to make sure that COVID-19 can be defeated in every nation because you can always get areas, different countries or different variant strains, that can, again, cause a huge problem, not just for one nation but for regions and, ultimately, for the world.
Correspondent: Thank you, Farhan.
Deputy Spokesman: Thanks. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have couple of questions. First, I have a follow-up to Ibtisam question. Do you recall that the… it was the UN first to declare that Israel has an apartheid system vis-à-vis the Palestinians when they put… when ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for West Asia) put a report in 2017, yet the Secretary-General ordered Rima Khalaf, the Executive Secretary at the time, to take that report down? Is it time for the UN to revisit its own report on the system Israel is applying to the Palestinians?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, again, without characterizing it one way or another, we have been getting the various facts out about the situation on the ground, including in the report, by the way, that you mentioned, which, I believe, the facts of the report were released, and we’ll continue to do that.
Ultimately, it’s important to have a solid base of information about what’s happening, and that’s what we try to provide.
Question: Okay. My second question, on 21 April, the Israeli occupation authorities arrested journalist Alaa — A-l-a-a — al-Rimawi from his home in Ramallah. He is number now 26, Palestinian journalists arrested by Israel. Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling for his release. He went onto a hunger strike now. The UN is silent about his arrest and the other journalists. Do you have anything to say about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. What I have to say is that it is our principle that all journalists in every country, including here, need to be protected so that they can go about their work without harassment and without the sort of pressure that we’ve seen. And so, it’s important that all journalists, including those Palestinian journalists working in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, be accorded their basic rights.
Question: My last question, Farhan, is about the Kashmir region in India. We know the numbers of COVID cases in India in general, but we don’t have independent reports how the COVID-19 pandemic spreading in the region of Kashmir. Does the UN have any independent source to tell us more about the situation in Kashmir?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, the sources we have in… for information in all the various countries is the information that we get from the national Government. So, I wouldn’t be able to offer any further insight about how the cases break down by region.
And Iftikhar, over to you.
Correspondent: Thank you, Farhan. I had a follow-up on the Human Rights Watch report, but Ibtisam and Abdelhamid have already asked. Thank you very much.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Thank you. And if there are no further questions then, I’m going to turn the floor over to Brenden Varma. I see none, so Brenden, over to you.
Question: Farhan, I’m really sorry. Can I just ask you one quick thing?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: A really quick follow-up. You mentioned the air bridge to Marib. You didn’t say where the flights are coming from. I’m assuming it’s Sana’a. Is that correct?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know. I’d have to check.
Correspondent: Sure. Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Thanks.