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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Great, okay. Sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, there was a lot of news we had to deal with. My guest today will be Karim Khan, the Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq, that mission is known as UNITAD. He will join us here as soon as the Security Council briefing is over because he is in the process or has just finished briefing the Council, and he’ll tell you all about that and take your questions.
Before the Council heard from Mr. Khan, the Council started its work this morning with closed consultations on the Middle East. Council members heard an update on the situation in occupied East Jerusalem from the UN Special Coordinator, Tor Wennesland. As for the situation on the ground, a number of you have been asking me before the briefing, and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General is following with deep concern the latest security developments, which risk triggering yet another dangerous escalation leading to further violence and loss of lives. He condemns in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, which have reportedly been claimed by Hamas, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres. He urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint. The Special Coordinator, Mr. Wennesland, is working closely with all concerned parties to restore calm. His office is monitoring the situation closely.
And, as you will have seen in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods. He urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law. Israeli authorities must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists and to speak out against all acts of violence and incitement. The Secretary-General urges that the status quo of the holy sites be upheld and respected, and if we have more, as the situation is unfolding, we may have more for you later this afternoon.
**Central African Republic
In the Central African Republic, peacekeepers have been deployed since yesterday morning to help secure the town of Bakouma, which is about 130 kilometres north of Bangassou. Bakouma is one of the towns where security concerns had prevented the holding of elections in December of last year and again in March. The deployment of 300 UN peacekeepers there was made possible following the rehabilitation of bridges damaged by armed groups a few weeks ago. While there, the peacekeepers will work to protect the civilian population, and will also help with the organization of legislative elections later this month.
From Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground say they remain appalled by the ongoing violence at the hands of security forces since the military took over the Government on 1 February. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) now says that, as of today, at least 781 peaceful protestors, many of them women and children, have been killed, while thousands more people have been injured. Now in its fourth month, the situation in Myanmar has fast become one of the worst protection and human crises in the world today.
A quick couple of COVAX updates for you: In Pakistan, our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Julien Harneis, tells us that that the first batch of more than 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from COVAX arrived in the country over the weekend, on Saturday. The second shipment of another 1.2 million doses is expected in the coming days. The UN team is working with COVAX to supply enough doses to vaccinate 20 per cent of Pakistan’s population. Our colleagues are also helping on the health front, including enhancing water, sanitation and hygiene in health‑care centres, as well as training front‑line health workers on COVID-19 infection prevention and control. Our team has provided personal protective equipment to more than 1 million health workers and police officers.
Meanwhile, Madagascar has received 250,000 doses over the weekend. The country’s vaccine campaign started today. The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Issa Sanogo, will help authorities to vaccinate front‑line workers, [such] as health‑care workers, law enforcement officers, social workers, as well as other vulnerable groups. We have also helped train health‑care workers on how to roll out a vaccine campaign.
And in more COVID news, in Nepal, our team there, led by the Resident Coordinator, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, is stepping up its support to address the rapid surge in COVID-19 cases by deploying staff and additional financial and technical support. We have been providing critical health supplies, such as oxygen concentrators. With the return of thousands of people to Nepal from neighbouring India, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are helping border authorities by providing health and safety equipment, as well as disseminating information, travel advisories and health messages. To date, Nepal has received more than 2 million vaccine [doses] from COVAX and other sources. To date, more than 1.8 million people have received a first dose, with more than 360,000 having received two doses. UNICEF helped to set up the Media Crisis Hubs so that health authorities can quickly communicate accurate information about the pandemic and the vaccines.
**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
I just want to flag an announcement from our colleagues at the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance. They say that the [United Kingdom] has donated $1.1 million to the Trust Fund of Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. That brings the total money in the Trust Fund to $3.8 million. This represents more than 25 per cent of the total Trust Fund revenue, the biggest contribution so far among the 23 contributors, so we thank the United Kingdom and welcome their commitment and invite other Member States to contribute. The Trust Fund is the only dedicated mechanism to provide financial support for services and assistance to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel. It empowers communities and raises awareness to this scourge, not only in the Central African Republic, but in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Liberia. More information is online.
**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
A couple of things I want to flag for the record: Over the weekend we expressed our sadness and condolences of the Secretary-General following the passing of Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine, of Ghana, at the age of 86. He served as the first Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from 1978 to 1981.
And I was also asked late on Friday about the announcement from Somalia and Kenya regarding the efforts underway towards restoring diplomatic relations. We welcome that announcement and recognize the role played by the State of Qatar in this regard. We hope the announcement will lead to the full restoration of friendly relations between Kenya and Somalia, which are crucial for stability and cooperation in the region.
Also, over the weekend, we issued another statement in which the Secretary‑General welcomed the appointment of John Mahama of Ghana as the African Union High Representative for Somalia. The Secretary-General expressed the full support of the UN for this African Union initiative.
And you will have seen also over the weekend we issued a statement following the horrific attack in Kabul in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack that killed and injured scores of civilians, including many girls. The Secretary-General expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and the Government and people of Afghanistan and stressed that those responsible for this heinous crime must be held accountable. The Secretary-General underlines the urgency of ending the violence in Afghanistan and achieving a peaceful settlement of conflict.
**International Day of Argania
Today is the International Day of Argania. Anybody know what that is? The argan tree is a native species of the sub-Saharan region of Morocco, in the south‑west of the country. The tree grows in arid and semiarid areas. The Argan tree provides forest products, fruits and fodder, and include the world-renowned argan oil — apparently, it’s good for my hair, or at least it should be good for getting hair. This multipurpose tree supports income‑generation, increases resilience and improves climate adaptation. It plays a very important role in achieving the three dimensions of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental — at the local levels.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
Tomorrow, we will have guests to brief you on the World Economic Situation and Prospects Mid-year Update. Hamid Rashid, the Lead Author, and Helena Afonso, an Economics Affairs Officer, both of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will join us virtually. And I think I can now take your questions. Okay, let's go to Ibtisam.
**Questions and Answers
Question: [Inaudible] condemns the rocket launch from Gaza by Hamas, but I didn't hear you talking about condemnation for Israeli actions against, violence against Palestinian civilians?
Spokesman: I think that is reflected in the, it's reflected in the statement, where we urge the Israelis to cease demolitions and evictions in line with obligations under international, humanitarian international law and that the Israeli authorities need to use maximum restraint and respect, the right for people to assemble freely, and that's what we saw over the weekend in… this is… in response to what we saw in response over… to what we saw in Jerusalem over the weekend.
Question: Yeah, but does the Secretary‑General condemn the Israeli violence against Palestinians?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is against any violence against civilians. People have a right to demonstrate freely, and people should be demonstrating peacefully to express their opinion. Madame?
Question: Steph, a follow‑up on East Jerusalem. Can you tell us how many Palestinians have been injured during the clashes over the weekend? And also, has the Secretary‑General talked with the Israeli Prime Minister? And not only civilians, but also journalists have been injured, including three of my colleagues over the weekend. What is your reaction to that?
Spokesman: Look, we stand against any, anything that would stop… make unable journalists to do their work in any circumstances. That's been our position. There have been different numbers reported in the press. I don't have any UN numbers to give you. Right now, what we have seen is the numbers reported by the Palestinian Red Crescent, reported by the Israeli authorities, as well, but I don't have any UN numbers to give you at this point. Edie, and then Cel… sorry, go ahead.
Spokesman: No, he has not spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister. Mr. Wennesland is in touch with all sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, and his office is, as well.
Question: Can you share or will you share the remarks of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East? He briefed the Council, as you said this morning. Are you going to share it with us?
Spokesman: No, those were remarks delivered in closed consultations. Edie and then Célhia.
Question: Steph, can you confirm that more than 100 Ethiopians from the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur have refused to return to Ethiopia because of the Tigrayan crisis?
Spokesman: Yes, I can. We have about 100… as of now, 120 former UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] peacekeepers who were due to be repatriated have asked for international protection. Individuals with concerns are being provided with support by the authorities of Sudan, being assisted by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], in accordance with the Government's obligations under international law. It is very important that anyone who asks for protection because of fear of retaliation or death or anything be afforded their rights under the refugee, international refugee law, and that's what's happened. These were peacekeepers who had been serving with UNAMID, the joint UN‑AU peacekeeping mission, which you know has come to an end.
Question: A follow‑up, what does this say about what's going on, still, between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigrayans?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think that's an analysis I will leave to you. It is clear that the situation in Tigray is one where we are still getting reports of human rights violations, where the humanitarian access, while improving and has improved, is still not exactly where we want. There is… they were part of a group that was to be repatriated. They stated clearly they did not want to go home. I think the Government of Sudan did the right thing, acted upon their responsibilities under international law. Célhia and then Toby.
Question: Follow‑up on Edie's question, what will happen with those peacekeepers? Will they be sent to other missions or will they…?
Spokesman: No, I mean… right now, they have sought protection, and they're under the authority of the Government of Sudan. They're being relocated to facilities that are dedicated for housing people who are asking… I mean, what… I don't want to speculate, but it's clear that if… and I won't, I can't talk about these cases, but if someone, and speaking in broader, general terms, if a soldier refuses to go home, I would assume that he's no longer considered to be part of that military. What is important to us is the safety and well‑being of individuals.
Question: The situation in Burkina Faso is deteriorating. Over the weekend, a village was raided by hundreds of men. Is the UN concerned about the situation? And what can be done to ease the tension?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, you know, we are concerned about the situation in the Sahel. We have seen, I mean, this latest attack, which, of course, on civilians, which is to be condemned, is the latest incident that we've seen in sort of that tri‑border area, right, between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, which has been a source of insecurity. That is why we have been supporting a Sahel‑wide approach, whether on security or development and any other issue, and is yet another reason to support, for the international community to support the G5 Sahel [Group of 5 for the Sahel] forces. Toby?
Question: Two quick questions on East Jerusalem. First is, does the Secretary‑General consider it a provocation that the Jerusalem Day Flag Parade routes should go through the Damascus Gate? That's the first one. And then, second, on East Jerusalem is, can you give us any more detail about how Mr. Wennesland is going about his de‑escalation efforts here? Where does he think that the crucial effort in these moments should be placed?
Spokesman: The crucial effort should be placed on ensuring the safety of civilians. Right? That's the, an immediate need. Mr. Wennesland and his team are talking to all relevant parties to try to de‑escalate tensions, and that's something that we need to see across the board. I don't know what the exact route of the parade, you know, what route the parade took. What is important is that we don't want to see anything from anyone that would provoke more violence and provoke more injuries.
Question: Thanks. And then one on Myanmar, the formation of the national unity government's defence force, does the Secretary‑General think this is a good idea, a dangerous idea? Obviously, civilians need protection there. Does this make the chance of civil war more likely since now we have another…?
Spokesman: Look, I mean, it's hard to predict what will happen. We're, obviously, aware of the announcement of the "People's Defence Forces". For our part, we stand fully behind the right of people everywhere to assemble freely, to protest freely and to express their democratic aspirations, and we continue to condemn the use of lethal force against these civilians. Okay, we will go to our video participants. Benno and then Joe Klein and then Michelle.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I just have a short follow‑up to East Jerusalem. Does the Secretary‑General see one of the conflict parties as the aggressor in this newly… in this violence?
Spokesman: Look, there is a cycle of violence that must cease, and for that cycle to be broken, all parties need to participate. Joe?
Question: Yes. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to delay its decision on whether to order the eviction of the Palestinian occupants of the residences of East Jerusalem that was announced, I believe, yesterday? And secondly, does he have any comment or take any encouragement for the tone of last Friday's Security Council open debate on multilateralism, particularly the comments of the Chinese Foreign Minister and Secretary… US Secretary of State Blinken? Thank you.
Spokesman: I'll be honest with you, Joe. Friday now seems a distant memory for me with everything that's happened over the weekend. We are always pleased when Member States gather to discuss multilateralism. We always hope that it is done in a spirit of cooperation and of support for the ideals in the Charter, whether… and I will let you do the compare‑and‑contrast with all those meetings. I we, have no specific comment on the decision by the Supreme Court to delay its ruling. We have… our position is that we urge Israel to cease evictions in line with its obligations under international law, international humanitarian law. Okay.
Question: Can I have a follow‑up?
Spokesman: Of course. Please, go ahead.
Question: Yeah. Just a follow‑up, if the court… the Supreme Court of Israel were to reach a decision that results in evictions, through the Israeli judicial process, would that alone be considered a violation of international law by the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: I'm not going to speculate on what‑ifs. Our position is… our position is clear today, and it will not… I don't anticipate it changing at any time. Madame.
Spokesman: Well, I think it's pretty clear the Secretary‑General urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law. Iftikhar, I think you had a question, and then we'll go to Michelle. Sorry. Iftikhar and then Michelle.
Question: Thank you, Steph. The situation in East Jerusalem, as you stated, is extremely serious, and the Secretary‑General agrees with that. Does he plan to use his authority under Article 99 to bring the situation… convene the Security Council?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, it seems to me that the Security Council is fully seized of the issue given that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is on its agenda.
Correspondent: But, Article 99 authorizes him to convene a meeting…
Spokesman: I know what Article 99 says. What I'm saying to you, Iftikhar, is that I think all the parties… the Security Council is already fully seized of the issue. This is not an issue, this is an issue which is already front and centre on the agenda of the Security Council. Latest example is the closed consultations that took place today. Michelle Nichols?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Couple of things. On Wednesday, you're probably aware of this event on Xinjiang that a few Member States are organizing. Has anyone from the UN been invited to attend or brief?
Spokesman: There is… my understanding is that no one from the UN is participating in this particular meeting.
Question: Were they invited, though? Why aren't they participating?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any invitation officially being extended.
Question: And then just on this, you've probably seen this cyberattack on the US pipeline and the ransom that's being asked for. Does the Secretary‑General have any sort of thoughts, concerns, on this particular incident and any precedents that may be set if ransoms are paid?
Spokesman: I'm not going to get into the middle of whether or not ransoms should be paid or not paid into an ongoing security incident. I'm not sure that would be helpful in any way. What I can tell you is that this issue of cyberwarfare, cybercriminality, is one that Member States need to deal with. That's what all stakeholders involved in this need to deal with. It's a… it is becoming an increasing reality, and it is a space that needs to… we need Member States and other stakeholders to agree on the proper frameworks and the proper issues so as to try to combat this sort of criminality, which could have devastating impact on the world that we all live in.
Question: A follow‑up on that? Steph, the Secretary‑General has been talking about this issue for quite a while. What seem to be the major holdups in trying to get any kind of an international agreement on how to tackle cybercrime?
Spokesman: I think one of the issues is to state the obvious lack of agreement among Member States, but, also, this is one of these issues in which the levers, so to speak, are not just in the hands of Member States. The private sector and other stakeholders also need to participate in these debates in one format or another. Excuse me. It was a rough Mother's Day. All right, I think our guest is here unless… oh, Oscar, I think you had a question, and then we'll go to Karim Khan, who should be here.
Question: Yes, thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, today is the twelfth day of demonstrations against the Government reforms and the upsurge of violence in the city, Cali, Colombia. And the [inaudible] try to communicate, request the participation of the church and the United Nations on these dialogues with President Duque to find solutions to the crisis. Is the UN being part of these dialogues? And what is the part the UN is doing on the dialogues to find the solution of these [inaudible] upsurge of violence in the country?
Spokesman: Our position on the violence that we've seen and the protests in Colombia is unchanged, and I will refer you to what we said earlier, but I have no particular comment on those reports… those press reports, that I've also seen about possible involvement of the UN and the church.
Spokesman: Of course, you may.
Question: Thank you. I'm just wondering if the UN has a position on the space debris re‑entering the Earth just like we saw over the weekend that there were concerns about China's out‑of‑control record. And if not, do you think the UN should have a position?
Spokesman: We're really talking about everything today, huh? I will stop freelancing and I will check with my colleagues from the Office of Outer Space Affairs if there's anything to be said. Let me see if Mr. Khan's in the waiting room.