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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.


Today, our colleague, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, visited the Gaza Strip, in the context of maintaining calm.  He is continuing his engagements on political and recovery efforts.  The Special Coordinator remains in close contact with all relevant parties, including the Palestinian and Israeli leadership, on how to move forward on the political file.  Meanwhile, our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report that the Erez crossing is open for authorized international personnel.  However, it remains closed to Palestinian humanitarian workers and to medical cases.  We are, of course, very concerned that the closure, especially on the medical end, and advocacy continues to allow patients requiring urgent medical treatment in the West Bank to cross through Erez.  We understand there are a number of permits that have been filed for, for patients — Palestinian patients have not been able to come in.  Two other crossings — the Kerem Shalom crossing is open today for the passage of humanitarian and commercial goods.  That latest figures I have are, unfortunately, from yesterday, where 150 trucks crossed, bringing food, animal fodder and other assistance into the Gaza strip.  The Rafah crossing — that’s the one in the south between Egypt and Gaza — is also open for the crossing of goods and people.


Turning to Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that earlier today, its premises were targeted by unidentified assailants in Aguelhok, in the Kidal region.  Preliminary reports from the ground describe a complex attack against a number of Mission locations in Aguelhok, and that attack involved indirect mortar and small arms fire.  UN peacekeepers retaliated, forcing the assailants to flee.  No casualties or material damage have been reported on the UN side.  Separately, the Mission continues to closely monitor political developments in the country.  We have taken note of the communiqué issued at the end of Sunday’s Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and we reiterate our commitment to work with ECOWAS and the African Union towards a return to constitutional order through the holding of free and transparent elections.

The Mission said it is imperative, as stressed by ECOWAS, that the timetable for the transition be respected and that it is concluded within the 18-month deadline agreed with ECOWAS, and in accordance with the charter of the transition.  To achieve this goal, the Mission says, it is important that the new government, headed by a civilian prime minister, be inclusive and enjoy the broadest possible support.  MINUSMA joins ECOWAS in reiterating the demand for the immediate lifting of the house arrest measures to which certain individuals are still subjected, as well as for the immediate and unconditional release of aides and staff.  We will continue to support the people of Mali, unwavering support, [as it] continues to pursue its efforts to combat insecurity, support the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and help stabilize the country, in line with the Mission’s mandate in the country.

**Central African Republic

Tomorrow, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, together with senior officials from the African Union, the European Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), will begin a four‑day high-level visit to the Central African Republic with a view to providing unified support to efforts to revitalize the peace process.  During the joint visit in Bangui, they will meet various stakeholders, including national authorities, political parties, including the political opposition, civil society and women’s groups.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is telling us that, yesterday, the National Electoral Authority published provisional results for the 23 May [legislative] elections.  Forty-four candidates were declared provisionally elected, out of the 50 seats that were up for grabs in this particular round of elections.  The final results are expected to be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court by 28 June.  A second round of elections is scheduled for 25 July in the remaining six constituencies where no candidate obtained an absolute majority.


Staying in Africa and moving on to Ethiopia, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today it has provided emergency food assistance to 1 million people since starting distributions in the north-western and southern zones of Tigray region, and that started in March.  WFP will scale up operations to reach 2.1 million people in need across the area.  WFP is also leading the emergency nutrition response with partners across all of Tigray and is scaling up to reach as many as 70 districts.  WFP says that access remains the primary challenge and stressed that it needs $203 million to continue to increase the response.  In a related note, Henrietta Fore, the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), warned in a statement today that the magnitude and gravity of child rights violations taking place across Tigray shows no sign of abating.  She said that more than 6,000 unaccompanied or separated children have so far been identified and registered for protection and assistance.  Ms. Fore noted that much of Tigray remains inaccessible to humanitarian workers.  She said that since the beginning of April, at least 31 missions by mobile health, nutrition and water teams supported by UNICEF and its partners have been blocked, either due to insecurity or because they were harassed or just denied passage.


I’d been asked about the recent abductions in Nigeria, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the abduction of students from the Islamic School in Tegina town, in Nigeria’s Niger State that took place on Sunday, 30 May.  He is disturbed by the frequency of abductions for ransom of children from schools by extremist groups and criminal networks.  This is developing into an abhorrent pattern, with serious impacts on the children’s well-being and development, as well as for teachers and the families.  The Secretary-General reiterates that this constitutes a violation of the rights of children to education and underscores the need to hold perpetrators accountable.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I have an update for you on the eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Seismic activity has decreased, but scientists warn that the risk of another eruption cannot be ruled.  Local authorities are telling us they have now registered more than 232,000 people who have displaced in the towns of Sake, Rutshuru, Lubero, Minova and Bukavu — that’s in the North and South Kivu Provinces.  The humanitarian response is under way, consisting of food assistance, water and sanitation, health and protection, including family reunification and nutrition.  There are 35 suspected cases of cholera in the Kirotshe Health Zone, where the town of Sake is located.  Since Saturday, there has been a rapid increase, with 18 suspected cases in just two days.  Given the movement of people between Sake and Goma, humanitarian organizations are mobilizing to prevent a cholera outbreak by setting up water and chlorination points.  On Friday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, allocated $1.2 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  The Fund will support WHO and UNICEF to ensure access to drinking water and reduce the risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases, including a further spread of cholera, as just mentioned.


Moving on to Asia, in Myanmar, four months since the military seized control over the Government, the UN country team said today that it remains concerned by the continued use of lethal force against civilians, as well as other serious violations of human rights.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that, as of today, at least 840 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed in the violence since 1 February.  Thousands more people have been injured.  Nearly 4,500 people remain in detention, including politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health‑care workers, monks, celebrities and just ordinary citizens trying to express themselves.  Our colleagues in Myanmar call on the security forces to ensure the protection of civilians given that widespread and systematic breaches of human rights law — including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and torture — are continuing.


This morning, the UN team in Afghanistan said that heavy civilian casualties recently documented by the Mission underscores the need for progress in peace negotiations and for all parties to do much more to protect civilians from harm.  The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says at least 23 civilians were killed and 49 injured in just 7 recorded incidents that took place over a three‑day period last week in Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, Sari Pul, Parwan and Kapisa Provinces.  UNAMA says that many civilians are being killed and injured by indirect fire from both Afghan National Army and the Taliban.  UNAMA says that it is sharing its findings with the parties, urging them to take all measures to protect civilians.


From Timor-Leste, the UN there with our partners joined the Government today to launch a $32 million joint appeal to help 65,000 people — nearly half of whom are children — and those are people who were impacted by the floods in April.  The funds will go towards managing camps; providing emergency shelter, water and sanitation; and protecting women and children.  We, along with our partners, are also helping on the food, nutrition and health fronts.  According to official figures, the April floods destroyed or damaged nearly 34,000 houses.  The disaster coincided with a surge in COVID-19 cases, with the capital, Dili, having been in strict lockdown since March.  The UN team is working with authorities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as water and vector-borne diseases.


A quick COVAX update for you:  Burkina Faso received 115,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX on Sunday.  Health‑hcare workers, people with comorbidities and people hoping to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, will receive priority to be vaccinated with these doses.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Metsi Makhetha, has [supported] authorities respond to the pandemic and its consequences.  We are also [helping] to develop a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination plan and [have] provided personal protective equipment, respirators, and refrigeration for vaccines.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, Jamaica and Mexico also received vaccines in recent days.  Jamaica received its third batch of vaccines for its national vaccination campaign.  Currently, Jamaicans who are over 50 and older, health‑care workers and other workers are eligible to be vaccinated.  And Mexico received its second batch of doses last week, bringing the total number of COVAX doses to more than 3.3 million.  In total, more than 50 million vaccines are due to be shipped to Mexico to vaccinate 25 million people.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Senior personnel announcement:  The Secretary-General is appointing Bernardo Mariano, Jr., of Mozambique as Chief Information Technology Officer.  This appointment is at the Assistant Secretary-General level.  The Secretary-General conveys his deep appreciation to the former Chief Information Technology Officer, Atefeh Riazi of the US, and the current Acting CITO, as the person is referred, Patrick Carey of Ireland, for their work and dedication to the Organization.  Mr. Mariano brings to the position 28 years of experience within the UN system and international organizations.  He served most recently as the Chief Information Officer and Director for Digital Health and Innovation at WHO, where he led WHO’s digital transformation journey.  Much more on his bio is being shared with you.

**Global Day of Parents

Today is the Global Day of Parents, and I hope my children are listening to me! The Day provides an opportunity to appreciate all parents for their selfless commitment to children and their lifelong sacrifice towards nurturing this relationship.  The Secretary-General, in a tweet this morning, said that parenthood has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of his life.  He saluted all parents worldwide for their commitment to raise, nurture and protect their children, despite the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  So, we thank our parents, whether they are here with us or no longer with us.

**Press Briefing

This afternoon at 3 p.m., Ambassador Sven Jürgenson, the Permanent Representative of Estonia and who has the pleasure of being President of the Security Council for the month of June, will be here to brief you on the Council’s work for the month of June.  Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  There are several protesters right across the street from UN Headquarters so… holding signs, demanding a UN investigation into the events in Tigray.  Does the Secretary-General support such an investigation, including possibly by the UN human rights people?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I think it is very important that there be accountability for what is happening in Tigray.  We have, since really late last year, been reporting on a number of grave human rights violations.  I know our colleagues in Geneva at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been engaged on this and will do what they can.  Obviously, there are different mechanisms driven by Member States on mandating and organising more formal international investigations.  One of the critical ways also to prevent a human rights violation is for us to have greater access.  And as we’ve been reporting, access has remained a challenge.

Question:  A second question on Yemen.  I hear that Martin Griffiths has concluded his visit to Yemen and surrounding countries.  Can you give us an update on any movement, any prospect of renewed talks?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Mr. Griffiths has engaged in some travels.  He was in Yemen yesterday in Sana’a, and he spoke at Sana’a Airport, I think, following his… the meetings he had in there with Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.  I would refer you to what the Mission has… what his office has said, but I think he outlined his frustration at the situation that he’s in.  He continues to press for what is really rather simple asks, which is a nationwide ceasefire, the re-opening of Sana’a Airport, an opening of the ports for food and essential commodities and a political settlement.  This has been his task.  He will continue to work at it.  Célhia and then Benno.

Question:  Stéphane, about Mali, France has threatened to withhold its troops.  If France does it, what will the change for the Mission, if any change?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I saw the press reports.  I’m… it’s not for me to speculate.  I think all of you who cover that country, who cover Mali, can do that.  Obviously, the French forces, the Barkhane forces, the G5 Sahel forces, as well as our own forces, play an important part in providing security for the people of Mali.  What is equally important is the messages we just read out, which is the need for the transition to continue on schedule.  And I think, on that part, the international community has been speaking with one voice, which is not always the case in many of the incidents we talk about.  Whether it’s the ECOWAS, African Union, Security Council and ourselves, I think we all want the same thing, and we’re all working towards the same thing.  Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So, the German Foreign Ministry announced today that there will be a second Libya meeting, summit, in Berlin on 23 June, in cooperation with the United Nations.  Is the Secretary-General travelling to Berlin?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything to confirm you on that because I think this was just announced, but I will check.

Question:  But he will take part?

Spokesman:  I… again, you know… and also, these days, taking part can mean different things.  It can mean being physically there and taking part actively via video.  So, I will get back to you on that.  Okay.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Sunday, one more Ryanair flight was diverted, as we all know.  So, this time, the plane was heading from Dublin to Kraków.  And after receiving the message on potential security threat, it was landed in Berlin.  So, last week, we had a situation in Minsk, as we all know.  In both cases, we have the same airline.  We have security threat.  We have the fact of diversion.  But last time, there were a lot of condemnation.  There was an ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] investigation.  There were calls for investigation.  Nothing this time.  Can you explain me, please, what’s the difference in these two situations… between these two situations?

Spokesman:  Listen, I’m not an expert on a lot of things.  I’m not an expert on airline procedures.  If… but there are set procedures put in place by ICAO.  So, I would refer your question to that.  I personally had not seen that specific incident.

Question:  May I have just a follow-up?  I can just put it in a different way.  If there won’t be an arrest in Minsk, would the investigation by ICAO be necessary in that case?

Spokesman:  I think the Member States of ICAO, which is separate from the UN and why ICAO is also responsible for the Chicago Convention on international air travel, sees ICAO as they see fit, depending on the nature and the gravity of the incident.  Ray, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you may heard, this morning, the leader of Frente de Polisario, Brahim Ghali, was heard by a judge in Spain.  Apparently, he’s accused of genocide by Morocco.  Any comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  I’ve seen the reports.  I have no comment on that incident.  Mario and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi.  Yeah.  Just another question on the situation in Morocco and Spain.  Yesterday, the Moroccan Government suggested that the current crisis at the border and diplomatic crisis is actually about Western Sahara and [inaudible] clarifies his position on the conflict.  Is there any message from the SG on this?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, whenever there are tensions between two Member States, whether it’s Spain and Morocco or any other, we would always encourage for an open dialogue between the two to resolve these… whatever outstanding issues may have created this crisis.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  It seems that Morocco is asking Spain and the European countries to basically follow last year’s decision by the US Government and recognise the Moroccan sovereignty of the Western Sahara.  Does the UN think that would be helpful, or would this go against the Security Council resolutions?

Spokesman:  Our position on Western Sahara is the one outlined in the relevant Security Council resolutions, and that remains our guiding… our guide, so to speak.  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  First, on 31 August 2006, 19 days after the Israeli attack on south Lebanon, former Secretary-General visited south Lebanon.  He went to see for himself what happened.  And he crossed from there to Israeli side, and he visited even the families of two abducted Israeli soldiers.  On 12 October 2014, former Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon attended the Donors Conference in Cairo; that means one month and a half after the Israeli attack on Gaza 2014, and he crossed the… to Gaza to see for himself, and he declared that what he saw is unbelievable in Gaza.  Is the Secretary-General… is Mr. [António] Guterres planning, in the near future, to go to see for himself what happened in Gaza before the reconstruction starts?

Spokesman:  I can tell you that the Secretary-General will do whatever he can to mobilize and to support the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gaza and to support the people of Gaza.  At this point, I don’t have any travel to confirm or announce to you.

Question:  Thank you.  My second question, Israel, in the last few days, announced two patches of a new settlement unit, over 600, south of east Bethlehem, and today they announce another 300 settlement units in the settlement of Beit El next to Ramallah.  That brings the total over 900 settlement units.  So, why these developments pass with no word?  I mean, is [inaudible] doesn’t make any news?

Spokesman:  Look, I personally had not seen those reports, but what I can tell you, whether or not I’ve seen them, the… or whether or not this has actually happened, our position against the continuation increase of what we consider illegal settlements remains the same.

Question:  But, that… I mean… the announcement came from Israel, and if there is no one say something, then the Israeli will even go further in these activities.

Spokesman:  I don’t know if that was a question.  I can tell you that our position, our principled position against settlements has been very, very clear and will continue to be clear, and I think all the parties involved fully understand that.  All right.  I will get up, and Amy [Quantrill] will take her seat on behalf of the President of the General Assembly… well, I guess will stand, because she’s young.

For information media. Not an official record.