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 Guests Today
Good afternoon. In a short while, I may or may not be joined by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima. She may be here with the co-facilitators of the High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS — and that would be the Permanent Representative of Australia, Mitch Fifield, and the Permanent Representative of Namibia, Neville Gertze. They will be here to speak to you about the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which is currently taking place. But there may be some last-minute negotiations, so it’s not clear whether they will join me or not.
As you will have seen, António Guterres, Secretary-General, issued a statement a bit earlier today, in which he said that the decision taken today by the Security Council to recommend to the General Assembly that he serve a second term as Secretary-General of the UN is a great honour indeed. He is very grateful to the members of the Council for the trust they have placed in him. His gratitude also extends to Portugal for having nominated him again.
Mr. Guterres says that it has been an immense privilege to be at the service of “we, the peoples” and at the helm of the amazing women and men of this Organization for the past four and a half years, when we have been facing so many complex challenges.
Pursuing, as Secretary-General, the purposes and principles of the Charter is a most noble duty, he said. Mr. Guterres said that he would be deeply humbled if the General Assembly were to entrust him with the responsibilities of a second mandate.
The Secretary-General reacted today to the attack that took place in Canada yesterday.
In a tweet, he said he is appalled by the targeted and heinous attack on a Muslim family in Ontario, in Canada.
“My heart goes out to the victims, surviving family and loved ones, as well as to the community,” he added.
Mr. Guterres called on everyone to stand united against Islamophobia and all forms of hatred, now more than ever.
Some sad news from South Sudan where, yesterday, two aid workers were killed when their clearly marked humanitarian vehicle was ambushed in Yirol West in Lakes State as they were returning from a health facility.
Four aid workers have been killed in South Sudan this year alone, all in the past month. Nine aid workers were killed in 2020.
Since the conflict broke out in 2013, a total of 128 aid workers — most of them South Sudanese — have been killed while providing humanitarian assistance.
Our humanitarian colleagues stress that the continued attacks against aid workers and assets must end. We urge the Government to investigate these attacks, to take urgent measures to protect humanitarian workers and assets, and to facilitate the delivery of aid to those who need it.
The acting Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Matthew Hollingworth, said he fears that continued attacks on aid workers and the consequent suspension of activities will have a serious impact on their work in the country.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
A quick update from the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and on the situation around the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano.
The authorities noted the end of the lava flow, as well as a significant decrease in earthquakes in the area. The Prime Minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge, announced yesterday that people could return to Goma and the territory of Nyiragongo.
The Government will facilitate the gradual return of the displaced population, starting today and until 20 June. People who lost their homes in the eruption will be temporarily relocated and will receive Government assistance to rebuild an estimated 4,000 houses that were destroyed and 1,000 that need repairs.
Schools and universities in Goma and Nyiragongo territory are scheduled to reopen next Monday, once buildings have been inspected.
Our humanitarian colleagues are ready to support the Government’s action plan currently being developed. For its part, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is working to restore water supply to 200,000 people — including at least 100,000 children — in Goma.
In a message from the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) — they condemn the ISIS-claimed terrorist attack that took place on 6 June in Sebha, which killed a number of military officers and injured others. And that’s according to local authorities. The Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.
He said that this is a strong reminder that the high mobility of terrorists increases the risk of instability and insecurity in Libya and the region. He reiterated his calls for the urgent need to start a process to unify the military and security institutions in Libya.
Moving on to Asia: In Myanmar, the UN team there said today that it is concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Kayah State and other parts of the country, in the south-east.
Indiscriminate attacks by security forces in civilian areas and other violence in Kayah has led to more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes. Many of them are seeking safety in host communities and forests across Kayah and southern parts of neighbouring Shan state.
Our colleagues said that the crisis could push people across international borders, as has already been happening in other parts of Myanmar.
The UN team reiterates its earlier calls for all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, particularly medical units and health workers, and to adhere to the principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality and protection.
People affected by the fighting urgently need food, water, shelter, fuel and access to health care. We and our partners have supplies ready to be deployed. However, insecurity, travel restrictions imposed by security forces, and poor road conditions are delaying the delivery of supplies.
The UN country team calls on the security forces to allow for a safe passage of humanitarian supplies and personnel and to facilitate our ability to directly provide aid to all those who need it.
** COVID-19 — Uganda
A quick COVAX update, as we told you last week about the surge of cases in Africa: Our Country Team in Uganda is working with the Government to halt the recent sharp increase in cases.
The Government, the UN team, the private sector and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) convened an emergency virtual round-table meeting.
The UN COVID-19 Resurgence Plan was launched at this meeting, calling for $136 million for health-focused, life-saving interventions in the next three to six months.
**World Oceans Day
Today, as you probably know, is World Oceans Day. In his message, the Secretary-General pointed out that the recently issued Second World Ocean Assessment confirmed that many of the benefits that the global ocean provides to humankind are being undermined by our own actions.
The Secretary-General noted that our seas are choking with plastic waste and overfishing is causing an annual loss of almost $90 billion in net benefits. He also noted that carbon emissions are driving ocean warming and acidification, destroying biodiversity and causing sea level rise that threatens heavily inhabited coastlines.
The Secretary-General said the theme of this year’s observance, “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods”, underscores the importance of oceans for the cultural life and economic survival of communities around the world. As we strive to recover from COVID-19, let’s end our war on nature, he said.
**Statement on Ratko Mladić (read during questions and answers)
The Secretary-General takes note of the delivery by the international residual mechanism for the criminal tribunals of the appeals judgment in the case of Ratko Mladić, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Armed Forces.
The Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the victims, survivors and their families who have suffered genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, for which Mladić has been found guilty.
The Secretary-General calls on all those in position of power to refrain from denying the seriousness of the crimes that have been adjudicated and notes that accountability constitutes an essential step for reconciliation in the region.
The final judgment in this case of Mr. Mladić is one of the highest-ranking officials to be tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as the residual mechanism. This is a reflection of the international community’s commitment to international criminal justice and to the fight against impunity. It is another vital step towards coming up to terms with the path to build a more resilient, secure and hopeful future for all citizens and residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the wider region.
The Secretary-General expresses his deep appreciation for their dedication and hard work of the judges and the staff involved in this case since 1995 when the first indictment was filed.
We remain fully committed to supporting efforts towards achieving accountability and justice for all.
And lastly, we want to say thank you to our good friends in Kigali for their full payment of the UN’s regular budget. Rwanda’s payment takes us to 105.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: And I would add that my jacket is made in Rwanda. What a coincidence! Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. The head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, reiterated his past criticism of the Secretary-General for remaining silent publicly during his first term about human rights abuses by China, Russia and the United States.
And he said in his next five years, he should become a strong, vocal advocate for rights, adding, and I quote, “his recent willingness to denounce abuses in Myanmar and Belarus should expand to include all Governments deserving condemnation, including those that are powerful and protected”, close quote.
How does the Secretary-General respond to this criticism?
Spokesman: Well, I’ll tell you how I would respond. I mean, I have a lot of respect for Human Rights Watch and the work they do, but I would encourage them to read the body of work of what Mr. Guterres has said on human rights and his strong stance on defending human rights, speaking up against abuses.
I think whether it’s NGOs, whether it’s the United Nations, whether it’s the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we all have the same goal and that is seeing an end to human rights abuses. We all take different roads to get there, but in the end, we all want to get to the same place.
Toby and then Célhia.
Question: Thanks, Steph. First, a follow-up on the SG’s selection process. I realize you put out a statement today and he shared his vision statement in the past, but can we expect any strategic differences, if he were to have a second term? Is there any kind of, you know, readjustment of the strategy between the first and second term? What can we expect?
Spokesman: Well, I think his vision statement lays out his vision. The defence of the ideals of the Charter, the defence of people and planet will continue, and I would encourage you to watch what he says and watch what he does.
Question: Thanks. And just a status update on Myanmar in terms of the work of the Special Envoy. Is she thinking about… speaking of different moments… you know, is her work fundamentally different now from what it was at the beginning? Who is she talking to? She’s in Europe now, so does that bring a different, you know, playbook to the game? How is she doing?
Spokesman: She’s doing fine. [laughs] Sorry. Sorry, I didn’t mean to take that lightly, Toby. No, listen. She is back in Bern. Everybody is working remotely to a different extent.
She is continuing her contacts with regional, wider than regional… trying to ensure a stronger unified voice from the international community, to reverse what happened in Myanmar on 1 February. I mean, I think her contacts are continuing, her efforts are continuing.
We continue to speak out. I mean, we’ll update either from her or regularly as you’ve seen just today from the UN team.
Question: So, the UN is still seeking a reversal of the coup?
Spokesman: We want to see the voices of the people of Myanmar heard. We want to have their democratic institutions returned. Our… what we stated in our original statements is unchanged.
Célhia, and then I have a statement I was just given on Ratko Mladić, which I will read out, but Célhia, you go.
Question: Stéphane, will the Secretary-General for his second term keep with him Amina Mohammed, or will he get rid of her and nominate someone else? And will he keep… what is his name… no… will he keep Jean-Pierre Lacroix, sorry? And I hope he will keep you. [laughs]
Spokesman: Okay that’s… listen… I have absolutely no comment on personnel issues, not that I’m hiding anything. I think the Secretary-General, except for yours truly, has assembled an extremely competent and strong team around him and he continues to be greatly appreciative of their work.
I have a statement on the appeals judgment in the case of Ratko Mladić. [please see above]
Lenka, and then we’ll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you. I wanted to ask is there any update on the tapestry in front of the Security Council? Thank you.
Spokesman: No ma’am. As soon as I have something to share, I will be delighted to share with you because I love that tapestry.
Okay. Erol. Erol? All right. Erol, I can’t hear you. If you will come back, we will come back.
Question: Yes, thank you. I have a question about something that your former boss wrote and what your comment would be. It concerns Haiti and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written that the UN’s reputation in Haiti is forever destroyed as a result of the cholera epidemic. But he also excoriated the victims and their lawyers who sued the United Nations for compensation. He claimed that it was, quote, an extortion attempt against the UN.
What would be Secretary-General Guterres’s comment on this? Or more generally, if he doesn’t want to address specifically what Mr. Ban Ki-moon said, more generally about the issue of UN national accountability, beyond the underfunded account that had been set up?
Spokesman: I’m not going to comment on Mr. Ban’s memoirs, which I think are being released this week. And I would… and what our position [was] and is on the litigation that’s now being adjudicated, I would refer you to what we said at the time, and that continues to stand.
Our focus right now continues to be on combating cholera in Haiti, in full partnership with the Haitian authorities, by investing in all the necessary infrastructure. You know, on the plus side, we’ve seen two consecutive years have passed without a single case of cholera anywhere in Haiti.
And, as you mentioned, you know, our efforts for the new approach remains underfunded, but I’m not going to relitigate what we’ve already said. I think we’ve spoken a lot from this podium about Haiti, and what we said stands.
Question: Let me just reframe one part of the question. How is the UN being perceived in Haiti today? You went through some of the…
Spokesman: That’s a question to ask the…
Spokesman: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Go ahead.
Correspondent: Yeah, no, I’m talking about based on what the UN observers… how they… how they’ve been welcomed in Haiti. Let me put it that way.
Spokesman: We continue to be present in Haiti through our political office, our humanitarian work. We’re continuing to be there with the people of Haiti, and we continue to be there after Haiti has faced a number of storms during the last year, during the hurricane season. We continue to be there to help support their health system. We are continuing to be present and help the people of Haiti.
And I just got a message that our guest will not be here today. They’ve pushed back until tomorrow.
Okay. Stefano, go ahead, and then Erol, if you can get back on.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, [United States] Vice-President [Kamala] Harris was in Guatemala, and she said practically to the… calling them migrants to stay there, don’t try to reach the US border because they will be pushed back. So, my question is for the Secretary-General, does he think that the people that leaves Guatemala, just migrants deciding that they want to go just to live in the United States and have a better life? Or they could be considered refugees because they’re escaping gangs that want to kill them?
Spokesman: It’s not for me to get on the specifics of the issue of migration between Guatemala and the US.
What is clear is that the concept of people moving to seek a better life has existed since humans first started moving and it will always continue, and it will always be there. The question is how do we manage it, right? And that’s why we have this Global Compact on Migration. That’s why there needs to be an active dialogue between countries of residence, countries of destination, countries of origin, countries of transit.
This is why we need to help support institutions in countries to ensure that people live in places where their basic rights are respected, where there are strong institutions. This is also why we need to deal with climate change, because we know that globally, there’s an increasing number of people who are on the move because of climate change, because of drought, because of floods, because they just cannot… the places where they are cannot survive anymore.
So, all these issues need to be dealt with in a strong and frank dialogue.
Question: I would just like a quick follow-up, just because Vice-President Harris being also the, you know, daughter of immigrants and her story. Quick answer, yes or no. Did the Secretary-General expect this statement from her?
Spokesman: I don’t know. It’s not a question I can answer, Stefano. What we want is we want countries to be engaging in a fruitful dialogue in order to manage migration to ensure that migrants are not left in the hands of criminal elements who not only take their money, but also, take their dignity.
Okay, Erol. Are you back on or have I answered your question with my statement? I’ll take that as a no or I’ll take that as a yes, rather.
Thank you, all, and we will see you Wednesday. That is tomorrow.