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.
As a reminder, as we announced yesterday, the Secretary-General is heading off to Brussels tonight for a series of meetings with European leaders, as well as with Belgian authorities.
He will begin his programme tomorrow with a meeting with the European Commission, during which they will discuss several issues, including collaboration between the European Union and the United Nations, the promotion of a sustainable and inclusive pandemic recovery based on the [Sustainable Development Goals], global access to COVID-19 vaccines, climate and multilateralism.
Also, as a reminder, on Thursday, the Secretary-General will deliver an address to the European Parliament in Brussels. We will share those remarks under embargo with you tomorrow morning.
And we will also keep you updated on his activities while in Brussels.
The Secretary-General this morning spoke by pre-recorded video message today to the Ninth Moscow Conference on International Security.
Mr. [António] Guterres noted that, as a founding Member of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council, the Russian Federation has always been a champion of the work of our Organization and of multilateralism.
He stressed the important role of partnerships in addressing the full range of global peace and security challenges, from nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation to preventing the use of chemical and biological weapons; from cybersecurity to disinformation.
As we told you yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is representing the Secretary-General physically in Moscow [at this conference]. While in Moscow, Mr. Lacroix will meet with senior Russian officials, and he will thank Russia for its support and contributions to peacekeeping.
Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council by VTC this morning. She said that she could not overstate her concern regarding the present situation in the country. She warned that all of the major trends — whether concerning politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency, or COVID — are negative or stagnant.
She said that the mid-April announcement that all international troops will be withdrawn in the coming months sent a seismic tremor through the Afghan political system and society at large. The withdrawal decision was expected, but its speed — with the majority of troops now already withdrawn — was not, she added.
The Special Representative noted the recent offensives by the Taliban, saying that more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts have fallen since the beginning of May. Ms. Lyons said that the UN Mission (UNAMA) continues to work within its mandate and, in cooperation with Member States, to find ways to move forward in the negotiations. But she warned that the drivers of conflict seem, for now, to overwhelm the reasonable and hoped-for modalities of negotiation.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, better known as UNRWA, is launching a $164 million humanitarian and early recovery appeal following the hostilities in Gaza in May.
This updated appeal incorporates the immediate emergency response actions implemented by UNRWA in Gaza and the West Bank between 10 and 31 May, as well as early recovery needs of Palestine refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The appeal for this year outlines the needs for emergency shelter repairs, humanitarian assistance to displaced families and emergency repairs and maintenance of UNRWA installations.
The funds will also be required to temporarily subsidize rental payments for those Palestinian families, whose shelters have been completely destroyed or damaged, in the form of Transitional Shelter Cash Assistance.
I wanted to flag something from our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP), [who] today warned that famine — already present in four countries — could become a reality for millions of people around the world, without urgent funding and access to families cut off by conflict.
Recent WFP analyses show that 41 million people are teetering on the very edge of famine in 43 countries, and the slightest shock would push them over this precipice. This includes over half a million people in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. Other countries of particular concern are Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
WFP said that conflict, climate change and economic shocks have been driving the rise in hunger, but this is compounded by soaring prices for basic foods this year. I think we’ve been flagging to you on a regular basis the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Price Index, which keeps going up. In many countries like Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, currency depreciation is adding to these pressures and driving food prices even higher.
This year, WFP is undertaking the biggest operation in its history, targeting 139 million people. With sufficient funding and access, WFP said it will be able to provide all those who risk famine in 2021 with life-saving food and nutritional assistance. For that, they need $6 billion.
As a case in point of the fragility of [food] systems, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, has warned that a combination of escalating conflict, displacement, and loss of livelihoods due to COVID-19 could heighten the risk of hunger for millions of people in Nigeria’s north-east.
As many as 4.4 million people in the north-east are at risk of acute hunger during the lean season between June and September. This is the worst outlook in four years.
Mr. Kallon says the targeting of aid workers and their assets, including through kidnappings and violence, has limited access and freedom of movement for humanitarian workers and for people in need of support.
He warned that the effects of COVID-19 and climate change, which has increased conflict over natural resources, on top of a funding shortage, has brought the humanitarian situation to a potential tipping point.
Nigeria’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021, which calls for just over $1 billion, is only 19 per cent funded.
In Mozambique, another forgotten emergency, our humanitarian colleagues say that the clashes in the country’s north are driving one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises.
The number of people who have fled their homes in Cabo Delgado surged by nearly 650 per cent last year.
Currently, more than 732,000 people have been displaced, of whom at least 30 per cent have been forced to flee more than once, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
An attack on Palma on 24 March and subsequent clashes across the district have forced nearly 70,000 people from their homes. Many had to walk for days, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
People are also trying to seek asylum in [the United Republic of] Tanzania but are systematically being forcibly returned to Mozambique. UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) says that nearly 10,000 people were returned after entering Tanzania this year, half of them [since May] alone.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the situation is leading to a severe hunger crisis on top of multiple health and protection [emergencies].
Aid organizations have helped more than 700,000 men, women and children this year, but they are hampered by insecurity, access challenges and underfunding. Only 11 per cent of the $254 million needed has been received so far.
Turning to Myanmar, where nearly five months after the military took over the Government, our colleagues on the ground say they remain deeply concerned over the continued reports of violence being used by security forces, with daily reports of deaths and injuries.
At least 872 unarmed women, children and men have been killed across Myanmar since 1 February, while thousands more people have been injured.
Our colleagues in the country continue to call on the military to refrain from violence and the disproportionate use of force, including the usage of live ammunition.
We have a COVAX update for you from Brazil and Honduras.
On Sunday, Brazil received more than 840,000 Pfizer doses from COVAX, adding [to] the more than 5 million doses it has already obtained from COVAX.
Brazil will receive a further 4 million additional AstraZeneca doses in the coming weeks.
Our colleagues tell us that nearly 79 million people in Brazil have been vaccinated to date.
Meanwhile, Honduras received more than 200,000 doses through COVAX, bringing the total number it has received so far to more than 450,000.
With this latest shipment, the Honduran Government has begun its fifth vaccination campaign.
And just a couple more notes I wanted to flag, but I was asked a question by your colleagues at Prensa Latina, who will not be able to dial in from Havana, where they are awaiting their visas. We were asked about tomorrow’s meeting of the General Assembly that will address the draft resolution calling for the end of the United States blockade against Cuba. I can tell you that, while this is a matter for Member States, in the context of the pandemic, the Secretary-General has encouraged Member States to waive sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support.
The resolution, which passes every year, reflects the overwhelming sentiment of the Members States of the General Assembly and that is something that, of course, we take note of.
Our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that we have two new Resident Coordinators. We want to share their names with you. They are taking up their positions today.
As you know, Resident Coordinators lead the work of our UN teams on the ground, including supporting authorities’ response to the multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to recover better towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Full biographies available in our office and on the web.
**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow
Tomorrow, my guests will be Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who is also Co-Chair of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, as well as Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of the High-level Dialogue on Energy. They will join us virtually to brief on the Ministerial Thematic Forums for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, which are currently taking place.
The Thematic Forums bring together virtually key stakeholders over five days — that’s 21-25 June — to mobilize actions as a major milestone on the road to the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, which will take place in September .
Lastly, we now have 111 Member States who have paid their budget dues in full, and 111, I’m sure, is an auspicious number in some culture. In fact, the country that paid its budget dues rhymes with auspicious. Can anybody guess what that country is? Mauritius.
**Questions and Answers
Who spoke first? You know, we could go to the virtual referee and check the video, but that would take too much time. So, Benno, if you have a question. Ask it. Otherwise, you may yield.
Correspondent: I do have question. It’s actually about football, so the referee thing was very fitting.
So, you might have seen there’s a tense discussion in Europe about the display of the rainbow flag on the Munich Stadium, when Germany plays Hungary tomorrow. The European Football Association (UEFA) denied that the rainbow flag can be displayed, saying it’s not a political organization and it can’t be displayed. Does the Secretary-General have any opinion about banning a symbol of tolerance from the public?
Spokesman: Look, UEFA has its own rules. For his part, I think the Secretary-General has been very clear in his support of the rights of everybody, the rights of people to love who they want to love and be with whomever they want to be and is supporting… and has spoken out against any discrimination against people based on their sexual gender, sexual identity, and whom they want to be with, as I said.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Two questions for you today. The head of the military in Myanmar is in Moscow; the Secretary-General delivering a message to the military conference there. Will he include a message for the military of Myanmar in that video message?
Spokesman: I mean, the Secretary-General delivered his video message, which had been pre-recorded, which we shared with you today. I mean, I think our message to the authorities in Myanmar, to the Tatmadaw… [video frozen] And we again condemn all forms of violence, reaffirm our unwavering support to the people of Myanmar and their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.
I think the special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, in her briefing to the General Assembly last week, warned about the risks of large-scale violence and reiterated or called for maximum restraint. The Security Council, I think, as well as the General Assembly, through the resolution adopted on Friday, have called upon all parties to exercise utmost restraint and seek a peaceful solution through constructive dialogue and reconciliation.
Question: Thanks for that.
Also was there a comment from your office about Juneteenth here in the United States? If so, I missed it. It’s a pretty significant development, you know, pertaining to a huge part of American history that has been largely ignored, and I think that would be something that the UN would want to weigh in on.
Spokesman: We have not had any… there’s been no comment. Obviously, I think the issue of not only commemoration and remembrance of past crimes and suffering and violations of the most basic human rights are extremely important. The UN for its part, as you know, has a programme called the Remembrance of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, so it’s something we’ve been very much pushing for in terms of remembering the victims and avoiding repetition. So, I mean, I would encourage you to look more at what we’ve been doing, as well.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I also have a couple of questions. First, about the Berlin conference tomorrow. This conference has been in planning for a long time and the SG, I am sure, is aware of it. How could he not plan to attend, in person, the Berlin II Conference on Libya? And he’s in the region so how could he…
Spokesman: I think there’s been issues of planning. The Secretary-General was not able to. As you know, he delivered a message, Rosemary DiCarlo is there. She’s leading the UN delegation. The Secretary-General has been extremely involved on the Libya file, working the phones since the beginning. In fact, going there… if you’ll recall, a few years ago, going to see all the political leaders so I think his direct involvement has been constant and consistent.
Question: Thank you. My second question, if you have more details about that failed meeting between Mr. [Tor] Wennesland and his Palestinian counterpart. Do you have any more information?
Spokesman: Nothing more that I can share.
Question: And my last question about the bargain that Israel reached with the Palestinians to sell them one million vaccines and it was almost expired. The WHO (World Health Organization), as I read, warned Israel that they should not sell this pack of vaccines, which was 1 million of them. Had it gone through, it would hurt millions of Palestinians, and they were aware of it. Are you aware of these developments and do you have any opinion on that?
Spokesman: I would check with our WHO colleagues. Thank you. Ray, and then Célhia, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General mentioned in a tweet that there is $5 trillion surge in wealth of the richest in the past year and 120 million people have been pushed to extreme poverty. Can I have a comment about this? And also, regarding the COVID protocol in the United Nations building and in the next UN GA: is there any update? Thank you.
Spokesman: On the next UN GA, none that I’m aware of, but our friend, Amy [Quantrill], who will speak on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, I’m sure, will field that question.
We may have some updates shortly on protocols on how we work inside, what the regulations are for the wearing of masks or the non-wearing of masks, so as soon as we have an update on that, we will share that with you.
You know, I think the Secretary-General’s tweet was very clear about the inequalities which have grown wider since the start of the pandemic. This is something he referred to in his remarks to the General Assembly on Friday. It was a bit obscured, I’m sure, because it was just after his re-election, but he also made that same comment in April, I think, of this year, at a statement, when he was speaking to ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), and I think as he put it, the reports are that there was a $5 trillion surge in the wealth of the world’s richest people in the past year. All at the same time, we’ve seen about 120 million people being pushed back into poverty.
So, what the Secretary-General was saying is he was encouraging Governments to consider, you know, some sort of a solidarity or wealth tax at the national level to kind of address this yawning inequality.
Question: Stéphane, a dozen tourists, mostly Russians, were arrested in… over going into the Chadian Sahara, and do we know what they were doing in a red zone? In Chad.
Spokesman: I have not seen those reports, but I will… I mean… you know, I don’t know what tourists were doing in Chad. I mean, it’s not for… what?
Spokesman: Yeah, I don’t know. We don’t run the tourist agencies. But what is clear is if people have been kidnapped, this is a very serious issue.
Correspondent: No. They were arrested.
Spokesman: Let me… before I say anything else, let me check.
Spokesman: Thank you. Yes, sir, and then Carla.
Question: Thank you, sir. Good afternoon. I would like to talk about Dr. Ralph Bunche. He was a UN mediator who in 1950, he was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East. First African American to be awarded this prestigious Nobel Prize, monumental achievement. But many feel that his legacy has not been preserved and honoured, particularly at the United Nations, given Dr. Bunche’s involvement with the very foundation of the UN Charter in 1945.
So, my question is: Is the Secretary-General going to think about having a commission, like a statue or a bust or something that’s going to honour his legacy? And how would he respond to some who are concerned that the UN hasn’t done much to honour this man’s legacy?
Spokesman: I think anyone who is a student of international affairs, a student of the UN can only be in awe of the work of Ralph Bunche. His dedication, his creativity, in shaping the United Nations as it is today, in taking the ideals that were signed on the Charter in 1945 and adapting them, in a sense, to the real world. And I think we can only honour that. More can always be done. I feel that we refer to him… I think we refer to him often. He is remembered, thanks to the City of New York, by a park across the street, but I think you cannot talk about the history or the past or even the future of the United Nations without recognizing Ralph Bunche’s contributions, without which we would not have the UN we have today.
Question: Thank you. I actually have two questions, but I think Ron [sic] asked my first about the tweet that the Secretary-General… when was that tweet and how do we get a printout of it? Because I don’t tweet, so…
Spokesman: I can’t help you. Go on Twitter.com and sign up and look at the tweets. And otherwise, I would ask… urge you to read the remarks the Secretary-General delivered on Friday, which make the points that are in the tweet, and he said the same thing a few months ago, as well.
Correspondent: And no…
Spokesman: So, they’re in his speeches.
Question: So, which meeting on Friday did he speak?
Spokesman: As I said, the meeting of the General Assembly and the least developed countries.
Question: Okay. And the second question has to do with a case that I’ve brought up on multiple occasions on Lithuania’s violation of democratic rights of the great journalist and leader Algirdas Paleckis, whose grandfather was the President of Lithuania. He has been in prison in solitary confinement for a year and a half. He has been tortured. His mother was attacked. And why are there no words? All we hear about is [Alexis] Navalny, but Algirdas Paleckis, who’s a formidable and brilliant man, whom I happen to know…
Spokesman: I will look. I don’t have anything… I don’t have any language on that top of my head, but let me look into that. Okay.
Let me go to the screen for a second, and then we’ll go to the second round. Majeed, you had a question. Majeed?
Okay. Abdelhamid, you’re back on.
Question: Thank you. Sixteen hours ago, a group of settlers, accompanied by a member of the Knesset, attacked Sheikh Jarrah against and the family of Kurd. There was fire, and the people of the neighbourhood came to rescue the house. Twenty Palestinians were injured. Are you aware of these developments?
Spokesman: We’ve seen these developments. Obviously, the violence is very concerning to us in Sheikh Jarrah. I think it’s very important for political and community leaders to stand against violence, incitement, as well as inflammatory rhetoric.
Okay. Seeing no further questions, I will turn it over to my friend, Amy. You’re up.