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 Today
All right. Good afternoon. In a short while, I will be joined by Dr. César Núñez, the Director of the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) office here in New York. He will be here to brief you ahead of World AIDS Day, which is commemorated as you well know on 1 December, and that is Wednesday.
**Travel Restrictions Related to COVID-19
In a statement we issued a bit earlier this morning, the Secretary-General commended the Government and scientists and health community of South Africa for acting early to identify the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.
The Secretary-General said he is now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new COVID-19 travel restrictions.
As he and others have long warned, low vaccine rates are a breeding ground for variants.
The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available on the continent — and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world.
The Secretary-General appeals to all governments to consider repeated testing for travellers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is in London today to give the 2021 Annual Lecture at the Royal African Society on just transitions and investing in sustainable recovery.
She will be back at home here in New York tomorrow.
Here, the Security Council received briefings this morning on Lebanon — on resolution 1701.
Joanna Wronecka, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and General Stefano del Col, the Force Commander for UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), briefed Council members.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Our colleagues at the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) report to us that presumed CODECO fighters have continued to carry attacks against the displaced population in Ituri Province, including an attack where 21 people have reportedly been killed. The Mission continues to do its utmost to provide protection for displaced people that have found shelter around its bases.
This is the fourth attack targeting internally displaced people in the province since mid-November, marking a worrying trend in terms of the protection of civilians and access in an area where tens of thousands of people are unable to access humanitarian assistance, due to insecurity and attacks on sites hosting displaced men, women and children. There are currently 1.7 million people displaced in Ituri Province in the Congo.
**Central African Republic
And in nearby Central African Republic, over the weekend, we issued a joint press release on behalf of ourselves, the African Union, the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, as well as the European Union. That was on Friday’s high-level meeting with the President of the Central African Republic, President Touadéra. Officials welcomed President Touadéra’s commitment to moving the peace process forward and the adoption of the joint road map on 16 September in Luanda, as well as the ceasefire declaration proclaimed by President Touadéra on 15 October. They also reiterated their support for the country. More online.
**International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People
Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. In a message for the Day, which was read out a bit earlier this morning by Maria Louisa Viotti, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, the Secretary-General says that as the international community strives to re-start Israeli–Palestinian dialogue, he is encouraged by recent engagements between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. However, containing the situation is not sufficient, he adds.
The Secretary-General stresses that the overall goal remains two States living side by side in peace and security, fulfilling the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples, with borders based on the 1967 lines and Jerusalem as the capital of both States. He calls on the parties to avoid unilateral steps that would undermine the chances for a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.
The Secretary-General also calls on the parties to engage constructively to end the closure of Gaza and to improve the living conditions of all Palestinians under occupation.
**International Organization for Migration
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) celebrated its seventieth anniversary, and for the occasion, the Secretary-General sent a video message in which he congratulated IOM for helping millions of migrants and displaced people and supporting countries to create the conditions for safe, orderly, and regular migration over the past seven decades.
The Secretary-General called it completely unacceptable that migrants are often subjected to discrimination, xenophobia, abuse and exploitation.
Everyone — in countries of origin, transit and destination — must work to re-establish predictable and regular migration pathways, he stressed.
**Malaysia — COVID-19
A quick COVID update, this time for you from Malaysia: our UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Karima El Korri, continues to support authorities tackle the multiple impacts of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been supporting the national vaccination plan, while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is supporting vaccination programmes for refugees in several states.
For its part, IOM is providing communication materials in different languages on vaccines for migrant communities, as well as addressing vaccine hesitancy.
UNICEF is also working on building trust in vaccines among young people.
**Armenia and Azerbaijan
A couple of reminders from what happened over the weekend. In a statement we issued the Secretary-General said that he welcomes the 26 November trilateral meeting between the Prime Minister of Armenia, the President of Azerbaijan, and the President of the Russian Federation, and he took note of their joint statement and notes with appreciation the role of the Russian Federation in facilitating continuing contacts and dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
We also issued a statement on Friday on the Solomon Islands, [where] the Secretary-General called for an end to the violence and the protection of hard-won peacebuilding gains.
And also over the weekend, the Secretary-General strongly condemned last week’s deadly terrorist attack on a UN-affiliated convoy in front of the Mucassar School in Mogadishu. The attack resulted in many casualties, as you know.
**Questions and Answers
Pam and then James.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Could you elaborate on the Secretary-General’s statements on South Africa, saying that the world should not be blaming South Africa, the low level of vaccinations? What does… I mean, he, obviously, suggests not to put in travel bans. What else is the suggestion, to… thank you.
Spokesman: We need to be guided by the science. For our part, we are guided by our expert colleagues at WHO, and I think, if you look at what they’ve said is that there’s still a lot of studies to be done on [transmissibility], on the severity of the disease and the issues of the vaccines.
What the Secretary-General is saying is we think there are scientific… there are more science-based solutions… increased testing and even if people need to go into quarantine, but blanket barring of certain citizens, we feel, is a form of collective punishment in a way.
Question: [inaudible] Does the Secretary-General think more can be done with COVAX, not only the vaccines but also testing and that the world should be sending more vaccines and tests? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yes and yes.
Question: Okay. Thank you. [laughter]
Spokesman: Sorry. James and then Célhia.
Question: Couple of further follow-ups on the same issue. First, he uses the word “immoral” or “immorally” low level of vaccinations. Who does the Secretary-General believe is being immoral here? Is it the G7 and G20?
Spokesman: Well, he believes that those countries that have the financial resources, that have the production capability, could have done and could do a lot more. As you… I mean, I think, as you’ll recall, he was… I think he left the G20 in a way where he said his dreams were not crushed, but his hopes were not realized.
Question: The Secretary-General in the past said that there should be a wartime logic applied to the situation. It looks like there may need now to be an adaption of the vaccines and reconfiguration to the new strain. Does the Secretary-General believe now is the time for all the key countries, particularly the US because many of the vaccine-makers are here, to share the licensing of these vaccines, so they can be mass produced at laboratories around the world and administered as fast as possible so no more rogue variants are then… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I mean, the Secretary-General has been advocating for that for quite a long time. If we find ourselves… and as far as I know, I don’t think the science has yet been clear as to whether or not we need to re-engineer the vaccines. But whether or not we need to re-engineer the vaccines, the point is there is a lot more that can be done, and that’s why he called on the G20 because he feels that’s where the power and the money and the know-how is to do a lot more.
In the meantime, as you know, WHO has also put forward a vaccination plan, which needs to be fully funded.
Question: Final one. I know we’ve raised this, as well, before, but is it not time now… because he talks about it, appropriate and truly effective measures in terms of travel. Is it not time now for someone — and no one else is doing it; he’s the Secretary-General of the UN — to come up with a global digital vaccination certificate that could be operative all over the world? That surely would ease some of the problems.
Spokesman: Yeah, we think there are technological solutions that need to be… that can be found that would also respect people’s rights to privacy.
The bottom line is we think that kind of blanket bans are… could be counterproductive and that there are scientific and fact-based solutions that can protect us effectively.
Question: Stéphane, I have two questions. Do we know how many doses of vaccine each African country have received? And…
Spokesman: The short answer is, we know what has been shared through COVAX and I think our… there’s a website, which is also managed by UNICEF, which is very clear on that data. The bilateral agreements that some have made may not have been reported to us, so that data, at least we may… I don’t think we have, yeah.
Question: My second question is about IOM. Is IOM in Calais, France, where some 31 people have died recently? And if so… or…
Spokesman: Let me check. Let me check with… but I think what we’re seeing in the English Channel is a real-life, real-time tragic examples of what happens when there is not enough cooperation and not enough… cooperation between countries of destination, countries of transit and countries of origin, whether it’s in Calais, whether… on the English Channel, whether it’s on the border between Belarus and Poland.
And in the end, we are leaving criminal gangs, smugglers and disinformation… we’re giving them free rein to manage migration, which is the wrong way to go about it.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the UN consider that the crisis in Sudan is over after the re-establishment of Mr. [Abdalla] Hamdok as Prime Minister again? Thank you.
Spokesman: No. What we believe is that, obviously… that was the short answer. The longer answer is that we believe a much worse scenario has been avoided. Violence has been avoided, I mean, if we had not come to an agreement. We firmly continue to believe on the need for the transitional agreements to be put into place and which would lead to elections.
Question: Hi, Steph. Question: Has the Secretary-General received his booster shot yet?
Spokesman: I’m not aware that he has. Okay?
Question: Okay. And also, can you give us an update on Yemen and Ethiopia in terms of the staff? I think the two are still in Yemen being held, and there were still about a handful of staffers in Ethiopia. What’s their status?
Spokesman: Okay. Let me… on Yemen, I have not been advised that there’s been any positive change.
On Ethiopia, the news is not great either. We were advised this morning that a UNICEF colleague was detained, which means that seven UN staff remain in unexplained and unacceptable detention, and three dependents remain detained in the same conditions.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the Security Council consultation today on the latest report, 1701 on Lebanon, is it possible to have a readout of this briefing? We know that Stefano Del Col, UNIFIL commander, and the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ambassador Joanna Wronecka, will be… will have briefed the Council. Is it possible to have a readout of this briefing? [cross talk]
Spokesman: They are briefing… it’s closed consultations, so it is what it is. But they are basically briefing on the Secretary-General’s 1701 report, which, if I’m not mistaken, has now been published.
Question: Yeah. I have already written about it, but maybe there are some… a new inside information that we don’t have… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I would ask… I understand. I would ask the Council presidency when they finish the meeting. [He later shared a press release from the Special Coordinator’s office about her briefing.]
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane.
Spokesman: Okay. Any other… yes, James?
Question: First question is going back to the COVID-19 Southern Africa situation and the wider plan, the WHO plan, that the Secretary-General endorsed, which I think is to get 40 per cent of people vaccinated globally by the end of the year, 70 by the end of 2022. We’re nearly at the end of the year. We’ve got a month to go. Are we on track?
Spokesman: We’re not in the place that we would like to be.
Question: Do you have any figures for us?
Spokesman: We can try to get some updated… I can try to get you some updated figures from WHO.
Question: Okay. And in terms of what you said about the situation in the English Channel, you said that it was a real-life drama resulting from a lack of cooperation. It’s more than a lack of cooperation. It’s now an unseemly war of words.
What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to the fact that this sort of blame game is going on between the British and the French? And given that there is this no cooperation, is there a role for the Secretary-General, UNHCR, someone else to mediate here?
Spokesman: I’m not going to insert ourselves in the active dialogue between the French President and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. What I will say is that, as I said, this is just another example of the need for real, I would say, apolitical dialogue between all Member States concerned when we see these horrific images of men and women and children perishing at sea. I mean, it… I think, for the vast majority of us, it’s hard to understand how desperate they must be when getting on a dinghy in dangerous waters is the best possible solution. There is a… there’s an economic and there’s, most importantly, a human need for managed migration.
Question: So, would the Secretary-General, with his own detailed knowledge of this issue from his previous job, offer his good offices to mediate…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s good offices, as a matter of principle, are always available to all those who ask. But I will ask my colleagues at UNHCR and, more importantly, at IOM to see what their direct involvement is.
Margaret, I think you had another question.
Question: Yes, Steph. Thanks. Sorry. The Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, there’s been a movement to call for her to be let out of jail to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction, opinion on this?
Spokesman: Yes. I mean, I think both, as a matter of principle but also as an organization that itself has been the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, we are, indeed, very concerned about the travel restrictions placed [by] the Government of the Philippines on Maria Ressa, preventing her from travelling in person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. We urge the Government of the Philippines to immediately withdraw any such restrictions and allow her to travel to Oslo.
Question: Who will be representing the UN in Oslo? Will there be someone at the Nobel Peace Prize?
Spokesman: Not that I am aware unless it’s tradition that the former recipient also attends, in which case…
Question: Well, no, he is attending because he didn’t make his speech in the hall… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Okay. Then I think no one better than Mr. [David] Beasley, who received it on behalf of WFP.
Okay. On that note, I will ask our UNAIDS colleagues to come up and subject themselves to interrogation by you.