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Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference with Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, following the African Union-United Nations Conference, in New York today:

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Good afternoon.  As you are aware, the fifth African Union–United Nations Conference has taken place here today.  We are pleased to welcome Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.  He is joining the Secretary-General for this press encounter.

M. le Président, bienvenue. Nous sommes très heureux de vous accueillir à New York pour cette conférence annuelle.

Just a little bit of housekeeping before we begin.  We do have French and English interpretation in the room.  It is also available on Zoom by clicking on the language icon at the bottom of your screen.  Also, as usual if you have a question, please let us know in the chat.  The Chairperson and Secretary-General will both make opening statements, and then we will take a few questions.

M. le Président, vous avez la parole.

AU Commission Chairperson:  Je suis heureux de venir à New York pour nos consultations annuelles avec le Secrétaire général des Nations Unies.  Les Nations Unies et l’Union africaine ont un partenariat ancien, renforcé depuis 2017 par un accord cadre sur les questions de paix et de sécurité qui, vous le savez, constituent le menu principal du Conseil de sécurité.  Ensuite, en 2018, nous avons signé également un accord sur les questions économiques, notamment pour la mise en œuvre de nos agendas respectifs, l’Agenda 2063 et l’Agenda 2030.

Ces consultations de ce matin nous ont permis de faire un tour d’horizon sur notre partenariat et surtout sur les différentes crises, notamment celles du continent africain, en partant de la Libye, au Sahel, au bassin du lac Tchad, dans la corne de l’Afrique, en Afrique australe et dans les Grands Lacs.

J’avoue que la situation sécuritaire dans le continent reste difficile, marquée par les menaces terroristes qui malheureusement commencent à gagner du terrain; marquée également par des conflits internes dans un certain nombre de nos états; par des changements inconstitutionnels et le tout dans une atmosphère, notamment pour le Sahel, marquée par les conséquences directes des changements climatiques.

La situation en Afrique, comme dans le reste du monde, reste marquée également par la terrible pandémie de COVID-19.  Malheureusement, moins de 6 % des Africains sont vaccinés, alors que dans le reste du monde, les taux sont peut-être dix fois plus.

L’actualité nous démontre également une certaine stigmatisation parce que, pour avoir été transparents sur la question du nouveau variant, Omicron, l’ensemble de la région Afrique australe a subi des sanctions, notamment la possibilité d’empêcher les vols entre cette région et un certain nombre de pays, ce qui est fort regrettable.

En tous cas, les consultations de ce matin, comme à l’accoutumée, nous ont permis de faire le point.  Nous avons une totale convergence sur la nécessité de renforcer notre action commune pour faire face aux défis de paix et de sécurité, notamment le terrorisme qui, je le rappelle, est une menace à la paix et à la sécurité internationales, ce qui est du ressort du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies.

On fait face depuis des années sur la question du financement des opérations de paix dans le continent, les opérations des missions africaines de paix.  Jusque là, malheureusement sur cette question, nous n’avons pas un accord des membres du Conseil de sécurité.  La menace avance, s’aggrave. Les pays africains n’ont pas les moyens à eux tout seuls à faire face à une menace qui n’est pas, vous le savez bien, qui n’est pas endogène.  C’est une menace universelle et qui, normalement, doit être combattue avec les moyens des Nations Unies.

La question climatique, la question de la désertification, de la sécheresse, sont un élément également compliquant et ajoutant à la question de la paix et de la sécurité dans le continent, dont la population est majoritairement jeune et qui a besoin de perspectives.

Peut-être dans les questions, nous allons aborder des questions plus précises sur telle ou telle question, mais en tous cas, nous avons terminé dans le […] de satisfaction de notre partenariat.  Nous nous sommes engagés, et je voudrais vraiment souligner l’engagement personnel du Secrétaire général Antonio Guterres, qui est un grand avocat pour les questions africaines, et je crois que c’est à juste titre.  Nous lui en sommes parfaitement reconnaissants. Monsieur le Secrétaire général, merci.

Secretary-General:  Allow me to begin, alongside my very dear friend, Chairperson Moussa Faki.

Allow me to begin by sounding the alarm, sounding the alarm against injustice and a lack of morality in terms of the way in which the international community deals and is dealing with Africa, today, in this period marked by the pandemic and the climate crisis.

Africa is finding itself doomed to not have enough vaccines for its people; Africa seems to be condemned to not have the necessary financial resources to ensure its recovery, the economic recovery.  Africa is seemingly doomed without having contributed to climate change, it is seemingly doomed as things stand as to the worst effects of climate disasters, again also without having the necessary resources to develop resilience, the resilience of its people and its communities.  We must put an end to this injustice, this immorality.  We must absolutely ensure that conditions are equitable in terms of economic growth and political relations within the international arena.  There must be a relationship of equality between us and Africa.  This scandal condemning Africa to sink into this very difficult situation must end.

I thank the Chairperson of the African Union — my dear friend Moussa Faki Mahamat.  We have just concluded the fifth Annual Conference between the United Nations and the African Union.  The partnership between our organizations is stronger than ever.  And today, we measured our progress and our next steps.

This includes our joint work to advance peace and security in Africa; development cooperation; humanitarian operations, elections, peaceful transfers of power; and a new Joint Framework on Human Rights.  We focused on a number of keys to economic recovery for Africa.

First, making progress on vaccines — with only 6 per cent of Africa’s population fully vaccinated and COVID variants threatening lives and recovery prospects.  We have seen low vaccination rates — combined with deeply unequal access to vaccines — are creating a breeding ground for variants.  We need true vaccine solidarity — now.  I called for a global vaccination plan involving all countries that produce — or can produce — vaccines, including several in Africa.  In the absence of such a plan, I fully support WHO’s (World Health Organization) strategy to get vaccines into the arms of 70 per cent of the people, in all countries, in the first half of 2022.  And we need to continue summoning support and financing for sustainable domestic vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available to them.  Nor should they be collectively punished for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world.

With a virus that is truly borderless, travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective.  I appeal to all Governments to consider instead repeated testing for travellers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures.  This is the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement.

Second, the world needs to address the deeply immoral and unequal path of the economic recovery.  Developed countries are investing 28 per cent of their GDP (gross domestic product) in recovery, middle income countries are investing 6.5 per cent, and the least developed countries are investing just 1.8 per cent of a far smaller amount.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, the International Monetary Fund projects that cumulative economic growth per capita over the next five years will be 75 per cent less than the rest of the world.  This is totally unacceptable.  Africa was recovering very well before the pandemic.  For ten years Africa had the highest rate of growth in the global economy and now Africa is condemned to lose ground because of international lack of effective solidarity.  The fact that vulnerable countries are drowning in debt.  And they’re counting on the re-allocation of unused special drawing rights.  But we need a massive commitment to make that happen, because they are — as you know — essentially distributed to the richest countries in the world.  The G20’s (Group of 20) Debt Service Suspension Initiative must be extended into next year.  All developing countries — including middle-income countries — need effective debt relief.

And then, climate action.  The goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is on life support, as you know.  And those who contributed the least are suffering the most.  Wealthier countries need to significantly strengthen their support to developing countries — both for adaptation and in making the shift to green economies.

And finally, recovery means building lasting peace in a region beset by conflicts and political upheaval.  This depends on investing in African Union-led peace support operations — and I will continue to push to ensure they have the mandate of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter with guaranteed financing.  Recent months have seen a resurgence of military coups.  We see terrorism and violent extremism stalk millions across the Sahel and renewed fighting in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).  And the conflict in Ethiopia continues unabated.  I renew my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access.  There is no justification for the targeting of ethnic groups and arbitrary arrests — nor for detaining UN personnel.

All this work requires close collaboration between the UN and the AU — and that’s what today’s meeting was all about.  Once again, I want to thank Chairperson Faki and I look forward to ever-deeper cooperation ahead.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  We’ll go to Sherwin Bryce Pease, South African Broadcasting.

Question:  Chairman Faki Mahamat, Secretary-General Guterres, thank you so much on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association for coming to place yourself.  We appreciate it.

The latest travel ban on Southern Africa is just the latest example of what is driving a growing deficit of trust between countries of the South and countries of the North.  There is a growing antipathy, as you mentioned, Secretary-General, from climate change and the response to it to COVID-19 in terms of vaccines in the main.  The economic consequences of these decisions are exacerbating poverty and unemployment in one of the poorest regions in the world.

As leaders of two key multilateral institutions, what can you both do to correct what appears to be a growing global curve that is leading towards injustice — particularly in Africa, where the majority of people are black, and so it’s difficult increasingly to ignore the racial undertones or overtones that accompany some of these decisions?  What can you do as two of the leaders of the two top multilateral institutions of the world to address this injustice?  Thank you.

AU Commission Chairperson:  Listen, we vigorously condemn these unfair measures.  It’s a form of stigmatization which cannot be justified neither scientifically or on the grounds of reason logically.  We’re condemning a country for having been transparent because its experts have worked to tireless inform the international community of the emergence of new variants.

It hasn’t been scientifically proven that these types of measures are able to deal with this type of issue.  It’s clearly, as you say, an expression rather of a form of injustice.  I think that now I’ll take up the terms used by the Secretary-General.  It’s immoral to condemn Africa in that way.  We are a world, a global world and we’re face… and when facing an enemy like the virus, like COVID-19, humankind as a whole must go hand in hand to fight the virus because a man’s life is man’s life.  With vaccines, with treatment, with debt service, with our will to allow African States to recover following the pandemic or during it we saw the same type of treatment.  We haven’t seen active dynamic solidarity from the international community as a whole and that is to be regretted.  We’ve seen it time and time again.  As I was saying to the Secretary-General, we need to be collectively outraged as leaders in the African Union and as the United Nations.  Our message to the world as a whole is that we need to keep a cool head.  We need to follow the well-being of humankind as a whole.  We need to genuinely demonstrate greater solidarity and justice.  That’s the very least we can ask for, namely from our leaders, our political and social leaders.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  First of all, in relation to the question of the travel bans, I had recently two visits to two countries.  I had to test… PCR test before leaving New York.  I’ve done a PCR test at the airport and waited at the airport to be cleared for about one hour or two, and then I had another PCR test three days or four days afterwards.

Another country that I visited for a conference, I had to do a PCR test before going, and then I had to do this… I mean, antigen tests every single day I was in the conference and then another test to leave the country and come to New York, which means we have today the instruments that allow us to have air transportation in conditions of safety and in conditions where the transmission is highly unlikely.  I mean, there is never a zero per cent situation but, I mean, highly unlikely.

And my appeal for countries that have applied this restriction is… I mean, it’s not so difficult to put in place these norms or similar norms, but what is unacceptable is… when we have now this virus everywhere, what is unacceptable is to have one part of the world that is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy condemned to a lockout, when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know.

So, this is a very strong appeal that I launch, appeal to common sense.  we have the instruments to have safe travel.  Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable.

Now, what can we do?  We can speak out, but we are doing things.  We took a number of initiatives, and the African Union was always a partner, as you know, together with Jamaica and Canada, in order to put on the table a number of very important proposals.  In relation… it was the first time that we asked for the SDRs; before, nobody would speak about the SDRs, and the SDRs moved.  I would like to see a massive redistribution of SDRs, and we are claiming for it and we hope that it will still happen.  And we have said that the mechanisms that are in place are not enough and that we need effective debt relief, and we are insisting on that.  And we see progress, I mean, small progress here and there.  So, these things, we can do.  We don’t get everything we want, but we will go on insisting for things.

We have seen now in adaptation, in Glasgow, last I asked, I asked 50/50 for adaptation and mitigation.  But we have the doubling of the amounts for adaptation.  So, we are fighting.  We are fighting against injustice.  We are fighting against inequity.  We are taking initiatives, and we do it together, and we support each other.

Of course, I mean, we have not the power because the power is concentrated on a relatively small number of countries that control, as you know, essentially, the global economy and that have the technological capacity to deal with the questions related to vaccines.  But in vaccines, we have insisted for a number of things, and now we are supporting WHO’s strategy to vaccinate 40 per cent of the people in every country until the end of the year and 70 per cent of the people in every country.  But again, it will depend on Member States to make it happen.

So, we will speak out.  We will denounce what is unfair, the injustice that exists.  But at the same time, we are fighting hard, and we are mobilizing our people.  We are going to do again common work into new strategic initiatives in order to address these forms of inequality, inequity, and immorality.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Edie Lederer, Associated Press.

Question:  Thank you very much.  And on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, thank you for doing this briefing and taking questions.

I have one question for you both as a follow-up to the… what the Secretary General called the imposition of travel apartheid by a number of countries. What specific actions is the United Nations taking and is the African Union taking to try and reverse this, other than condemning it?  Are you in contact with government leaders trying to reverse this?  What specific actions are you taking?

And my question was about the conflict in Ethiopia, which, of course, is the headquarters of the African Union and is an issue that the Secretary-General himself has been very concerned about.  I’m sure... I know the AU has also.  Can you tell us your latest efforts and how concerned you are about the possible disintegration of the country?  Thank you.

AU Commission Chairperson:  On the issue of sanctions taken out against States in Southern Africa restricting travel as a result of this new variant, we’re working with the United Nations, with the Member States of the African Union, with specialized institutions, the WHO and Africa’s CDC to make these States understand that scientifically speaking these travel bans are not justified.  It’s been revealed that this variant existed in one or two European States far before it was revealed to exist in Southern Africa.  So, these measures can’t be justified.  We have measures that are already in place, tests to travel to and from someone… somewhere, rather, where at the end of the year, December, there are religious celebrations.  Families gather.  This is a time… well, it’s summertime in this region.  People flock to the area en masse.  Tourism is beginning to re-emerge.  And these measures can’t really be justified.  So we’ll do everything we can to ensure that these States fully understand the need to lift these entirely unjust measures.

As regards Ethiopia, as you yourself said, we’re… one year ago in November 2020, there was a problem in the Tigray region.  From 9 November, the African Union took a position.  It reaffirmed its desire to maintain the unity, independence and sovereignty of Ethiopia.  At the same time, we insisted that these types of problems could only be solved politically and through dialogue and our position has remained unwavering.  In 2020, the President ad interim of the African Union, together we ourselves as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, appointed three former Heads of State so that… they were special envoys and their role was to mediate between parties.  Such efforts were not possible initially.  The Federal Government believed that it was an internal problem and an issue of justice.  There were people that had launched attacks, killed militaries.  That’s what their stance was.

The problem then mushroomed into a real war, and in August, I nominated President [Olusegun] Obasanjo as Special Envoy for the African Basin and he was to focus specifically on Ethiopia.  He re-established contact between the two parties.  He shipped between Addis and Italy and Tigray.  He did that back and forth three times.  He listened to both parties.  There were conditions put in place on both sides for a solution to be found.  The Government wanted the TPLF to go back to their territory, to within their borders.  They had to recognize the legitimacy of the Abiy Ahmed Government.  The TPLF, they wanted corridors to be open so humanitarian supplies could travel.  They wanted public services to be restored in their region and they also asked for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces.  Broadly speaking, these were conditions by both sides.  We continue to talk to both sides, but unfortunately the fighting on the ground continues.  We’ve noted in recent days, perhaps, stability is beginning to reign on the front, but we do have deep concerns and here we’re in line with the United Nations.  Our concern is for a ceasefire.  That absolutely must happen.  Humanitarian aid needs to reach all those that have suffered from this conflict, and we absolutely need to resolve these problems through political discussions and through dialogue.  That’s where things stand at the moment.  So President Obasanjo is continuing his mission, even if unfortunately fighting continues on the ground.

Secretary-General:  In relation to the démarche about the question of the travel, we are really doing exactly the same.  And in relation to Ethiopia, this is exactly the position we support, and we fully support the mediation of President Obasanjo, and we think the people have already suffered too much, and the battle goes in and out in one direction, the other.  Now trying to stop, put an end to the fight, start talking and allow…

I have good news.  I mean, 157 trucks arrived to Mekelle, and a new convoy is moving.  So, the humanitarian aid has effectively restarted.  I mean, probably not as much as we would like, but that is a good signal.  And the UN flights between Mekelle and Addis have been re-established.  So, there is a small hint of hope that might facilitate a future more positive attitude for dialogue.

Spokesman:  Célhia and then James.

Question:  Chair, Chairperson, among the challenges that Africa is facing, there is, of course, China, who have set up a base in the continent, the Wagner group in the CAR (Central African Republic) and Mali and there’s bad governance on part of African Heads of State.  Have you addressed these three problems?]

AU Commission Chairperson:  You are asking this as if it’s a challenge.  I don’t see them as a challenge.  The challenge is faced by the continent.  We’re aware of those.  And with China, we have a partnership and a time we have a ministerial meeting of the Africa China Forum in Dakar in Senegal.  We’re a continent that’s open to different types of partnership on an economic front particularly, and for us the key thing that the interests of the continent are preserved.  So, that’s being done on a continent level and also on the individual State level.  Now, on the security front, Africa is currently facing terrorism.

As I’ve said, from Libya to Mozambique, the whole Sahel strip is currently beset by terrorists who are a real threat to international peace and security.  And that is the responsibility of the UN Security Council and of the headquarters of the Security Council and for years we’ve been fighting so that African missions, because African countries have mobilized forces, and we would like to have seen a refunding for this but now States individually are entering into contracts with different countries.  The most important thing is that if there is a Mission, either from the AU or from the UN, if there is another force, it needs to be a regular force, because our MO can’t correspond to groups of mercenaries or other types of groups.  So our doctrine is very clear on our side.  We need to do everything we can to tackle terrorism.  And here we count first and foremost on the UN and the lawful mechanisms that are engage everybody but also bilaterally so that we can together tackle this phenomenon, which is unfortunately spreading and gaining ground.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  James Bays.

Question:  James Bays, Al Jazeera.  Can I ask you about Libya?  There are elections due this month.  They’re supposed to take place in just over three weeks’ time.  How likely do you think it is that these elections will actually take place on time?  And can you both tell me how important you think this moment is and what’s at stake for Libya right now?

Secretary-General:  I’m not a prophet, and I’m not a witch, so I… [laughter] I cannot tell you what’s going to happen.  I mean, we are in a situation in which there is a law that foresees only presidential elections in the first round and then, I think, 50 days afterwards, parliamentary elections.  That law was approved by a certain number of members of the House of Representatives, which, of course, has no quorum for a long time.

There is an Electoral Commission that is working and that has accepted a number of candidates independently of the law.  And what I can tell you is we want these elections to be part of the solution and not be part of the problem.  And so, we will be doing everything to facilitate a dialogue, allowing for the questions that still correspond to, I would say, irritants that might divide Libya to be solved, for the elections to be done in a way that contributes to the solution of the Libyan problem.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Last question, Margaret Besheer, Voice of America.

Question:  Thank you.  To both of you, on Sudan, there is a deal.  The Prime Minister is back, but the people in the street are not happy about it.  Where do you stand on it?  What do you want to see happen going forward?

AU Commission Chairperson:  Yes, indeed, there was a coup on 25 October in Sudan.  There were discussions and then mediation happened, particularly internal mediation within Sudan, which allowed the Prime Minister to return and for a new agreement to be signed, whereby a government would be formed to be able to finalize a transition period.  The African Union, of course, suspended the Sudan because it was a coup d’état.  At the time the Security Council visited Khartoum to be able to discuss this with different actors and in 2019, the current architecture scaffolding continued, thanks to African Union mediation where civilians and the military were brought together to lead the transition.  We continue to encourage both the Prime Minister and the military to find a compromise on the political side with civil society and political parties so they can conclude this transition.  In 18 months, in theory, there should be elections and I think that our political party should be preparing for this.  The Electoral Commission is to be set up and the judicial institutions of the country need to be established too so that the whole thing can work.  Of course, there are claims and things that the young people and political parties are calling for, but I think that the return of the Prime Minister was an encouraging sign and we do support actors in Sudan so that they can find a compromise to conclude this transition and particularly to organize elections for the first time for decades in Sudan.  The first time that political parties, the army and armed movements are all sitting together.  So, I think this is an opportunity we shouldn’t let slip, so we need to maintain this and allow Sudan to address its instability.

Secretary-General:  We fought as early as the coup to free the Prime Minister, for him to return to his role.  We fought for this.  And we insisted, I myself spoke to General [Abdel Fattah] Burhan and the Prime Minister.  For me, it was an important victory to see that the Prime Minister was freed and could return to his post.  I would say that I do understand the indignation on the part of the people, who of course have seen a coup d’état, a military coup, that calls into question all of the agreements that had been reached, all the transition agreements, and I do understand this reaction on their part, which means that a lot of people are saying that no, we don’t want any solution that involves a military.  But I would like to appeal for common sense.  We have a situation which is, yes, not perfect, but which could allow for a transition towards democracy.  I think the calling into question this particular solution even if I do understand why people are outraged, I think that would be very dangerous for Sudan.  So, I would call for different forces and to the people of Sudan, I would call for them to support Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok over the next stages of the transition so we can have a peaceful transition towards a true democracy in Sudan.

Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.