Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
15 February 2021
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the noon briefing. Stéphane [Dujarric] is taking a well-deserved day off.
You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday on Myanmar. In it, the Secretary-General said he is deeply concerned about the situation in the country, including the increasing use of force and the reported deployment of additional armoured vehicles to major cities.
He calls on Myanmar's military and police to ensure the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals. Reports of continued violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel are unacceptable.
Ongoing arrests of political leaders, government officials, civil society actors and media representatives are deeply concerning, as are the restrictions on the Internet and communication services. They must not be disrupted to ensure the right to freedom of expression, which includes access to information.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call on Member States collectively and bilaterally to exercise influence regarding the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar.
The Secretary-General reaffirms the unwavering support of the United Nations to the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law.
The Secretary-General calls on the military authorities urgently to allow the Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, to visit Myanmar under agreeable conditions and to assess the situation first-hand.
Speaking of Ms. Schraner Burgener, she spoke again this morning with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Soe Win, to amplify the Secretary-General's statement overnight and to again press for a visit under agreeable conditions.
The Special Envoy will maintain this channel for frank and open dialogue so long as she assesses that it provides space for reversing the current situation and upholding the will of the people of Myanmar.
Democratic institutions and processes need to be upheld and the Special Envoy continues to stress to the military that it must refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
In her advocacy, Ms. Schraner Burgener has reinforced that the right of peaceful assembly must fully be respected and that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals.
She has conveyed to the Myanmar military that the world is watching closely, and any form of heavy-handed response is likely to have severe consequences.
You will also have seen a statement we issued this weekend, in which the Secretary-General condemned the complex attack by unidentified armed elements against a temporary operating base of the United Nations Integrated Stabilization Mission for Mali (MINUSMA) in Kerena, in the Douentza region. The attack, which took place on 10 February, resulted in the wounding of 27 Togolese peacekeepers and the death of one peacekeeper.
The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the family of the victim, and to the people and Government of Togo. He wished a full recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General also emphasized that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime. He called on the Malian authorities to spare no efforts in promptly holding to account the perpetrators of this heinous attack.
Last week, the Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, conducted his introductory calls with key Libyan interlocutors, including the President of the High Council of State, the Deputy President of the Presidency Council, and the Minister of Interior. He acknowledged their work to achieve progress in political, economic, and security files and thanked them for their active participation in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.
Special Envoy Kubiš also spoke to General Khalifa Haftar to discuss developments and priorities, in particular in the security file, where he welcomed the General's support to the implementation of the ceasefire.
Turning to Yemen, we confirm that on 1 March, the UN will convene a virtual high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, to be co-hosted by the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland. Pledges to address the dire needs in the country will be announced at the event.
The Secretary-General will address the opening.
There will be a press conference immediately after the event with Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and the co-hosts.
A media advisory with more details will be shared with you in due course.
A new report issued today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) warns that the period following the start of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in September 2020 has witnessed a sharp number of killings of human rights defenders and media professionals in the country.
The report records a total of 65 human [rights] defenders and media professionals killed in the period from 1 January 2018 to 31 January 2021. Of these, 11 were killed in the four-month period from 1 October of last year until 31 January of this year.
According to the UN Mission, human rights and media space has contracted as a result, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes and communities with hopes it will improve their safety. Many, including high profile personalities, have fled the country.
The full report is available online.
On Somalia, the Federal Government and the United Nations are asking for $1 billion to provide life-saving assistance to 4 million people across Somalia this year.
Speaking at the launch of Somalia's Humanitarian Response Plan, Humanitarian Coordinator Adam Abdelmoula said that multiple crises — including climate shocks and protracted conflict — have driven millions of people to the brink of survival.
The humanitarian situation in Somalia worsened in 2020, compounded by the triple threat of floods, COVID-19 and desert locusts.
In 2021, the country is projected to face more significant humanitarian challenges. The Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that 5.9 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year, an increase from 5.2 million last year.
Despite enormous operational and access challenges, our aid partners reached 2.3 million people out of 3 million targeted in 2020. This is thanks to the generosity of donors and the dedication of national and international aid workers who continue to risk their lives to provide assistance to those who need it most.
**Guinea — Ebola
The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that health authorities in Guinea have declared an Ebola outbreak in the rural community in N'Zerekore prefecture.
This comes after three Ebola cases were confirmed by the national laboratory. It marks the first time the disease has been reported in the country since an outbreak ended in 2016.
Guinea was one of the three countries most affected during the West Africa Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa, said that health teams in Guinea are building on the expertise and experience from the previous outbreak to quickly trace the path of the virus and curb further infections.
WHO is supporting authorities to set up testing, contact-tracing and treatment structures and to bring the overall response to full speed.
**UN Resident Coordinators
Our colleagues from the Development Coordination Office tell us that we have two new UN Resident Coordinators — in Mexico and Yemen.
The Secretary-General has appointed Peter Grohmann of Germany as the new Resident Coordinator in Mexico and David Gressly of the United States as the Resident Coordinator in Yemen. These appointments follow the confirmation from the respective host Governments.
Mr. Gressly will also take on the role of Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.
As you know, Resident Coordinators lead the UN teams on the ground, including in responding to and recovering from COVID-19 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are the designated representatives of the Secretary-General for development at the country level.
We remain at full gender parity and North-South balance among all of our Resident Coordinators, covering 162 countries and territories. More information is available on the UN Sustainable Development Group website.
And last but by no means least, we received two more payments to the regular budget. For these, our thanks go to Australia and Estonia. So far, 43 Member States have paid their regular budget assessment in full.
And that is it from me.
Before we turn to Brenden Varma in his capacity as Spokesperson for the General Assembly, I'll go to questions.
**Questions and Answers
James, you're first, followed by Edie.
Question: Hello there, Farhan. Good Monday to you. Three different questions on three different subjects, if I can. Start with Iran. I know we knew this was coming because Iran had said that it was only giving the [Joseph] Biden Administration a month, but again, Iran has said that it will block inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) for next week if the other parties to the nuclear deal do not fulfil their obligations. What is the Secretary-General's reaction to what could be a looming crisis with regard to the nuclear deal?
Spokesman: Well, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we have continually called, as you know, and the Secretary-General continues to call now for all parties to adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which we have repeatedly acknowledged as a major diplomatic achievement.
We want to make sure that all the parties abide by their commitments, including Iran. And along those lines, we want to make sure that Iran continues to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. And of course, we, again, implore all parties to abide by their commitments under the Plan of Action, and we hope that they will make progress on that.
What are your other questions?
Question: Next question on Uganda. Bobi Wine, the opposition candidate in the recent presidential election, who, as you know, has alleged that there were problems with that election, now has published a list of 243 people who he said have been abducted. Is the UN aware of this? And is the UN concerned?
Spokesman: We cannot confirm the numbers and the identities of all those who are claimed to have been abducted, but we have been concerned about this for some time now. As you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called on the Ugandan authorities and particularly the security forces to show maximum restraint and to act according to established human rights principles.
And of course, we will continue to call on all actors to resolve the electoral disputes through established legal and institutional mechanisms, and we are continued… to be committed to supporting the country's efforts to build a prosperous future. But certainly, our call on the security forces in Uganda remains as it has been.
Can… let's turn to… [cross talk]
Question: My final question, if I can, Farhan, is on Ethiopia and Tigray and an interesting interview that I've seen quoted a number of places with VOA, Voice of America, with their language service there, which was actually an interview with an official from the federally appointed interim administration, who said in the interview that the main challenge in Tigray right now is, A, not getting to people and then this official from the administration appointed by Addis cited the looting of delivery trucks by Eritrean troops being a real problem.
So, I just wondered if you are getting similar reports from the interim administration itself in Tigray that there is a problem with aid being looted by Eritrean troops, and I'm not sure I've ever heard the UN actually confirm the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray.
Spokesman: We cannot confirm, at this point, these reports. Obviously, we want to make sure that no forces take any aid away from our trucks. And certainly, our humanitarian teams on the ground are ready to provide assistance to all people, and we want to make sure that no groups, including no armed factions of any side, divert or loot any of our supplies.
If the authorities in Ethiopia have further information about activity from outside forces, of course, we would appreciate them sharing that with us.
Question: Thank you very much, Farhan. I have a couple of questions, too. First, a follow-up on what you said about Special Envoy Ms. Schraner Burgener talking to the deputy military commander in Myanmar. It's fine that she talked to him, but I'm sure we're all much more interested in what his reaction was to what the Sec… what… the message that she delivered from the Secretary-General. Isn't there anything you can say about his response?
Spokesman: Well, as you know, we don't speak for member Governments, and I wouldn't be able to speak on behalf of Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win. I would… I can add that Ms. Schraner Burgener is in contact with a number of senior Member State officials, including in the region. And she's trying to mobilize the influence we have over reversing the military's actions and fully respecting human rights and civilian protection.
In her discussions with Mr. Soe Win, she did warn the military leadership that network blackouts undermine core democratic principles and that they'll hurt key sectors, including banking, and heighten domestic tensions. And, so, we've made our concerns about this very clear.
And do you have another question? [cross talk]
Question: It… well, just to reiterate, it would be very interesting to know if the General had a response, and it doesn't necessarily have to come from him. She, obviously, heard what he said. That's my point.
Secondly, on Syria, there have been reports that Israel fired missiles near Damascus. Does the UN monitoring mission on the Golan Heights, any of the UN officials, have any confirmation of this?
Spokesman: I don't have any report from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) of any military activity that they were able to detect from their area of operation. If we get any information from them about that, I can let you know.
Question: Okay. And is… as a last question, is there any update on Martin Griffiths and where he's travelling? I know he was in Saudi Arabia last week.
Spokesman: Yes. He had been there, and I think we'd given an update about his activities on that.
He will also be doing a briefing, as well as Mr. Lowcock, of the Security Council this Thursday. And we've been in touch with his office to see whether he can do a virtual stakeout, and we'll let you know if he is able to do that once he's briefed the Council in three days from now.
Correspondent: That would be great. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. I don't see any other questions in chat and there's…
Correspondent: I have a question. I put my name in chat. Farhan.
Spokesman: Okay. Abdelhamid, yes, I'll take you, but, Abdelhamid, please try to include all panellists. Sometimes we don't… I don't see your name in this. So, remember to write all panellists for the address. Okay? Okay, go ahead.
Correspondent: I did. Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. First, my question is about the phone call between Ján Kubiš and Khalifa Haftar. You know — and this question was raised before — why he has to call somebody who has been under kind of investigation, committed… accused of committing war crimes when he bombard Tripoli for months. There are a number of mass graves discovered in Tarhouna, and he is at least — it is not confirmed, but he is one of those accomplice of these war crimes.
So, is that a good beginning for Ján Kubiš to start? Why he didn't talk to one of his at least those generals who are not accused of committing war crimes?
That's my first question.
Spokesman: Well, Mr. Kubiš has spoken with a wide range of people, including a wide range of Libyan officials. He believes it is best for him to talk to all of the central actors in the Libyan conflict. And, in this case, as you know, one of the things he wants to make sure is all parties continue to adhere to the ceasefire. So, it was good to get assurances from General Haftar on that. And he'll continue to reach out to everyone who is capable of having an impact on the situation on the ground.
You had a different question?
Question: Yeah. And I hope he follows the amount of criticism he's receiving for meeting with Haftar on social media. I wish… I'm sure his office will be keen to see the amount of criticism.
My second question about Sudan, Sudan today said in a statement that Ethiopia is amassing troops on the border with heavy weapons, and that is a threat to its national sovereignty, and they said, we will not accept that. So, is the UN following the development and tension between Sudan and Ethiopia?
Spokesman: What I can say is we're monitoring the situation. We trust that the two Governments will work with each other to resolve these tensions peacefully and without any need for outside involvement, but we will continue to keep posted on the situation, and we do have an eye on it at this point.
Mr. Sato…? [cross talk]
Question: Okay. My last question.
Spokesman: I'm sorry. Hold on. Mr. Sato, and then you can go back.
Correspondent: Okay. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you. How are you? So, my question is about the arbitrary detention. This morning with… initially involved the Canadian Government, 58 Member States announced… jointly announced the declaration against arbitrary detention of foreign nationals. Is… what is the Secretary-General's reaction on this kind of action?
Spokesman: Well, I don't have details on this particular [step], but certainly, we stand against any arbitrary detentions, and we hope that due process will be followed.
Question: One more quick question. Do you have any update on the Secretary-General's press conference on Thursday? And also, UN have any event on the Friday… on this Friday regarding the climate change action?
Spokesman: Yes, we expect that we will have some sort of recognition concerning the likely… the scheduled US return to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and we'll provide more details a little bit closer to event.
Regarding the press event by the Secretary-General, we don't confirm these things officially until they're absolutely set. But right now, tentatively, be ready for something potentially at 11 in the morning on Thursday. And we'll, again, provide more details once we can confirm that.
Abdelhamid and then Gloria.
Question: Thank you. My last question on the settlers' violence in the occupied Palestinian territories. It has been noticed that… in the recent days, that the settlers are going wild — destroying trees, attacking Palestinians, even terrifying people going to Jerusalem. Some… a child was hit by a car of a settler. And all these incidents go unnoticed or unchecked by the new Special Envoy, Mr. Tor Wennesland.
I hope that we don't go back to the same old days of Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, who only talks about these things in his monthly briefing and keep quiet during these incidents.
Spokesman: Regarding that, I don't think that there is a problem with mentioning these things for the monthly briefings. The Security Council has made sure that they are regularly apprised of any violations by any of the sides, and this is something that the Special Coordinators do. And we do expect Mr. Wennesland, as with his predecessors, will continue to keep them apprised of any difficulties on the ground in his periodic reports.
Question: Years ago, His Excellency, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Mohammad [Javad] Zarif, was Ambassador here at the United Nations. He was very open, very friendly to all members of the UN hierarchy, the press and the missions. And now, with this COVID-19, people can't be eyeball to eyeball.
My feeling is there must be people in the hierarchy of the UN who have established a good relationship with the current Foreign Minister, and my feeling is we should reach out to them in a warmer way than a freeze between all of us.
Spokesman: Thank you for your contribution, Gloria. Certainly, we'll try to do that.
Iftikhar, you have a question?
Question: Yes, I have a question on Myanmar, which Edie asked, you see, but let me ask whether… the Secretary-General has proposed that the Special Representative visit Myanmar. What has been the reaction from Myanmar?
Spokesman: We are in touch with the Myanmar authorities on that. When… regarding that, in her discussions with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, one of the things Ms. Schraner Burgener was trying to talk about is how she can have the appropriate conditions for her visit, so she is continuing to discuss that. But we don't have any travel by her to announce to the country just yet.
And thanks. And with that, I will turn the floor over to my comrade Brenden Varma. Brenden, are you on?
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