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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

26 May 2021

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Let me start off, we will have an update on Mali, which is coming in as we speak.

**Africa Dialogue

Speaking at the Public Policy Forum of this year's Africa Dialogue Series, on the theme of "Cultural identity and ownership", the Secretary-General, António Guterres, said it is a call for using the continent's rich and diverse cultural and natural heritage as a catalyst for Africa's growth and transformation.

With spreading hatred and intolerance around the world, we must not only defend diversity but invest in it, he added.

But for that to be possible, the Secretary-General called for solidarity with the African continent to recover from the pandemic.  He renewed his appeal for vaccine equity, saying it is unacceptable that vaccines are not yet fully available on the African continent.

Mr. Guterres went on to reiterate the importance for Africa to receive the financial support needed to protect its citizens and to be able to relaunch the continent's economies.

Those remarks were shared with you.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our UN Country Team there continues to call upon the military to ensure the protection of civilians as widespread and systematic breaches of human rights continue, including extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment, as well as enforced disappearance.

Our colleagues on the ground tell us that, over the past 115 days, at least 824 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed since the military seized control, while thousands more have been injured.

At the same time, 4,301 people remain in detention, including politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health-care workers, civil servants, journalists, monks, celebrities and just ordinary citizens.

**Syria

Back here in the Security Council, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, briefed the Council this morning by videoconference and he said that elections being held there today in Syria are not part of the political process called for by Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  The UN is not involved in the election and has no mandate to be involved, he added.

He said that the broad contours of a political solution to the conflict are well understood by key stakeholders, yet none is willing to take the first step.  If we continue like this, he warned, Syria will become another protracted conflict, lasting generations.

Despite the many catastrophes Syria faces, the Special Envoy added, it is relatively calmer on the ground than [it] has been in previous years.  And there is a shared sense that no one can dictate the conflict's final outcome.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also briefed the Council, saying that the UN has not been able to deliver aid to Rukban since September 2019, nor have we been able to conduct any assessments.  He noted that the Security Council authorization for UN cross-border assistance into the north-west expires in just over six weeks.  A failure to extend it would immediately end direct cross-border deliveries by the UN.

**Yemen

The Secretary-General's other Special Envoy, this one for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, today concluded a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with senior Saudi and Yemeni officials.

During his visit, Mr. Griffiths met the Saudi Deputy Minister of Defence (Prince Khalid bin Salman), the Yemeni Vice-President (Ali Mohsen Saleh), the Yemeni Prime Minister (Maeen Abdulmalik), the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen (Mohamed Al Jaber) and the US Special Envoy for Yemen (Tim Lenderking), among other diplomats.

In his meetings, Mr. Griffiths discussed the critical situation in Ma'rib and stressed that the battle for Ma'rib must stop to allow diplomatic peace efforts a chance to yield positive results.  He further expressed his hope that the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement will continue to progress and emphasized the importance of protecting against further fragmentation in Yemen.  He said that Yemenis deserve a better life than perpetual war.

**Sudan

On Sudan, we have a statement for you:  The Secretary-General welcomes the start of the peace talks today between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement–North Abdelaziz al Hilu faction, being mediated by South Sudan in Juba.  The United Nations Integrated Mission for Sudan (UNITAMS) is represented at the talks by Special Representative Volker Perthes.

The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of the representation and participation of women at all levels of the peace process.

The Secretary-General urges all stakeholders to demonstrate goodwill and determination to achieve a comprehensive peace in the interest of Sudan and the Sudanese people.

Speaking at the opening of the peace talks, Mr. Perthes said the convening of these talks offers a historic opportunity to reach a settlement to the conflict that has divided Sudan for much too long, a conflict that has inflicted unbearable harm on too many people.

**Mali

An update for you from Mali, where the peacekeeping mission on the ground [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)] continues to work closely with the delegation from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), which is currently in Bamako, the capital of Mali.

Our Special Representative and Head of the peacekeeping Mission, El-Ghassim Wane, took part in the meetings that the ECOWAS delegation was having.

The Mission continues to support the efforts of ECOWAS and calls on all actors concerned to cooperate fully with a view to a rapid resumption of the normal course of the transition, within the framework provided by the Charter.  It is crucial that this crisis be resolved urgently as it constitutes an additional challenge that would negatively affect the implementation of the Peace Agreement.

For his part, the Secretary-General continues to follow the situation in Mali with concern and continues to be engaged.  Yesterday, he had a couple of phone calls.  One with Moussa Faki, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, as well as the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, in his capacity as the chair of the ECOWAS Heads of Government and State Authority.

The Security Council is scheduled to hold closed consultations on Mali this afternoon at 3.

**Libya

Ján Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, welcomed Libyan delegates to a two-day virtual meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).  He called upon those gathered to make progress towards ensuring the wish of the Libyan people is respected and met – including for elections that are to be held on 24 December.

Once again, he told delegates, all eyes are on Libya and are on you with great expectation that your meeting will produce what is required to respond to this overwhelming aspiration of the people.

**Central Mediterranean Sea

And linked to Libya, a report released today by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office shows that evidence shows that the lack of human rights protection in the central Mediterranean Sea for migrants is not a tragic anomaly.  The report says that this is rather a consequence of concrete policy decisions and practices by the Libyan authorities, the EU (European Union) Member States and other actors that have combined to create an environment where the dignity and human rights of migrants are at risk.

The report notes that despite a significant drop in the overall number of migrants arriving in Europe by the central Mediterranean route in recent years, hundreds of people continue to die — at least 632, according to our numbers, perished in 2021 so far.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And an update for you from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on our work to assist people impacted by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano.

The Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, David McLachlan-Karr, reiterated our commitment to support the Congolese Government to respond to the disaster.

According to our humanitarian colleagues, there are now 31 reported deaths and approximately 20,000 people have been made homeless by the volcanic eruption.  While the lava has stopped flowing, earth tremors are ongoing, creating additional concerns for the population.

Priority needs include shelter, water and sanitation, health, protection and food.  Restoring electricity and water services are also priorities.  A toll-free number has been set up to help with the reunification of families.  UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) said that more than 150 children were separated from their families and more than 170 are feared to be missing.

As we mentioned earlier this week, the road linking Goma to Rutshuru has been cut off by the lava flow.  Repairing this section of the road will be a priority, as it is the main supply route into Goma.

**South Asia

From South Asia, which is being impacted currently by Tropical Cyclone Yaas, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that we have activated cyclone preparedness measures and prepositioned stocks of food and other items.

That's in Bangladesh.  Our colleagues say the cyclone has not impacted Cox's Bazar, but they are closely monitoring the situation due to the possibility of storm surges and embankment collapse in border areas.

The cyclone reached the Indian state of Odisha yesterday, with millions of people being evacuated by the Government ahead of the storm.  UN agencies and our partners in India stand ready to support the response efforts if State authorities request it.

Our humanitarian colleagues in Nepal say [the country] could also experience heavy rainfall with floods and landslides over the coming hours.

As you know, India, Bangladesh and Nepal are all grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are concerned that the lack of social distancing in emergency shelters and the temporary suspension of vaccination campaigns could complicate already complicated efforts.

**COVID-19 — Indonesia

Also on COVID-19, in the same region:  In Indonesia, the UN Country Team, led by our Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand, is supporting the national vaccination campaign which aims to reach 181 million people by March of next year.

To date, Indonesia has received more than 6.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX.

UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), with the Ministry of Health, developed an application to monitor, in real time, cold chain logistics and storage temperatures via a smart mobile phone.  WHO (World Health Organization) has helped to vaccinate millions of people so far.

For its part, UNICEF has also developed a system to answer parents' questions about children's nutrition, with COVID-19 limiting access to medical centres.  UNICEF is also working with the Ministry of Education and Culture on returning to school safely.

A couple of things I want to add.

**Vesak Day

First, today is Vesak Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General sent his warmest greetings to Buddhists all over the world, when we honour the birth, enlightenment and passing of Lord Buddha.

The Secretary-General said that all of us, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, can find inspiration in the Buddha's message of honesty, compassion and respect for all living things.  He added that as we face the lasting impact of the pandemic, it is clearer ever more that humility and deep empathy are essential to our well-being and the planet.

**UN Conference on Trade and Development

I was asked yesterday by Mario about process through which we select the new head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, better known as UNCTAD.  I can tell you that, according to the General Assembly resolution 1995 (XIX) of 1964, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD shall be appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and confirmed by the General Assembly.

In accordance with past practices, we are informing regional groups of the Secretary-General's intentions and we will subsequently have more information when the Secretary-General sends a letter to the General Assembly.

**Virtual Press Encounter Today

Later today, at 1, EU Member States of the Security Council — that is Estonia, France, Ireland and others — will brief reporters virtually on the situation in Belarus.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

As you know, tomorrow we have quite a busy day, a lot of Middle East stuff in the Security Council.

We will have at 9 a.m., here, virtually, Lynn Hastings, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She will be launching the flash appeal on Gaza.  So, we will send in the dial-in number for there.

Just an update that we are told that all three crossings, the Erez crossing remains open for international humanitarian staff, but still not open for Palestinian travellers, including humanitarian personnel and medical referrals.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is open and humanitarian goods are going in today.

And the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is also open, so that is good news.

**UN Peacekeepers

And at 11:45 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of Peacekeeping Operations, and he will be here to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.  The theme for this year's observance is "The road to a lasting peace:  Leveraging the power of youth for peace and security."

**Financial Contribution

And as we like to end on a good note, we say thank you to our friends in Togo, who have paid their 2021 budget dues in full, bringing us up to a nice number of 103.

I think I have… I take your questions.  That's what we do.  That's… I was trying to remember what we do here.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  According to some [inaudible], Mali transition President and Prime Minister have resigned while in detention.  What's your position on that?

And also, as per the Security Council meeting, what does the Secretary-General expect for… from this meeting?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, we will, of course, update Council members on the situation in Mali.  I think… as we say in many other cases, it's always very useful that a strong and unified voice come out of the Security Council, a return to the transition, to ensure that all political detainees are released.

It's good to recall that Mali is very much on the Council's agenda.  We operate a large peacekeeping Mission there with a mandate from the Security Council, and I think we're seeing the international community really be unified in that sense.  We have… we are working very closely with ECOWAS, with the African Union, and we will wait to see what comes out of the Security Council.

What I can tell you about the Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane, and the President, [Bah] N'Daw, that the ECOWAS delegation, accompanied by UN representatives, were able to meet with them.  And it's crucial, as I said, that they, along with other individuals, regain their freedom of movement as soon as possible.

We note that there has been a [commitment] by the military to allow for them to regain their freedom of movement, and we hope that does happen.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we've taken note of… we're… we know what's happened.  Right?  What we want to happen now is, in fact, a return to the transitional calendar.  And as we said, we are supporting ECOWAS.

I mean, we want to see a rapid return to that transition, and it's important to note that all this could have a very negative impact on the implementation of the peace process, obviously.

Thank you.  Let's see.  Anybody… Abdelhamid and then Benny.

Question:  Thank you.  I have few questions, Stéphane.  First, do you have any statement on the presidential elections in Syria?

Spokesman:  I think I addressed that yesterday pretty clearly, and I just… did just now, and I would refer you to what Mr. Pedersen said.

To recap, it's not an election that we are involved in.  It is not one that is being done under 2254.  We have no mandate.  It's being done under the existing… [inaudible]

Question:  My second question, is the UN prepared to do any investigation of the UN properties damaged in this latest conflict in Gaza?

Spokesman:  We'll, obviously, assess the damage, and if anything comes out of that, we will let you know.

Mr. Avni?

Question:  And my last question.

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry.

Question:  Sorry.  Mr. [Yahya] Sinwar, the chief of Hamas in Gaza, he's threatened today that, unless the chronic problems of Gaza are addressed and solved, they are willing to go back to fighting.  Would that resonate with UN?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think… what we do not want to see is a return to fighting.  We do not want to see anything that will increase the suffering of civilian population, whether they be in Gaza or whether they be in Israel.  [cross talk] I mean, the civilians are always the first ones to pay.  And that's why the Secretary-General, I think, was very clear for… calling for a resumption of a political process.

Question:  But keeping the largest human prison on Earth for 13 years under siege, is that acceptable?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We want to see a political solution that will bring benefits of peace and prosperity to civilians.

Mr. Avni?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  How are you?  Do you have any polling on the election in Syria, by the way — who will win?

Questions, two questions, actually, one about… you were asked yesterday about an interview that Mr. [Matthias] Schmale gave to an Israeli TV.  Today, he retracted some of his statements.  Can you… is there anything that the Secretary-General or you can say about the discrepancy between what he said yesterday about precision of Israeli targeting and also about the fact that there were no lack of basic needs in Gaza during the 11 war… 11-day war and his retraction today?  So, where are we in real life?

Spokesman:  Where are we in real life?  In real life, especially with the announcement of the appeal tomorrow, is we will do whatever we can to help civilians in Gaza, to bring as much aid in.

I'm not going to provide colour commentary on the interview.  I mean, I think, if you want further comments, go to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).  What I did yesterday, which I would continue to do, is defend our… my colleague, who is a dedicated humanitarian.  But in terms of what was said in the interview, what was not said, what was retracted, I would encourage you to go to UNRWA.

Question:  And I have a follow-up.  I noticed that during the last week… the entire last week, pretty much every day, you urged opening of the crossings, and you talked about it today.  There were, in the 19th and the 20th, which is last week, openings… very short-time openings, and there was shooting at the crossings from Gaza.  Do you have any comment on that?  Is that something that… because it wasn't mentioned in your briefings.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Benny, it was.  I mentioned the short opening.  I mentioned the fact that it had to close down to security reasons.  Our colleagues on the ground, after the briefing, made it clear that one of the reasons it had to re-close was because there were rockets coming in… or there was fire… I don't know exactly what type of artillery, but there was shooting of some kind from the Gaza side, which forced the closure of the crossings.  But I did mention it, and my colleagues in the region made a very… tweeted about it, so there was nothing… nothing was not said.  [laughter]

Correspondent:  Is that even… is that a double negative?  Anyway, thanks.

Spokesman:  Okay.  You know what I mean.

Oscar?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Stéphane, what's the concern of the Secretary-General with the escalated violence in Colombia, when the UN has been responsible for the peace process in the country?  There are reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International about the dozens of dead people and dozens of disappearances in the country and if this is really a concern about the peace and stability of this process in the region.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we've… we continue to watch the situation closely.  Obviously, we have a presence in Colombia, and so it's something we continue to watch closely.  If I have anything more on that, I will… I'll try to get some more language for you on that for tomorrow.

Okay.  I say thank you and happy to talk to you all mañana.



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