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 Guests Today
Good afternoon. I will be joined shortly by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, along with the co-facilitators of the High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS — that is the Permanent Representative of Australia, Mitch Fifield, and the Permanent Representative of Namibia, Neville Gertze.
They will be here to speak to you about the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. They were expected, as you know, to join us yesterday but because of last minute ongoing activities in the meeting, they were not able to; but I’m sure they will answer all of your questions.
I have an announcement on the expected travels by the Secretary-General. On Thursday evening, the Secretary-General will travel to the United Kingdom to attend the 2021 G7 Summit that is being held in Cornwall, where he will participate in a number of working sessions.
His overriding message to the G7 will be that we need a quantum leap in our capacity to address the challenges that we face today, notably the COVID-19 pandemic and, of course, climate change.
On COVID-19, he will push for a global vaccination plan that should lead us to doubling vaccine production and the equitable distribution of the vaccine to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access.
The Secretary-General will also advocate for more ambitious and concrete commitments from G7 members on public financing of the fight against climate change. Namely, he will ask them to deliver on the goal to provide $100 billion a year through the doubling of their aggregate public climate finance commitments for the period 2021-2025 and to come forward with new and more ambitious individual public finance commitments. He will also call on G7 leaders to increase the share of climate finance allocated to adaptation and resilience to at least 50 per cent of climate finance, given worsening impact of climate change we are seeing across the developing world.
And I’ve been asked about the latest development on Nicaragua, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is very concerned by the recent arrests and detentions, as well as the invalidation of candidacies of opposition leaders in Nicaragua. These developments can seriously undermine the public’s confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general elections.
The Secretary-General reiterates his call for a broad-based agreement on measures towards credible, participatory, and inclusive elections in November.
He also calls on the authorities to fully respect Nicaragua’s international human rights obligations and also calls on the authorities to release the political leaders and reinstitute their political rights.
Staying in the region, or at least in South America, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today warned that the onset of winter, compounded by the devastating effects of the pandemic, poses a direct threat to the health and livelihoods of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
Nearly 2 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have settled in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. As temperatures drop, Venezuelans face increasing poverty, evictions and protection risks.
Ahead of an International Donors’ Conference for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, hosted by Canada on 17 June, UNHCR is calling on countries to pledge support. The Regional Response Plan for refugees and migrants from Venezuela remains critically underfunded.
Turning to Afghanistan, we strongly condemn the heinous attack on the Halo Trust NGO (non-governmental organization) that took place in Baghlan-e-Markazi district in northern Afghanistan. That attack killed 10 people and injured 16 others. The Halo Trust has a strong global partnership with the UN in operations to clear landmines and other explosives and to better the lives of vulnerable people.
We send heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, and we wish for a speedy and full recovery to the injured. We further call for a full investigation to ensure that those responsible for this horrendous attack are held accountable and brought to justice.
The United Nations is committed to staying and delivering in Afghanistan. Aid workers — particularly women — are facing increased attacks and harassment as they go about their work. Between January and April this year, 11 aid workers were killed, 27 injured and 36 abducted.
Our humanitarian colleagues warn that interference with humanitarian activities escalated in 2020, with a 140 per cent increase in incidents compared to 2019. This escalating trend continues in 2021.
Parties to the conflict in Afghanistan are strongly urged to protect civilians, aid workers and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, in compliance with international humanitarian law.
And in next-door Pakistan, the Humanitarian Response Plan was launched today at a joint event hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations team in Pakistan. The Plan calls for $332 million for a range of activities, including food security, livelihood assistance, primary health services, support for women’s health and education, as well as shelter for displaced people.
The Plan seeks to mobilize support and assistance for the most vulnerable 4.3 million people in the country who have faced problems that include extreme weather events and, of course, the pandemic.
The Plan also highlights the generosity and compassion shown by Pakistan in hosting more than 3 million Afghan nationals, including 1.4 million registered refugees.
From Myanmar, the UN country team says that today remains very concerned over continued efforts to undermine the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press through systematic imposition of restrictive policies and practices since the military took over the Government on 1 February.
At least 92 journalists have been arrested; 56 of them are still being detained.
On 12 May, one journalist was found guilty and jailed for three years, and on 2 June, two journalists were sentenced to two years in prison.
Our colleagues in Myanmar urge the military to release all people detained arbitrarily, including journalists. They stress that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democracy and must be protected.
**Central African Republic
Turning to the Central African Republic, the UN peacekeeping colleagues are telling us that yesterday, two international judges and one international prosecutor were sworn in to the Special Criminal Court in Bangui. This is an important step in the functioning of the Court. The Pre-Trial Chamber and one Trial Chamber panel are now complete, and the court can begin hearing cases in 2021.
The UN Mission (MINUSCA) continues to provide support for the full operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, to help end the culture of impunity and to promote national reconciliation in the country, as part of its mandate.
Moving on to Ethiopia, where our humanitarian staff are telling us that in Tigray, incidents of denial of humanitarian movement, interrogation, assault and detention of humanitarian workers at military checkpoints continues to be reported. Looting and confiscation of humanitarian assets and supplies by the parties to the conflict have also been reported.
Several areas in the region remain inaccessible. Of the accessible areas, the situation is dire, including dysfunctional water systems and limited or no health facilities.
Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are at alarming levels. Preliminary field reports from Axum and Adwa in the Central Zone indicate visible signs of starvation among internally displaced people. In a community in the North-Western Zone of Tigray, aid workers noted a severe need for food, after the burning or looting of harvests. It’s hard to imagine people burning and looting harvests.
Our humanitarian colleagues warn that partners received worrying information that the Government has instructed to proceed with relocating internally displaced people (IDPs) to their areas of origin.
Despite challenges, humanitarian partners are continuing to scale up the response as quickly as possible. More than 560,000 people were reached with food assistance just last week, bringing the number of people reached since late March to more than 3.3 million, and with the target having been 5.2 million people. We still need to reach a lot of people.
We continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to scale up the humanitarian response to help all people in need. More funding is urgently needed for operations.
**COVID-19 — Viet Nam
Quick COVID note, this one from Viet Nam. Our country team there led by the Resident Coordinator, Kamal Malhotra, is stepping up its financial and technical support to the Government’s COVID-19 response.
Yesterday, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) delivered more than 170 refrigerators to safely store vaccines. To date, Viet Nam has received nearly 2.5 million doses from COVAX, in addition to more than 400,000 doses procured by the Government through other means.
Viet Nam began its vaccination campaign four months ago, targeting frontline health and community workers in the first priority group. More than 1.3 million doses have been administered so far in the country.
**Noon Briefing Guests
Tomorrow, we will welcome the UN Global Compact Executive Director, Sanda Ojiambo, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Carbon Disclosure Project, Paul Simpson. They will brief you on new research from the Science Based Targets initiative, a body enabling businesses to set ambitious emissions reduction targets, that reveals that none of the G7’s leading stock indexes are currently aligned with a 1.5 °C or 2 °C pathway and calls on the largest listed G7 companies to urgently increase climate action.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Speaking of action, Edie.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the killing today of 10 mine clearers in Afghanistan from the Halo Trust and the injuring of many more?
Spokesman: Sure. That was the second note I read out.
Correspondent: Oh, my gosh. Sorry. [laughs]
Spokesman: It’s okay. That’s okay. It’s all right. [cross talk]
Question: [laughs] Secondly… can I put in… Can I put in a request on behalf of all of us for Christine Schraner Burgener to meet with us when she’s here?
Spokesman: Yes, ma’am.
Question: Next week?
Spokesman: Yes. In person. Tobias?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Just a follow-up on Myanmar, a follow-up on my question from yesterday, actually.
But given what’s happening now with the displacement and the violence in the Kayah state, as well as reports of NLD (National League for Democracy) politicians sort of disappearing or being killed, I mean… I just want to make sure really clear that Ms. Schraner Burgener’s work is still to reverse the coup now, because it seems like we’re just in a different zone here.
Spokesman: It’s not a… I think that’s everyone’s goal, right, to find a pathway back towards a democratically representative government in Myanmar. That will involve… as we’ve always said, it involves ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations); it involves the broader regional Powers; it involves the Security Council; it involves the international community as a whole. I mean, that’s the goal, right? That’s what we want to see, and that’s where her efforts are centred, and all of our efforts should be centred around that.
Now, obviously, as part of that, we need to address the more urgent needs, the human rights violations, the lack of humanitarian access, the impact of the coup on the Myanmar people’s own efforts to fight against the pandemic.
I mean, you know, we’ve been updating you, I think, more than often in many crises, almost daily on the different impacts that this coup has had, on children, on internally displaced people, on journalists, on human rights defenders, so there are all sorts of issues that need to be dealt with at the same time.
Okay. I don’t have my phone with me so I can’t see who’s in the chat, but if you have a question on screen, raise your hand, open your mic or just speak up.
Correspondent: Hi, Stéphane. This is Oscar.
Spokesman: Yes, Oscar. Please.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, do you have any readout about the situation, the crisis in Colombia?
Spokesman: I mean, nothing more than we’ve already said, and pushing for dialogue, ensuring that people’s rights to demonstrate peacefully is respected, and I think the High Commissioner for Human Rights on a number of occasions has also spoken up regarding that.
Question: Okay, to follow up, Stéphane — 58 people have been dying since the crisis started in Colombia, and 45 of them killed by police and dozens of people being forced disappearance. So in this regard, besides of the call from the UN that everybody has the right to protest and all these calls from you, what else the UN can do in the way to prevent this kind of loss of civilians, innocent people dying in this kind of crisis in the region?
And, as I said, before, this is like a déjà vu, like happening in many countries where people die in situations of civilians demonstrating, protesting against Governments and countries.
Spokesman: I believe that public pronouncements on the need to respect the basic rights, whether it’s from the Secretary-General, whether it’s from the High Commissioner for [Human Rights] who called, I think very strongly, for effective, independent and impartial investigations into the alleged human rights abuses have… are very important, have a very strong role to play. Our special representative in Colombia also called… echoed those calls and called for dialogue. Okay.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane.
Spokesman: Any others? You’re welcome. Stefano, and then Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Well, we all… you know, we can celebrate the news that the Secretary-General has been… have went through the Security Council with… with approval, I would say no one was… had anything to say about his… his last four years, so this is a good… good news for him and for the… and so he would go through the General Assembly.
But my question is, does the Secretary-General… there was, of course, a goal to… for a second mandate and so forth, a second mandate… in the first mandate, the Secretary-General to be prudent or has to have a way that has to be liked by all, at least the big Powers.
Has a plan for the second mandate… maybe at the end, there will be some countries that will not be so pleased with his work, because on the hand, you cannot make everybody happy when you have to, you know, resolve certain problems?
Spokesman: I know you can’t make everybody happy. The Secretary-General has not been guided from the beginning about trying to make everybody happy. He’s been guided by the principles he’s laid out in the Charter. Those will continue to be his principles. He will want to see, I think, a turbo-charge of diplomacy, of preventive diplomacy, to use the convening power of the UN, of the Office of the Secretary-General as much as possible.
We are still in the midst of an unprecedented human crisis with this pandemic, with all the added challenges of climate change. With the added challenge of the global tensions that we are seeing between Member States and frankly, as we often talked about here, the lack of unity of the Security Council.
The Secretary-General will work with all Member States at their service, as it is the role of the Secretary-General as defined by the Charter, but also with civil society, and all others, in order to try to get us out of this crisis in a way that we’re able to build back better.
Evelyn, and then Edie.
Question: Stéphane, has the Secretary-General made any progress with the African Union, which appears to be supporting Ethiopia and its dreadful actions in Tigray?
Spokesman: Listen, I think we’ve been very vocal about the ongoing crisis in Tigray. If you just look at the words I’ve just read out about highlighting the fact that people are actually burning crops and harvests, that humanitarian workers, humanitarian goods are being harassed at checkpoints. All of that is unacceptable. This has been raised at every level.
The Secretary-General, I think, spoke last to Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed], what day are we today? Wednesday? If I do not recall, late last week, again, raised a number of these issues.
We’re continuing to be engaged, I think, full force on Tigray, and I think have not been shy about talking about the situation while, at the same time, trying to scale up our actual operations on the ground.
Question: No, that’s true. I’m asking if there’s any pressure on the African Union, specifically.
Spokesman: I can barely speak for the Secretary-General. I cannot speak for the African Union.
Correspondent: Okay, thank you.
Question: Follow-up on Tigray, Stéph?
Question: A follow-up on the G7. Is the Secretary-General planning any bilateral meetings? And is he planning any other travels in Europe while he’s there?
Spokesman: No other official travel in Europe. The bilaterals, he will clearly have one with Prime Minister… excuse me, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host. As always in these meetings, I expect him to have a number of pull-asides. If there are formal bilaterals, we will announce them, but from my own experience of having attended, on a jump-seat, these meetings, it’s a lot of informal and very useful conversations.
Question: Would you expect him to have some discussions with [United States] President [Joseph] Biden there?
Spokesman: As I said, you know, these are informal meetings. I have no doubt he will have as many pull-asides as possible. We’ll try to report back to you. I will be there… and not that I will be in the room where it happens, but I will try to report back to you.
Pamela Falk, and then we’ll go to our guests, please.
Question: Thank you, Steph. My question is a follow-up on Tigray. You heard from, or we heard from, Samantha Power, the USAID Administrator, that there are roadblocks and she’s also met with Amina Mohammed, the DSG (Deputy Secretary-General). Can you tell me about… is there any… any success in the coordination to lift government blocks to getting the aid in? Thanks.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think I laid out a pretty stark picture a few minutes ago of humanitarian workers being harassed at roadblocks, of goods being confiscated at roadblocks, so the situation is not what it should be. We are reaching people in need, but not all of the people that we need to reach. The humanitarian situation remains catastrophic.
Question: But is USAID down there working with UN agencies? That’s my question.
Spokesman: I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I don’t know, off the top of my head.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you all. We’ll go to our guests, if I could ask somebody from my office to bring me my phone so I can monitor the chat and we’ll be back in two seconds.