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.
Just a reminder that this evening, the Secretary-General is heading off for Paris, where he will take part in the opening segment of the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN-Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico.
The Secretary-General will underscore the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women and girls and how it has accentuated the great imbalances of power and the failures of the social order that end up harming women.
While in Paris, he is also expected to meet with President [Emmanuel] Macron.
He will from there go on to Valencia [Spain], where he will visit the UN logistics base to mark its tenth anniversary. While in Valencia, he will also meet with university students.
On Friday, he will be in Madrid, where he will meet with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and have an audience with His Majesty King Felipe VI. He will also meet with the Vice-President for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and take part in a round table with climate entrepreneurs.
We have been advised that the Fifth Committee has, in fact, reached an agreement on the peacekeeping budgets late last night. The Committee is expected to formally approve the resolutions shortly, if it has not already done so, and that will then go on to the General Assembly for formal adoption.
Based on this scenario, we will have the necessary spending authority from 1 July without any operational shutdowns, which is good news.
Curtailment of operations, as you know, will have limited the ability of the Missions to implement their mandates, including, for example, supporting host countries in COVID response, protection of civilians, and other critical activities.
I know you’ve been asking about the situation in Ethiopia. We’re still trying to get a humanitarian update today from Mekelle and other places in Tigray, but the situation remains quite fluid, so I don’t have an operational update as of now, but I hope to get one soon.
As for the cessation of hostilities, as you know, as we mentioned, the Secretary-General spoke to Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed] yesterday. He expressed his hope for a cessation of hostilities.
At this point, and I spoke to the Secretary-General a short while ago, he wants to make sure that all actors and everyone involved commit to peace and a real cessation of hostilities. This will obviously, we hope, help improve humanitarian access and the assistance we’re able to deliver.
It is very important for steps to be taken for unity through political dialogue and, of course, we continue to offer the full support of the United Nations in this regard.
From Myanmar, I have an update from our colleagues on the ground who tell us, based on numbers received from the human rights component of the office, that a total of 5,202 people are in detention as a result of their opposition to the military takeover.
Of these people, more than 200 have been subjected to questionable judicial processes and sentenced under various laws without due process, while 26 people have been sentenced to death.
Nearly 2,000 [people] for whom there are arrest warrants are currently in hiding. Dozens of these people have been tried in absentia, with some having been sentenced to life in prison, hard labour or even death.
The UN Country Team says there are reports that security forces have killed what we believe is a minimum number of 883 unarmed people, of whom at least 40 have reportedly died while in custody.
The team also tells us that 60 children have been killed since the military takeover on 1 February. There have been at least 59 attacks against hospitals and health workers and at least 163 against schools and teachers.
The UN team in Myanmar continues to strongly condemn the widespread use of lethal force and other serious violations of human rights. Our colleagues underscore that the use of excessive force by security forces, including the use of live ammunition, must stop and must stop now. They are particularly concerned by reports of the use of heavy artillery against civilians.
Turning to Mali, another grim human rights update: our colleagues in the human rights of the peacekeeping mission on the ground there in Mali (MINUSMA) recorded 617 human rights abuses, including 165 killings by armed groups. This is an increase of 37 per cent compared to the previous six months.
A striking example of the deterioration of the human rights situation across the country is a steep rise in abductions, largely, we’ve seen, by community-based armed groups and militias in central Mali.
In addition, the Mission recorded a sharp increase in violations by State actors in the first half of 2021. Our colleagues recorded 213 violations between January and June, up from 53 violations seen between August and December of last year. Of these, 155 violations were perpetrated by the Malian Defence and Security Forces, including extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions of 44 people.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as you may be aware, in the city of Beni, over the weekend, three devices exploded inside or close to places of worship.
Following the explosions, markets, schools and churches in the city have been ordered shut for 48 hours.
The blasts have also led to restrictions of movement for humanitarian organizations.
The population of the Beni territory is already severely suffering as they are food insecure — that’s according to the IPC Phase 3 ranking. Currently, there are nearly 700,000 internally displaced people in Beni territory. About 57,000 of those [people] are in the town of Beni.
Yesterday, the Head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO), Bintou Keïta, condemned these attacks which, she said, aim to sow terror and confusion among the civilian population.
The Mission reiterated its commitment to support the Government and Congolese people in their efforts to secure the civilian populations and neutralize armed groups.
At the Security Council open debate on cybersecurity this morning, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said that, as advances in digital technologies continue to revolutionize human life, we have also seen a dramatic increase in the frequency of malicious incidents, from disinformation to the disruption of computer networks.
She said that the scale and pervasiveness of cyber “insecurity” is now recognized as a major concern. The political and technical difficulty of attributing and assigning responsibility for cyberattacks could result in significant consequences, she added, including in unintended armed responses and escalation.
Ms. Nakamitsu said the UN stands ready to support States, together with other stakeholders, to promote a peaceful ICT environment.
Given these implications for the maintenance of international peace and security resulting from cyberthreats, she concluded, engagement by the Security Council is paramount.
A quick note from Darfur, where the African Union-UN hybrid peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) will wrap up its drawdown tomorrow: As you will recall, the [Security Council] ended the mission’s mandate last year.
Assistant Secretary-General M’Baye Babacar Cissé oversaw the drawdown.
In the past four months, the mission handed over 14 team sites to the Government, which committed to using them for health care, education and other social services such as vocational training.
The mission worked with communities and identified ways to meet their needs, including providing water treatment equipment, generators and other supplies.
It is the Central Government’s responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of the sites, while the Darfur state governments remain responsible for ensuring the facilities are being used as intended.
The mission was one of the largest peacekeeping operations in the history of the United Nations.
During its 13-year mandate, the mission had more than 100,000 military and police peacekeepers from dozens of countries. At its peak deployment in 2011, it nearly had 23,000 troops and police.
Tomorrow at 9 a.m., there will be a briefing in this room by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.
And at noon, I will be joined here by the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov. He will brief you on this week’s High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism.
I will be back to brief on Friday. Farhan [Haq], I think, will brief tomorrow, and Eri [Kaneko] will brief on Thursday or the other way around. But regardless, we will be in person tomorrow.
**Questions and Answers
Edie and then Célhia and then James.
Question: Steph, a follow-up on Tigray. Does the United Nations have basically advanced preparations to send in a massive amount of humanitarian aid to Tigray when it gets a green light on whether it can go in safely and get to people facing famine?
Spokesman: Yeah, we are ready to go, as we have been for quite some time. The issue has been access. Now, obviously, the situation remains very fluid. There continues… as we’ve seen reports in the media and others that there continues to be points of fighting. It is imperative that, sort of, regardless of who controls an area, that who… whichever entity… armed entity is there, that they ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and that they ensure a safe passage and unimpeded access for us and for our humanitarian partners.
Question: And I assume that there are still quite a number of UN personnel in Tigray. Have you gotten any updates on the political situation from any of them? [cross talk]
Spokesman: We’ve had… I mean, we have colleagues in Mekelle and Shire, who last reported were all safe and sound, but as I said, the remain… the situation remains rather fluid at this point.
Correspondent: I’ll come back with something. [cross talk]
Spokesman: Okay. Célhia?
Question: Steph, how many people are part of the EU task force Takuba in Mali? What is their exact role?
Spokesman: That is something you have to ask the European Union. They have a mandate that’s separate from the UN.
Question: [inaudible] and they’re working to stop the violation of human rights… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I mean, again, those are questions… valid questions to be addressed to them.
Question: Some more follow-ups on Tigray, if I can. There was the incident with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in Tigray and their VSAT. Have there been any other problems that the UN has faced during this recent military movement? And have all the UN staff remained at their posts, or have some been withdrawn?
Spokesman: No, there… no staff has been… as far as I know, no staff has been evacuated. I spoke to one of our colleagues who was in Mekelle yesterday. I spoke to her yesterday. They had been moved temporarily to a hotel for safety, but they had not vacated the area.
Question: Can you give us some more details of the call between the Secretary-General and the Ethiopian Prime Minister? What else was said? What else was discussed? What was the tone of a leader who started a military campaign and now is calling for a ceasefire?
Spokesman: Look, I can only speak for the Secretary-General. I mean, as you know, the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister have had quite a number of conversations over the past months on the internal situation in Ethiopia but also on the issue of the [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance] Dam, which is another file.
The Secretary-General’s message to the Prime Minister has really been the same since the beginning. The contacts have always been… let me put it this way. I think the Secretary-General has had a direct access to the Prime Minister. He’s somebody he’s known for a long time, has told him how he… the Secretary-General has always been very open in telling him how he felt about the need for the violence to end, the need for political reconciliation, the need for humanitarian access. But as for the tone or the mood of the Prime Minister, I can’t speak to that.
Question: And one final one on Tigray: The Security Council or some on the Security Council are pushing for an open meeting on the situation, something that, remarkably, hasn’t happened yet. Does the Secretary-General believe it will be useful for the Security Council to meet again and to meet again in public given the severity of the situation?
Spokesman: Well, I… we always think the more facts that are known for Council members and for the public, I think, the better. And we will be ready to brief the Council, whichever… should they want a meeting in public or not.
Question: Thank you, Steph. There’s a big paper that’s coming out this month, scientific paper, that says that social media basically is posing a very serious risk and just online digital activity and that it should be raised to the level of a crisis discipline, which is something in the science. But… and I’m just parroting James’ question here, which is, should… is it time now to have a cybersecurity branch of the UN that can look at these evolving social behaviours that are really… that much in the… many people in the scientific community are calling attention to now? Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, I… first, I would refer you to what Ms. Nakamitsu said. I think… and in a sense, what I think the President of Estonia said here yesterday was extremely valid, is that whatever happens in the real world also happens in the cyberworld so… but what we need to move things forward in the cyberworld is a conversation between not only State actors, but all the other stakeholders, I think, as a… because the power, in a sense, doesn’t just lie in the States themselves. Right? The actors in the cyber field are private, private corporations, all sorts of other actors. So, we need to have a dialogue that involves stakeholders beyond just Member States.
Okay. Abdelhamid, and then we’ll go to James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This morning, a large Israeli force entered the Bustan neighbourhood of the city of Silwan, adjacent to Jerusalem, and started destroying the houses, which they had promised to do, about 17 houses, hosting 20 families. And Israel is not only destroying these houses; they ask the owners to destroy it, and if they do… if the Israeli does… the Israelis do the destruction, then the owners have to pay a penalty, which reaches up to 35,000 shekels.
First, do you have any statement? And why you didn’t mention that in the briefing? Such an incident, which Hamas just issued a statement, threatening that, if the destruction go ahead, which has started, it’s true, one commercial… one store was already destroyed, and the confrontation is going on as we speak between the owner and the Israelis. That… [cross talk]
Spokesman: First of all, I would tell… well, you’re asking me a question, so I’m going to answer it, is that we’re, obviously, following these recent developments in East Jerusalem, including in the Al-Bustan neighbourhood, extremely closely. The Secretary-General is, indeed, deeply concerned by the continued demolitions. He, once again, reiterates his call to the Israeli authorities to end demolitions and evictions, in line with Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law.
Question: Stéphane, what is the UN can do other than asking the Israeli… and you know the Israeli will not submit. [outside noise]
Spokesman: Okay. Somebody has their mic open.
Depends which UN you’re talking about. From the Secretary-General’s standpoint, we continue to report back, as mandated by the Security Council and other organs as to what the situation is on the ground, and we will continue to make our position known to Israel and others in the region.
I do want to share with you… James, I know you had a question, but let me just give you an update I received just now on the situation in Tigray. And as I’ve been saying, the consequences and impact of the [declaration of an] immediate ceasefire remain unclear.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us there’s been a breakdown in telecommunications and Internet services in Tigray as of today, so the impact of the current situation on the humanitarian operations remain unknown at this moment.
Humanitarian operations have been constrained in the past few days due to the ongoing fighting. We’re still… we are ready to resume full operations, pending security and access assessment as to the new conditions on the ground.
We, along with our partners, are looking at options to scale up the humanitarian relief operations in light of what we find following the assessment. We’re also looking to supply routes into Tigray in consultations with our security colleagues and logistics experts.
We, of course, as… I think, as I answered to James, are staying and delivering for the people of Tigray, but we will need access to vital supplies that are currently not available. Staffing levels at the moment remain the same, as the airport in Mekelle is closed and routes are not open.
Question: Hi there. Thanks, Stéphane, a question also on Tigray. You said that yesterday you were talking to one of your colleagues over there in Mekelle, and she said that… she told you that she had been moved to a hotel for the safety of the staff. Did she happen to say whether or not she was moved by Tigrayan forces or by Ethiopian forces?
Spokesman: No, no. I think they were moving on their own.
Question: And is it fair to say, from what you’ve heard from your colleagues over there, that it re… it is not entirely clear which military force is in control of the city?
Spokesman: Again, the conversation I had with her was yesterday. As I just mentioned, the communications and Internet is down, so I think it’s important that we stick to what we know today.
Okay. Edie and then back to James.
Question: [inaudible]. Sorry. The international commissioner for New York City put out a statement today. This is from the Mayor’s Office, from Commissioner Penny Abeywardena, and it’s entitled “On the City’s Re-Opening and Hosting the United Nations General Assembly”.
It basically says that the city is re-opening, and it says, “The General Assembly for decades has been a staple of fall in New York. The city’s always been proud to welcome it.” And then it says, “While the size and form of this year’s convening is still being determined, New York City will continue to follow the science to ensure that our ongoing re-opening remains a safe one.”
Was this issued in… alongside some kind of expected announcement on what form the GA is going to take this year?
Spokesman: No. Because we’re still wait… our conversations with Member States are continuing. We are, of course, extremely grateful to our host city for the statement they put out, for everything they’ve done and hopefully everything they will do regard… depending on what the GA will look like in September.
We want to have an open as possible GA, within what science recommends so that we’re all safe and sound. But, obviously, we’re waiting to see what Member States decide on what they think the GA should look like.
James, and then we’ll go to Evelyn…
Question: Two quick further ones for you. You mentioned the good news that UN peacekeeping isn’t closing but…
Spokesman: That is good news, yes.
Question: Yeah. But clearly, there was a… it was a very close call. So, is the Secretariat going to be speaking to countries on the Fifth Committee, to the President of the General Assembly, about the procedure and the way it worked and the way it came so close to the edge? Will you be speaking to the chair of the Fifth Committee, the Uruguayan ambassador, who, I believe, has been criticized by some Member States for the way he handled this procedure? Is there a way to avoid this cliff edge next year?
Spokesman: If there’s a way to avoid the cliff edge, it is in the hands of Member States. I mean, we have a process, which everybody has a role to play. This is a Member State-driven organization. They devise the budget, the scale of assessment. They give us the resources. They give us the mandates to implement.
Obviously, the more time we have between the adoption of the budget and the budget deadline, the better it is for everyone, especially the people that benefit from the UN’s work in the field. But we fully recognize Member States’ authority and responsibility to have healthy debates amongst themselves about their priorities and how they want the UN to be run and financed.
Question: The other one was a follow-up to Toby’s question. As you said, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs briefed at the cyber meeting today. Was there any discussion about whether that should be the role of the tech envoy, or the acting tech envoy, because Mr. [Fabrizio] Hochschild is still suspended? Is that definitely a disarmament affair, or is it a technology affair? And is there a grey area here?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, it does… it cuts across everything. Right? It cuts across everything, and I think…
Question: So, shouldn’t there be a specific person in charge?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, you could argue it both ways, and I’m… it’s an interesting discussion to have. It’s not one I’m really armed to have in public at this point. I mean, the Security Council asked for Ms. Nakamitsu because, obviously, I think what we’re… a lot of it depends… falls under the issue of disarmament and conflict, but all sorts of cybersecurity issues cut across… [cross talk]
Correspondent: You might think she was rather busy with nuclear, biological and chemical.
Spokesman: Which is unfortunate, in a sense. I’m sure she wishes she was less busy, as we have seen the disarmament agenda suffer in recent years.
Okay. I think Evelyn withdrew her question, which we were going to entertain… [cross talk]
Question: It’s okay. I have another one. Can I ask one, Steph? I don’t know if you’ve answered this at all, but The New York Times, a couple days ago, had a long piece about a UN report for the Security Council on Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic and gross human rights violations. Have you seen that report? Are we going to get that report soon or… what is the situation? Thank you.
Spokesman: The report is a report to… from the Panel of Experts of the Security Council. I believe it’s scheduled to be published at some point today, so look for it on your regular trusty UN websites.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: All right.
Spokesman: Trusty. Okay. It’s an expression, your trusty… you know.
Spokesman: Okay. It’s always good to have two French people argue about American vernacular.
All right. Thank you. Bye.