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.
Good afternoon to all of you. As soon as we’re done here, I will be joined by Adam Abdelmoula, the Deputy Special Representative and the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. He will join us remotely to brief on the situation in Somalia.
As you saw, we issued a statement a short while ago in which the Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of the Republic of Haiti. The perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice. The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the people and Government of Haiti and the family of the late President.
The Secretary-General calls on all Haitians to preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence. The United Nations will continue to stand with the Government and people of Haiti.
**Secretary-General - COVID-19
As we approach the grim milestone sometime today, most likely, of 4 million deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will have a message from the Secretary-General in which we expect him to say that while vaccines offer a ray of hope, the virus is outpacing vaccine distribution.
The Secretary-General will once again call for a Global Vaccine Plan to double the production of vaccines and ensure equitable distribution through COVAX.
As many of you know, many parts of the world are experiencing unprecedented weather patterns. We’ve seen record heatwaves in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, wildfires in Europe and mudslides in Asia.
In a tweet, the Secretary-General said that all over the world natural disasters have become more frequent and more severe and that this means every country, city and industry needs to step up its climate action now.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the heatwave in Canada and the US had major impacts on people, animals and vegetation. It noted that so many records were broken in June regarding high temperatures that it was hard to keep track. WMO said these heatwaves are becoming more intense as greenhouse gas concentrations lead to a rise in global temperatures. They are also starting earlier and ending later in the year and are taking an increasing toll on human health.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Back here, the Security Council met to hear a virtual briefing from Bintou Keita, the head of the UN peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). She briefed Council members on the situation in the country and noted that the security situation in the provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu continues to be of grave concern.
Ms. Keita said that, with the transition of the UN Mission depends largely on the return of peace and stability in the area. She believes that there is still much work to be done before the UN Mission in the country can responsibly withdraw. Among the immediate tasks at hand, she emphasized the need to intensify good offices to establish suitable conditions for the 2023 elections to be held on time and in a consensual manner. Ms. Keita’s remarks were shared with you.
I was asked to update you about the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia and I can tell you that we are aware and of course welcome the Government of Ethiopia’s announcement that it has “granted flight permission for all interested parties to provide humanitarian services in Tigray region”. Unfortunately, no flights have yet been able to travel directly from Addis Ababa to Mekelle or Shire this week. However, we are following up with all relevant actors to ensure that direct flights are able to operate as soon as possible, in light of the announcement.
The World Food Programme (WFP), for its part, tells us that there is currently no secure air or road access into Tigray, which is preventing them and other emergency responders from scaling up to reach hungry and vulnerable communities, especially in rural areas. WFP resumed its operations in Tigray on 2 July after fighting halted emergency response for 48 hours. However, the World Food Programme is getting [to] a fraction of the number it should be reaching due to the serious challenges that threaten the entire humanitarian response in the region. We, of course, urge all the parties to agree to a ceasefire so that those routes can be used to reach those in need. WFP is calling for $176 million to continue to scale up its response in Tigray from at least July through December.
**Central African Republic
Moving on to the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation remains tense in Alindao, following cyclical armed violence in the past week. Yesterday, in Bangui, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN, Denise Brown, strongly condemned the armed violence — compounded by serious violations of international humanitarian law — that has left at least two civilians dead. The violence has also displaced thousands of already displaced people, injuring a humanitarian worker and leading to a significant reduction in humanitarian assistance in the city.
According to our colleagues on the ground, significant population movements have been recorded towards the district hospital, existing sites for internally displaced people, the UN Mission (MINUSCA) bases in the country and surrounding villages. Burning of houses and looting of property of a population already battered by years of conflict were also recorded, as well as attempted break-ins to humanitarian premises.
Today, at a press conference, Mankeur Ndiaye, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the peacekeeping Mission, reiterated the importance of prioritizing a political solution to the crisis, which remains the only viable path to a lasting peace.
From Myanmar, our UN colleagues on the ground say they’re concerned about the rapid increase in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases. They say that, on 4 July, the test positivity rate reached 22.3 per cent, compared to around 10 per cent just two weeks ago. In addition, several COVID-19 variants have been detected, including the Delta variant.
The UN team warns that a major outbreak of COVID-19 would have devastating consequences on both people’s health and on the economy. They stress the importance of resuming the delivery of essential health services, implementing measures to prevent the spread of the virus and to scale up vaccinations. For this to happen, the UN team says that health facilities must be kept safe and patients, health workers and other service providers must be protected.
**West and Central Africa
Yesterday, we flagged for you the Secretary-General’s concern about yet another report of kidnappings in Nigeria’s Kaduna State.
Today, the head of UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], Henrietta Fore, expressed her alarm at the increasing spate of attacks against children and abductions, including of students, in Nigeria, but also in other parts of West and Central Africa. She pointed to the latest report by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, which says that 1 in 3 child victims of grave violations has been in West and Central Africa. She said that it is not enough to condemn these crimes and stressed that non-State armed groups and all parties to conflict who are committing violations of children’s rights have a moral and legal obligation to immediately cease attacks against children.
Yesterday afternoon, you saw we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s increasing concern at developments in the Kingdom of Eswatini, notably clashes between security forces and demonstrators that have led to deaths and injuries. The Secretary-General underlines the importance of enabling all Emaswati to exercise their civil and political rights peacefully and urges the security forces to exercise utmost restraint.
Quick update from the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) High-Level Political Forum, which today examined progress in Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8 and 17, and linkages among those goals. In a session called “How do we get on track to end poverty and hunger, and transform towards inclusive and sustainable economies?”, speakers addressed issues of poverty and hunger, which are on the rise after years of decline, a trend made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 132 million additional people went hungry in 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis, and it is projected that as many as 163 million additional people could be pushed into extreme poverty through 2021. The livelihoods of people living in poverty and informal workers are at risk without social protection to cope in many countries, with women particularly impacted.
The morning session also included a discussion on the 2020 targets, and how to keep reviewing them while keeping track of ongoing intergovernmental processes to keep the level of ambition of those targets.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
And last but not least, I have a senior personnel appointment. I’m delighted to tell you that the Secretary-General is appointing Benjamin Swanson of the United Kingdom as Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
Mr. Swanson succeeds David Kanja of Kenya, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for his dedicated service.
Mr. Swanson joined OIOS in 2013, where he served as Deputy Director, based in Nairobi, and later as Director of the Investigations Division [of OIOS] based in New York where he was responsible for development of the Division’s strategic and operational plans and also managed about staff. We congratulate our friend and colleague Mr. Swanson with this appointment.
And now we take your questions. Mr. Bays? I’m sorry.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. Fine. Let’s see if you… See if we can do better with the questions.
Question: Okay. So, the UN Mission in Port-au-Prince, can you just tell us how many people are currently there? Are they locked down?
Question: What is the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] currently doing?
Spokesman: Sure. The SRSG is meeting with her senior staff. She is in constant contact with the acting Prime Minister of Haiti, Claude Joseph. She is calling on the Haitian authorities to ensure… I mean, really on the Haitian people to ensure calm. Her discussions with the Prime Minister [are] really about how to coordinate… how Haitian… to help Haitian authorities coordinate support for the Government and also assist on the continuity issues and also very much a call to respect the rule of law.
In terms of staffing, we have about 1,200 staff in all in Haiti. A little less than 200 are international. They are all being… in the process of being accounted for. So, that process should be done very quickly. We’ve advised them to stay in place and in a safe place, but as I said, the senior leadership of the Mission is actively working.
Question: And one more question on Haiti. There clearly are lots of centres of power. You’ve talked about the continuity of government. You have an interim President now. You had an acting Prime Minister and another Prime Minister who’d been appointed but not sworn in. It’s a very, very confused situation and a very violent place. Does the Secretary-General believe that the Government of Haiti is in a position to investigate this crime, or should an international investigation be considered?
Spokesman: Look, it is, first and foremost, the responsibility of the Government to investigate this abhorrent crime against the President and against the First Lady. As always, we are ready to assist the Government in any way we can. As for a, quote, international investigation, we know that would require some sort of mandate. But right now, the focus is on ensuring the safety of the Haitian people. They need… the situation on the ground is reported calm and, I think, fairly tense, but calm. I spoke to one of my colleagues just a short while ago. But I think you described the situation pretty well. Yes, Célhia?
Question: On Mali, Steph, the new Government said that it does not trust the UN, and it doesn’t trust Barkhane. [inaudible] What does the Secretary-General think about that?
Spokesman: I mean, I had not seen those comments. I can’t talk about Barkhane. As you know, that’s a bilateral issue. The [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)] met recently with the governing authorities, along with other actors in the international community, to continue to push them on keeping the timeline on the road to transition. We are there to support the people of Mali. We are there to help the Government in any way we can. But, obviously, the Government has a responsibility to ensure transition back to civilian rule along the lines that were already agreed upon.
Question: Is the Mission able to do its work without problem?
Spokesman: The Mission… I mean, it’s two different things. The Mission is able to do its work. I mean, as you know, the Mission’s work is a very dangerous one… is very dangerous. They have… our colleagues have paid dearly with their lives. There remains a lot of problems in Mali, but the Mission is able to conduct its work and its mandate, especially in the north, where most of its military presence is. Okay. Ibtisam and then Lenka.
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the planned Security Council vote on humanitarian resolution in Syria, at first, do you have any updates on the aid there and the fund? Because I know you had shortage and if you have more numbers. And what’s your message or the message of the Secretary-General for the Security Council tomorrow?
Spokesman: I mean, our message is that we desperately need to be able to continue with the cross-border distribution of aid. We also want to use and have been using to a lesser ex… been using the cross-line, though there’s been more challenges there because of the ongoing fighting. We hope that the Security Council keeps, first and foremost, in mind our call for continuing humanitarian access to all the Syrians who need it. Our appeal for Syria continues to be underfunded. I will see if I can get you some exact numbers. [He later added that, based on the Financial Tracking Service, the 2021 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan is funded at $728.4 million, as of 7 July. This is about 17 per cent of the total $4.2 billion requested for this year.] Lenka, and then we’ll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you. I was wondering, do you have the number of swipes yesterday as the UN re-opened?
Spokesman: I do have the number of swipes.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: One of the few numbers that I have. [Laughter] Hopefully, I got them today. Anyway, my colleagues will send them to me, but I usually… we do usually get them. Okay. Maggie and then Michelle.
Correspondent: Hi, Steph.
Spokesman: 2,017 number of swipes. Sorry.
Question: That’s okay. Tomorrow, the Security Council is going to discuss the Grand [Ethiopian] Renaissance Dam (GERD). What does the Secretary-General want to see come out of this meeting? And he’s meeting in a couple of hours with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Could we get a readout perhaps after? And maybe you could share with us what his message might be to him? And does he have plans to meet with anyone from Sudan or Ethiopia or… I think their delegations are also in town?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has been in constant contact really with all three parties, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, as well as the Congolese Chairmanship of the African Union, with President [Felix] Tshisekedi on this issue. His message is the same to all three parties, is to encourage them to work through the African Union-led process, to refrain from engaging in unilateral action that could undermine a solution being found. And I think, as I mentioned yesterday, there are other places around the world where… in fact, many places around the world where rivers… major rivers flow through different countries. And for us, the solution about sharing the water exists, and that’s based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation and the obligation not to cause significant harm. We’ll try to get you a readout, and I’ll see… I don’t have the SG’s further calendar in my head right now, but we’ll try to see what we can get for you.
Spokesman: It’s nice to see you on video.
Question: Could I also ask you a favour? Would you read the Haiti statement, since it’s only four lines, in French? That would be useful for some of the broadcasters. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Okay. I need to translate it in my head first. Michelle?
Correspondent: No, your office sent it out in French. You don’t have it?
Spokesman: Okay. So I’ll get… thank you so much.
Question: Thank you. If you can do it while you’re on camera, that would be great.
Spokesman: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. Alright, Michelle, any other requests? [Laughter]
Question: Well, mine’s a follow-up to Maggie’s question on the dam. Tunisia has circulated this draft resolution, which would seemingly give the Secretary-General a sort of greater role in trying to get negotiations going again. It would ask the SG to work sort of in partnership with the AU [African Union] to issue invitations, to resume negotiations, and then for him to report on the matter to the Security Council. Can you just give us a little indication of how involved the Secretary-General would like to be in this process?
Spokesman: Look, first of all, as a matter of course, of… the Secretary-General will abide with whatever resolution has been… whatever instructions are given to him by the Security Council through a resolution. The Secretary-General has been involved in this particular issue for quite some time, in the fact that he has been working with the parties in support of the African Union-led discussions, and he will continue to be involved in whichever way Member States want him to be involved. And as he said, he is standing by for whatever role would be most productive for him.
Okay. And if you’ll allow me, I will quickly read the Haiti statement in French.
Le Secrétaire Général de l’ONU condamne dans les termes les plus forts l’assassinat du Président Jovenel Moïse de la République d’Haïti. Les auteurs de ce crime doivent être traduits en justice. Le Secrétaire Général présente ses plus sincères condoléances au peuple et au Gouvernement haïtiens ainsi qu’à la famille de feu le Président.
Le Secrétaire général appelle tous les Haïtiens à préserver l’ordre constitutionnel, à rester unis face à cet acte odieux et à rejeter toute violence. L’ONU continuera d’être aux côtés du Gouvernement et du peuple haïtiens.
Okay. Iftikhar and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Although my question has been asked, but let me ask you whether the Secretary-General has any thoughts on the death in Bombay of legendary Indian film star Dilip Kumar?
Spokesman: We send our deep condolences to his family, his legions of fans throughout the world — and voilà. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Both Maggie and Michelle asked my question about the meeting tomorrow and the activities of the Foreign Ministers of Sudan and Egypt, but I will ask my question again, what I raised yesterday, the hunger striker, the Palestinian hunger striker, Ghandanfar Abu Atwan, entered his 64th day today, and he lost the ability to talk. And yet the UN officials in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have not said anything. He’s protesting his administrative detention since October until today.
Spokesman: I will try to get specific language on this, and I’m sorry I don’t. But, obviously, we have in the past and will continue to express our concern about the issue of administrative detention. [He later added: The Secretary-General is following with great concern the deteriorating health condition of Ghadanfar Abu Atwan. He reiterates that all held in administrative detention should be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person and be provided with adequate medical attention.]
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you. Yes, James?
Question: So, back to Afghanistan, have you any update on what the UN is doing, given the complex situation in Afghanistan right now, what either of your special envoys are up to? And do you have any information on that report that the Taliban has offered some new proposal or is planning to offer some new proposal?
Spokesman: Yeah. No new… sorry. Nothing to confirm on what was reported by another media organizations. What I can tell you is that Deborah Lyons just returned to Kabul. She had been in Doha. She met with both the Taliban negotiating team and the team… the Government negotiating team. She reiterated, once again, that there can only be a negotiated solution to the end of the conflict to bring peace to Afghanistan and its people. I mean, what is clear to us is, I think, continuing military operations, continuing violence will only bring more suffering to the Afghan people, and it’s incumbent upon Afghan leaders to heed and answer the calls for peace from their people with the support of regional powers and the broader international community. We also expect later this month our human rights colleagues and Mission to report on the latest list of violations from January to June.
Question: And what about Mr. [Jean] Arnault? Because, I mean, we’ve never been given a clear division of labour between these two, and Deborah Lyons seems to be… I thought he was doing the regional role and she was dealing with on the ground in Afghanistan, but it seems she’s doing both jobs.
Spokesman: No, I mean, he had been travelling in the region. I think the fact that she was in Doha meeting with the Government of Afghanistan delegation and the Taliban delegation is within her remit of dealing with what’s going on in Afghanistan itself.
Question: Lebanon, on the verge of economic collapse. What is the UN up to?
Spokesman: We are increasingly concerned about the socio-economic situation in Lebanon. Through the International Support Group, we remain in touch with the Government, and I think it is important for all of Lebanon’s external partners to do whatever they can to be supportive in a conducive way to the Government and especially, obviously, to the people of Lebanon.
Question: And final question from me. Yesterday, you announced that there were going to be some changes in terms of the opening of this building and that a lot of meetings now will take place, and staff will return to their posts. Us journalists are here. The people who are not being given access… we understand why the public can’t get access, but the NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. I’m told the NGOs are just being treated like visitors from the public and are getting no access at all. Why are the NGOs, who are an important part of the work done at the UN, not getting their normal access if normal meetings are returning?
Spokesman: NGOs are an integral part of the ecosystem that we have here. At this point, there are no side events. There are no external events. If civil society briefers are invited to participate in multilateral legislative meetings, they will, of course, be given access. And we very much hope that, starting in October, we will see a progression and more people having access to this building. Okay. Unless I hear any other questions, we will be turning to our guest. Mr. Abdelmoula, are you on?