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. Thank you for your patience. I have a statement I want to read out on Syria. The Secretary-General welcomes the Security Council’s decision to extend the UN cross-border mechanism in north-west Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Cross-border humanitarian assistance remains a lifeline for millions of people in the area and beyond. The reauthorization will ensure humanitarian assistance continues for over 3.4 million people in need, including 1 million children.
However, needs continue to outstrip the response. As the Secretary-General has highlighted to the Council, with additional crossings and expanded funding, the United Nations could do more to help the rising number of people in need. The United Nations continues to engage with all parties to also facilitate crossline convoys. They are critical for the expansion of the overall response as humanitarian needs continue to grow. The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all parties to the conflict to ensure humanitarian access to all people in need in accordance with international humanitarian law.
I also have a statement on Ethiopia. The Secretary-General and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spoke yesterday to discuss the extremely concerning humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The Secretary-General welcomed the Prime Minister’s assurances that the Government of Ethiopia will facilitate immediate access to Tigray for humanitarian organizations, as well as the Prime Minister’s commitment that essential basic services, including power and communications, will resume swiftly. The Secretary-General also acknowledged the Government’s pledge to use the ceasefire to facilitate urgent humanitarian assistance, including regular United Nations humanitarian flights into Tigray, as well as support for agricultural activities. The Secretary-General reiterates his call that all parties must meet their obligations to protect civilians, provide unimpeded humanitarian access and to observe international humanitarian law.
**Group of 20
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke virtually to the third G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors, which is being held in Venice in Italy. He told ministers that to restore trust in multilateralism, we need to deliver on vaccines, economic recovery and climate finance. On the pandemic, the Secretary-General reiterated his call for a Global Vaccine Plan to at least double production of vaccines and to ensure equitable distribution, using COVAX as the platform. On economic recovery, the Secretary-General said that many developing countries are teetering on the verge of debt default. He called on the G20 to expand the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and Common Framework for Debt Treatment to include vulnerable middle-income countries and small island developing states. And on climate change, he said that he was deeply concerned over the lack of progress on public climate financing and once again called on the G20 to mobilize $100 billion annually, as agreed to in 2009. His full remarks are online.
Moving on to Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Helen La Lime, continues to be in contact with Haitian leaders and other interlocutors stressing the urgent need to reach an inclusive political compromise to maintain stability and to chart the way forward for Haiti. The solution to Haiti’s challenges will come from Haitians themselves. We continue to stand by Haiti and the Haitian people to provide support.
Also on Haiti, on the humanitarian aspect, our colleagues are telling us that, following the assassination of the President, efforts to respond to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the country are being put at risk. The situation is also threatening efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, especially food and water, to people who have been internally displaced due to recent gang attacks. UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights were cancelled on 7 and 8 July, and the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) has restricted road movements for UN humanitarian staff. Members of the humanitarian country team are reviewing preparedness and contingency plans.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and our humanitarian colleagues estimate that, as of 4 July, some 18,000 people were displaced in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Of those, nearly 14,700 were displaced since the beginning of the gang clashes in early June. Humanitarian partners are currently drafting a strategy and budget to support efforts. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that 1.5 million children, which represents nearly one third of all children in the country, are in urgent need of emergency relief due to the rising violence, constrained access to clean water, health and nutrition, disrupted education and protection services in times of COVID-19, as well as hurricanes. UNICEF warned that this is the worst humanitarian crisis Haiti has faced over the past few years, and that it’s deteriorating week after week. There’s more online.
Turning to Afghanistan. Also on UNICEF, they tell us that more than 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived today in Afghanistan. Donated by the United States to COVAX, the doses were delivered through the COVAX Facility’s dose-sharing scheme to the Government of Afghanistan. UNICEF noted that this is the first of two vaccine consignments to arrive this month, bringing the total donation to around 3.3 million doses. Also, today, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are enormous and complex. WHO said that the worsening security situation has led to a sharp increase in civilian casualties. More online.
In response to questions on recent events in Bolivia, I can tell you that, in relation to the legal action taken against former Government officials and authorities in the country, the Secretary-General recalls the importance of upholding due process guarantees and full transparency in all legal proceedings. The Secretary-General encourages all political and social leaders to continue working together with a strong commitment to democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and dialogue efforts in addressing current political, economic, social [and health] challenges.
**Occupied Palestinian Territory
Our colleague Lynn Hastings, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said she visited Gaza yesterday, to see what progress has been made nine weeks since the beginning of the hostilities with Israel. Unfortunately, she said, since the beginning of the escalation on 10 May, entry of goods through Kerem Shalom has been limited to food, medical supplies, fuel, fodder, a few agricultural inputs and some other items. She called for a return to the regular and predictable entry of goods into Gaza. We currently estimate that 250,000 people are still without regular access to piped water and that 185,000 are relying on unsafe water sources or paying higher prices for bottled water. Ms. Hastings urged Israel to ease the restrictions on the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza, with the goal of ultimately lifting them. Only by fully lifting the debilitating closures can we hope to sustainably resolve the humanitarian crisis and contribute to longer term stability, she said.
**Brazil - COVID-19
I have an update for you from our UN team in Brazil on what they’re doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic there. Led by Resident Coordinator Silvia Rucks, they continue to help authorities address the multiple impacts of COVID-19, including by focusing on indigenous people in the Amazon region. UN agencies are helping indigenous communities by increasing access to medical care and mental health support to indigenous communities, migrants, Venezuelan refugees and host communities. Our colleagues have also delivered personal protective equipment, hygiene kits, fuel and agricultural tools. UN-Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] launched campaigns in Portuguese, Spanish and indigenous languages to ensure that women are aware of their rights and services available to them, as cases of violence against women are on the rise.
**Economic and Social Council
This morning at the High-Level Political Forum of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Member States addressed two important topics: first, the urgent need to help Small Island Developing States so they may get on a path to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It then turned to a discussion on how to mobilize science, technology and innovation, and strengthen the science-policy-society interface. This afternoon, the first week of the Forum will conclude by shining a spotlight on the vision and priorities of civil society, the private sector and other major groups and stakeholders in realizing the SDGs during the COVID-19 recovery. The session will explore how to advance an inclusive pathway to recovery, as well as possible reforms to strengthen the realization of political and social rights, so as not to leave anyone behind.
**Security Council — Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Just for the record, you saw that yesterday the Council convened for a briefing on the ongoing disagreement involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. They heard from our colleagues Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, and Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
On Monday, we will be joined virtually by experts from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to launch the report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021, an annual flagship report which shares progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition. It provides in-depth analysis on key challenges for achieving this goal in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Also a note, from Monday onwards, for a time that I will not disclose, Farhan [Haq] and Eri [Kaneko] and Florencia [Soto Niño] will alternate in briefing as I will be taking some leave. James?
**Questions and Answers
Question: You’re getting some leave?
Question: So, I have a question about Syria, but first, thank you for going and getting the draft resolution, and could you please… I will try and raise this with the French presidency, but I know it was a last‑minute compromise resolution, whatever, but surely, in the sake of transparency, journalists need to know what is being voted on before the vote takes place. Some of us were carrying it live on television and not knowing what they were voting on is… so, if you could pass that to SCAD [Security Council Affairs Division] and anyone else who has influence. The question: You read the statement about the new resolution. So, just to be absolutely clear, does the Secretary‑General think that the one crossing at Bab al‑Hawa is sufficient?
Spokesman: Look, I’m trying to be as clear as possible. We very much welcome the resolution. The fact that we have the ability to use that crossing will bring relief, even temporary, Band‑Aids, whatever you want to call… relief to millions of people. Obviously, there is demand… there’s a great demand. We cannot meet that demand. We’ve always been clear of what we wanted. It was clearly… critically important for us to have cross‑border access. We continue to have it. It goes without saying, with more, you can service more people, but we very much welcome this resolution. And I think we also very much welcome and note the fact that it was adopted unanimously and that there were not competing drafts, and I think that sends… we are always heartened when there is a unified, singular voice from the Security Council, as we had today.
Question: And another question on the other thing you read out about Tigray. The phone call between the Secretary‑General and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, do you consider those promises he’s made of aid access a breakthrough, or are these things that he’s promised you before and you never got? And secondly, did the Secretary‑General raise the question of Eritrean forces? The Permanent Representative of Ethiopia a week ago said they’d all left Tigray, and that seems to be contradicted by evidence on the ground.
Spokesman: I mean, we’ve been clear about the need for foreign forces to leave. The Secretary‑General’s made that clear, both publicly and privately. The breakthrough will come when we will have the unimpeded, unhindered humanitarian access that we need, which is on this very day not the case, as I’ve said. We are heartened by the pledge made by the President, but it is clear… but… excuse me, thank you… by the Prime Minister. But it is clear that there are a number of figurative and literal roadblocks that remain for the humanitarian access that we need. But we’ll be, obviously, monitoring the situation very closely. Benno and then Toby.
Question: Thank you. I came late. I’m not sure… I hope you didn’t talk about that. The Syria resolution is hailed by the US and Russia that it could be a possible turning point in their relationships. Does the Secretary‑General have an opinion or a comment about if that could stretch to other things in the Security Council?
Spokesman: There is nothing that we’d like more than close, positive and productive cooperation between members of the Security Council, between the permanent members of the Security Council and between the United States and the Russian Federation. Toby?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Where will you be going on vacation, and how much fun do you expect to have?
Spokesman: Lots of fun, and I expect to drown my phone.
Question: My question is, now the resolution is calling for reporting on cross‑line aid deliveries, how do you expect to do this? What’s… What are you planning in terms of this reporting? And what can we expect it to look like?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve always talked about the importance of cross‑line deliveries, as well. We will continue to engage with all the various parties to facilitate the cross‑line convoy. The cross‑line convoy are really another critical tool that we need to exploit to its fullest extent to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid. I mean, basically, we will… we have been given an opportunity by the Security Council. We will ensure that we can… we do whatever we humanly can to use these opportunities to expand humanitarian aid.
Question: But what does it actually look like? I can’t really visualise it. I mean, there are monitors on the front lines there that would be taking tallies or…
Spokesman: Well, obviously, the cross‑line in any conflict area is… can be somewhat challenging because it involves dealing with parties that are, by very definition, in conflict. So, we will do whatever we can to make sure that that is exploited. Elena, I think you have a question?
Question: Hi, Stéphane. Thank you. One question before you leave on vacation, but I have sent an email just… not long ago, so maybe you didn’t have time to see it, but it’s about supposed intervention by this Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Mozambique, of which there is an organization in Mozambique saying that the SADC has informed the Secretary‑General for the military intervention in Mozambique to start next week. So, I wanted to see if that is true, if you can confirm that.
Spokesman: I saw your email a few minutes ago. We’ve asked people who monitor these things to see if we haven’t… if we’ve received it. I just don’t know off the top of my head.
Question: Thank you. Just as, like, a… Is there any opinion by the Secretary‑General that the population is not informed by it or the parliament or the assembly of the republic is not informed by it… of it, I mean?
Spokesman: I’m sorry. Who is not informed?
Question: The population in Mozambique is not informed that there can be an intervention, if there is going to be.
Spokesman: Let me look into the issue a little closer before… closely before I answer. Okay. I think we… our friend Amy [Quantrill] is sitting in the back. She will brief.
Spokesman: I have. I’m sorry. Go ahead, James?
Correspondent: You’re not going on holiday that quickly.
Spokesman: Go ahead, James?
Question: So, reports from Afghanistan that the border crossing to Tajikistan and the border crossing with Iran are now under the control of the Taliban. How concerned is the Secretary‑General of the military progress of the Taliban at a time when it was supposed to be diplomacy to the four?
Spokesman: We continue to be increasingly concerned by the military situation on the ground, the continued fighting. The military operations would only, in our mind, bring more suffering to the people of Afghanistan, and we think it’s critically important for all the parties involved to redouble their democratic efforts. And we are… I’ve spoken to my colleagues again. We are really working towards a briefing for you next week, inshallah.
Question: Excellent. And on the re‑opening of the UN, you made a very bold announcement that all staff had to come back to work unless they had a discussion with their managers. I look around the building, and it’s virtually empty. It’s clear that they haven’t heeded your call.
Spokesman: Who am I? [Laughter] Who am I? I… obviously, they still have a lot of practical… I mean, I think… all of us here have been coming back in because we need to be here to do our jobs. I think a lot of people, in every industry, had set up a product… way to work productively from home. These things need to be untangled, including issues of childcare and/or care for family. So, we expect… plus, you do have… this is the summer months. Some people will be on leave. We’ll be going on leave. So, I think the numbers will increase gradually.
Question: Why, on their return, not make this a completely COVID‑safe building? All of us have our passes reactivated when we prove our… proof of vaccination, and then we would… we’d know the building was totally safe, and we’d have no one in here who is foolish enough not to have gotten a vaccine.
Spokesman: It’s a valid point. A couple of issues that we, obviously, have to deal with. One is questions of medical privacy. One is the fact that some people cannot get vaccines for health reasons and that we have to respect.
Spokesman: Of medical conditions. The other issues involves Member States and diplomats, and that always is a tricky one. Benno?
Question: Very last question. Do you actually think about keeping the hybrid briefings for ever?
Spokesman: No, I think we will. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, I think the hybrid model works well. I think, as long as we’re safe in this room, I think it gives people the opportunity to do more than one thing at once. It gives the flex… so, I have no intention of stopping the hybrid model. I’m always happy to see people in the room, and I think we have to be flexible; like, work‑wise, people can work from home a few days from work. I’m happy to keep the hybrid model, but I’m always happier to see you in person. All right? Amy, come save me, and I will see you all not soon.