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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. This morning, the Secretary-General addressed, by a video message, the eleventh CARICOM (Caribbean Community)-UN General Meeting.
He said that the combined effects of the pandemic and climate change in the Caribbean region have created the conditions for an epic “perfect storm,” and said that this crisis requires innovative thinking in a number of areas.
He reiterated his call for G20 countries to ensure that vaccines are distributed equitably, and also his call to the international community to urgently help countries in dire financial distress to tackle both short- and medium-term debt and liquidity challenges. He also stressed the importance of climate financing ahead of COP26 (Twenty-Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Glasgow.
The Secretary-General also thanked CARICOM for its unwavering support to the UN mission in Haiti and its willingness to play a role in facilitating this national dialogue.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel
On Thursday, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will arrive in Rome to take part in the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, co-hosted with the Government of Italy.
Convened by Secretary-General António Guterres, the event is a “People’s Summit” that will bring together youth, farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector and policy leaders, among other participants. It is also framed as a “Solutions Summit” with the aim to deliver the latest evidence-based and scientific approaches to a food systems transformation from around the world, set the stage for a set of new commitments through coalitions of action, and mobilize new financing and partnerships.
The Pre-Summit will take place in a hybrid format from 26 to 28 July 2021. It will tee up the UN Food Systems Summit in New York in September by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While in Rome, Ms. Mohammed is expected to meet with ministers and other high-level officials, civil society representatives and others on the side-lines of the Pre-Summit. She will also hold meetings with Vatican officials.
Ms. Mohammed will also travel to London, United Kingdom, from Rome to attend the first day of the July ministerial meeting convened by the incoming COP President, Alok Sharma, on 25-26 July 2021. She will deliver opening remarks, presenting the UN’s priorities to get ambitious and equitable results at COP26. The informal meeting will provide an opportunity for participants to discuss the shape and substance of the potential outcome, and to provide guidance on outstanding negotiations issues.
**Flooding — China, Germany
The Secretary-General has been concerned about recent devastating floods in different parts of the world and has been in touch with leaders accordingly.
You will have seen our statement last week on the floods in Western Europe, including in Germany. The Secretary-General sent a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express his condolences for the lives lost due to those floods and his sympathies to all those who have suffered losses.
Over the weekend, China was also hit by heavy rain and flooding, and the Secretary-General is sending a letter to President Xi Jinping to convey his heartfelt condolences on the tragic loss of lives and devastation.
The Secretary-General’s sympathies and thoughts go to the bereaved families and to the Chinese Government and people.
Elizabeth Spehar, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations this morning on the situation there.
And as you saw, she just spoke to reporters at the stakeout and emphasized the need for the parties to avoid unilateral actions.
Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that while there are improvements in access within Tigray, the last entry point open to get into the region — the road between Afar and Tigray via Semera city — remains blocked due to security reasons. This prevents humanitarian personnel, food stocks, fuel and other humanitarian goods from entering.
The UN Humanitarian Air Service’s first regular flight is scheduled to begin tomorrow, 22 July.
Meanwhile, humanitarian stocks are rapidly depleting inside Tigray. As of this past Monday, WFP (World Food Programme) and partners only had enough food to feed about 1.9 million people for one round of its common food basket. Despite challenges, at least 167,000 people were reached with food and nutrition support last week.
Shortages of fuel and cash, as well as communications blackouts, are significantly hindering the resumption of the humanitarian response and preventing its scale-up.
NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and UN agencies are running out of cash and are unable to pay staff or suppliers. Unless fuel, cash, supplies, and aid workers are able to enter Tigray in the coming days, some humanitarian programmes will not be able to function.
We continue to call for the restoration of electricity, communications, commercial flights and the banking system to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation.
The Head of the peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), El-Ghassim Wane, condemned yesterday’s attempted stabbing attack on the President of the Transition, Assimi Goïta. As you know, the attack took place during the prayer marking Eid al-Adha — or Tabaski, as the holiday is called in Mali.
Mr. Wane reaffirmed the UN’s support to the transition under way in the country.
In a statement, the local Transition Monitoring Committee, which includes the Economic Commission for West Africa and the Sahel (ECOWAS), the African Union, the UN peacekeeping mission, and members of the international community, also condemned the attack. They reiterated their determination to continue working with Malian authorities and to support efforts aimed at ensuring the success of the transition and its completion on schedule.
You will have seen that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the horrific bomb attack targeting civilians at a market in Al-Sadr City in Iraq on Monday.
He said that the deadly attack ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday is a reminder to us all that the scourge of terrorism knows no bounds.
The Secretary-General underlined the need for the perpetrators of this crime to be swiftly brought to justice.
I have a couple of COVAX updates for you.
In Brazil, a new batch of 1 million vaccines is arriving today. To date, the country has received 6.9 million vaccines since March this year. Brazil is one of the COVAX self-financed countries, where vaccines are purchased with resources from the Government.
And in Ecuador, more than 379,000 vaccine doses arrived for the first time through COVAX. The Government is aiming to immunize 9 million people in 100 days. To date, more than 1.8 million people have been fully immunized, and more than 4.1 million people have received their first doses.
I have an update from Myanmar. The International Labour Organization (ILO) says that there have been significant job losses and deteriorated labour market conditions in the country since the military takeover. Employment contracted by an estimated 6 per cent in the second quarter of this year compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, reflecting 1.2 million job losses. In the first half of 2021, an estimated 14 per cent of working hours were lost, which is equivalent to the working time of at least 2.2 million full-time workers. Women are estimated to have been affected more than men. All sectors of the economy have been affected, with construction, garment-making and tourism and hospitality among the hardest hit.
The Secretary-General appointed today a group of 25 tax experts from around the world to serve as members of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters for the 2021-2025 term.
The UN Tax Committee guides countries’ efforts to advance stronger and more forward-looking tax policies adapted to the realities of globalized trade and investment, an increasingly digitalized economy and worsening environmental degradation. It assists countries in their efforts to prevent double or multiple taxation, as well as non-taxation, broaden their tax base, strengthen their tax administrations, and curb international tax evasion and avoidance.
The list of 25 experts is being emailed as we speak.
And tomorrow, the Spokesperson will be Florencia Soto Niño-Martinez, and she’ll take your questions.
Anything for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much, Farhan. Before I ask a question, I would like to put on the record the anger and dismay of UN correspondents that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, came to the stakeout after the Security Council meeting, made a statement, and refused to answer any question. This is unacceptable behaviour.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I sympathize very much, and I apologize. That wasn’t expected. I believe her meeting might have been running a bit behind, but we’re very sorry. We try never to bring people out unless they’re going to actually take questions from you.
Question: My question now is, related to the request from Haiti for security assistance from the United Nations. The Secretary-General received that request, my guess is, 10 days ago at least. What is his response to that request?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, as you know, any actual mandate for any such security presence would need to be crafted and authorized by the UN Security Council, so that is a matter for them. And we will be in touch with the members of the Security Council to see what kind of assistance they are looking to provide to Haiti.
From our standpoint, what we’ve tried to do is strengthen, through negotiations, the situation on the ground. And to that extent, we’re very pleased that there had been an agreement on a peaceful transfer of the prime ministership.
Question: And when you say strengthen, in what specific ways?
Deputy Spokesman: You mean for the presence on the ground?
Deputy Spokesman: That would really be up, ultimately, to the members of the Council. As you know, the United Nations, over the past 30 years, has had a variety of different formats of UN presence on the ground in Haiti, including peacekeeping forces, peacebuilding offices, and political offices.
Right now, we have a political office in BINUH, and we’ll have to see whether the Security Council believes that that continues to be appropriate or whether there needs to be a stronger presence on the ground, and we will be in touch with them as this proceeds.
Question: So, can we understand by this that the letter that was sent to the Secretary-General has been forwarded to the Security Council and that there is some kind of a discussion going on between Council members and the Secretariat?
Deputy Spokesman: I think it’s more accurate to say that the letter’s been received and is being examined and that we are following up at this stage and will continue to follow up with the members of the Security Council.
Question: Farhan, one follow-up to Edie’s question. That letter was penned by the previous interim Prime Minister and now there’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Would that have to be rewritten or re-requested as far as the UN is concerned?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you… [cross talk]
Correspondent: There’s a second question — but go ahead.
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, we respond to requests from Governments, and so we will continue to be in touch with the Government of Haiti, but that request came to us from the Government of Haiti and, of course, through the Permanent Mission, and so we’ll have to see… I mean, obviously, if there’s a change in the request from the Government, then they can convey that to us.
Question: Right. I’m sorry. And the other question is, do you have any comment about the stripping of Liverpool from the UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites? Does the Secretary-General agree with this? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is a decision taken by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and it’s within their rights to do that. So, of course, we recognize and defer to their expertise in these matters.
Question: And you support the decision?
Deputy Spokesman: We support all the decisions of the various agencies, funds and programmes of the UN, including UNESCO. [cross talk]
Correspondent: Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Philippe?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. We know that Mr. [Jean] Arnault, Special Envoy for Afghanistan, is in town. Can you tell us who he met at the UN and if you could plan a briefing with media? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll check and see. I know that, when he’s here, he meets with various permanent representatives to deal with the Afghanistan file. And he and the Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, have been working very closely with each other to see what they can do to make sure that the political process for Afghanistan continues to move ahead. In that regard, of course, they’ve been trying to encourage the process that’s been happening in Doha, but I’ll see whether we can get any particular names of people or countries with whom he’s met.
Okay. Is there anything in the chat? Nothing in the chat.
Question: Then I just want to follow up on the Pegasus spyware. Yesterday, you said you’re in touch with the host governments or with the US Government about this. Is there any further action you, as the UN, will take right now about this?
And do you know if anybody is comprised by that from the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: You mean compromised?
Question: Oh, compromised. Sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think there’s any further details to share at this point. If there’s anything further to say, I can do it. But basically, we’re doing what we can to make sure that our own communications are strengthened. Obviously, this is an issue that is not simply about the UN but is a much larger issue and is in keeping with the Secretary-General’s own concerns that the communications systems around the world are secure.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just a little follow-up on this question. Have you been checking the security of the SG’s communications in this regard, particularly with regard to Pegasus story?
Deputy Spokesman: We regularly check the communications of the Secretary-General and senior officials. We have people who try to make sure that our communications are as secure as they can be.
As you know, the history of the UN is such that there’s a lot of efforts to find out what we’re saying and doing, and I assume that will continue regardless of what the technology is, and we will continue our efforts to try to keep them as secure as we can.
And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.
Correspondent: Farhan, I have been in chat for a while. Evelyn here. [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: Please write in chat. My colleagues say no one was…
Correspondent: I did. I did, five minutes ago. I did. You don’t see it.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. All right. I mean, I’m not on the computer. My colleague who was monitoring it says that there was nothing in chat. So, please make sure, when you go in, write to “all personnel” and just say you want… you have a question. Thanks. Go ahead.
Question: I have done that. Okay. Right. First of all, could the very nice UN cameraman please flash on the speaker? I recognise most people’s voices but not all of them. And so, I don’t know who’s speaking, and it would be… it would help because not everybody knows everyone’s voice.
They keep the camera on you even though multiple people in the briefing room have been speaking. So, could you kindly ask them to do that?
Deputy Spokesman: I… we’ll note your request. It’s possible the cameraman just likes my face. [laughter]
Question: It’s possible. They’re hardworking people. They’re doing a wonderful job, but today, it was rather confusing. I know Pam’s voice but not everyone does.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m sorry.
Question: And second, on Myanmar, on Burma, there have been some ambassadors who have moved against the Government because of what it’s doing, some UN ambassadors. Myanmar will replace them or has replaced them. How will the Secretary-General be dealing with them, with the new ambassadors as compared to the old one? Does he have any say in this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, I don’t… we don’t have any change in what we’ve been saying about the credentials of the officials who are accredited here. As you know, as we said a few months ago, we had not had any change to those credentials, and I’m not aware of any change at this point.
Question: But if they change the credentials, do you have any say in that? Does the SG have any say in that?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, there’s a body… whenever there’s any disputes, there’s a body called the Credentials Committee here that resolves those disputes. I don’t believe that they’re seized of this matter at this point.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you. [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: And I believe Rick Gladstone has a question?
Question: Yeah. Hi, Farhan. Thanks very much. Forgive me if I missed this recently, but has there been any update on the Secretary-General’s efforts to reacquire the Guernica tapestry that the Rockefeller family removed from the Security Council’s outside wall in February?
Deputy Spokesman: No. There’s no… [cross talk]
Question: Can you just tell us what’s going to be up there instead?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s no progress on that front, which is sad news for those of us who love seeing that, but there’s nothing at this point to report on that. The Guernica remains in the hands of its owners, and we’ll have to see whether there’s any change to that.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Eid Mubarak. Although my question…
Deputy Spokesman: Eid Mubarak.
Question: Although my question’s been answered on Afghanistan partly, but you made no mention of the Eid day attack on the presidential palace claimed by IS… ISI… ISIL.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly condemn that. And, of course, it’s particularly horrific to think that on a day that should be one of peace that such an attack was launched. But, yes, our Mission on the ground expressed its… has expressed also its concerns about that.
Yes, Ibtisam? [cross talk]
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just Eid Mubarak, too. As a follow-up on Rick’s question: so, who decides which art going to be exhibited there?
Deputy Spokesman: We do have an office that deals with the art that is on the buildings and grounds, and we’ll have to see what can be placed there. At this stage, there’s nothing to say about the fact that the Guernica… about the Guernica other than that it has been returned to its owners.
Question: Are you going to bring it back?
Deputy Spokesman: We would hope we could do that, but I don’t have anything to report on that.
Question: Farhan, when are we going to expect the Secretary-General’s recommendations on high-level week in late September on how it’s going… how the Secretariat would like to see it conducted, numbers, what in person?
Deputy Spokesman: I hope it will be soon, but it’s something that’s being developed in a dialogue with the Member States and with the President of the General Assembly. Ultimately, the President of the General Assembly will have the most up-to-date information.
All righty. Good afternoon, everyone.