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 Security Council held a meeting on Afghanistan, which has just wrapped up now. Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the UN Mission in the country (UNAMA), said that recently, the war in Afghanistan has entered a new, deadlier and more destructive phase.
Ms. Lyons said that the Taliban campaign during June and July to capture rural areas has achieved significant territorial gains, and that from this strengthened position, they have begun to attack large cities. She noted that this is a clear attempt by the Taliban to seize urban centres with the force of arms.
The Special Representative said that the fighting has been especially severe in Laskhar Gah. She pointed out that since  July, at least 104 civilians were killed and 403 wounded there, as registered by two main hospitals. In Kandahar, since the start of the offensive on 9 July, more than 460 civilian casualties have been registered.
Ms. Lyons stressed that the Security Council must issue an unambiguous statement that attacks against cities must stop now and that Member States should contribute to the severely underfunded humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan.
She emphasized that members of the regional and international community must put aside their differences on the question of Afghanistan and send a strong signal that it is essential to stop fighting and negotiate, in that order. Otherwise, there may be nothing left to win.
Once we’re done here, there will still be some ambassadors speaking to you at the Security Council stakeout. We expect the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, Ambassador Barbara Woodward, and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Iran, Ambassador Zahra Ershadi, to speak to reporters there.
**Hiroshima Peace Memorial
The Secretary-General spoke by pre-recorded video message to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and he paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
He said that, on this day 76 years ago, a single nuclear weapon brought unimaginable suffering to the people of Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands of people instantly, tens of thousands in its aftermath, and many more in the following years. The Secretary-General said that Hiroshima is defined not only by the tragedy unleashed on it. He said the survivors, the hibakusha, have dedicated their lives to sharing their experiences and campaigning to make sure no-one else suffers their fate.
Mr. [António] Guterres said that the United Nations shares the hibakusha’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, but that he is deeply concerned by the lack of progress towards the goal of a nuclear-free world. The only guarantee against the use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination, he stressed.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
Hot off the presses, I have a senior appointment to announce. The Secretary-General is appointing Hans Grundberg of Sweden as Special Envoy for Yemen.
Mr. Grundberg succeeds Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who, as you know, is the new Emergency Relief Coordinator. The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Griffiths’ commitment and dedicated service.
Mr. Grundberg brings over 20 years of experience in international affairs, including over 15 years working in conflict resolution, negotiation, and mediation, with a focus on the Middle East. Since September 2019, Mr. Grundberg has served as Ambassador of the European Union to Yemen. More on this is being emailed and posted as I speak.
We are concerned about the escalatory developments, including rocket fire into Israel and air strikes and artillery fire in response, across the Blue Line in recent days. We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and maintain stability. Lebanon cannot afford another crisis. It is paramount that all actors involved avoid actions that can further heighten tensions and lead to miscalculation.
UNIFIL’s [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, is in direct contact with the parties. He calls on everyone to immediately cease fire. This is a very dangerous situation, with escalatory actions seen on both sides over the past two days. UNIFIL calls on the parties to cease fire and maintain calm so that it can begin an investigation.
In addition, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, exercising her good offices, has activated her political contacts and reached out to all stakeholders concerned. The potential for miscalculation presents the risk of serious consequences. Maximum restraint is required to prevent further escalation.
In north-east Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues warn that, without sustained funding, millions of people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States will struggle to feed themselves during the lean season due to conflict, COVID-19, high food prices and the effects of climate change.
An estimated 4.4 million people, including internally displaced people, are expected to face critical food shortages, with 775,000 people being at extreme risk of catastrophic food insecurity. This is the worst outlook in four years.
The humanitarian community is working with the Government and local authorities to scale up the distribution of food in high-risk areas, but a surge in violence targeting aid workers and assets has made this difficult. Our colleagues tell us that 8.7 million people in Nigeria need urgent assistance, including 2.2 million displaced people. As of today, Nigeria’s humanitarian response plan, which seeks just over $1 billion, is only one-third funded.
Moving to Ethiopia. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed its deep concern about the reports on the expansion of the conflict to the city of Lalibela, which hosts the World Heritage site called Rock-Hewn Churches.
UNESCO called for the respect of all relevant obligations under international law in ensuring the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value and legacy of this precious site by refraining from any act that may expose it to damage. UNESCO also called for all necessary precautions to prevent any attempts of looting and pillaging cultural properties located in the area. UNESCO noted that Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage, devotion and peace, and that it should not be a place for instigating violence and conflict.
On Myanmar, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that its operations in the country for the next six months are threatened by a funding gap of 70 per cent. A massive wave of COVID-19 infections is leading to increased hunger, as families struggle amid job losses, rising food and fuel prices, political unrest, violence and displacement.
As you’ll recall, in April, WFP estimated that the number of people facing hunger could more than double to 6.2 million in the next six months, up from 2.8 million prior to February. WFP said that nearly 90 per cent of households living in slum-like settlements around Yangon say they must borrow money to buy food. In May, the agency launched a new urban food response, targeting 2 million people in Yangon and Mandalay, Myanmar’s two biggest cities. WFP is also helping people who have been forced from their homes by the fighting in Myanmar. However, the funding shortfall is making it uncertain how far these operations can go. More on WFP’s website.
I have some COVID-19 updates for you, today from Paraguay and Cambodia.
Last night, Paraguay received more than 250,000 doses of the vaccine through COVAX, which were donated by Spain and Colombia. This brings the total number of doses that Paraguay has received through COVAX to 550,000, with more on the way. The Government says that 30 per cent of the population has received at least one shot, while just over 4 per cent has been fully vaccinated.
In Cambodia, our UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Pauline Tamesis, continues to help authorities respond to the pandemic and vaccinate people. As of yesterday, nearly half of the population has had a first dose of the vaccine, while 35 per cent have had two doses. Nearly 200,000 children over the age of 12 are expected to receive their first doses this month. Through COVAX and other avenues, Cambodia has received 18 million vaccine doses, with more expected in the coming months. Since the start of the pandemic, the UN has supported the safe reopening of schools and provided cleaning and hygiene supplies to all 13,300 public schools in Cambodia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are helping migrants at points of entry and in quarantine centres and communities.
This afternoon, at 3.30 p.m., there will be a briefing here in this room by Ambassador Munir Akram, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations.
And finally, we have more good news at the end of the work week. We have a full payment from a Member State that co-hosts, along with Zambia, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. That would be Victoria Falls, and that makes it… any guesses? Okay. That makes it Zimbabwe. The total of fully paid-up countries is now 119. And now we’ll turn to your questions before we go back to the stakeout. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do… does the UN know what happened to Alie Kabba, the former representative of Sierra Leone, who was recalled by his Government after China complained about him? Do we know what happened? He left within… like, he had two days to leave.
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware. Obviously, it’s the Member States’ decisions when their officials are recalled, and we leave that into the hands of the Member States, but we’ll see if there’s any further details we have on that. Okay. And James Reinl… oh, sorry. Yes, please?
Question: Farhan, Vladimir [inaudible] from the TASS news agency. China’s Foreign Minister one year today has called to begin the process of cancelling sanctions on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. He said it’s time to cancel them. What’s the UN position on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, obviously, we leave all the decisions on sanctions in the hands of the Security Council and its members. So, it’s for them to consider. You’ll have seen the Secretary-General’s own position, in particular on the humanitarian impact of sanctions and the need for nations to be sensitive to that. Yes, please?
Question: Mr. Farhan, I’m Sala from Azerbaijan News Agency Report. My question is about the conflict situation in Azerbaijan. As you know, after 30 years, Azerbaijan has liberated its internationally recognized territories from Armenian occupation. Unfortunately, many civilians, including our colleagues, journalists, die almost every single day in those areas as a result of mine explosions, because Armenia doesn’t share maps of land mines in liberated regions of Azerbaijan. Why don’t you issue an official statement… make an official statement condemning this war crime, because it’s literally war crime? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding your question, it’s very clear, in all conflicts, that we have concerns about the laying of mines and the need to make sure that information is provided so that demining can take place. So, we do call for that across the board. And regarding the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, of course, we continue to urge both sides to exercise restraint, refrain from any action that could escalate tensions, and address related concerns through dialogue. And from the screens, James Reinl, you have a question?
Question: Yeah, sure. Thank you so much, Farhan. You’ve put out a statement now about protecting heritage in Lalibela in northern Ethiopia. Ned Price, the US State Department spokesman, made a similar comment yesterday. I’m wondering, is this based on any actual indication that the Rock-Hewn Churches have been damaged or based on a realistic fear that that will happen — noting, of course, that Tigrayans are a majority Christian and mostly Ethiopian Orthodox Christian people, who most likely aren’t interested in damaging churches at all?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don’t have first-hand information on any actual damage being done, but as you can see, through the press release from UNESCO and its statement, they have a legitimate concern when protected sites are in a zone where there’s combat. Those of you with a long historical memory will remember what happened, for example, to the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. And there have been any number of other sites in other recent conflicts that have been damaged or otherwise suffered. So, yes, we want to make sure that this particular heritage site is protected. And… yes, you have a question?
Question: I would like to find out if Nigeria is among the 119 Members that’s paid its dues. Has Nigeria paid?
Deputy Spokesman: Has Nigeria paid its dues?
Deputy Spokesman: I will check. I’m not aware that it has, but I will check and get back to you. With that, I wish you all a good weekend. Time to head back to the stakeout. Take care, everyone.