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.
**Noon Briefing Guests Today
Very good afternoon to all of you. We’ll get started and then afterwards we will go with our guests who are dialling in from Haiti, and we will have the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Bruno Lemarquis, and he will be joined by the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Haiti, and that is Giuseppe Loprete. We will turn to them as soon as we’re done here. And then Monica Grayley, the spokesperson for the PGA [President of the General Assembly] 76, will come and give her inaugural briefing.
**United in Science
Today, as you will have seen, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its United in Science report, which says that COVID-19 did not slow the relentless advance of climate change. Instead, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue at record levels, committing the planet to dangerous future warming. In a video message, the Secretary-General said that the report shows how off course we are. Costly fires, floods and extreme weather events are increasing everywhere, he said, adding that these changes are just the beginning of worse to come unless there are immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Secretary-General urged countries to act now to prevent further irreversible damage and underscored that COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of Parties] this November in Glasgow must mark that turning point. His remarks are with you.
**Climate Leaders Round Table
And just to confirm that on Monday at 9 a.m., the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson, will hold an Informal Climate Leaders Round Table on Climate Action. The Round Table will address the gaps that remain on the actions urgently needed from national governments — especially the G20 — on mitigation, finance and adaptation. We do expect a stakeout afterwards with the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister, that may be slightly before noon on Monday. We may not have a briefing on Monday, but we’ll keep you posted.
Turning to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, our new Special Envoy for Yemen, is in Riyadh to meet with senior Yemeni and Saudi officials as well as other diplomats. Mr. Grundberg will meet with Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalek, Foreign Minister Ahmed Binmubarak, House Speaker Sultan Barakani and representatives of Yemeni political parties, among others. He will also meet with senior Saudi officials, ambassadors of the UN Security Council permanent member States to Yemen and the US Special Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking. This is Mr. Grundberg’s first visit to Riyadh since he took office as the UN Special Envoy. He is keen to engage with Yemenis and other key interlocutors on how to find a durable solution to the conflict and reach an inclusive political settlement that ends the war and meets the aspirations of all Yemeni people.
Also on Yemen, just to give you an update on the dire humanitarian situation there. Our humanitarian colleagues warn of the conflict’s growing toll on civilians. Fierce fighting in Ma’rib has displaced more than 1,800 people last week, bringing the total number of new displacements in the governorate to more than 27,000 men, women and children since the beginning of 2021. Yemen’s economy is on the verge of complete collapse. The Yemeni rial is now trading at more than 1,100 to the dollar in Government-controlled areas — that’s a depreciation of more than 80 per cent since the start of the crisis. This is contributing to surging food prices in a country where more than half the population is facing acute food insecurity and 5 million people are close to starvation.
With the generous support of donors, we along with our partners have been able to prevent famine and scale up assistance across Yemen. Today, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is 54 per cent funded, having received $2.1 billion of its $3.85 billion requirement. Next Wednesday, on 22 September, there will be a high-level event on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, which will be convened on the margins of the General Assembly. Hosted by Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union, the event will be an important opportunity for the international community to show their solidarity with the people of Yemen, including through the announcement of contributions to the humanitarian appeal.
Moving on to Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is now in Pakistan, where he is holding talks with Government officials and reviewing the refugee response in Pakistan. As you know, Mr. Grandi just concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan. During his visit to Kabul, he had meetings with the interim Afghan government, as well as some of the hundreds of UN and NGO (non-governmental organization) staff that have stayed on the ground to maintain and deliver humanitarian aid. For its part, the International Organization for Migration today said that it continues to expand its relief operations across Afghanistan. This month, IOM has provided emergency shelter and relief items to more than 5,000 people in Kabul, Ghazni and other districts. IOM has also resumed community development activities in six provinces, constructing school buildings and irrigation and other water supply systems to mitigate the effects of drought. We do hope to have Mr. Grandi here in person at some point on Monday and that will give you a chance to talk to him.
Turning to Guinea, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamet Annadif, is participating in the second extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) to address the situation in Guinea. That summit is taking place in Accra in Ghana. In his remarks, Mr. Annadif stressed that the UN remains concerned about the situation and will support any initiative by ECOWAS to help Guinea regain a peaceful political and social framework, which will necessarily include a return to constitutional order. He also conveyed the message that the Secretary-General is very concerned about the repeated attempts and unconstitutional changes that are taking place in the West African sub-region.
**COVID-19 — Schools
Turning to COVID, a couple of updates. Our friends across the street, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, schools for nearly 77 million students in six countries continue to be almost completely closed. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Panama are among the countries that kept schools closed the longest. In total, an estimated 131 million students in 11 countries have missed more than three quarters of their in-person learning. Around  per cent of countries worldwide continue to have schools fully or partially closed. To call attention to the 18 months of lost learning and to urge Governments to reopen schools as soon as possible in a safe way, UNICEF and partners, such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the World Bank, are coordinating a “freeze” of content not education-related on their social media channels for 18 hours. The “freeze” started today at 9 a.m.
**COVAX — Thailand
A COVID update for you, today: Our colleagues in Thailand said that the UN system led by Gita Sabharwal, our Resident Coordinator, is supporting authorities to boost vaccine confidence, especially vulnerable groups, including migrants and the elderly. The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading a campaign to counter vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. It has also helped to upgrade two labs, delivered more than 30,000 pieces of protective equipment, and launched multilingual hotlines to support 2.8 million migrants. We are also helping prisons address COVID-19, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) delivering 1.5 million surgical masks following reports that thousands of inmates were infected. UNICEF continues to deliver more than 400,000 relief supplies and thousands of learning kits to vulnerable families. It has also launched a new help-centre for COVID-affected children.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
Two things I want to flag for you. One is that tomorrow my guest will be Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who heads the UN Peacekeeping Department and he will be here to brief on peacekeeping operations ahead of the start of the new General Assembly session.
And for those of you who live in the outer boroughs, at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Brooklyn — I think that’s across the river, from what I’m told — the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, will launch In Their hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace, a photo exhibition which is part of the Photoville festival in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s on Pier 1 in Brooklyn. This exhibition, curated by the UN Department of Peace Operations, the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and UN‑Women, profiles fourteen women peace activists through the lens of women photographers in peace operations settings in the Middle East, South America and Africa. You can also see it online, and it’s an easy ferry ride. Speaking of easy ferry rides, Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: So, a couple of questions for you. I know we're going to be doing Haiti humanitarian in a minute, but there's quite a lot going on politically with the Prime Minister sacking the justice… sacking the Chief Prosecutor and now replacing the Justice Minister. Given the backdrop of this, of the murder of the previous Prime Minister [sic] and the fact that the Chief Prosecutor wants to bring charges against the Prime Minister, how concerned is the Secretary‑General about what this will do to the already explosive political situation?
Spokesman: We're, obviously, very much aware of the situation and the changes, and I think it's important for all Haitian stakeholders, for political leaders to continue… to engage in a dialogue in order to guide the country through this period on the basis of consensus.
Question: One more for you, moving to Somalia, where the President has suspended the Prime Minister's powers to hire and fire people, again, a very tricky political situation. This probably can't help. Again, what is the Secretary‑General's reaction?
Spokesman: Again, we're following this very closely, very much aware. I don't know if you saw, but James Swan did have some press remarks, in which he commended President [Abdiaziz] Laftagareen for efforts to mediate between President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmajo and Prime Minister Hussein Roble. He sincerely hopes that his effort and those of other Federal Member State leaders and other mediators will help resolve the remaining differences. The need for dialogue, goodwill and putting the needs of all Somalis first and foremost is especially important to allow Somalia to continue on its path of stability and reform. I very much hope to have a statement from the Secretary‑General this afternoon, as well. Monsieur?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Emmanuel Macron said that his country, France, killed ISIS leader in Sahara Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui. Any comment on this announcement from the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: No, I do not have a comment on this.
Question: Question on… may I ask you if there's any update regarding Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura’s appointment as Special Envoy to Western Sahara?
Spokesman: No. The great Personal Envoy speculation process is continuing, and I'm… in all seriousness, obviously, as you know, we do not comment on what… rumours and unconfirmed press reports. When there's an announcement to be made, we will make it, when it's well done and baked and ready to come out of the oven. It is well-baked, huh? That's almost funny. Yes, sir?
Question: [inaudible] …for the General Assembly Hall to all the participants, to all people who go into such General Assembly Hall during high‑level week to be vaccinated. Is it final or can we hope that something will change? And about what vaccines we are talking about, only the ones that are satisfied here in the US?
Spokesman: Sure. Sure, sure. Yes, that is an issue that there's been a lot of discussion about recently. I mean, some of these… I would also encourage you to ask these questions of our… of my colleague who speaks for the President of the General Assembly. I can only speak on behalf of the Secretary‑General, who, as a reminder, I think, has been extremely cautious and careful since the start of the pandemic to avoid… to keep the community safe. Regarding this General Assembly, as we've said, we've taken a number of mitigation measures from the Secretariat point of view, smaller footprint, mandatory mask‑wearing, mandatory vaccination for staff, et cetera, and also limiting the delegation size to 1+3 in the GA Hall to ensure that the high‑level meeting is as safe as possible. As you may recall, there was a pilot project under the previous President of the General Assembly, for 75, which basically said that, by swiping a badge to enter the GA Hall, delegates attest that they are fully vaccinated, that they have not tested positive for COVID‑19 in the last ten days and have no symptoms. We're working with the President of the General Assembly 76 on continuing this honour system in an appropriate and acceptable way for all concerned. And, obviously, I think it bears repeating that we are cooperating… We have cooperated with the Host Country and the Host City on these matters and will continue to be discussing these matters with them. We fully expect to find appropriate solutions consistent with our respective requirements and status. Benno?
Question: Thank you. I'm not to full speed already about the meeting on Monday, the round table. Do I understand it correctly that it's then behind the doors when you say there's a stakeout afterwards or…
Spokesman: Yes, it's done behind… it's done… sorry. Let's try it again. It is a closed‑door meeting, which we feel will allow for a very frank exchange of views, as we say in the diplomatic world, on what needs to be done. There will be a… we will be issuing a chair's summary, which will state what countries need to do to ensure success at Glasgow. We do expect to release the participants' list, probably on Sunday night. It's still being worked out. It will be a fairly representative palette of Member States, from the G20, small islands, African countries. Some will be here in person, and others will be taking part virtually. It will be the closed doors of the Trusteeship Council.
Question: And do you… okay. And about other meetings aside from the GA itself…?
Spokesman: There's a press kit, which I think you should have all received, and if not [inaudible] that outlines all of the meetings. We're also feverishly working on the week ahead, which, hopefully, we'll put out later today.
Correspondent: Okay. I think I missed that. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. I'll come back to you in second. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. What is the reaction of the Secretary‑General on that new pact that was unveiled between UK, Australia and United States, military pact, nuclear pact…?
Spokesman: Yeah, I know exactly what you're talking about. I don't have language on that for the time being, but I… as soon as I have something, I will be able to share it with you.
Question: Is he concerned?
Spokesman: As I said, I'm waiting for some language on that. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Do you have any readout on the important meeting SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) Deborah Lyons had with Afghanistan's Interior Minister, Haqqani… Sirajuddin Haqqani? Do you have… how did it go from the point of view of the United Nations?
Spokesman: We… these are continuing dialogues that we are having with Afghan… with the Taliban in Kabul. Today, she also met with… along with our head of security, Gilles Michaud, met with the intelligence chief, Abdulhaq Wasiq, about securing the staff of UN personnel, the issues relating to Islamic State, and the importance of humanitarian assistance to reach those Afghans who need help. I'll come back… yeah, go ahead.
Question: How did… I said, any reaction from SRSG Deborah Lyons?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, these… it's not about having a reaction. These are ongoing dialogues with the Taliban that we're having in Kabul to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to be delivered in an independent and impartial manner, also to underscore the need to respect human rights, including, of course, the rights of women and girls, to ensure the safety of UN personnel, to talk about issues of access. It's just… it's an ongoing discussion. Pam?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Two quick questions. One is a follow‑up on the vaccination question. With this new New York City requirement that diplomats be vaccinated, you read the comment about what the Secretariat is requiring. There's been some questions, especially from Russia, about whether there should be an emergency session on the requirement itself. But can you say where the Secretary‑General stands? The new PGA has embraced the requirement. Can you say if the Secretary‑General does? And will it continue to be on an honour system, as you say, or is there also a consideration of some kind of proof? And then I have one more much shorter question.
Spokesman: What I said earlier, Pam, is that… I did flag that there was the honour system under the seventy-fifth session. We are under discussions with PGA 76 on continuing the practice in a way that's appropriate and acceptable for all concerned. On the issue of… there are issues that Member States will have to solve, and I think it bears repeating for I don't know how many times that on… the Secretary‑General does not have the authority to impose what people have been talking about. He has authority over the staff, but obviously, the Member States will have to come to a resolution amongst themselves. And your other question?
Question: All right. Yes. And the other question is on BTS on Monday. Do you expect… do you know the timing on that, on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) meeting? And how it will be broadcast? Thanks.
Spokesman: Yes. The SDG moment will start at about 8 a.m. Again, a lot of those details are going to be shared with you very quickly. And the… it will be on the UN webcast, and I think broadcasters can take the feed as per usual practise. That's what I'm told.
Question: And that's including the recorded video that they have?
Spokesman: I believe so. I mean, we can have an offline discussion on copyrights if there's an issue. Mr. Roth… yes, including the video, I'm told. And Mr. Roth and then Mr. Gladstone.
Question: Thank you, Steph. On this day of atonement, I know you and the Secretary‑General have nothing to atone for but except for the Mets organization. Moving back to that topic that…?
Spokesman: I was there last night. It was a sad night. There was… there's a lot of atoning that needs to be done at Citi Field. Anyway. Go ahead.
Question: It was not in the cards. But seriously, the UNGA and the vaccination, I know you… it's a tricky situation. You've got language there. We would rather ask you at the moment than pressure Monica because she's just starting, but you never know; we can try her. And the mayor of New York praised the Secretary‑General, and you are, a lot of days, the face of the UN. And you mentioned discussions are still going on. So, several questions. Whether… how do you know whether a Head of State or Government who does not prove vaccination will be allowed? Will that happen? Can that still happen? What kind of proof? How are you going to shut them down on this honour system?
Spokesman: We had an honour system for the last session. We're working with the sitting President of the General Assembly to continue that honour system in a way that is acceptable for all. There are issues in this building that need to be dealt with by Member States and those that need to… that are under the purview of the Secretary‑General. The Secretary‑General's authority is limited. So, we will work with Member States once they've… we will work with Member States in finding a way forward. And I do apologise for the diplomatic language, but the bandwidth is rather narrow.
Question: If someone tests positive for COVID sometime during the GA, who will tell you? We had this issue, I remember, last year where there were one or two delegation people, and how will you stop them from coming into the building?
Spokesman: We would expect anyone who comes into this building who then subsequently tests positive to report it, not only to their local health authorities but also to us so we can take the necessary mitigation measures. That's something that I think people need to do wherever they are, whether they're at the UN or in… anywhere they go where they see other people. And whether these people are staff members, journalists, delegates, that's… I think that… to me, that's common‑sense responsibility towards your community.
Question: And do you have a pithy comment regarding the fact that the United States sent a letter, which we've discussed, about "do not create a super-spreader event", "don't come", in other words, and all these people are still coming?
Correspondent: Not enough pith. Okay.
Spokesman: Let's… enough. We'll go to Rick, and then we'll go back to the room.
Question: Thank you. Richard asked questions in a blunter way than I was going to, but I have a couple of follow‑ups. When you say that you're looking for an accommodation in a way that is acceptable to all, what is… who is all? Does that include the City of New York?
Spokesman: It includes all concerned. Obviously… it includes all concerned. Different entities here… No, no, I know what you mean. Different entities have different responsibilities and different status. There is a Host Country Agreement. We are trying to work on a solution that would be acceptable to all concerned, consistent with our respective requirements and status.
Question: So, what happens on Monday… or Tuesday, rather, or whatever when the… when… if you haven't reached an accommodation acceptable to all concerned? What's going to happen? Some leaders won't be allowed to come into the GA Hall?
Spokesman: We are not… we're Thursday. I have no doubt that, as always, in the United Nations we find a solution, appropriate solution acceptable to all in time. Mr. Bays?
Question: So, it is another COVID‑19 question but slightly different one. You are telling us — and sorry, I haven't been here for some time but — that the meeting on Monday, the climate meeting, is now a hybrid meeting. I earlier had heard that the only people in person will be the Secretary‑General and the UK Prime Minister. I also heard there was a letter from New York City saying no side events in the whole of UNGA, and I think, at this podium, you said anything other than the GA, the actual high‑level session of the GA, would be virtual. It seems Monday is not virtual anymore.
Spokesman: I will give you a breakdown, hopefully, very soon on in‑person, not in… in hybrid… who's in person, who's in the room and who is not. I think when we talk about side events, these are side events often organised either by groups of Member States or agencies for whatever…
Question: But I think your own words were at one point the only thing in person would be actually the General Assembly session.
Spokesman: No, no, I… There's my own words and there's reality. How about that? [laughter] There are issues, global issues, that are pressing, that are critical to the well‑being of the planet and the well‑being of humanity. I believe climate is clearly one of them, and that's why we're having this meeting.
Question: It’s an essential meeting. I get that. Are there any other essential meetings in addition to the climate… and the General Assembly, or all others considered virtual and side events?
Spokesman: We'll send you… we're still working on that list. Sorry? Yeah, please.
Correspondent: Sorry. Just another one on COVID‑19.
Spokesman: Why not?
Question: Given the SG's probably… do you know how many in‑person meetings he'll be doing, like bilats next week?
Spokesman: Yeah, we have… listen, we have about… in person, I expect over 105, 110 Heads of Government, Heads of States, Vice Presidents, senior officials. The Secretary‑General will have quite a large number of bilaterals, if they were requested by visiting heads of delegations.
Question: So, will he be wearing a mask during those, or will he be requesting vaccination status?
Spokesman: He will be… I think you see him in most of his meetings, he will be wearing a mask.
Question: And he won't… he can't request status or…?
Spokesman: I think we all have faith in responsible human behaviour. James, and then we'll go back to the screen.
Question: Just a follow‑up on that. If he's doing 105 potentially in‑person bilats, how many virtual bilats is he doing? Because there's… Member States were encouraged not to come here. And, so, he can't disadvantage the countries that can't come here, surely.
Spokesman: Surely, but the point is, he is available 365 days a year to have virtual bilaterals, and he has those often so… I'll have to check if he's having any virtual bilaterals. But I mean, by definition, a virtual bilateral can be had at any point, and he often has bilateral meetings with people who have things to say to him or if he has things to say to people. Mr. Barada, and then we'll go back to Rick, and then we'll go to our guests, I think.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Steph. Follow‑up on the vaccines. So, what are the consequences for the Secretary‑General if he makes it a mandate for his own… or the UN employees to get vaccinations? I don't understand this, because you said for a long time that the UN will abide by what the City of New York, what the State of New York, what the United States has been saying or say, and it seems you've come to a point that you are resisting telling us why the SG is rejecting that notion.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is not rejecting anything. The Secretary‑General has mandated that all public‑facing staff… at this point, that all public‑facing staff be vaccinated. We have been guided; we have heard the requirements of various entities, and we're always trying to find a solution that is appropriate, consistent with everybody's respective requirements and status. And I think, when it comes to this building, when it comes to staff, in areas within his direct responsibility, the Secretary‑General has been extremely careful. That's my opinion anyway. Mr. Gladstone? Sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead, Ali.
Question: Yeah. Sorry. Sorry. I have to follow up on this. Of the 110 Head of States and Governments, is he going to shake hands?
Spokesman: Or so. That's… Ali, this is an approximate number, just so everybody's clear. Go ahead.
Question: Is he going to shake hands? Is he going to shake hands with them?
Spokesman: I think he will greet them in the appropriate COVID manner, as you will see it from all the photo ops. Okay. Mr. Gladstone…
Correspondent: My… my… my question is on Lebanon. And I'm sorry. You're getting irritated. I understand why…
Spokesman: That's all right. That's okay. Go ahead. It's just the sound's very loud in here. Go ahead, Ali.
Question: On Lebanon, on Lebanon, today, a non‑State actor sponsored a convoy of oil to the country in… from Syria. I… do you have any comment on that? Thank you.
Spokesman: No, no particular comment on that today. Mr. Gladstone?
Question: Okay. Sorry. This… I'm… I'll ask my last question on our favourite subject of the day. The… on the protocols for preventing a super-spreader event at the United Nations General Assembly, is there a plan in place for how to notify anyone who attends the General Assembly if they've been in contact with someone who is subsequently determined to have been infected?
Spokesman: Yes, our Medical Services, once they are notified, have protocols in place that were in place last year, that have been in place really throughout the pandemic, on how to do contact tracing. But that, of course, also involves the need for everyone who is physically in this building, whatever their status or category is, to be responsible and report any COVID infections.
Question: And, I'm sorry, I neglected to ask you, you mentioned yesterday that it's possible that there will be a vaccination station — maybe it's outside now; I'm not at the UN at the moment — a vaccination station outside… outside the GA… outside the UN Headquarters?
Spokesman: Yes. Yeah. The City of New York has graciously decided to set that up, and we would encourage any of you who are not vaccinated to use that service.
Question: But will that constitute a vaccination? I mean, the vaccines don't take effect right away. Sometime… I mean, it takes a matter of ten days to two weeks.
Spokesman: It's… I think it's… yeah, that's… it's two separate issues, the issues of access and vaccine regulation within the UN, I think we've beaten that horse quite enough for today. That doesn't stop people who need to be vaccinated, if you haven't been able to get vaccinated at home, to be vaccinated. Okay.
Question: So, if you get vaccinated, at that station outside and you get your vaccine certificate, you can… you'll be allowed inside the UN if you've got…
Spokesman: But I think… again, Rick, it's two separate things. It's a vaccination station. The issue of what is required of delegates to come in is a different issue, and that's still being worked out.
Correspondent: Okay. Okay. Thank you very much. Sorry for belabouring this.
Spokesman: No, no, no. And I apologize for my state of high irritation, but I know my next guests, Bruno Lemarquis and Giuseppe Loprete, will lower my level.