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 Stephanie Tremblay, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
For those who don’t know me yet, I’m Stephanie Tremblay. I am one of the spokespeople in the Spokesperson’s Office. Welcome to the noon briefing.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by the acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Myanmar, Andrew Kirkwood. He will be joining us virtually from Yangon to brief on the situation on the ground. And I have a couple of notes before we are joined by our guest.
I will start with a statement by the Secretary‑General on Ethiopia:
“I was shocked by the information that the Government of Ethiopia has declared seven UN officials, including senior UN humanitarian officials, as persona non grata. All UN humanitarian operations are guided by the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. In Ethiopia, the UN is delivering life‑saving aid – including food, medicine, water and sanitation supplies – to people in desperate need. I have full confidence in the UN staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work. The UN is committed to helping Ethiopian people who rely on humanitarian assistance. We are now engaging with the Government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”
This morning, the Secretary‑General virtually addressed the pre‑COP26 (twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which is taking place in Milan. He said that with just one month to go before COP26, it is essential for all humanity that we fulfil the promise of the Paris Agreement [on climate change].
The Secretary‑General commended nations, especially vulnerable developing countries, that have come forward with more ambitious nationally developed contributions despite the pandemic. However, he underscored that we can only meet the 1.5 degree goal if all G20 countries, which are responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions, pledge more decisive action in new or updated contributions. He also asked emerging economies to take the extra step and deliver more emissions cuts.
“We are all in the same boat, and we have to pull together,” he said, adding that civil society is watching closely and is running out of patience.
Also today, the Secretary‑General addressed, in a video message, the Youth4Climate pre‑COP event. He encouraged young people to keep raising their voices and putting pressure on leaders to ramp up ambition.
On Sudan, this morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at a high‑level side event on Sudan which aimed to seek and affirm global engagement and support for the Sudanese people. He said that, despite the challenges, Sudan has made milestones, including advances in democratic governance, peacemaking efforts and ambitious economic reforms.
The international community must do everything possible to help advance these and other efforts, he stressed, adding that the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) was created last year to provide a new basis for our support. The Secretary‑General stressed that women’s inclusion and meaningful participation will benefit the future of all Sudanese.
He pointed to Sudan’s complex security challenges, including the recent attempted coup d’état. It underscores, he said, the importance of undertaking all efforts to protect civilians, strengthen human rights and provide safety and security for all. We have shared his remarks with you.
Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement on the report of the High‑level Panel on Internal Displacement, which was formally submitted to the Secretary‑General earlier in the day, following 18 months of research and consultations.
The Secretary‑General expressed his deep gratitude to the Panel for its work and to the co‑Chairs for shepherding this process and for presenting the Panel report. The Secretary‑General reiterated his commitment to work with all relevant stakeholders to address the global displacement crisis with renewed vigour benefiting from the insights of the High‑level Panel report. Again, the full statement is online.
Moving to Afghanistan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that its first aircraft carrying life‑saving medical supplies arrived yesterday in Kabul through the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Airbridge.
UNICEF said that the 32 metric tonnes of essential drugs, oral rehydration salts and antibiotics, medical and surgical supplies will cover the needs of 100,000 children and women for the next three months. The UN Children’s Fund added that this is the first of two consignments planned to be flown into Kabul via the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Airbridge in the coming days.
The UN strongly condemns the killing of Rohingya refugee leader Mohib Ullah in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh yesterday. The United Nations urges the Bangladesh authorities to undertake an investigation and to hold those responsible to account. We urge continued strong international support for the protection and support to the Rohingya communities anywhere, including in Bangladesh.
The UN continues to call for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons. The UN will continue to firmly provide its support in this endeavour. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also expressed its deep shock and sadness at the killing of Mr. Mohib Ullah.
Now, turning to the Gambia, the Secretary‑General is following developments in the Gambia after the postponement of the final report of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which had been scheduled for submission to the President of the Gambia today. He commends the Commission for its tireless work and urges the Government to ensure a speedy completion of the process.
The UN, including through the Secretary‑General’s Peacebuilding Fund, has been a staunch partner in the transitional justice process in the Gambia, including the work of the Commission, and would like to reassure of its continued support for its completion and the full implementation of its recommendations to promote access to justice and reparations for the victims, as well as national reconciliation in the country.
**COVID-19 ‑ Africa
On COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that 15 African countries – which is nearly a third of the continent’s 54 nations – have fully vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations.
As you’ll recall, in May, WHO’s World Health Assembly set a global goal of fully vaccinating 10 per cent of every country’s population by today, the end of September. Nearly 90 per cent of high‑income countries have met this target. Most of the African countries that have met the 10 per cent goal have relatively small populations and 40 per cent are small island developing States.
This month, 23 million doses arrived in Africa, a tenfold increase from June. Yet just 60 million Africans have been fully vaccinated so far and 2 per cent of the more than 6 billion vaccines given globally have been administered on the continent. COVAX is working with donors to identify the countries that can currently absorb large volumes of vaccines.
I want to flag that, today, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, together with UN‑Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), have launched the “Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The gender snapshot 2021”. The publication, which presents the latest data on gender equality across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, finds that women and girls remain disproportionately affected by the socioeconomic fallout from the pandemic, struggling with lost jobs and livelihoods, derailed education and increased burdens of unpaid care work.
Women’s health services, poorly funded even before the pandemic, faced major disruptions, undermining women’s sexual and reproductive health. And despite women’s central role in responding to COVID‑19, including as front‑line health workers, they are still largely bypassed for leadership positions they deserve. You can find more information online.
Two new Resident Coordinators to announce today: Alejandro Alvarez of Argentina is our new Resident Coordinator in Algeria and Damien Mama of Benin will be the new Resident Coordinator in Burundi. Both started their new functions this week, following the approval of the respective host Governments.
As you know, Resident Coordinators lead the work of our UN teams on the ground, including our ongoing support to national COVID‑19 responses to recover better for the Sustainable Development Goals. These senior UN officials are also the representatives of the Secretary‑General for development at the country level. You can find their full biographies online.
**World Maritime Day
Today is World Maritime Day – I’m sure you were all looking forward to that day – and the theme this year is “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future.”
In a message for the Day, the Secretary‑General notes that the COVID‑19 pandemic continues to place immense physical and mental pressure on the 2 million women and men who serve on the world’s merchant fleet. He points out that hundreds of thousands still face extended times at sea, with tours of duty stretching many months beyond their contracts. The Secretary‑General renewed his appeal to Governments to address their plight by formally designating seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”, ensuring safe crew changes, implementing established protocols and allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships.
**Hybrid Briefings Tomorrow
And, finally, […] tomorrow at 11 a.m., the President of the seventy‑sixth session of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and you will hear a bit more about that in a couple of minutes, he will be in this room to brief you. And, when I am done, Monica [Grayley] will brief you.
Tomorrow as well at 12:30, the president of the Security Council for the month of October, the Permanent Representative of Kenya, Ambassador Martin Kimani, will be here to brief you on the work of the Council for the month. I will start with you, James. And I will attempt to answer your questions. [Laughter.] Hopefully.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. On Ethiopia, a couple of follow‑ups to the statement that you released. Over almost a year now, the Secretary‑General has been pursuing his quiet, patient diplomacy with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. And among the things he was trying to do was get humanitarian access. Now Ethiopia has kicked out all of these UN officials, many of them top humanitarian officials. The Secretary‑General’s strategy, has it not completely failed?
Associate Spokesperson: At this point, today, we know that the needs are great. I think that, from this podium, we keep highlighting almost on a daily basis the plight of the population affected by the conflict in Ethiopia and how important access is. I think, yesterday, we had also some updates on numbers and how much more access we need. The work of the Secretary‑General continues. As he said, he’s shocked by the news today. The humanitarian work by the UN is impartial. It’s important. It needs to continue. We need and we hope to be able to continue this important work over there.
Question: And would he like now to hear from the Security Council and the African Union about these expulsions, about the fact that these seven people are being told to leave the country within 72 hours? Would he like to see a strong message from both those bodies?
Associate Spokesperson: As he said, we’re now engaging with the Government of Ethiopia. We’re now engaging with… to make sure that the work continues, and I will leave it at that for now. Yes, Edie?
Correspondent: Thank you very much, Stephanie. Nice to see you at the podium.
Associate Spokesperson: Thank you.
Question: Can you tell us what kind of contacts the Secretary‑General has had? Has he himself spoken to Abiy Ahmed? And how was the UN re… informed? Were they actually given advance notice? I mean, I say that noting that the SG says he was shocked. And thirdly, the last sentence of his statement sounds somewhat encouraging, and I wonder where that comes from. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: So, I can tell you that contacts are being had at various levels. To answer your question specifically, I will have to get back to you. I will get more information to you on what is happening now, what is happening later today and what will happen, so, yeah. Yeah, Sherwin?
Question: Thanks, Stephanie. Do we… the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says they’ve been expelled from meddling in internal affairs. Does the UN have any additional information that has been proffered by the Ethiopian Government as to what this meddling might have entailed?
Associate Spokesperson: I will not comment on this again, just referring to what the SG said that he was shocked at the news today and to reinforce that really… once again, I don’t think we can say strongly enough that the needs of the population are great. I think we… you all heard Martin Griffiths this week and other senior officials talking about the situation on the ground and how desperate… we hear talks of people being in famine‑like conditions. So, the situation is really dire, and I just want to stress the importance for the people of Ethiopia, for the people affected by the conflict, of ensuring that life‑saving humanitarian assistance reaches them.
Question: So, we understand that there’s a dire humanitarian situation in the north of the country in particular. What are the real‑time consequences if these people were to be expelled? How does that impact your operations on the ground?
Associate Spokesperson: I think, on this, operations… as we said, access was difficult. Having people… fewer people who can manage and who can plan, execute humanitarian operations, of course, has an impact, yeah. Any other questions in the room? Yes, please. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stephanie. So, my question is, do you receive any rescheduled confirmation on the consultation of Security Council on the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) missile problem? It was supposed to be… take place this morning, but it was postponed.
Associate Spokesperson: I would refer you to the Council on this. I think they will announce their schedule for the coming days. Yeah.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Yeah. And shall I go to the screen? I think we have a question from Rick Gladstone. Rick, you have the floor.
Question: Stephanie, thank you. Nice to see you. I have a couple of questions on Ethiopia, too. What… when was the last time there was an expulsion of this magnitude of UN officials from any Member State? And has there ever been an expulsion of this magnitude from… of UN officials from any Member State? And if so, when was it? What country was it? And my other question is… serve a follow‑up to Sherwin’s. Did… does this… do these expulsions… if they are, in fact, carried out, does this stop UN’s humanitarian work in Ethiopia or slow it down? Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: If it’s… okay. To go back, on expulsions, on… I would have to get back to you on whether this… whether and where this has happened in the past. I have a few examples that come to mind in other conflict situations, but I don’t want to give you information that would be wrong. So, I’ll get back to you on this. At this point, as you may have seen, our staff, our colleagues, have not left Ethiopia yet. So, I think, at this point, we’re really engaging with the Government in the expectation that our colleagues are gonna be able to remain and continue their work in the country. So, that is where we stand right now. Let me… I think we have another question from the screen. Michail Ignatiou?
Question: Yes. Yes, Stephanie, do you have any idea… do you have any idea when the Secretary‑General is going to issue a statement on Cyprus on his meeting with President [Nicos] Anastasiades and Mr. [Ersin] Tatar? Happened on Monday; today is Thursday. Is he planning to do anything?
Associate Spokesperson: I will have to get back to you on this. I know that… [Laughter.] I’m so sorry. This is… yes. This has come up earlier this week. I will follow up for you on this issue, absolutely. Yes.
Correspondent: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: So, I have also another question on the screen from Redwan Ahmed.
Question: Thanks, Stephanie. My question was on the Rohingya leader, killing of Mohib Ullah. So, earlier, the international community and the UN, they objected when the Bangladeshi Government… they built a fence around the camp. And they also objected when they wanted to move the Rohingyas to the island camp. But in both cases, the Government was successful. They built a fence around the camps, and they moved a bunch of Rohingyas to the island. So, when this kind of a killing happens, it really showcases there’s a lack of security, especially on the civil society movement by the Rohingyas. So, will the Secretariat or the high‑level even committees really like to focus on our… put more pressure on the Government, especially [inaudible] the security angle of the other Rohingyas leaders of civil society movement taking place in the camps? Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: So, what I can tell you on this is that we really urge continued strong international support for the protection of support to the Rohingya communities anywhere they are, including, of course, in Bangladesh. So, we continue to call for that. Let me see if we have other… I don’t think I see any other questions on the screen.
Correspondent: Yes, my name is there. I have my name there.
Associate Spokesperson: Oh, yes, Abdelhamid. Go ahead. Go ahead, Abdelhamid. I didn’t see you.
Question: Thank you. This morning, Israel killed three Palestinians, one in Jenin, a woman in Jerusalem, and one in Gaza. And the one in Gaza, in fact, was a… an Israeli sniper. He was not doing anything. He’s just a bird hunter away from the fence. And the woman, also, they accused her of having a knife. After they killed her, they said they found it, which is… the Israeli escalation is going beyond reason, both in demolishing houses and killing innocent civilians, and yet the UN keeps that only to mention them as numbers when they give the monthly briefing. Why is that? Again, I keep asking the same question again and again. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Yeah. So, we’ve been monitoring developments closely over there, and we remain concerned. We continue to be concerned about all killings in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. So, if there are no more questions from the room, we have a guest… go ahead, James.
Question: Yeah. The Security Council has failed again to pass a resolution on Libya and the renewal of the mandate of UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya). How worried is the Secretary‑General? There’s another attempt this afternoon. I’m hearing there might be another rollover, which would mean that the plan to have a new SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary‑General) based in Tripoli on the ground, which quite a few Council members wanted in order to nudge the parties on the election, won’t happen. Is the Secretary‑General concerned about that post not now being created?
Associate Spokesperson: So, we understand that Council members are continuing to be engaged in consultation. Discussions are still ongoing in the Council, and, of course, as you know, as you can imagine, we will await the results of their deliberations on the country on Libya. Great. So, let us now turn to our guest, who’s been very patient.