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.
All right. Good afternoon. I apologize for the delay.
I was asked by a number of you about the situation in Lebanon and I can say that the Secretary‑General is deeply concerned about the current violence that we have seen in Beirut today. We call on all concerned to immediately cease acts of violence and to refrain from any provocative actions or inflammatory rhetoric. The Secretary‑General reiterates the need for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut that took place last year.
The Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, also responded to the violence today. She condemned the use of armed violence outside of state authority and underscored the need for restraint, for maintaining calm and stability and ensuring the protection of civilians. The Special Coordinator underscored the utmost responsibility of Lebanon’s leaders to place the interests of the country first and foremost at this critical juncture. She said, and I quote: “Now is the time for all sides to support judicial independence in the interest of the people.” Her remarks have been shared with you.
And this morning, the Secretary‑General delivered remarks virtually to the second UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference that is taking place in Beijing. He said the door is closing for action on climate, nature and pollution, noting that transport, which accounts for more than one quarter of global greenhouse gases, is key to getting this on track. The Secretary‑General stressed that we must decarbonize all means of transport, in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 globally. We know how to make this happen, he said, pointing to the need to adopt more ambitious and credible targets to decarbonize the entire transport sector. He noted that the current commitments made by Member States to address emissions from shipping and aviation are not aligned with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, but rather are more consistent with warming way above 3°C. The Secretary-General said that this Transport Conference is an important opportunity to galvanize action by all, to build the sustainable transport systems we need for a green, inclusive and equitable future.
And just about now the Secretary‑General… a short while ago… the Secretary‑General spoke via a pre-recorded video message to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) event on “Making Climate Action Count”. This is part of the fall meetings of the IMF and the World Bank taking place in Washington, D.C. He stressed in his remarks that, as COP26 [twenty‑sixth Conference of Parties] approaches, it is essential for all humanity that we fulfil the promise of the Paris Agreement. But, Mr. [António] Guterres says, we are not there yet. The Secretary‑General says he is especially concerned over the lack of progress on public climate finance.
He underscored that $100 billion a year from public and private sources for mitigation and adaptation for the developing world is the bare minimum, and that much more will be needed. Mr. Guterres pointed to the essential role of development banks in spearheading the transition of energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables, while also ensuring universal access to energy. These banks, he said, must lead the way in supporting credible and just transition plans and in funding green, resilient, and inclusive recoveries, without worsening the sovereign debt crises that cripple low- and middle-income countries. The Secretary‑General also stressed the need for donor countries and multilateral development banks to allocate at least 50 per cent of their climate finance to adaptation and resilience.
Also, this morning, he spoke in person at the General Assembly’s tribute to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the former President of the General Assembly, and also, of course, former President of Algeria. The Secretary‑General reiterated his condolences to the Government of Algeria, and recalled that, [including] as President of the twenty‑ninth session of the General Assembly, in 1974‑75, Mr. Bouteflika was particularly active in the area of decolonization and is remembered for giving a voice to the liberation movements in Africa, Asia and South America. His full remarks are with you.
An update from the ground in Afghanistan. Today, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that in Herat and around the Afghanistan, WFP is working day and night to scale up assistance to reach people in need. In September alone, WFP reached 4 million people with food and nutrition assistance across all 34 provinces, three times the number that they reached in August. The head of WFP, David Beasley, noted that a record number of Afghans are hungry, and one million children risk dying from malnutrition without urgent intervention. He stressed that if the international aid does not flow as soon as possible, it will be catastrophic, and this is a war on hunger, he said.
For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continues to conduct assessments for displaced persons and families across the country. Ahead of the winter, IOM’s humanitarian assistance programme is scaling up efforts to support thousands of families and host community members. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that it is currently working in at least 31 out of the 34 Afghanistan's provinces. FAO pointed out that [it is] reaching out to the most vulnerable people in rural and remote areas, thanks to the committed support of its resource partners.
A senior personnel appointment: The Secretary‑General has appointed Daniel Endres of Switzerland as Assistant Secretary‑General to serve as Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for East Africa. Mr. Endres has served in a range of senior roles at the Headquarters at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), including as Director of the Division of International Protection. He has more than 30 years of experience in the humanitarian field and he has also served in other leadership roles in UNHCR. More on this will be emailed to you.
Hans Grundberg, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council this morning on his numerous consultations with Yemeni, regional and international actors. In all these discussions, he said, he has focused on the question of how to move toward a sustainable political solution to end the conflict. He added that the Yemenis he spoke to have without exception stressed the necessity to end the war. Ramesh Rajasingham, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, also briefed and warned Council members that aid work is getting harder in Yemen, mostly because aid organizations are starting to run out of money. On our humanitarian operations there, Mr. Rajasingham also said that aid agencies are now helping nearly 13 million people across the Yemen. That’s about 3 million more people than just a few months before and is a direct result of more donor funds coming in over the past few months. But without more money, up to four million people could see their food aid reduced.
Also, this afternoon, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, will brief the [Security] Council on Colombia. Mr. Massieu is expected to reiterate the Secretary‑General’s call in his report to use the adoption of Colombia’s Final Peace Agreement fifth anniversary — which will be marked in November — as an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved in the peace process. And he is also expected to emphasize what remains to be done, and to recommit collectively to the full implementation of this historic agreement.
**Central African Republic
A quick note from the Central African Republic, where the seasonal livestock migration is about to begin. In this context, our peacekeepers continue to support protection efforts, as well as the reduction of tensions, in cooperation with national authorities and local communities. Yesterday, in Bouar, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) organized a session on the management of conflicts related to the seasonal movement of livestock. A number of participants, including seven women, attended the session. They represented local authorities, Internal Security Forces, civil society and others. Meanwhile, they tell us that yesterday in Bria, 31 armed combatants were disarmed and demobilized. This was accomplished through the framework of the national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation programme. The weapons collected were transported and stored on the premises of the UN Mission.
A quick update from Mongolia, a country we don’t hear much about. Our UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Tapan Mishra, continues to support authorities respond to the pandemic — addressing health, humanitarian, and socioeconomic needs of Mongolians. Of the 5.4 million vaccine doses that have arrived in the country, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helped to procure half of those through COVAX and other sources. As of this week, more than 65 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. UNICEF helped to expand cold chain capacity and to build a new central vaccine storage facility, and the UN team has provided personal protective equipment, including oxygen supplies, as well as training for healthcare workers and journalists.
And a couple of follow‑ups. Yesterday, in a tweet, the Secretary‑General said that he was shocked and saddened by the tragic news we saw in Norway. He said that his thoughts are with the victims’ loved ones and all the people at this very difficult moment, and of course, we condemn this horrific attack.
In a question, I think that Celia asked about Venezuela, I can tell you that we have received a request from the National Electoral Council for the deployment of a Panel of Electoral Experts, but not for the deployment of an electoral observation mission. The request has been evaluated and we expected a response soon.
I think that Alan has asked me about Belarus. I can tell you that we are in communication with the Government of Belarus on the issue that they raised in the bilateral meeting with the Secretary‑General through appropriate channels. The UN Country Team, including all UN agencies, funds and programmes working in Belarus, is focused on continuing its work with and for Belarus. The Country Team looks forward to further collaboration with Belarusian authorities and relevant civil society partners, including in the area of sustainable development and human rights.
Tomorrow, we will be joined in person by Omar Abdi, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, who will brief you on the situation in Afghanistan. Edie and then James.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. Does the Secretary‑General support the renewed probe of the origins of COVID‑19?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, the Secretary‑General, I think, has said repeatedly that it's very important to work… to find the origins of this virus to help us prepare better for future pandemics and to help us protect ourselves from future pandemics. Mr. Bays?
Question: What action does the Secretary‑General think should be taken by the international community on Lebanon? Should there be a Security Council meeting? Should there be more of a focus, not just on the blast, but the economic collapse, the wider systemic problems in the country? Because you speak to many people there, and they feel that they have been ignored and abandoned.
Spokesman: I think the last thing we would want to do is to abandon the people of Lebanon. We have been very much focussed on their humanitarian needs, on supporting and, I would say, speaking with one voice on Lebanon. There is a mechanism, the International Support Group from Lebanon, which has been extremely coordinated. In ensuring… let me put it this way. The International Support Group has been very strong in making it clear that Lebanese political leaders have responsibilities, that they need to live up to those responsibilities. That includes listening to the very legitimate needs of the people of Lebanon and also includes, in particular developments we've seen, ensuring that there is an independent judiciary and that they are able to carry out the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion, which killed so many people and left hundreds, if not thousands, with scars, whether they be physical or psychological.
Question: And one on Afghanistan, if I can. Pakistan International Airways, which was the only carrier running a regular flight out of Kabul, has postponed that flight, citing intimidation by Taliban officials. How concerning, given the economic situation and people who have to go in and out of Afghanistan, is that news?
Spokesman: Look, it's critical that Kabul airport and other airports in Afghanistan be running up to international standards, that international airlines feel comfortable to operate there. For our part, we have been continuing to operate the UN's Humanitarian Air Service. I know our colleagues in UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan), at the Mission, have also been able to operate their own planes. Señora?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Thank you for the follow‑up. And I have a quick question about… so, the panel of electoral experts, when would that announcement will be made in terms of the decision made? Because it's been evaluated right now…
Question: Very soon?
Question: Do you have a projection of, like, days?
Spokesman: You know that whenever I make a projection on dates, I get them wrong. So, I will not… it will be some point in the future. [Laughter]
Correspondent: That's okay.
Spokesman: How about that?
Question: Can you tell us what entails having a panel of electoral experts? How many people could it be? What is…
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think those are all the things that are being, obviously, evaluated. It's whether or not, A, we can do it, and if we could do it… if we can't do it, we can't do it. If we could do it, what is the size? All… these are all the things that are being looked at.
Question: And what's the difference between a mission and a panel of experts that will be sent, if that's decided?
Spokesman: In my reading, a mission is something that is heavier and more… and broader than a panel of experts. Stefano and then Alan.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. I have a follow‑up on Lebanon. Of course, in Lebanon, there is a big Mission of the United Nation, the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]. Does the Secretary‑General worried that it could… the situation… the stable situation in Lebanon could somehow, some way involve the Mission there? And did he have recent contact… does he have the contact that… to see what they can do to prevent anything…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, there are two things. We have two Missions in Lebanon. We have a political Mission, led by Joanna Wronecka, which is focussed on the political aspects, and then a peacekeeping Mission with a very defined mandate to operate in Southern Lebanon. It's two separate things. Obviously, we want to see a stable Lebanon. Instability in Lebanon is bad, first and foremost, for the people of Lebanon, but it is also not good for the region. So, whenever… our political work remains to help with the stability of Lebanon. Alan?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question on Eastern Ukraine. Maybe you know. A girl who lives in Luhansk — this is Eastern Ukraine city — her name is Fiena Savenko [phonetic]. She's 12 years old, and she was listed in the list of so‑called [inaudible] Ukrainian website. It's translated, like a peacekeeper, quote. So, this website lists the people who are, quote, separatists, pro‑Russian activists, and Kremlin agents. This girl is known for her video appeal to the Security Council. She was urging the Security Council just to not to forget that the people of… that the children of Eastern Ukraine have the right to peaceful life. Just any assessment on this act? Does the UN find that children should be listed in such a…
Spokesman: Let me look at the website and I'll come back to you. Sherwin?
Correspondent: Some dramatic pause. Hi, Steph. Thanks very much.
Spokesman: Yeah, go ahead. I'm all ears. Is it me you're looking for? Yeah.
Question: I have a follow‑up to a question and answer you gave yesterday on the ICJ [International Court of Justice] ruling as it regards the maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya. You talked about it not being in your purview to comment on such rulings but that, as a principle, it was extremely important to the international system that we all believe in. What does the Secretariat, then, believe should happen with ICJ rulings, given that this is one of the principal organs of the United Nations?
Spokesman: I really don't have anything more to add to what I said yesterday. I'm not going to comment on particular cases. But obviously, the International Court of Justice is literally a pillar of this… of the international system that we built, and we think it's of critical importance.
Question: [Off mic] What's your comment on the Israel example as it pertains to the wall, this example? There seems to be an outright rejection to any decision that's basically handed down by this court really raising questions about the purpose of the court at large.
Spokesman: I mean I think the purpose of the court is clear, is to… one of the purposes is to adjudicate on differences between states, and it is best that states, in fact, go through a court to adjudicate these differences rather than through open conflict. So, that's what we think the importance of the court is, and we believe it… the court… the institution needs to be respected. I will come back to you. Carla, and then I don't have my phone. If there's anybody on the screen that needs to speak, turn on your microphone after Carla. Go ahead, Carla.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. In 2006, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, and Article VI prohibits the coercion of any medical intervention. And in the event that it is not consented to, the individual cannot be punished or in any way prejudiced. Now, the current vaccine mandate is in explicit violation of UNESCO, which is one of the pillars of United Nations' credibility. And if it can be treated with such disrespect, what credibility does the United Nations have…?
Spokesman: I don't… Carla, that is your opinion, which I clearly do not share.
Correspondent: I understand, but the question is, if UNESCO has an explicit…
Spokesman: I know what you're saying, and I actually understand it. I just don't agree with it. Madame?
Question: Yeah. I wanted to switch to Yemen, Hans Grundberg's statement today. He didn't mention anything about the Saudi or UAE [United Arab Emirates] role. Does the UN actually… is it still documenting or has it been documenting the combat role of Saudis and UAE? And is it continuing? Because the focus seems to be totally on the Houthis.
Spokesman: I mean, we're… no, I mean, I think the… we are not… we are, obviously, monitoring and are aware of what the situation is on the ground. We are not on the front lines, dealing with people on the front lines on combat. But what is clear and what we have said clearly is the need for all the fighting to stop, and we have talked at different times about different aspects of the fighting, whether it's a ground offensive, whether it's air attacks. I mean, the point is, is that all the parties need to recommit themselves to a Yemeni‑led political process, which we are there to support.
Question: But just on that point, is the UN aware that the Saudis and the UAE are still involved in combat?
Spokesman: We're very aware that there are a number of parties that are continuing to be involved in fighting.
Question: But the Saudis and UAE…?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that.
Correspondent: Question, Steph, from Pam Falk…
Spokesman: Is anybody on the screen?
Correspondent: Yeah, Pam Falk.
Spokesman: Yes, Pam, and then we'll go to Sylviane.
Question: Thank you. A few people mentioned, including the US Ambassador, at the Yemen meeting about the Safer oil tanker and said that the Houthis are negotiating in bad faith. Can you give us an update? She specifically mentioned that they need to respond to the UN request. You've addressed this, but it was months ago. What's the latest on the UN request to inspect and repair the tanker? Thanks.
Spokesman: The latest is that there is no movement. There is no clear positive movement. The discussions are continuing. David Gressly, who is our Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground, is in charge and will be coordinating the UN response. But in the case of this tanker, no movement is bad movement, in a sense, because the more we wait, the higher the risk. And we are pushing as much as we can, but the discussions with the Houthis at this point have not borne the fruit that we would like to see. Sylviane?
Question: Thank you… thank you, Stéphane. My question is on the violence, today's violence in Lebanon, in Beirut. The Special Coordinator for Lebanon expressed her deep concern, and she reiterated the US… UN unwavering support to… for Lebanon and its people, but I… again, I would like to ask why… the people does… don't feel… the people of Lebanon don't feel that the support is unwavering support for Lebanon. And also, do you think that it's possible to extend the mandate… UNIFIL mandate to include Leb… Beirut?
Spokesman: No, I've had no indication in any way, shape or form of an extension of the UNIFIL mandate outside of its current area of responsibilities, and it's not something we've been advocating for. What we have been advocating for… let… no, I just said it's not something that I've heard in any way, shape or form, and it's not something we're advocating for. What we are doing is, as I mentioned to James, speaking with one voice through the International Support Group, being in constant contact with Lebanese political leaders and delivering the same message, which they need to listen to the legitimate needs of their people. They need to move forward on political reconciliation, and they need to ensure the independence of the judiciary, especially when it comes to the investigation into the port explosion. Okay. James and then Celia.
Question: Human rights NGOs [non-governmental organizations], who I noticed are not allowed in this building, have pointed out that some of those elected to the Human Rights Council today have questionable all human rights records, notably Cameroon, UAE, Eritrea. Does the Secretary‑General believe it would be desirable if these sort of elections were contested elections so that at least the General Assembly membership had a choice of countries and could try not to pick human rights abusers to serve on the Human Rights Council?
Spokesman: The… I mean, the Secretary‑General does not have a vote… the Secretary‑General is not a Member State. Member States run their elections through regional groups. Sometimes we see contested elections; sometimes we don't. That is really an issue for Member States to agree with if they want to move in… and have more contested elections. [Cross talk]
Correspondent: But does he think it would be desirable… desirable… I'm… I know he doesn't decide but does he think it would be desirable given the poor — dire, some would say, human rights situation… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is a great believer in democracy and elections and has always been. We have always said that we think that those countries who are elected to the Human Rights Council have an extra responsibility to defend and uphold human rights as enshrined in the Charter and in many human rights instruments. Señora?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Just a follow‑up. How important is it for the Secretary‑General the fact that the National Electoral Council of Venezuela decided to reach out and to seek this panel of experts from the United Nations?
Spokesman: I mean, of course, it's important. I mean, it's an important request, and it is being dealt with, with the importance that it deserves.
Question: Does he believe that this will allow the elections to be considered legitimate and…?
Spokesman: Again, it's not… we're not… these are not elections where we have a stamp that says legitimate or illegitimate and we put it on a piece of paper. It is important, and we've always been pushing for transparent elections that people can believe in. It is also incumbent, as in any election, that people respect the results of a transparent process, if there are issues, that they're addressed through legal channels and that everyone is allowed to compete. Carla?
Question: This is a follow‑up. In view of the fact there are so many breakthrough cases of COVID among people who have been vaccinated, vaccination would not necessarily protect anyone from infection…?
Spokesman: What is the question, ma'am?
Correspondent: The question is, since it's not a form of protection, what is the motive for…
Spokesman: Okay. I'm going to say something, and I don't want to deal with this ever again at this point. Vaccines save lives. Right? It is important that everyone be vaccinated. There are some among us who because of health issues cannot be vaccinated. There are some among us who because of health issues are vac… even though they are vaccinated are at higher risk. It is our responsibility as a community to protect them, and we will do whatever we can to protect them. Thank you.