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.
**Secretary-General — Climate
As you know, the Secretary-General of these United Nations, António Guterres, is now back in Glasgow, where he arrived a bit earlier today, and he is there for the final days of the Climate Change Conference.
Today, along with [United Kingdom] Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he met with a group of observers to the Conference process and then with a group of ministers co-facilitating the different tracks of the negotiations.
He also met with the Prime Minister of Fiji and the First Minister of Scotland.
In addition, the Secretary-General met with the US Congressional delegation led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the US, Nancy Pelosi, and he also met with the Environment Minister of South Africa.
And right now, he is about to be doing an Instagram Live with Nicole Becker, a young climate activist from Argentina.
Tomorrow, he is scheduled to speak at the High-Level Event on Global Climate Action.
**Afghanistan — UNDP
Moving on to Afghanistan: Afghans in need of health-care services can now benefit from a new UN Development Programme (UNDP) initiative that has injected acutely needed funding into the deteriorating health-care system of the country. This allows the system to continue to provide essential health services across the country. The support to Afghanistan’s health system has been delivered under an agreement with the Global Fund, which has provided $15 million to ensure continuity of critical health services.
As a key part of the emergency initiative aiming to keep the health system functioning, UNDP transferred salaries for the month of October to more than 24,000 workers involved in the health system, including 7,300 women, in nearly 2,200 health facilities.
The initiative is being implemented in 31 out of 34 provinces across Afghanistan, in cooperation with civil society organizations who are working in the health sector. It aims to reach 26,000 health workers by the time it is fully implemented.
In addition to the salary disbursements, UNDP has also financed the procurement of essential medicines and health supplies for the participating health facilities.
**Afghanistan — Humanitarian Update
And, on the humanitarian update, also on Afghanistan, our colleagues tell us that while violence has reduced in the last quarter across the country, reports of children killed and injured by unexploded ordnance continue to be reported throughout Afghanistan. The UN Mine Action Service and their local and international partners in mine action continue activities to limit the threat posed by mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.
In September, the UN Mine Action Service established the UN Emergency Mine Action Coordination Centre for Afghanistan. The aim is to ensure that an effective and efficient mine action cooperation mechanism remains in place, in addition to telephone hotlines where people can report threats across the country. More than 4,000 de-miners are continuing to work in Afghanistan since the de facto authorities assumed control of the country on 15 August.
In positive news related to money, the Flash Appeal for Afghanistan, which seeks $606 million to help people through the end of 2021, is currently 86 per cent funded. Generous contributions and conversions into cash have been made by 19 Member States, as well as the private sector. The breakdown is available on the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] website.
And, as you know, the Libya conference gets under way in Paris on Friday. I had mentioned to you that the Secretary-General will be delivering a video message, which he will, and Ján Kubiš, which he will, but I failed to mention that the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, will be there to represent the Secretary-General at the Conference, which takes place, sorry, which takes place on November 12th, on Friday.
The Conference aims to show support of the international community to Libyans and the peace process.
Ms. DiCarlo is expected to reiterate the UN’s support for inclusive and credible parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December, as envisaged under the Political Roadmap adopted in 2020, and mandated by Security Council resolution 2570.
Speaking of the Security Council, at a briefing focusing on UN Police, the head of our peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said that the annual briefing on UN Police Operations is an opportunity to reaffirm the vital role that UN Police play across the conflict prevention spectrum, from peacekeeping to peacebuilding.
At the meeting, which also focused on women, peace and security in the context of UN police operations, Mr. Lacroix told Council members that, with the support of Member States, the UN Police has already achieved its gender parity targets for 2025 — that would make it four years ahead of time by my calculations. He added that he is pleased that five of our police components are currently headed by women, and he called on Member States to continue to assist the UN to sustain and expand these numbers.
His full remarks have been shared with you.
I have been asked about the Secretary-General’s position on the situation along the Belarus-Polish border, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is following with concern the situation at the Belarus-Poland border, and he reiterates the importance of ensuring that migration and refugee issues are dealt with according to humanitarian principles and international law. Such situations should not be used for political purposes and become a cause of tension between States.
And I would add, you should also take a look at what [High Commissioner for Human Rights] Michelle Bachelet said on the issue, saying that she is appalled at the large number of migrants and refugees who continue to be left in a desperate situation in near-freezing temperatures at the border. Governments in the region cannot allow more lives to be lost.
And turning to South Sudan, the UN Mission on the ground today corrected an inaccurate claim, made by a political party in South Sudan, that the UN Peacekeeping Mission is withdrawing its security presence from the Malakal protection of civilians site.
Unfortunately, this claim was reported as fact by local media and this could cause unnecessary concern among those displaced.
As you are aware, given the improvement of the security situation, the Mission has gradually transitioned most of its protection of civilians sites into conventional displacement camps which fall under the responsibility of the transitional Government.
However, the Mission has consistently said it will take more time to redesignate the Malakal protection site because of the complex political and security situation in the area. Therefore, no decision has been made to “withdraw” the UN presence.
Turning to Haiti, Bruno Lemarquis, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, said that the current blockage of fuel supplies in Port-au-Prince’s seaports is making it very difficult for humanitarians, including the UN, to continue to provide assistance to approximately 700,000 people in the country.
He said the situation is deeply alarming, adding that people recovering from the earthquake in the south of Haiti are particularly impacted.
In addition to challenges created by the security situation, fuel shortages are a serious obstacle to the provision of essential services, as well as to the movement of people and goods. [Mr. Lemarquis] says that hospitals and health centres are particularly impacted.
The rehousing of some 7,000 people displaced by the violence last June in the capital has also been slowed down because of the situation.
We, of course, remain committed to helping all those in need, and we reiterate our urgent appeal to all those who have influence on the current situation to ensure that fuel can be delivered so that these vital services can continue.
And, from Sierra Leone, the UN team visited the site of the deadly fuel tanker collision that took place on Friday.
[World Health Organization] colleagues are providing medical supplies, with the first delivery of 6.6 metric tons having arrived in Freetown over the weekend.
The UN is working on a joint assessment and coordination plan with local partners. We are also engaging with the authorities to provide support and coordination in the aftermath of the incident.
**Nepal — COVID-19
And a quick COVID update from Nepal, the Country Team, led by Resident Coordinator Sara [Beysolow] Nyanti, continues to support the Government’s multifaceted response to the outbreak.
We are helping with the national vaccination campaign — boosting cold chain capacity by providing more than 2,500 refrigerators, freezers, cold boxes, ultra-cold chain equipment and vaccine carriers.
As of this Monday, 16.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Nepal. More than 40 per cent of eligible people have received a first dose and nearly 38 per cent are fully vaccinated.
We helped to deliver more than 4.2 million doses of vaccine through COVAX throughout Nepal.
**Children with Disabilities
A couple of things that I still want to flag.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today released a report showing that there are nearly 240 million children with disabilities around the world. According to UNICEF, the new global estimate is higher than previous estimates, and is based on a more meaningful and inclusive understanding of disabilities, which considers difficulties across several domains of functioning, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
More information online.
**World Science Day for Peace and Development
Today is the World Science Day for Peace and Development. With climate change becoming a serious threat to the lives of billions of people around the planet, this year’s theme is “Building Climate-Ready Communities”.
The aim is to bring science closer to society by highlighting some key scientific aspects and possible solutions provided by science, technology and innovation to the major global challenges society is facing.
**Anniversary of November 1938 Pogrom
And lastly, I want to flag that tomorrow, at 1 p.m., you are all invited to attend a panel discussion on a production called “Stories from the Violins of Hope”. The online event is organized by the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme to mark the anniversary of November 1938 Pogrom in Europe.
Created by The Braid, a Jewish story company, with music from the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, this brings together theatre and music to tell stories of a collection of stringed instruments that survived the Holocaust.
The discussion will be moderated by Melissa Fleming, the Head of the Global Communications Department. Speakers will include Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN; Ronda Spinak, the Artistic Director of The Braid; and Amnon Weinstein, violin maker and the founder of [Violins] of Hope.
More information online.
**Questions and Answers
Sherwin. Edie points at Sherwin. Wow.
Correspondent: I’ll slip her 10 bucks later.
Question: Steph, on Sudan, can you update us on the numbers of staff that are detained? You said 16 yesterday. We are now seeing reports that over 70 UN drivers…
Spokesman: I think… we hate to correct you, but you are talking about Ethiopia.
Question: What did I say?
Question: Ethiopia. Close enough. Ethiopia, please. And the Government’s saying that they have detained people, UN staff suspected of supporting Tigrayan forces and for participation in terror. How do you respond to those claims?
Spokesman: We have, as far as I’m aware, not received any official explanation, while a number of UN staff, as well as people who have been contracted to work for the UN have, are in detention and continue to be detained.
The current numbers that I have is that at least nine UN staff members are currently detained. We continue to work and engage with the Government to secure their release. There’ve also, we’ve also received reports that at least 70 people who have been contracted by the UN to drive trucks have also been detained. They’ve been contracted by both the UN and a number of international NGOs. And again, we are calling for their release.
Question: And on the claims of terror?
Spokesman: As I said, we… I mean, without doubting what you tell me, we have not received any official communications. We have sent, we have spoken to the Government. We have sent notes verbales, which we’re… we are looking for explanations.
Question: A couple of follow-ups, Steph. So, if you say at least nine are currently detained, that would mean that the UN succeeded in getting seven UN staff members released. Is that correct?
Spokesman: Look, I want to get exact numbers, and I know you deserve exact numbers. The challenge is one of communications. We’re also trying to determine the exact status of some of the people that have been detained. So, I can only go with what I have now.
As far as I’m aware, there are no more dependents of UN staff that are detained, but this situation is, as you, I’m sure, can infer from the way I’ve been answering your questions, remains a bit fluid. These people, as far as we know, are detained in various police stations in Addis. We’re trying to get clarity. We’re trying to get people out, and we’re trying to get exact numbers in a place where often the communications are challenging within the country and between here and Addis.
Question: Two follow-ups. First, on the truck drivers who are detained, I understand that they’re in Afar on that road that supposedly goes into Tigray or near there. Do you know what’s happened to them, where… where…
Spokesman: They’ve been detain… as far as we know, they’ve been detained locally in Semera.
Question: So, does that mean there’s something like 70 trucks that are empty on the side of the…
Spokesman: The trucks are not empty. And, as you know, these are trucks that have been waiting for weeks, some of them, to go in. I mean, I think, more than a month ago, I think it was David Beasley who said that we needed 100 trucks…
Question: But then…
Spokesman: …to go in. And, I mean, as you know, we’ve not been getting that. So, these trucks have been sitting idle.
The most, I don’t want to say the most tragic part, but a tragic part of this is that the trucks are full. The trucks need to get into Tigray.
Question: But I meant… when I said empty, I didn’t mean they were empty…
Spokesman: Oh, yes, yes, of course, yeah.
Question: That would mean that there’s nobody there…
Spokesman: No, I… whether they’re secure… my understanding is that the trucks are secured. So, they’re not left out in the open, but obviously, a full truck without a driver is not going anywhere.
Go ahead and then…
Question: No, I was just going to say, did the UN get information on any staff members detained outside of Addis Ababa?
Spokesman: No, my… the truckers, the contract… the people we’ve contracted [inaudible] international NGOs, but otherwise, no.
Question: On this incident in the north, I mean, it appears from reports that this was, indeed, a convoy. So, the question now arises whether this was part of the round-up in which the other UN personnel may have been detained, or is this particularly aimed at stopping the flow of humanitarian supplies?
Spokesman: Well, again, we didn’t give the orders. Right? But one can only imagine the impact of detaining 70 truckers who are driving trucks that are filled with desperately needed humanitarian goods. It sure doesn’t help the humanitarian situation. Those trucks are not moving, and we desperately need them to move.
Question: Can you confirm that they were on their way into the Tigray region?
Spokesman: I don’t know if those, I mean, what I cannot tell you for sure is whether these trucks, when they were stopped, were they on the move? Were they waiting to get clearance? I do know they were trucks that were aimed to get into Tigray. Whether their engines were running, and they were rolling, or whether they were stopping, I don’t know.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I’ve got a climate question. Climate activist Greta Thunberg says that they’re filing a legal petition to the UN Secretary-General urging him to declare the climate crisis a global level 3 emergency, the UN’s highest category. Has the SG received the petition? If so, what does he plan to do?
Spokesman: No, I don’t think he’s received the petition. We met with a number of… well, not we. The Secretary-General met with a number of young climate activists from a number of countries, and Ms. Thunberg was included. He had a very good meeting with them, said he supported them fully, encouraged them to continue to mobilize, to continue to raise their voices, to continue to push for action.
As you know, the Secretary-General, more than a year ago, encouraged world leaders to declare a climate emergency. The UN system is fully mobilized to deal with the climate crisis, but, as far as I know, we have not received the petition itself.
Question: Can the Secretary-General do it?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General will do whatever he can to help move for more robust climate action.
Question: First, I have… or let’s start by Israel and Palestine. So, the… I don’t know if you saw The Washington Post. They had investigation that exposed massive Israeli facial recognition programme that matches exclusively Palestinian faces to database and flashes colour-coded instructions on whether to detain them or not. Do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: Listen, we have no… as far as I know, we don’t have any independent confirmation of this, but I mean, the Secretary-General has express… has said repeatedly his concern about the use of these sort of surveillance programmes and facial recognition and technology throughout the world in ways that would directly harm people’s human rights.
Question: Do you think… I mean, would you, do you condemn these programmes? Do you…
Spokesman: Well, I mean, as I said, we’ve expressed our concern about how technology, surveillance technology, can be used to curtail people’s human rights anywhere in the world. But I have no independent confirmation of the particular case.
Question: On Sudan, when we talked last week with Mr. [Volker] Perthes [the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan], he… I think that was Monday, and he said that, in the next few days, we could expect some announcement, and there was no announcement, if I’m not mistaken. So, could you update us on what’s going on there and…
Spokesman: Look, the contacts are continuing. Mr. Perthes, who represents the Secretary-General, met yesterday with General [Abdel Fattah al-]Burhan, again, strongly encouraging a return to the transitional partnership, and he continues to urge the military to exercise restraint and to take de-escalation measures, including freeing all those people who have been detained and the Prime Minister, who remains in, under house detention.
And the Secretary-General himself spoke to Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok yesterday. I mean, the Secretary-General expressed his solidarity and, of course, reiterated his condemnation of the takeover, and they had a subsequent conversation.
Okay, Abdelhamid and then Benno and then Iftikhar and then Benny.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane.
Question: My question is about Libya, and can you tell us who is coming to the conference in Geneva on Friday?
And, as you know probably, there is a dispute within the Government of Libya about the role and the legitimacy of the Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush.
And a second question to Libya, Khalifa Haftar, maybe he is preparing now to announce his candidacy to be… to run for President. What are your thoughts on that? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, on the conference, as I said earlier in the briefing, there will be a video from the Secretary-General. Rosemary DiCarlo will be there to represent the Secretary-General in person. Ján Kubiš will also be there. And the conference is in Paris, not in Geneva.
Question: I’m sorry. I’m asking about the [inaudible], the countries.
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah, okay. Yeah. So, I just said those… video message from the SG, Rosemary DiCarlo, Ján Kubiš.
On the elections, we’re, of course, continuing to support the Libyan authorities in preparation for the presidential, the parliamentary elections that are set to take place in December. We’re continuing to engage with all stakeholders in Libya to facilitate the consensus of the organization of these elections, which we’d want to see inclusive and timely and credible and in line with what the Libyan parties have already agreed and the road map. But I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals. We want to see an election that in which the Libyan people can believe in, that is credible, and that is in line with the past agreements.
Question: So… I’m sorry. Again…
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: …you don’t have a list of countries who will participate in the Paris conference.
Spokesman: No, no. The… you should reach out to the French Mission. They should let you know.
Okay, Benno and then Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you so much. My question was actually asked, but I still try. Regarding Ethiopia the arrest happening there, do you feel that these are part of an ongoing campaign against the UN? And is there a call now scheduled between the SG and the Prime Minister, or is that… was there still no contact, and will there be any contact?
Spokesman: As soon as the contact has been made, we will let you know. That’s a question for you and for the analysts to write about. I mean, we have been, we can only talk about the facts. We’ve not been able to get the humanitarian aid that we need in. We’ve seen some staff detained. On the other hand, we’ve seen the Government facilitate and support Martin Griffiths’ travels, both to Mekelle and to Addis. We are continuing with the dialogue.
Our only aim is really to, our only immediate aim is to bring humanitarian support to the millions of people in Ethiopia, and especially in northern Ethiopia, who so desperately need it.
Sorry, Iftikhar, then Benny and then Michelle.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes, sir.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have anything to say on the marriage of daughter of the United Nations, Malala Yousafzai?
Spokesman: We are so happy for her. We wish her and her husband a life of joy and happiness. And I think anyone who looked at the photo of her and her future husband and was not moved has a heart of stone. There you go.
I easily tear up.
Sorry, I’m not often used to commenting on weddings, at least not royal ones.
Benny, and then Michelle.
Question: Yes, this is not about weddings. This is about firing. Emma Reilly was fired today. Is the UN in the business of firing whistle-blowers and helping China with suppressing dissidents?
Spokesman: No is the short answer. We saw Emma Reilly’s, Ms. Reilly’s public communication about what she had received from the UN. We’re not going to comment on matters that are confidential to protect the individual and the Organization, but I can confirm that there was, indeed, a communication sent to her and received by her.
As we have said many times from here, Ms. Reilly is not recognised as a whistle-blower in the matters that she raised. We do have a very robust framework to protect people from retaliation, and we continue to uphold that framework.
And as to the issues that she has raised, I think they’ve been addressed many times by our colleagues in Geneva at OHCHR [UN Human Rights Office], and they relate to a discontinued historical practice, I think, where the names of participants that were occasionally confirmed to States in limited circumstances and with care that, to ensure that no action of OHCHR would endanger any human rights activists. And that very limited practice, which again, I think, did not, did not endanger the lives of human rights activists, was suspended six years ago, in 2015.
Question: From what I understand, she had, in the past, contacted the Secretary-General on the case. So, can you… the Secretary-General said that he would follow up on it. Can you explain to us why she was fired?
Spokesman: I’m not going… well, what I can tell you is that, obviously, all staff members are obliged to comply with the staff regulations of rules, and we have exhaustively followed all appropriate procedures to handle the complaints filed by Ms. Reilly.
Question: Thanks, Steph. A question, first of all, on COP26. Does the SG have any reaction to this draft conclusion that has come out?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve seen the text, but obviously, negotiations are ongoing, so it would be premature for the Secretary-General to express an opinion so far. I think, that being said, from the beginning, the Secretary-General has been clear that we want to see more. We want to see more ambition. We want to see more credibility. We want to see more solidarity. And that will be the message that he will continue to push out in Glasgow.
He has been encouraged by the commitments so far, but there’s… that we’ve seen from various announcements that we’ve seen, but I think there’s much more that can be done and there’s much more to do. And he’s going to continue to ask countries to accelerate both their climate action and, very importantly, their solidarity with each other.
Question: And apologies if I’ve missed this. Is he back in Glasgow or heading back to Glasgow for the end?
Spokesman: Yes, you’ve missed this. You missed it yesterday and today. He’s back in Glasgow.
Correspondent: All right. Great, thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. He will stay until the end.
All right, Edie.
Question: Can I ask one more thing?
Question: A quick follow-up…
Spokesman: Sure, go ahead.
Question: Is he planning to pick up the phone and talk to the Ethiopian Prime Minister?
Spokesman: Again, I think I answered that question to Benno. As soon as contact is established, I will let you know.
Question: Steph, have you succeeded in getting Martin Griffiths to speak to us?
Spokesman: It is one of the long list of things I have yet to succeed in, but also a long list of things I keep trying to do.
All right. Hasta la vista.