Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General
The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Noon Briefing Guests
In a short while, we will be joined in this room by the Police Adviser and Director of the United Nations Police (UNPOL) unit, Luís Carrilho. He will be joined virtually by Police Commissioners from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Mody Berethe, and the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), Violet Lusala. They will of course be here to brief you on this week’s UN Police Week events.
Before that, we have some news.
First, an update from the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26) in Glasgow. The Secretary‑General today met with various negotiating groups, including the High Ambition Coalition, the Least Developed Countries group, the ministers of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the Alliance of Small Island States. He is still pushing for higher ambition on all fronts, including on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation, mitigation and financing for developing countries.
The Secretary-General spoke by video message to the Paris conference on Libya that is underway right now, and he said that today’s conference has one overriding goal: to seize this moment for peace. Peace that the Libyan people have been denied for far too long.
He noted that the majority of Libyans support holding elections scheduled for 24 December. Nearly three million people have registered to vote so far. Their aspirations and determination to participate in free and fair elections must be met, he said.
The Secretary‑General strongly urged Libyans to come together in a spirit of national unity, to overcome remaining differences, and forge a consensus on the legal framework for the elections, in consultation with all relevant national institutions, adhering to their rules and procedures. And he called on all Libyan parties to participate in the election process, and to respect the election results.
The Secretary‑General also urged all those with power and influence over the situation to put the nation’s well‑being and prosperity ahead of their own personal interests. Any party that deliberately undermines or sabotages peace must be held accountable, he said.
This morning at the Security Council, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, the head of the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), briefed on the G5 Sahel Joint Force. He said the situation in the region has remained volatile and civilians continue to pay the highest price.
The security forces of the G5 Sahel member states face this threat with determination and courage, Mr. Lacroix said. Nevertheless, the G5 Sahel Force also continues to face important challenges.
We remain convinced, Mr. Lacroix told Council Members, that only a dedicated support office, funded through assessed contribution, can provide the Joint Force with the support it needs.
He also reiterated the Secretary‑General’s call for the establishment of a dedicated political forum to promote regional ownership and foster enhanced international support while ensuring that the operations of the Force are aligned with important political processes, including the implementation of the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali.
His remarks have been shared with you.
And, before this meeting, the Security Council also voted to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for one year.
We are aware of reports of the withdrawal of Government of Yemen forces from around areas south of Hudaydah city up to Al Tuhayta district, and indications that Houthi forces have now moved into much of the vacated areas.
We were not informed in advance of the movements. Nevertheless, the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) is monitoring the situation closely and liaising with the parties to establish the facts on the ground and to respond, as necessary, according to its mandate.
We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety and security of civilians in and around those areas where shifts in frontlines have taken place.
On Myanmar, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that today’s conviction and harsh sentencing of the journalist, Danny Fenster, by a military court following a closed‑door, unfair trial is emblematic of the wider plight of journalists who have been facing constant repression since the military takeover on 1 February.
Ms. Bachelet said at least 126 journalists, media officials or publishers have been detained by the military since 1 February, of whom 47 remain in detention. Twenty of these people have been charged with crimes because of their work as journalists. Nine media outlets have had their licenses revoked and 20 others have had to suspend operations. Dozens of journalists reportedly remain in hiding due to outstanding arrest warrants.
The High Commissioner said the military leadership is clearly attempting to suppress journalists’ attempts to report on the serious human rights violations being perpetrated across Myanmar, as well as the extent of opposition to the regime.
She added that attacks on journalists and the media further exacerbate the vulnerability of huge sections of society that rely on accurate and independent information.
Also on Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground tell us that more than 12 million children have not had access to organized learning for more than 18 months, resulting in serious consequences for their education and well‑being.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working to ensure children are not cut off from learning and, together with partners, is distributing learning materials to nearly 300,000 children across multiple states and regions so they can continue their educations from home.
UNICEF has also been helping to provide safe and continued learning to more than 180,000 children in ethnic minority areas with home‑based learning materials and support.
Moving to Afghanistan. Today, in a statement, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that she is deeply concerned by reports that child marriage in Afghanistan is on the rise. She said that UNICEF has received credible reports of families offering daughters as young as 20 days old up for future marriage in return for a dowry.
Ms. Fore noted that UNICEF estimates that 28 per cent of Afghan women aged 15–49 years were married before the age of 18. She said that as most teenage girls are still not allowed to go back to school, the risk of child marriage is now even higher.
She said that UNICEF has started a cash assistance programme to help offset the risk of hunger, child labour and child marriage among the most vulnerable families. UNICEF plans to scale up this and other social services programmes in the months to come.
For their part, our humanitarian colleagues and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met yesterday with refugees who have returned to Afghanistan’s Baghlan province. Around 1,000 families have settled in a UNHCR Project Area of Return and Reintegration.
This week, the World Food Programme (WFP) completed the registration of 148,000 people under its seasonal support programme in eight districts of Badakhshan Province. WFP has also distributed mixed food items to 10,500 people, and further distributions are forthcoming.
Earlier today in Niger, the Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, and the Prime Minister of Niger, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, launched an initiative to strengthen social cohesion and consolidate national dialogue in the country.
This project is part of the UN conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategy.
Mr. Annadif described the initiative as an opportunity to mobilize energies to contribute to stronger social cohesion in Niger and in the region. He added that social cohesion is an effort renewed every day, especially in a context made fragile by the insecurity created by armed groups and other criminal networks.
The acting Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Arafat Jamal, today warned of a climate emergency in the country, calling for increased investment in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to avoid annual heavy flooding.
Mr. Jamal recently visited Jonglei and Unity states, where he met with people affected by the flooding.
He said vast areas of South Sudan are now under water, with more than 780,000 people being affected since this May.
Entire communities have been forced to move to higher ground to escape the floodwaters. Many people uprooted by this year’s floods had previously been displaced by clashes and last year’s floods.
Humanitarian organizations are helping flood‑affected people by providing food, shelter, water purification tablets, medicine and other supplies.
South Sudan is ranked among the five countries in the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Food insecurity is at record levels. The country regularly experiences torrential rains, seasonal flooding and locust infestations, and it is the most vulnerable people who suffer the most.
The WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, has concluded a three‑day visit to Syria, in which he met with vulnerable families receiving WFP food assistance in Aleppo.
Mr. Beasley has warned that more Syrians are in the grip of hunger today than at any time during their country’s decade‑long conflict. He blamed a deadly combination of conflict, climate change, COVID and rising food and fuel costs.
Some 12.4 million people — almost 60 per cent of the population — are now food insecure and do not know where their next meal will come from. This is a 57 per cent increase since 2019 and the highest number ever recorded in the history of Syria.
WFP is assisting over 5 million people with food assistance across Syria every month. But the agency faces severe funding constraints and was recently forced to reduce the size of the monthly food ration that families receive. WFP is only 31 per cent funded and urgently requires close to $480 million for the next six months.
I have a senior personnel appointment to share with you.
The Secretary‑General today appointed Unaisi Lutu Vuniwaqa of Fiji as Assistant Secretary‑General for Safety and Security (DSS). Ms. Vuniwaqa succeeds Nóirín O’Sullivan of Ireland, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for her contribution and dedication.
As deputy to the Under‑Secretary‑General for Safety and Security, the Assistant Secretary‑General will be responsible for day‑to‑day management, supporting in the overall leadership and management of the Department.
Ms. Vuniwaqa has over 35 years of experience in law enforcement at the national and international level.
She most recently held the position of Police Commissioner and Head of the UN Police component with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). There, she was instrumental in promoting ‘Gender Responsive Policing’ initiatives which resulted in the early achievement of uniformed gender parity targets set for 2028.
More on this will be emailed to you and posted on our website.
**75th Anniversary of UNESCO
Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In a message, the Secretary‑General notes that UNESCO was born as a pillar of the United Nations system, in the wake of one of the darkest chapters in human history.
The Secretary‑General stresses that at a time of great inequalities, environmental crises, polarization and a global pandemic, UNESCO’s role is more critical than ever to restore trust and solidarity. To ensure greater access to education for all, promote cultural diversity, and steer technological progress for the greater good, he adds.
The Secretary‑General said that each of these efforts speak to UNESCO’s importance at the centre of a more networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism — that delivers tangible benefits for people across the world.
**World Diabetes Day
Sunday is World Diabetes Day and the theme this year is access to diabetes care.
A report published today by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the lead‑up to the Day, highlights that 100 years after its discovery, insulin is still out of reach for many people living with diabetes. According to the report, high prices, low availability of human insulin, few producers dominating the insulin market and weak health systems are the main barriers to universal access.
One out of every two people needing insulin for Type 2 diabetes does not get it.
There is more information online.
And with that, I turn the floor over to you for questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much, Farhan. I have two questions. First, a follow‑up on the sentencing of American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison. I know you read a statement from Michelle Bachelet. Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on his lengthy imprisonment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General certainly supports the High Commissioner’s views, and the Secretary‑General has also made clear his concerns that journalists everywhere, including in Myanmar, have to be able to go about their work without harassment. Reporting, conveying facts, is not and must not be seen as a crime.
Question: Secondly, can you give us an update on what’s happening with the detention of UN staff and the 70 truck drivers? And is there any update on efforts to get humanitarian aid to the millions who need it in northern Ethiopia?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the first part, unfortunately, I have no good news to convey. None of the… we had said yesterday there were nine people in detention. None of those nine people have been released, as far as we are aware, but we are aware that a tenth person has now also been detained. So our numbers are up, not down, to ten. And there’s no change in the numbers of the more than 70 subcontractor drivers either.
We’re continuing with our efforts. We’re pushing on all the doors that we can, but we have not made the progress that we would have liked to have made. That, of course, is also hindering our humanitarian deliveries. But on the other side of that front, I believe the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is working on seeing whether there will be an allocation through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for Ethiopia. That’s not ready as of right now to announce, but hopefully, we might have something later in the day on that.
Question: Yes, Farhan. On the situation on the Belarusian border with the migrants, the number of migrants reportedly is rising, closing to 5,000, while Ukraine joined Poland and other eastern European countries, EU countries, of sending army with heavy weapons to the border.
My question… I have two questions about that. First, do you think it’s necessary and appropriate for countries to bring armies with heavy weapons to their borders to basically confront 5,000 migrants?
And the second question is, if… the humanitarian situation is really deteriorating. Just this morning, a baby froze to death among the migrants. We talked about how Belarus or whoever is around there should not use migrants, but what is United Nations’ message to the EU countries? What is their responsibility regarding… because their borders shut, and they have these heavy armies on there, and they don’t do much to help these people.
Deputy Spokesman: Our message to all of the parties is that people should not be instrumentalized. They’re not pawns; they’re human beings. Ultimately, what needs to happen is their basic needs and their basic rights need to be taken care of.
You mentioned this poor child who apparently had frozen to death. The… people need food; they need shelter. We have, on our side, two agencies, UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration (IOM), who are capable of helping out and who are willing to do what they can to resolve the situation. So, we need to make sure that they have the access that they need to the people who are in need of assistance. But at the same time, our call on the governments is that, when dealing with these people, their basic rights and their basic needs need to be respected, and again, they should not be instrumentalized.
Question: And my first question about bringing heavy military mercenary and armies to the border, so forth… [Cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: That’s part of my basic point. What we want people to be looking at is not at the idea of people as some sort of abstract problem. They are people, hungry, cold people, and their basic rights and their basic dignity needs to be considered.
Yes, Mr. Hanna?
Question: Farhan, to get back to the Danny Fenster issue, we had the numbers from the Commission about how many journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka [sic]. The large majority of them were actually detained without charges. In this particular case, there were charges laid, and we understand, as well, that new charges have now been laid against him. Is there a concern that this is part of a process of attempting to create some kind of legal justification for the onslaught against journalists?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll leave it to my human rights colleagues to deal with the… basically the legal minutiae of this particular case. Our concern is the broader concern that, clearly, a large number of journalists have been detained, and we don’t want to see different types of reasoning that could be used to essentially characterize their reporting as a criminal act. Reporting is not a criminal act and should not be seen as such.
Yes, Alan, and then you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a follow‑up on Majeed’s question, please. Do you think that bringing additional troops and armies to the border between Belarus and Poland will exacerbate the situation, will escalate it? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, it’s every country’s sovereign right to determine how they deal with the situation at their borders. Again, but my point is that you can’t perceive of a group of people as an… especially, you see that they are not a military force. They are a group of people who are hungry, tired. They need health care; they need shelter. They should not be seen as a threat, and we’re urging everyone not to see them as such.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Paris conference on Libya just ended, and participants focussed on organizing the elections on time and threaten sanction on those who obstruct or will obstruct these elections. Any comment on that?
I have another question, if you allow. Yesterday, many, many Security Council members on Sudan insist that Mr. [Abdalla] Hamdok has to lead the transition period again for the UN. Do you also insist on the person of Hamdok that has to be head of the Government again, or you’re okay if any other civilian can do the job? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the question on Ethiopia, our emphasis continues to be… oh, sorry. The question on Sudan, our concern… we are concerned about the announcement that was made yesterday, but what we reiterate is the importance of an urgent negotiated solution to restore political and economic life to normalcy. That is what we are working on.
And in that regard, as you know, Mr. [Volker] Perthes has been dealing with Lieutenant‑General [Abdel Fattah] al‑Burhan and with Prime Minister Hamdok, and he continues to discuss it with both of them and with other relevant parties.
And your first question?
Question: On Libya.
Deputy Spokesman: On Libya. Yes. Certainly, we very much welcomed today’s conference, and we, along with the other parties at the conference, are continuing to stress the importance of holding the elections on time for 24 December. And so, we were part of that process of this conference. As you know, Rosemary DiCarlo, Ján Kubiš, the senior figures of our political team dealing with this issue, have been present and have been working with the others on this.
Okay. I believe James Reinl has a question online.
Question: Hi there, Farhan. Can you hear me? Farhan, can you hear me?
Deputy Spokesman: James? Yeah, I can hear you now.
Question: Okay. Great. Thanks so much. I’ve got question on the Central African Republic and that incident in which the Egyptian peacekeepers were injured at start of the month. Do you have an update on the ten peacekeepers? We, of course, hope they are recovering.
Also, today in the Council, Russia suggested that it was mistakes by the UN Mission that led to the incident. The diplomat didn’t specify this, but it’s… the counter‑narrative seems to be that MINUSCA shouldn’t have sent that bus of the new deployment down to the Presidential residence to take photographs because that’s forbidden, and that’s sort of what provoked the incident. Can I get your comment on that? Is it a UN mistake here?
Deputy Spokesman: I think, first of all, that this matter is being investigated, and we’ll have to see what the results of the investigation are. I wouldn’t really comment on this one way or the other until we know fully what the details are and why the Presidential Guard opened fire on the peacekeepers.
As far as I’m aware, the peacekeepers are all in stages of recovery. I believe one of them had to be transferred out of the country, and the rest were able to stay inside. We wish them well as they proceed with their recovery.
And with that, unless I have any further questions, I’m going to turn to our guest.