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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.

Good afternoon.

I’m hoping to start with our friend Filippo Grandi, who just briefed the Security Council during its annual session dedicated to UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency).  Filippo, are you connected?

He is still talking, great.  We will go to Filippo once we are done here.

**Seoul Peacekeeping Ministerial

The 2021 Peacekeeping Ministerial has started today in Seoul.  As you know it is sort of a hybrid.

In a pre-recorded video message, the Secretary-General said that the past seven years have seen a notable increase in support to strengthen UN peacekeeping.

He said we have been able to deploy new military and police capabilities more quickly, and to include more women peacekeepers, police and civilians in our operations.

However, the Secretary-General added, as conflicts grow more complex and prolonged, peacekeeping has never been more relevant and its success more urgent.  But, he said, we still face significant gaps in our missions.

Mr. [António] Guterres welcomed the key themes of discussions for this meeting, which is organized by the Republic of Korea, including medical capacity-building, technology, and increasing the number and role of women peacekeepers.

He urged Member States to redouble their support for UN peacekeeping to succeed.

That message was shared with you.

**Internet Governance Forum

He also spoke by video message to the opening of the sixteenth Internet Governance Forum, which is taking place in Katowice, Poland.

He said that digital technology has saved lives by enabling millions of people to work, study and socialize safely online.  However, the pandemic has also magnified the digital divide and the dark side of technology:  the lightning-fast spread of misinformation; the manipulation of people’s behaviour; and more.

The Secretary-General underscored that the only way to address these challenges is with strengthened cooperation:  by establishing clear rules to safeguard human rights and fundamental freedoms; by regaining control over our data; by countering disinformation and hate speech; and by connecting everyone to the Internet by 2030.  His message is online.

**Secretary-General — Children

The Secretary-General also spoke by pre-recorded video message to the inaugural Global Forum for Children and Youth, which is being virtually convened by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Forum).

He said that, with conflicts, climate change, hunger, inequalities, and COVID-19 taking their toll on children, now is the time to reignite hope.

The Secretary-General called for solidarity and action to reset our world for children and young people.

**Secretary-General — Nutrition

He also spoke by video message to the Nutrition for Growth Summit being held in Tokyo.

The Secretary-General noted that hunger is still on the rise, with nearly 1 in 10 people in the world being severely food-insecure due to conflict, climate disruption and poverty.

He voiced the hope that the Nutrition for Growth Summit will push for better nutrition policies and programmes and attract new commitments to strengthen food systems.

Both those messages are online.


And on Ethiopia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, is urging the Government of Ethiopia to promptly sign onto an agreement with the United Nations to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.

Ms. Patten noted that extreme brutality and sexual violence have been the hallmarks of the conflict in Tigray.

She expressed deep concern over the continuing reports of targeted attacks against women, girls, boys, and men in Tigray, Afar and Amhara.  This includes the systematic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, a form of retaliation, punishment, humiliation, and stigmatizing people based on their real or perceived ethnic identity.

She reiterated her urgent call to all parties to the conflict to immediately cease every form of sexual violence and end hostilities to pave the way for an inclusive and gender-responsive ceasefire and peacebuilding efforts.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Matthew Hollingworth, has strongly condemned the violence in Leer, in Unity State.  Clashes have resulted in many civilians being killed or injured, and aid supplies were also looted.

Mr. Hollingworth called on the authorities to make every effort to protect communities, as well as aid workers and supplies, across the country.

During clashes that lasted for several days last week, a humanitarian worker — employed by a non-governmental organization (NGO) focusing on nutrition — was killed during the violence.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of violent incidents carried out by young men across South Sudan has increased since March of this year.

Mr. Hollingworth said that violence has no place in a country determined to move forward on a path to peace.

**Champions of the Earth

A couple of climate-related, environment-related notes.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced this year’s Champions of the Earth.  The award is given to people that inspire, defend, mobilize and act to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time, including protecting ecosystems and restoring them.

This year the winners include Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados; the Sea Women of Melanesia, who train local women to monitor and assess the impacts of widespread coral bleaching; Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, who was the first-ever wildlife veterinarian — I cannot pronounce that word, the doctor that treats animals — of the Uganda Wildlife Authority; and Maria Kolesnikova of the Kyrgyz Republic, an environmental activist, youth advocate and head of MoveGreen, an organization working to monitor and improve air quality in the [Central] Asia region.  We congratulate all of these worthy winners.

**Plastic Pollution

A new report that caught our eye today by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), having to do with the earth, says that the land we use to grow our food is contaminated with large quantities of plastic pollution.  Asia is estimated to be the largest user of plastics in agricultural production.  FAO says that while most scientific research on plastics pollution has been directed at aquatic ecosystems, especially oceans, experts found that agricultural soils are thought to receive far greater quantities of microplastics.  The agency calls for further research into this matter.

**Civil Aviation Day

Today is the International Day for Civil Aviation.  In his message, the Secretary-General says that the pandemic continues to put deep stresses on international aviation, even as increased vaccination rates and testing protocols make air travel possible again.  His message is online.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will participate in an event organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  And that is their High-Level Pledging Event for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The event — which marks the CERF’s fifteenth anniversary — seeks to galvanize greater financial commitments to ensure that the Fund remains fit to respond to the increasing levels and complexities of global humanitarian needs.

Established in 2006, the CERF has allocated more than $7.5 billion to provide assistance for millions of people in more than 110 countries and territories.

Since the Fund was established, global funding needs through humanitarian appeals have increased more than sevenfold — from $5.2 billion in 2006 to [assist] 32 million people to $41 billion in 2022 to help 183 million people in need.

I see Filippo is on screen, so we’ll take a few questions, and then we will turn to Filippo.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is there any update on aid deliveries into Tigray and the possibility of any fuel trucks getting in?

Spokesman:  No.  No updates.  We’re trying to get some more information from our colleagues on the ground, but if fuel trucks had gotten in, I think we would have been told.

Question:  And does the Secretary-General have any comment on this terrible prison fire in Burundi that’s killed at least 40 people and prisoners, who were shouting to be let out as the flames erupted?

Spokesman:  Well, we… I think we were all shocked to see this fire, and I think it is important that there is a full investigation into the circumstances of what happened.


Question:  Thank you.  So, in France, one of the alleged killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested today.  What’s the opinion of the Secretary-General?  How important is it that at least one of the perpetrators has to endure credible legal steps, as this didn’t happen so far?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there’s…  From what I have seen, there’s a judicial process going on.  We’ve always said from the beginning there needed to be accountability for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.

Alan?  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The negotiations between Presidents [Vladimir] Putin and [Joseph] Biden have just concluded.  I remember your comment yesterday, but what outcome do you expect?

Spokesman:  Let me… I haven’t seen the outcome, so let’s… we’ll take a look at it, and I’ll get back to you.

Pam, and then we’ll go…

Question:  Steph, just a follow-up on Edie’s question on Tigray.  The last comment… maybe not the last, but one of the comments you made is fuel… some trucks were getting in, but fuel was not, and that 5.2 million in Tigray did not have access to livelihood and limited access to markets.  That was about four days ago.  Do you have any more information about fuel or…?

Spokesman:  No, no.  We have not been advised… I have not been advised that any of our fuel trucks have gotten in.  We understand that there… our team on the ground has been able to access some fuel, dealing with the local authorities, and… but we do not have the fuel that we need to operate a… and to operate our operations and to meet… even start to meet the needs of those who need help, because one of the points I wanted to make is the lack of fuel not only hampers our food distribution, but it hampers our ability to go out and assess the situation, so there are a lot of places we have not been able to visit.

Ibtisam and then… sorry.

Question:  Steph, today the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a… in the briefing she gave on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories that all of her international staff did not get their visas renewed…

Spokesman:  To go… where?  Sorry.

Question:  All of the international staff in the occupied Palestinian territories did not get their visas renewed by Israel.  She said 16 of them…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I have not heard of it, but let me check and I’ll get back to you after.

Question:  Okay.  So, that was my question; why did we not hear about that from you?

Spokesman:  I… you’re not the only one who doesn’t hear about things.

Erol, yes, please, and then Abdelhamid.  Then we’ll go to Filippo.

Question:  A dire food security situation in Afghanistan.  India has offered medical supplies, as well as 50,000 tons of meat, to Afghanistan.  They’ve been held up by Pakistan by various kinds of conditionalities.  Any reaction to that?

And also, is the UN involved in resolving the situation and perhaps arranging for the supplies to reach Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  Let me check with our humanitarian colleagues.  We would want to see, obviously, humanitarian aid to be… to arrive where it needs, anywhere around the world, as swiftly as possible.

Abdelhamid, and then we’ll go to the High Commissioner.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  I’ll try to be brief.  First a question, Israeli ambassador to the UN sent a letter to the Secretary-General protesting that the UN differentiates between Israeli civilians and Israeli settlers.  What is the UN position?  Do they see the same?  Did they put them in the same basket, Israeli civilians and Israeli settlers?  That’s my first question.

And the second, on Saturday, two Israeli soldiers executed at point-blank the young man… a Palestinian young man, Muhammad Salima, in front of the Damascus Gate.  The two soldiers were arrested briefly for few hours and then let go.  Are you aware of this… crimes against humanity about killing a wounded civilian while on the ground, executed by two soldiers?  What is the UN position on that?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I have not heard about the second case.

On the first one, I would… I will send you the transcript from yesterday because I actually read out quite a long answer.  Ibtisam had the… answered the… I think, asked the question, but I will send you exactly what I said yesterday, which answers your question.

So, I know there’s some more questions.  I’ll try to come back to the rest of you, but I know Filippo, High Commissioner, has limited amount of time.

So, Filippo, you go ahead.  Make some opening remarks.  We’ll take some questions, and then if there are more questions for me afterwards, I’ll come back to it.

Filippo, please, you have the floor and welcome.

[Filippo Grandi’s remarks and Q&A]

Spokesman:  All right.  Apologies.  I know a number of you had more questions, but we had to let him go.  Anything… any other questions on anything?  Excellent.  I’m leaving.

For information media. Not an official record.