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, and good to see a small handful of people in the briefing room.
Can people in the briefing room hear me? Raise your hand if you can.
Okay. Great. In that case, I will get started, and you will hear from me and my guest shortly.
First off, the Secretary-General met in Beirut today with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and he reiterated his message of solidarity with Lebanon and its people at this difficult time.
The Secretary-General said after the meeting that he was very encouraged in his meetings over the past days with the President, the Speaker and the Prime Minister. There is a clear guarantee that elections will take place in the beginning of May. And he added that he was impressed by the work the Government is doing in relation to the preparation of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
He met earlier with the Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, and told reporters afterward that only Lebanese can solve Lebanese problems, but the international community needs to strengthen its support to Lebanon to overcome the present, difficult circumstances.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited the Port of Beirut to pay tribute to the victims that lost their lives and to express his solidarity to all those wounded and to the families. He said that he knows the will of the people to know the truth and to have proper accountability for that tragedy.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General arrived in Beirut and met with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace. He told reporters after that meeting that his objective is to discuss how we can best support the Lebanese people to overcome the current economic and financial crisis and to promote peace, stability and sustainable development.
Seeing the suffering of the people of Lebanon, he said, Lebanese political leaders do not have the right to be divided and paralyze the country. He added that next year’s elections will be key and Lebanon’s people must be fully engaged in choosing how the country moves forward.
**Lamp of Peace
On Saturday, the Secretary-General received the Lamp of Peace award, given by the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Italy.
In his remarks, delivered virtually, he noted that Saint Francis of Assisi was a true visionary, whose holistic concept of peace is as relevant today as it was during his lifetime, eight hundred years ago.
Reminding the audience that St. Francis is the patron saint of ecology, the Secretary-General said that our unsustainable production and consumption habits are causing a triple planetary crisis: climate disruption; a catastrophic loss of biodiversity; and levels of pollution that are killing millions every year. Climate action builds peace, he said.
The Secretary-General also called on leaders of all kinds to take responsibility, condemn all acts of violence and hatred, and address the root causes that undermine social cohesion. As societies become multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural, we need greater investment in inclusivity, he added.
His full remarks have been shared with you.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
As we told you last week, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is currently visiting Costa Rica.
Yesterday, she visited a geothermal project. Some 99 per cent of the population of Costa Rica has access to electricity, and nearly all of its electricity matrix is from renewable sources. The Deputy Secretary-General also met with communities working on mangrove restoration.
Today, she is meeting with President Carlos Alvarado and his Cabinet to discuss social protection, COVID-19 recovery and sustainable development.
The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York tomorrow.
Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning and said that we can only look back on 2021 as a year of deepening suffering of the Syrian people. Despite no shift in the front lines, he said, we have seen continuing violence against civilians and systematic human rights abuses — including against women and girls. He added that levels of hunger and poverty have escalated as the economy has continued to implode, with 14 million people in need, the highest number since the conflict began.
Mr. Pedersen said that all parties confront a strategic stalemate on the ground that has now continued for 21 months, with no shifts in front-lines — making it increasingly clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the outcome of the conflict, and that a military solution remains an illusion.
The Special Envoy has said that he is ready to convene a seventh session of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva as soon as understandings are in place.
Martin Griffiths, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council members by VTC (video teleconference) and discussed the Secretary-General’s report that describes the robust system in place regarding the distribution of cross-line humanitarian aid. He said that in north-western Syria, the UN humanitarian system has boosted its efforts to provide cross-line aid. But he added that at this point, cross-line aid deliveries cannot replace the cross-border humanitarian operation.
Mr. Griffiths said that humanitarian needs have grown while funding has shrunk. He warned that we are failing in our responsibilities to the people of Syria.
Yesterday, Martin Griffiths addressed the 17th Extraordinary Session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers, in Islamabad. He warned that Afghanistan’s economy is now in free fall, and if we don’t act decisively and with compassion, he fears this fall will pull the entire population with it.
Mr. Griffiths stressed that the need for liquidity and stabilization of the banking system is now urgent — not only to save the lives of the Afghan people but also to enable humanitarian organizations to respond. He warned that by the middle of next year, universal poverty — reaching 97 per cent of the population — could be the next grim milestone.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs said that our humanitarian response is effective and continues to scale up, but Afghanistan will not get through the winter on emergency aid alone. He emphasized that we also need flexible donor funding that can be used to ensure salaries for public sector workers and support to basic services such as health, education, electricity, and livelihoods.
Mr Griffiths also added that going forward, we need continued constructive engagement with the de facto authorities in a process of meaningful dialogue to clarify what we expect of each other.
**Central African Republic
The UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, strongly condemns the recent violence deliberately targeting civilians in Boyo, in the Ouaka prefecture. Our colleagues say the town was the scene of violence earlier this month, perpetrated by armed combatants linked to the anti-Balaka.
Around fifteen civilians were killed. There were also cases of amputation, extortion and destruction of homes. Nearly 1,500 people were displaced and are currently protected by UN peacekeepers, whose rapid intervention has restored stability in Boyo.
The UN Mission also says there is a massive arrival of armed combatants linked to the anti-Balaka in this area, as well as a risk that Fulani communities there could be targeted for attacks.
The UN mission and humanitarian agencies conducted an assessment mission in Boyo last week, and initiated investigations into the human rights violations committed there. Our colleagues reinforced their presence to prevent violence. They are also calling on all armed groups to immediately end attacks against civilians and to respect the ceasefire declared by President [Faustin-Archange] Touadéra on 15 October.
In South Sudan, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator there, Matthew Hollingworth, has strongly condemned yesterday’s killing of a World Food Programme (WFP) staff member following an armed attack on a UN convoy. The convoy was returning from delivering food to flood-affected people in Tindiir and Duk Padiet in Jonglei State.
Mr. Hollingworth urged authorities to make every effort to bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as to protect communities, humanitarian personnel and assets across the country.
Duk County in Jonglei was affected by flooding both this year and last year. Some 130,000 people are in need of assistance, including 17,000 children under five.
South Sudan remains one of the most challenging work environments for humanitarian workers. Yesterday’s incident brings to five the number of aid workers killed in the line of duty in 2021.
Turning to the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues tell us some 1.8 million people have been affected by Typhoon Rai, with more than 630,000 having been displaced.
The Government of the Philippines has accepted the humanitarian country team’s offer for international assistance.
The UN is working with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and private sector partners to help people in the areas of shelter, health, food, protection, and other life-saving responses. We and our partners have also contributed to rapid needs assessments.
In a statement issued today, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Gustavo Gonzalez, shared a message of solidarity and support with the people of the Philippines.
He said that the UN and our partners are coordinating with the Government authorities to ensure timely support to address critical gaps and the needs of the most vulnerable.
Mr. Gonzalez will visit the island of Dinagat island this week to see the situation on the ground.
I have some COVID-19 updates for you:
The UN team in Timor-Leste, led by Resident Coordinator Roy Trivedy, is supporting the country’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. We are helping to procure essential equipment and supplies and maintain isolation centres. We are also supporting vaccine delivery and logistics, as well as virus surveillance.
While there have been no reported cases of the Omicron variant, the Government and UN remain vigilant and continue monitoring, testing, and promoting public health and social measures. The UN is supporting the Government and partners in developing and disseminating messaging on prevention and the importance of vaccination.
To date, 80 per cent of the population has received their first dose of the vaccine and 60 per cent have received their second dose. Around one fifth of the 1.1 million doses administered so far were received through COVAX.
In Zambia, which continues to record more cases of the Omicron variant, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Coumba Mar Gadio, continues to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic.
The UN team is working with the Government on boosting contact tracing, border health security, and laboratory and procurement capacities. The World Health Organization has supported genomic sequencing, which helped detect Omicron in the country.
The UN is also helping to scale up the vaccination campaign, with more than 3.7 million vaccine doses having been delivered to Zambia through COVAX.
The United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation today released a report showing that the world remains significantly off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals on ending the preventable deaths of newborns and children under five.
According to the report, more than 50 countries will not meet the under-five mortality target by 2030, and more than 60 countries will miss the neonatal mortality target without immediate action. The report shows that more than 5 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2020 alone, along with 2.2 million children and youth aged 5 to 24.
The full report is available online.
**International Human Solidarity Day
Today is International Human Solidarity Day. In a tweet, the Secretary-General said that hunger is no longer about lack of food. It is largely a man-made disaster — concentrated in countries affected by large-scale, protracted conflict, he added.
The Secretary-General said that as we mark International Human Solidarity Day, we must remember our responsibility to do everything in our power to tackle both hunger and conflict.
After my portion of the briefing is done, I will be joined by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula. He will brief you from Mogadishu on the new 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, which was launched today. Somalia is facing its third consecutive failed rainy season for the first time in over 30 years. The new Humanitarian Response Plan seeks nearly $1.5 billion to help 5.5 million of the most vulnerable Somalis next year.
So you will hear from Mr. Abdelmoula once you are done with me. And once he is done, you will also hear from Paulina Kubiak, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, who will also talk to you virtually.
Are there any questions for me before we go to our guest?
**Questions and Answers
Yes, Célhia, you first.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The French forces… do you hear me? Yeah?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, I can hear you.
Question: The French forces, Barkhane, has left Timbuktu. Will this departure have an impact on the UN Mission (MINUSMA)? What does it mean for the Malians in terms of their security? And does this departure risk opening the door to the return of jihadists?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as far as that goes, we are doing what we can through our forces, including MINUSMA, and of course, also the other forces comprising the G5 Sahel to do what we can to stabilize the situation in Mali and in the wider region, and we will continue to do that.
At the same time, we’re also aware, as you may have seen over the weekend, that the Government of Mali has informed the Security Council of its consent for the deployment of 1,000 additional Chadian troops as part of MINUSMA.
It’s up to the Security Council to authorize an increase in the strength of MINUSMA based on recommendations to be made by the Secretariat.
Scaling up uniformed personnel capacity would enhance the ability of MINUSMA to support Malian Defence and Security Forces in protecting civilians and create further security space for the implementation of the peace process. So, we’ll see what can be done about that.
Kristen Saloomey, sorry, you have a question?
Question: Yes. Sorry. Thanks, Farhan. Just wanted to ask about the situation in Tigray. I understand that… and I’ve seen a copy of the letter that was sent to the Secretary-General from the Tigrayan authorities, saying that they were going to withdraw. Do you have any comment on that?
There’s also been reports that Government air strikes have been continuing. So, what would the reaction be to the decision to withdraw and the ongoing air strikes from the Secretary-General? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the letter from the Tigrayan People’s [Liberation] Front leader, what I can say is that that’s being studied right now, so we’re looking at it. I don’t have any immediate comment on that.
Obviously, we are looking forward at… we would look positively at any efforts that can bring the fighting downwards and, ultimately, to bring it to a full halt. So… but we’ll study this and see where we can… what can be done with that.
Regarding the latest reports, I can’t confirm any latest reports of air strikes, but that certainly would be matter of concern. We have made very clear the need to bring a halt to all the fighting, and we are continuing to work with all the various parties and press the case that it needs to stop and to stop now.
Yes, in the back, you have your hand up? Yes. Yes, please.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a question regarding Libya. The elections should take place this week, and it looks like the country’s not ready for that. My question, is the UN with the idea to postpone the elections for a month or two, or you still insist that these elections have to take place on time?
Also, Special Adviser Stephanie Williams have met recently with many Libyan dignitaries and politicians. Is there any consensus to postpone the elections, or what the feedback you getting from Stephanie Williams? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, it’s… you’re quite right; Stephanie Williams met over the past weekend with a number of the key officials involved in the electoral process, with… hearing views from the differing sides. We will wait to hear from her what her professional evaluation is of where we stand.
For our part, we’re trying to see what we can do to see whether Ms. Williams can also brief you sometime this week by video conference and, hopefully, we’ll see what we can do with that.
For now, as you’re aware, any decision on the date of the elections, ultimately, is in the hands of the Lebanese authorities, including the Lebanese electoral authorities. And we’re working with them, and we’ll see what they have to say.
And with that, I turn to Abdelhamid. Abdelhamid first and then Evelyn after him.
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Farhan. Since the killing of the Israeli settler, settlers are attacking villages and towns near Nablus, especially the city of Burqa. As we speak, 67 were wounded, 15 of them by rubber-coated bullets.
And a few days ago, Jamil Muhammad Al-Kayyal — he’s 31 — he was shot and killed in the head.
Why these incidents do not resonate with the Special Coordinator, and only he issued a statement when a settler was killed? I’m going to continue asking about this selectivity of his statement.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in that case, I will, again, repeat my point from Friday, that Tor Wennesland, our Special Coordinator, spoke against all of the violence, whether it was visited against the Israelis or against the Palestinians. And he is continuing to seek that all sides bring the violence to a halt, and again, that is without regard to which community.
Ultimately, our worry is that this can spin out of control. We want a de-escalation, and we want it to stop so that all people, Israeli and Palestinian alike, will go back to a situation where they can live without fear.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Farhan. Excuse me. On Lebanon, [inaudible] delivery anything specific, aside from existing UN programmes, that he hasn’t offered before? I may have missed that, but he didn’t… did he say anything about investigation of the big disaster or anything else?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, please look at all of the various remarks. We’ve… he’s made remarks…
Question: I have looked at them.
Deputy Spokesman: …after his meetings with the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament and also when he and his country team met with Prime Minister Mikati in the Cabinet. And he talked about a number of different items, including the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion, the handling of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the need for UNIFIL to be able to go about its work freely, the economic reforms, including the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, and the progress towards elections next year. So, all of those are present, and I would just refer you to the full scope of what he’s been saying.
Question: All right. One more question. On Central African Republic, is it time, perhaps, for a name-and-shame of… whether it’s the Wagner Group or whoever is causing the unbelievable grief and killings and theft and whatnot but to just say it’s pretty bad. We hear the same thing all the time from the Security Council. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think we’ve made clear our views about the use of foreign mercenaries, and if you look at our reports and as well as the reports of the Panel of Experts, you’ll see where we stand on that question.
Question: Yes. Going back to Mali, aren’t you concerned that… the fact that Barkhane is leaving, it will open the door to the… to Wagner or some foreign fighters?
Deputy Spokesman: Our hope is that any gaps in the number of forces and the quality of forces on the ground can be made up one way or another, either through the personnel of the peacekeeping Mission we have on the ground, MINUSMA, or through contributions to the G5 Sahel so… but we’ll see how this goes.
Again, I told you about the offer that we were exploring over the weekend, and we’ll continue to look at other ways of making sure that our forces on the ground are sufficient to meet the needs on hand.
And with that, I will turn to our guest, Adam Abdelmoula. Oh, hold on. One more. Kristen and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Sorry about that. Thank you, Farhan. Just wanted to follow up on Tigray. Do you have any sense that things are changing on the ground one way or the other? What’s… is there an update on efforts to get in fuel and food? Are UN staff still being detained? What’s your sense?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, UN staff are still being detained. In fact, sadly, I can say that there’s an increase, not a decrease, in the staff that have been detained. We now stand at 11 UN staff members and 2 dependents who are in detention. And again, we call for all of them to be released.
Regarding the situation on the ground, we’re continuing with our humanitarian efforts. It continues to be difficult, and we faced different obstructions, including, as you’re well aware, obstructions on bringing in fuel, which is badly needed for the area. But we’re in touch with all of the various authorities on the ground to do what we can.
And with that, Mr. Abdelmoula, the floor is yours.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring to you Adam Abdelmoula, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.