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2 July 2021

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 and happy Friday, indeed.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is wrapping up his trip to Spain and in Madrid today, he met with the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez.  In a joint press encounter afterwards, he thanked Spain for its exemplary partnership with the United Nations.  He cited multiple examples of collaboration, including the plans for the expansion of the UN Information and Communications Technology Facility in Valencia, Spain’s commitment to the COVAX facility, its leadership in the European Union and as a bridge between developed and developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change, as well as its strong push to achieve gender equality in all aspects of its society.

The Secretary-General also underscored that all these global issues require [multilateral] solutions, and also for inclusion of all sectors of society — businesses, civil society, academia, city authorities, youth — in government decisions.

Those remarks will be shared with you shortly.

The Secretary-General also had an audience with His Majesty King Felipe VI.

And this morning, he took part in a round table with the Vice-President and Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and other officials, in which they discussed how to accelerate the green recovery.  During the event, the Secretary-General said that there is a gap and a lack of trust between developed and developing countries, and this gap needs to be narrowed.  The Secretary-General also stressed that reaching the target of zero carbon emissions by 2050 will require a truly global coalition, adding that he’s encouraged by young people’s involvement in this cause, but he warned that their participation cannot be only about listening to them as a formality.  They need to have a real participation in policymaking.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York, will be in the office on Tuesday.

**Ethiopia

This afternoon, as we mentioned, at 3, there will be a briefing here on the situation in Ethiopia, which will focus on Tigray.

The briefers from the UN side will be Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and Ramesh Rajasingham, the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  We will try to get those remarks to you ahead of time.  We are efforting that.

On the ground, the World Food Programme (WFP) says they have resumed their operations in Tigray after fighting halted the emergency response last week.  However, serious challenges are threatening the entire humanitarian response in the region.   

They are telling us that yesterday, Thursday, they reached 10,000 people displaced by conflict with emergency food assistance in the Adi Nebried area, also gave nutritionally fortified food to 3,000 women and children, many suffering from malnutrition, in Endabaguna.  WFP continues the distributions today, hoping to reach 30,000 people in north-west Tigray by the weekend.

There were some questions on these bridges.  Our humanitarian colleagues are telling us they could confirm that one bridge over the Tekeze River connecting Western Zone and the rest of Tigray was destroyed and rendered unusable.

[interruption]

Sorry, just to say that.  Let’s start again, this is serious stuff.  So, we were able basically to confirm that one bridge over the Tekeze River was in fact destroyed and rendered unusable.  We have unconfirmed reports of other destruction.

Needless to say that the destruction and vandalization of vital infrastructure are seriously threatening the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people who need it the most, as well as access to civilians with essential services, goods and livelihoods.  All parties to the conflict must protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Electricity and telecommunications remain cut off and banking services are still not available.  While road access from and to Tigray for humanitarian supplies remains blocked, staff movement from Mekelle to Afar was indeed possible as of yesterday.

Meanwhile, five UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) trucks with water, sanitation, hygiene and health and nutrition supplies are waiting to enter Tigray pending approval from Federal authorities.  There are still no flights in and out of the region, though the Government of Ethiopia has announced the possibility that the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights could resume this weekend.

**Press Encounter Today

Following the Security Council’s meeting on Tigray, which is under the agenda “peace and security in Africa”, there will be an in-person stakeout by members of the A3+1 Group — and that is Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

**Libya

Turning to Libya:  The session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) is expected to conclude today in Switzerland, having been extended by a day.

Ján Kubiš, our Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Libya, urged the Forum members yesterday to live up to the commitments they had made to the Libyan people when they adopted the road map, supported by Security Council resolution 2570 and on the conclusions of the Second Berlin Conference.  The Special Envoy added that there was no other way for Libya’s unity, stability, sovereignty and prosperity than the holding of national elections, which as you know are scheduled this December.

**Central African Republic

A couple of updates from our peacekeeping missions:  In the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that the situation remains tense in Alindao — a town east of Bangui — following clashes between UPC combatants and the Central African army.

Our colleagues say that the violence in the city could further deteriorate the humanitarian situation.  There is a shortage of food reported.  Markets and shops are closed.

Thousands of people have presumedly been displaced, including at the hospital, at the peacekeeping base, as well as sites for displaced people.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we were told that yesterday, a convoy of the UN Mission’s Force Intervention Brigade repelled two separate and consecutive attacks perpetrated by suspected Mayi-Mayi elements in the south-west part of Bunia, in the province of Ituri.

The attacks resulted in one peacekeeper injured and damage to a UN vehicle.  The convoy proceeded to Bunia for medical assistance, and the peacekeeper is in stable condition.

In recent months, the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) has intensified its patrols in the region to protect civilians from rebel attacks, working closely with the Congolese armed forces.  This incident is an example of the Mission’s ability to respond to threats, keep peacekeepers safe, and deliver on its mandate to protect civilians.

**Niger

Turning to Niger, UNICEF tells us that 2.1 million children need humanitarian assistance.  That’s about a third more than just a year ago.

The country faces multiple, prolonged and complex emergencies.  Challenges include conflict, displacement, food insecurity, cyclical floods and droughts.

Attacks along the borders with Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria have led to significant displacements and continue to wreak havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, the agency said.

The number of schools forced to close due to insecurity in conflict areas has increased from 312 to 377 over the past few months.  Threats to school security have been particularly acute in the regions of Tillabéry, Tahoua and Diffa.

UNICEF is appealing for safe and sustained access to deliver humanitarian assistance to impacted populations, including women and children, wherever they are.

**COVID-19 — Zimbabwe

And one last note from Africa, and this, from Zimbabwe, where our colleagues tell us that the country has announced a two-week lockdown to curb the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, with the country reporting more 4,600 COVID-19 cases last week — that’s a 156-per-cent increase in just one week.

The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, has stepped up its support to the national COVID response efforts.  Our colleagues are working to help deliver essential health-care services, including improving access to oxygen and intensive care units for severe cases.

Our colleagues are also delivering medical, protective, and sanitizing equipment and supplies to health-care workers, schools and communities.

On the socioeconomic front, the World Food Programme has provided 326,000 people across 23 urban areas with cash assistance to help vulnerable households meet their immediate food needs during the lockdown.

The UN team is also working on risk communications in communities across 62 districts on COVID prevention and the importance of vaccines.

**Venezuela

And a note from Venezuela from the World Food Programme, which tells us if has moved its first food supplies to its logistics hub in Maracaibo ahead of the launch of its school meals programme for vulnerable schoolchildren and school employees in Venezuela.

As schools in Venezuela are still closed, WFP will provide rice, lentils, and other food for students to take home.  Schoolchildren under the age of 6 in the areas most affected by food insecurity will be prioritized.

WFP aims to reach up to 185,000 children and school personnel by the end of the year and 1.5 million by the end of the 2022/23 school year.  WFP will manage its own supply chain, from purchasing food to distribution in the schools.

WFP’s work in Venezuela will focus on providing nutritious school meals, rehabilitating school cafeterias, and training school staff on food safety practices.

**Resident Coordinator

Two new Resident Coordinators to announce for today.

Vladanka Andreeva of North Macedonia took up her new post as Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan on 1 July, that is yesterday, while Dmitry Shlapachenko of Ukraine will assume his duties in Turkmenistan on 5 July, on Monday.  These appointments follow confirmation from the respective host Governments.

As you know, Resident Coordinators are the designated representatives of the Secretary-General for development at the country level.  They lead our work on the ground, including with the teams, and on their response to COVID-19 and helping to recover better together towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Full biographies upstairs.

**Press Briefings

Not that I need to remind you, but we will not be here on Monday.  I encourage you not to be here as well.  It is an official UN holiday, marking the independence of these United States, our host country.

On Tuesday, we will be joined in-person by the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram.  He will brief on the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which runs from 6 to 15 July.

Then immediately following that, we will have as our guests, Liu Zhenmin, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who will be joined by Francesca Perucci and Yongyi Min of his Department.  They will discuss key findings of the 2021 Sustainable [Development] Goals Report.

And, sorry, one last, last note.

**Passing of Ambassador Vassilakis, Greece

Just to say that we were saddened to learn of the passing on 30 June of Ambassador [Adamantios] Vassilakis, the former Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations and former chief negotiator of Greece in the UN-facilitated talks on the “name dispute” between Athens and Skopje.  Ambassador Vassilakis played a key role in the negotiation of the Prespa Agreement.  His professionalism and personal contributions to the negotiation process at a critical time were widely acknowledged.

If I can just add on a personal note that he was indeed very much appreciated, very kind, very effective and a great diplomat who will be missed.

Edie?

Correspondent:  Just to say that I’m sure all of us who remember and knew Ambassador Vassilakis will echo what you just said.  He was open to us and really a great representative for his country.

Spokesman:  And always with a ready smile.

Correspondent:  Absolutely.

Spokesman:  All right.  Let’s take some questions.

Correspondent:  And also, a great lover of cuisine of his country.  [laughter]

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  Questions:  First, WFP has said a second bridge was destroyed on Thursday.  Do you have any details on that?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I just spoke to our colleagues in the Humanitarian Affairs.  They tell us, from our standpoint, we could only confirm one bridge.  I mean, what seems clear is that there’s been damage and targeted damage to civilian infrastructure, which is clearly unacceptable in any conflict, and here it has… it will have an immediate impact on our ability to reach those who most need to be reached.

Question:  My question is on the Secretary-General.  Has he spoken to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia?  There’ve been some critical comments from the head of the European Union, basically saying that keeping humanitarian workers out and humanitarian space closed is unacceptable.  Is the Secretary-General planning to deliver a similar message to the Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, that has been our message, really, from the beginning, which is pushing the Ethiopian authorities to increase access.  As I mentioned, we hope to have greater air access with our Humanitarian Air Service over the weekend.  We continue to be in touch with the authorities in Addis and all others who have an impact on our ability to access, to ensure that we have unimpeded and unhindered access to everyone.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  So, on Libya and the talks in Geneva, the Special Envoy, Ján Kubiš, said at the beginning of the week, leaving Geneva without a decision is not an option.  The parties are now going to leave Geneva without a decision.  So, what is the UN’s reaction to this?  And does it put the elections in December now in doubt?

Spokesman:  We would not want to see anything that puts the elections in December in doubt.  It is… while we want all the Libyan actors to work together for the sake of the people of Libya, let’s see what officially comes out of the political dialogue.

We do still have some time until December, and we will continue to do whatever we can to work with the Libyan parties to ensure those elections take place in an open, transparent and credible atmosphere.

Question:  On Afghanistan, the US now pulling out of the Bagram base, as the Taliban makes more gains in Afghanistan.  We heard how worried Deborah Lyons was last week at the Security Council about dire consequences.  Can you tell us what UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) and what the other envoy — you’ve got two of them — are up to at the moment, and how concerned is the Secretary-General about the situation?

Spokesman:  First of all, on Libya, I’m told our colleagues at the Mission are putting out a press release very quickly, so as soon as we have that, we will share that with you.

And the Secretary-General shares the concerns expressed by Deborah Lyons on the future of Afghanistan, on the security situation there, on the need for real political dialogue that also involves regional Powers and the concern that some of the hard-won gains of the Afghan people, notably Afghan women, young people and minorities, are not put at risk.

Correspondent:  I have two more if you can come back to me.

Spokesman:  I will be delighted to come back to you.

Let’s see who’s in the chat.

Oh, Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just wondered if there was a further reaction from the UN to the prisoner release in Myanmar yesterday and what the current assessment of the political situation there is.

Spokesman:  Our position has not changed from, I think, what Ms. [Eri] Kaneko briefed you on yesterday.  We want to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, of the President, of all people who have been detained.  I mean, we’ve seen detentions of journalists, activists, civil society, students, politicians.  They all need to be released as part of a return to a democratic situation in Myanmar.

Okay?  Okay.  I don’t… James, I think we will come back to you then.

Question:  The WMO (World Meteorological Organization) announced that the temperature in Antarctica had reached a record of 18.3 °Celsius.  The Secretary-General’s reaction?

Spokesman:  I mean, how many more reports do we need to see before Governments live up to their commitments and go further in their commitments?  We see report after report.  I mean, we saw… I shouldn’t be commenting on a leaked report, but we saw the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report that was leaked.

I mean, talk to people in the Pacific North-West, on this continent.  Look at what’s going on in Madagascar.  I mean, look at the harrowing reports we got from the World Food Programme in Madagascar, which are clearly climate-related famine.

We look forward to the G20 meetings.  We look forward to the COP (Conference of Parties) that’s going to take place in Glasgow.  We need to see real commitments towards a zero-emission future, towards the 100 billion [dollars] a year that we will need for climate adaptation and so many other things.

Question:  Finally, we’re all sitting here patiently wearing our masks, as we have done for a long time.  You said there might be an announcement on masks.  [cross talk] I wonder what the UN position is on this, because you very, very clearly, throughout whatever it is, 17 months, have been telling us the UN in New York obeys the guidelines that come from the host country and the host city.  The host country and the host city say that you do not need to wear a mask indoors.  Interestingly, though, another part of the UN, the WHO (World Health Organization), says you do.

Spokesman:  As soon as I have something to share with you, James, on this, I will.  [laughter]

Question:  Are you still following the advice of the host country?

Spokesman:  No, I mean… listen, we are following… I think one could argue that we may be more careful.  We’re not going to be more reckless.

Okay.  On that note, I hope you have a wonderful and reckless weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.