6 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.

**Hybrid Guests Today

As soon as I am done with you and you are done with me, we will be joined  by the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Munir Akram, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan.  He will brief you on the high-level political forum on sustainable development, which started this morning and runs through 15 July.  Then, immediately following that, we will have Under Secretary‑General Liu Zhenmin, the head of the Economic and Social Affairs department, along with Francesca Perucci and Yongyi Min of the Statistics Division of the Department of the Economic and Social Affairs.  They will join us virtually to discuss key findings of the 2021 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report.


Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that humanitarian access has improved within Tigray, with large areas now accessible.  However, the resupply of humanitarian aid is critically needed, as is of fuel, on which humanitarian operations obviously depend.  In Mekelle, 23 displacement sites did not have access to water due to lack of fuel to operate water pumps.  Lack of fuel is also impacting the transportation of humanitarian and commercial supplies inside the region.  Several partners have also not able to provide cash assistance.  Commercial flights to and from Mekelle that were halted on 23 June have yet to resume, which obviously is impacting the deployment of humanitarian workers.  While road access was largely possible from Mekelle to Addis Ababa via the Afar region for the purpose of staff rotation, supplies have still been blocked from proceeding.

It is critical to get additional staff and humanitarian and commercial supplies into Tigray, restore electricity and telecommunications, and ensure that cash and fuel are available throughout the region for the continuity of humanitarian [operations].  As you may have seen, over the weekend, the Secretary‑General made some comments where he said it is essential to have a real ceasefire paving the way for a dialogue able to bring a political solution to Tigray.  He added that the presence of foreign troops is an aggravating factor.  At the same time, he said, full and unrestricted humanitarian access must be guaranteed throughout the whole territory.


As you know and I think you just heard from a number of Permanent Representatives, the Security Council held closed consultations on the humanitarian situation in Syria this morning.  Ramesh Rajasingham, the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed Council members.  As you will recall, we have been stressing the importance of renewing the cross-border mechanism for the delivery of humanitarian aid that was authorized under Security Council resolution 2533 (2020).  Cross‑border aid deliveries, as well as cross-line deliveries, are vital to the survival of the Syrian people we are assisting.


From Myanmar, our colleagues tell us they are concerned about the negative impact of the current security crisis on the education system there.  Already, some 12 million children and youth have had limited to no access to organized learning for more than a year due to the [COVID-19] pandemic.  Since May, there has been a marked increase in security incidents near schools across Myanmar.  Security forces have been stationed in a number of education facilities.  The UN country team says that, with the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and the new variants, it expects the learning crisis will worsen further for young people in Myanmar.


I was asked by one of your colleagues about the Secretary-General’s reaction to a number of abductions that took place in Nigeria.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the abduction of students from the Bethel Baptist School as well as hospital employees in two separate incidents, in Kaduna State, on 5 July, yesterday.  The Secretary-General is disturbed by the frequency of “kidnapping for ransom” of predominantly children from schools by extremist groups and criminal networks.  He underscores the need to bring perpetrators of these grave [human] rights violations to account and enhance the safety and security of schools and educational facilities.


Turning to Mozambique, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning today that, without urgent funding, the displacement crisis in the country’s north could become a hunger emergency.  Displacement has left at least 730,000 people in Cabo Delgado with no access to their land and no means of earning a living.  Close to 230,000 people are highly food insecure, according to the latest food security data, which was collected before the attacks in Palma.  This number is projected to increase during the lean season, which begins in October.  Many of those who fled the violence in Palma are being hosted by locals.  The added pressure on already scarce resources is impacting host communities struggling themselves with rising food prices and loss of income due to the pandemic.  According to our data, in some districts, the host communities are as food insecure as those who are displaced.  As you can imagine, in these situations and always, children are the most impacted.  WFP is urgently appealing for $121 million until the end of the year to support 750,000 people in the northern districts of Cabo Delgado.

**Tropical Storm Elsa

Our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that Hurricane Elsa, the first in this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, has left at least three people dead across the Caribbean.  Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti and Jamaica have all reported damage.  The UN teams on the ground are working directly with Governments and regional organizations to respond to the storm and prepare for the storms to come.


Earlier today, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, briefed Member States and other partners in Geneva on the humanitarian needs of people in eastern Ukraine, as they are facing the eighth year of an armed conflict, aggravated by the pandemic.  She said the humanitarian situation in the country’s east remains dire, with 3.4 million people in need of aid and protection.  Access remains the biggest challenge for the humanitarian community.  By the first quarter of 2021, an estimated 485,000 people have received humanitarian assistance and protection services, including 413,000 people in Government-controlled areas and 72,000 people in non-Government-controlled areas.  This gap in assistance is due to access restrictions.  With recently improved humanitarian access across the “contact line”, timely financial support for humanitarian response is critical.  So far, the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021, which seeks $168 million to assist 1.9 million of the most vulnerable on both sides of the “contact line”, is only 18 per cent funded.


A couple of reminders of things that happened yesterday:  The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) congratulated the High National Elections Commission on the launch of the voter registration update.  In a statement yesterday, the Mission called the event a key milestone towards the realization of the Libyan people’s overwhelming demand for national elections on 24 December.


In Mali, the local transition monitoring committee had a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Transition, Choguel Maiga.  That committee includes the Economic Commission for West Africa and the Sahel (ECOWAS); African Union; United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA); as well as other members of the international community.  At the end of the meeting, the Committee members welcomed the Prime Minister’s engagement to meet the major challenges and deadlines of the transition, as well as commitments to continue the implementation of the peace agreement.  They also requested yet again the release of the former officials who are still under house arrest following the events of 24 May.


One more thing from over the weekend:  You will have seen that we issued a statement on mudslides in Japan, in which the Secretary-General said he was saddened by reports of loss of life and destruction caused by a mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.  He extends his deep condolences to the families of the victims, the Government and the people of Japan.  He commends the work of the emergency responders and wishes a speedy recovery to those who are injured.  The full statement was shared with you.


We have some COVID-19 updates for you, today from Sierra Leone and El Salvador.  In Sierra Leone, the number of cases has been climbing in recent weeks.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Babatunde Ahonsi, is helping authorities on the health front, as well as the wider impacts of the pandemic.  Our colleagues stress the importance of increasing vaccine coverage and continue to call for global solidarity to increase the vaccine supply.  As of yesterday, 225,000 doses had been administered in Sierra Leone, a country of more than 7.8 million people.  The UN team is concerned about the oxygen supply, as there is only one oxygen plant working in the country.  El Salvador received 1.5 million doses of vaccines through COVAX which had been donated by the United States.  El Salvador has now received nearly 2 million doses from COVAX.  It is 1 of 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean receiving vaccines donated by the United States through the COVAX Facility.

**UN Headquarters/COVID-19

An update on COVID issues related to UN Headquarters:  On Friday, the Secretary-General issued new guidance related to the next phase of returning to work here at UN Headquarters, which has been closely guided by the authorities in New York State.  We received new guidelines that, as of today, UN Headquarters in New York has met the requirements to reopen fully for in-person business.  Daily occupancy limits have now been lifted and all personnel who have been working remotely are expected to return to the workplace, regardless of their vaccination status.

As we have said many times, the safety and health of UN personnel and delegates are our number‑one priority — and journalists, of course.  We will follow, but not lead, the loosening of restrictions by New York City and State.  By swiping UN passes, staff and others are confirming that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 10 days and have not had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in the last 10 days.  For unvaccinated people, swiping your badge means that you have not had close contact with a person with COVID-19 in the last 10 days.  Out of an abundance of caution, however, all personnel will be required to wear masks indoors in common areas — that includes elevators, restrooms and this [press briefing] room.

**Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Adam Abdelmoula, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UN Resident Coordinator for Somalia.  He will join us remotely to brief on Somalia.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, today, we thank a Member State whose President’s last name is Guterres.  Can anyone name that country?  [Timor-Leste.]  Francisco Guterres, no known relation to the Secretary-General, but we thank our friends in Timor-Leste.  We are now up to 114 [Member States which have paid their dues in full].  Edie and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just to clarify one thing on this… does this mean that remote working from UN staff is going to be ending and that everybody is expected back in the building full time?  And then I’ll ask my question.

Spokesman:  I think managers have a bit of discretion in adapting the work of the offices.  As you may recall, I mean, earlier in the summer, we had extended work-from-home arrangements through the beginning of September, but I think that, since the vaccine roll‑out has gone so well, the city and the state have changed.  So, we have brought up the call to people to come back from home.  Obviously, some people have made arrangements that need time to unwind, so there is flexibility in each unit to have some people continue to work from home.

Question:  Okay.  My question is about Belarus.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the 14-year prison sentence given to one of President [Aleksander] Lukashenko’s challengers, Viktor Babariko?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, we’ve seen these reports.  I think the… which are concerning.  I think the Secretary… we would want to reiterate our call for a dialogue and an open dialogue between the various political forces in Belarus.  Mr. Bays and then Toby.

Question:  Afghanistan.  This is only… I’ve only seen this from Reuters so far, but the Taliban are planning to present a written peace proposal to the Afghan Government side, possibly next month.  Do you have reaction to these reports?

Spokesman:  No.  I’ve only seen the report, as well.  Our Mission has not received any advance… official advance from Taliban about what they may plan to do or if they will actually do it.

Question:  And further on Afghanistan, clearly, gains by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, including some areas that they never even governed when they were previously running Afghanistan, and a report, particularly one I read in The Guardian over the weekend from a province near Herat, saying that, in one of these areas retaken by the Taliban, very restrictive measures put in place regarding women.  They must wear the burka.  They can’t work.  They can’t leave their homes.  They have to have a male guardian if they go out.  They can’t be served in certain shops.  And if they breach any of these, they are beaten.  What is the UN’s reaction to the Taliban gains and the way that some of these districts are now being run?

Spokesman:  Look, on the continued fighting, I think these reports are, indeed, concerning and underscore the need for all the parties, whether it’s nationally or internationally, to engage in real discussions to support peace and to promote human rights for all in Afghanistan.  I mean, I’ve read the press reports as you have.  I don’t have any first-hand confirmation, but any… I think anything that would drive back the human rights gains, the gains of women, the gains of minorities in Afghanistan and drive them back with violence is, frankly, horrifying.

Question:  And just to add, could we please speak to either one of your Special Envoys?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I’ve raised that issue yet again this morning.  Toby.  Sorry.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Steph.  Two quick questions.  One, just a follow-up on the new COVID protocols for Headquarters:  when do those go into effect?

Spokesman:  As of today.  I would add that it is… the building is still closed to outside visitors, so no NGOs [non-governmental organizations], no visitor services.  You can’t sign people in.  Obviously, we will continue with the press accreditation.  Whether you or your colleagues who don’t have a resident correspondent need a pass, that will be arranged.

Question:  So, the building is still closed, but everyone who works here normally is expected to return to work.  Is that right?

Spokesman:  That’s… well, it depends what your definition of “closed”.  Closed to outsiders, right; I mean, the Member States’ business is going on; the Secretariat business is going on.  They’re just closed to the visitors that would usually come in.  That’s at least through 1 October.

Question:  And question on Myanmar, just a… wondering if there’s a reaction to the nature of the fighting in the north-western state, where artillery is being used against militias.  It sounds like a civil war.  Should we be thinking of this in these terms?  What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction?

Spokesman:  Look, it’s not a term that we’ve used.  What we have said repeatedly is that the ongoing situation is leading to more fighting.  Right?  We’re seeing… between the central government and various ethnic-based groups.  We’re seeing violence perpetrated by the Government against civilians who are demonstrating peacefully.  All of that is not moving the country in the right direction.  Yes, Benno?

Question:  Also just a quick follow-up about the new COVID rules.  Does that mean that all the amenities will open soon or now, as well…?

Spokesman:  Some amenities… the Riverside café, I think, is opening up today or next few days if I… my control agent says.

Question:  And the Delegates’ Lounge?

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  Delegates’ Lounge?

Spokesman:  Delegates’ Lounge?  I think it will… you know, I have to check.  It may be BYOB, but you know.  I’m sure your colleagues will rely on the Germans to bring the beer.  Yeah.  Okay.  Yes, Carla.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  Does… there have been reports that Madame [Keiko] Fujimori, who lost the election, is attempting to foment a military coup against the legally elected President [Pedro] Castillo in Peru.  Do you have any information about it and if, in fact, this is going on…?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.

Question:  And I have one more question.  Since we hear incessantly about political prisoners, [Alexei] Navalny and so forth — Edie just raised a question about Belarus — in Lithuania, a very brilliant journalist and statesman has been kept in solitary confinement and tortured — his mother was also attacked — because he publicly disagreed with the official Government line in Lithuania.  And Lithuania claims to be a democracy.  So, is Lithuania getting preferential treatment because it’s a member of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]?  And…

Spokesman:  I… no one is getting any preferential treatment, and I don’t have anything to add on that situation.  Okay.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have also couple of questions, and I’ll start with Ethiopia.  Ethiopia did the… announced they started the second filling of the [Grand Ethiopian Renaissance] Dam.  Both Egypt and Sudan rejected that and claimed that that is a challenge to both countries.  Security Council is meeting on Thursday.  First, is the Secretary-General going to attend this meeting?  Who will brief the meeting on Thursday?  And does the SG have any ideas how to just break this quagmire on the three countries, other than repeating the supporting the African mediation?  That’s my first question.  I can’t hear you.  We can’t hear you.

Spokesman:  Lot of… there’s a lot of jazz hands going on on the screen, which means they can’t hear me.  Can you hear me now?

Correspondent:  Now we can.  Yes, yes.

Spokesman:  Excellent.  Excellent.  So, my understanding is that there will be a briefing on the Secretariat side.  Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme], will brief, and there will likely also be a briefer from the Political Affairs department, as well.  At the risk of repeating myself, but I think it bears repeating that we recognize and strongly support the role currently played by the African Union Chairperson in facilitating the negotiations between the three countries.  We again call on them to work with those three countries.  What is also important that there be no unilateral action that would undermine any search for solutions.  So, it’s important that people recommit themselves to engage in good faith in a genuine process.  Solutions to this need to be guided by example… by solutions that have been found for others who share waterways, who share rivers, and that is based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation not to cause significant harm.  Your second question?

Question:  Thank you.  My second question, Ghandanfar Abu Atwan is a Palestinian and… who had been in detention, administrative detention, since October 2020.  He enters today his sixty-third day of hunger strike.  His health is deteriorating, and he had not been brought to trial or been released.  So, do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I will check on that case.

Question:  My last question: Yesterday, the Palestinian Authority arrested at least 10 activists, including human rights activists, journalists, released prisoners.  And they brutalised them in detention, as well.  So, I… are you following… I didn’t see any tweet from Mr. [Tor] Wennesland about this brutality the PA [Palestinian Authority] using against Palestinian activists.

Spokesman:  Let me check what Mr. Wennesland may have said, but I can tell you that we stand for the rule of law and that people… for the right of human rights activists and journalists to express their views freely without any fear of harassment or worse.  Okay.  James, I see your trigger finger itching.

Question:  Okay.  I’ve got a few more questions, some on Libya, but first on India:  India’s oldest political prisoner, a 84-year-old priest and human rights activist, Stan Swamy, people have been campaigning for him to be let out of jail because of his deteriorating health, but he died in jail.  Does the UN have any reaction?

Spokesman:  I think it’s… first of all, we send our condolences to his family and his friends, but I think it is one of these cases where, I think, there needs to be clarity around how and why he passed away in those conditions.

Question:  Libya, you read something about election registration, but the bigger problem is actually the authorization for the elections.  The talks in Geneva at the end of last week failed.  Where do things go now?

Spokesman:  Well, what needs to happen is continued dialogue amongst the parties, which we will, as always, try to facilitate and support so as not to lose the sort of golden opportunity of these elections scheduled for December.

Question:  Does the UN believe there are some deliberately trying to obstruct the elections?  Because I recall the Berlin communiqué called on the Security Council to consider sanctions against those who obstruct or undermine the successful completion of Libya’s political transition.  Is it time for the Council, does the Secretary-General believe, to take some action?

Spokesman:  Look, I think the communiqué sort of speaks for itself on what it expects the Council to do.  It is very important that pressure be kept on all the parties to make sure that we move in the right direction.  Okay.  I don’t see any further questions.  I will have Farhan [Haq] bring in our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.