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16 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Olympic Truce

Good afternoon, everyone, and happy Friday.  We’ll get started now.

In a video message, the Secretary-General called for an Olympic Truce during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

He said that athletes have had to overcome enormous obstacles to participate in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General said we need to show the same strength and solidarity in our efforts to bring peace to our world.

People and nations can build on the Olympic Truce to establish lasting ceasefires and find paths towards sustainable peace.

His full message is online.

**Security Council

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General at a Security Council meeting on the preservation of humanitarian space, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General, said that humanitarian needs have never been greater.  The UN and its partners are seeking to reach 160 million people with assistance this year — the highest figure ever.

But, she added, this hurricane of humanitarian crises is compounded by a relentless wave of attacks on humanitarian and medical workers, and the imposition of ever narrower constraints on humanitarian space.

To help address this challenge, Ms. Mohammed said the Secretary-General has asked his incoming Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to appoint a Special Adviser on the preservation of humanitarian space and access.

Turning to the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, she reiterated that the UN has heard credible reports in the past few months of executions of civilians, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual violence against children and forced displacement on a massive scale.

Since late June, just one convoy of aid has been able to enter Tigray.  A second one is now on its way.

Around the world, security incidents affecting humanitarian organizations have increased tenfold since 2001.

The full remarks have been shared with you.

**Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

Tomorrow, 17 July, will mark the seventh anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine.  Our thoughts are with the families of the 298 people who lost their lives on that tragic day.

The Secretary-General acknowledges the important work of the independent Joint Investigation Team and takes note of the legal proceedings taking place in the Netherlands.  He once again calls on all Member States to fully cooperate with all efforts to establish accountability and justice for those who perished in the downing of flight MH17, pursuant to Security Council resolution 2166 (2014).

**Lebanon

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, expressed deep regret over the inability of Lebanon’s leaders to reach agreement on the formation of a new government that is urgently needed to address the country’s numerous challenges.

She noted that the government formation process has suffered a reversal.  The Special Coordinator called for swift measures to ensure the designation of a new Prime Minister, in line with constitutional requirements, and form a government able to undertake the necessary reforms to put Lebanon on the path to recovery ahead of free and fair elections in 2022.

She said that there is still room for hope but there is no time to lose.  Urgent action is needed in the national interest to respond to the needs and demands of the people, who continue to pay the heaviest price.

The UN stands closely by Lebanon during this difficult period.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Our humanitarian colleagues in the occupied Palestinian Territory tell us that on Wednesday, in the community of Ras al-Tin in Ramallah governorate, 84 Palestinians lost their homes when Israeli forces confiscated at least 49 structures.

This community resides in that area every summer for grazing land but are now at heightened risk of forcible transfer from the area.

Also, Israeli forces also dismantled and confiscated a residential structure yesterday in Humsa Al Baqi’in the northern Jordan Valley.

The UN has repeatedly called on Israel to halt its demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property and adhere to its obligations as an occupying Power under international humanitarian law.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in a tweet today, warned that media working in the country and journalism itself in Afghanistan are under increasing threat.  The UN Mission sent its deep condolences to the family and friends of the Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui.

The UN Mission added that this was a painful reminder of mounting dangers faced by the media in Afghanistan and stressed that authorities must investigate this and all killing of reporters.

**Syria

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Muhannad Hadi, and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ted Chaiban, yesterday, in a joint statement, expressed concern about severe interruptions to the Alouk Water Station.

Since November 2019, the water station, which directly provides clean drinking water to nearly 460,000 people, has been disrupted at least 24 times.

In total, up to 1 million people are impacted, including many of the most vulnerable displaced families living in camps and informal settlements.

The UN officials call for the resumption of water and electricity services and the protection of civilians’ access to water and sanitation.  They remind all parties that water stations are civilian infrastructure which should be protected at all times.  They also continue to urge all parties to immediately provide safe passage and regular and unimpeded access for technical and humanitarian personnel, so that the Alouk Water Station can operate without further interruption.

**Myanmar

I have a humanitarian update for you from Myanmar, where our colleagues there are concerned about the impact of the continued fighting in parts of the country between the Myanmar armed forces and different ethnic armed groups, as well as the so-called “people’s defence forces”.

More than 220,000 people have been internally displaced since the military takeover of the Government on 1 February.

The vast majority of these displacements took place in south-eastern Myanmar, with people also having been uprooted in the north-east and west of the country.  Most of the people who have been displaced are still unable to return to their homes.

The UN and our partners are trying to reach around 3 million people with aid and protection across the country, including in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay.

Our humanitarian colleagues say they face many challenges, including cumbersome pre-existing travel authorization processes; limited access to certain parts of the country where there is fighting; road blockages; and disruptions to banking systems and limited availability of cash.

The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan is only 27 per cent funded, and additional resources are needed to reach people who are now in need following the military takeover.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is telling us that nearly 20,000 people have been displaced following a series of attacks by the ADF — the Allied Democratic Forces — in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since late last month, as we have mentioned in this briefing, the ADF are alleged to have killed at least 14 people and injured many others in and around the city of Beni.  Following the attacks, people have sought safety in the eastern part of the city.  Economic and educational activities continue to be disrupted.

UNHCR and its partners are supporting local authorities to register displaced families, assess and respond to their needs.

Nearly 2 million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in North Kivu province alone over the past two years.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports that preparations are under way for the holding of the final round of legislative elections, scheduled for 25 July, covering seven constituencies to fill the remaining seats of the Parliament.

The Mission provided logistical and technical support to the National Elections Authority to complete the distribution of all election materials to the prefectures where the residual legislative elections will be held.  Our colleagues also participated in election security meetings to help ensure that the elections are held in the best possible security conditions.

The peacekeeping Mission, as part of its mandate, continues to provide support, including security for the holding of peaceful elections.

**Economic and Social Council

[The Economic and Social Council] ECOSOC’s High-Level Political Forum adopted its Ministerial Declaration yesterday afternoon, and we anticipate that the declaration will also be adopted by the Economic and Social Council this afternoon at the closing session of the High-Level Segment.

This morning, the Council programme included discussions of the reports of the Secretary-General on the High-Level Political Forum and ECOSOC and on the long-term impact of current trends on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The High-Level Segment of ECOSOC then launched into an interactive “fireside chat” celebrating ECOSOC’s seventy-fifth anniversary.

**COVAX — Latin America and Caribbean

I have a COVAX update from Latin America and the Caribbean.

As we had mentioned yesterday, over half a million doses of COVAX-backed vaccines arrived in Haiti on Wednesday, donated by the Government of the United States.  Large-scale vaccination operations in the country will begin shortly.  Health personnel, the elderly and people with comorbidities will be vaccinated first.  Access will then be extended to all people who are willing to be vaccinated.  In addition to the existing storage capacity to receive the vaccines, the Government also received a special freezer donation last week to increase its storage capacity for certain vaccines.

And Brazil received over a million doses of vaccines yesterday.  Another 3 million doses should be shipped to the country in the coming weeks.  Between March and June this year, Brazil has received nearly 6 million doses of COVAX-backed vaccines.

**Mandela Day

And lastly, this Sunday is Nelson Mandela International Day.  In a video message, the Secretary-General said the Day is an opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of a legendary global advocate for dignity, equality, justice and human rights.

The Secretary-General said Madiba’s call for solidarity and an end to racism are particularly relevant today, as social cohesion around the world is threatened by division.

Societies are becoming more polarized, with hate speech on the rise and misinformation blurring the truth, questioning science and undermining democratic institutions, he said.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made these ills more acute and rolled back years of progress in the global fight against poverty.

Let us be inspired by Madiba’s message so that each of us can make a difference in promoting peace, human rights, harmony with nature and dignity for all, the Secretary-General said.

**Questions and Answers

And that is it from me.  I’ll now turn to your questions.  First, let me see whether there are any questions from the speakers on the floor.  Hold on.  Just need to see… I can’t see the floor camera.  Can the camera people please show what the room’s like?

Yeah.  Are there any hands raised?  Let me just see.  I don’t see any hands there, so I’ll turn to the screens first.

James Reinl, you have a question?

Question:  Yeah.  Sure, I do, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I can hear you.

Question:  Thanks so much.  So, yeah, it’s a question about the new UN envoy to Yemen.  The name that’s circulating is Hans Grundberg, and I know you guys don’t announce it until you announce it.  It’s just, today, Mr. Grundberg has been congratulated by some prominent people in Sweden, two former Foreign Ministers, Margot Wallstrom and Jan Eliasson.  Is it time to formally announce the new appointment?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re absolutely right that it’s not official until we’ve announced anything, and I don’t, at present, have an announcement to give you.

At this stage, I believe the Secretary-General has engaged in the normal process of communications with the Security Council.  And once that’s done, we’ll see what announcement we have to make.  But at this stage, I have no particular comment to give.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Secretary-General, in the press conference in Madrid on 2 July, he said 13 candidates for Special Envoy to Western Sahara had been rejected.  Of course, the latest of who we know is Staffan de Mistura.

Can you give us more information?  Who are those 13?  Who rejected them?  How many were rejected by Morocco and how many rejected by the Polisario?

And how he going to come out of this quagmire?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  It is clear that it’s been a slow process, and the Secretary-General himself has said this publicly several times.  We don’t, as a process, talk about how the appointments procedure works, but we have been clear that it has been a struggle finding an envoy who’s acceptable to all the parties, and we are continuing with those efforts.  Indeed, there are still names being floated, and we’ll see when this can happen.

But this is a time when I do implore the parties themselves to try to come together so that we can have someone on the ground who can help them, and we need a certain element of cooperation in order to do that.

Yes, Yoshita Singh?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  I can hear you fine.

Question:  So, just what is the Secretary-General’s comment on the killing of the Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui in Afghanistan?  I saw the Mission’s tweet but any specific comment from the SG?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General grieves for all journalists who are killed or, indeed, harassed anywhere in the world, and the case of Danish Siddiqui is one such case.

This, of course, is also an example of the particular problems that we’re facing in Afghanistan right now.  And as I just pointed out, from the Mission’s side, this is something we’re concerned about — is the increasing threat to journalists in Afghanistan, as well.

Question:  Can I have a follow-up on Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes, of course.

Question:  A letter signed by 140 prominent personalities addressed to the Secretary-General and to [United States] President [Joseph] Biden calling for the creation of a peacekeeping mission to Afghanistan, in particular to protect women in the case of Taliban took over the country, do you have any comment?  Can you confirm this letter?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s not for me to confirm letters that go to the Presidency of the United States.  That’s really a question for the US.  But regarding the content… [cross talk]

Question:  The SG, as well.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the content of the letter, obviously, we are also concerned about the gains made by women, among other groups in Afghanistan, over the years, and we want to make sure that those are protected.

This is something that UNAMA has been trying to work to ensure, and it’s something that the Secretary-General has called for.  We want to make sure that there is no backsliding.

The larger question you’ve asked is, of course, about whether there will be a peacekeeping mission.  And any such question has to do with mandates that are provided by bodies such as the United Nations Security Council.  So, ultimately, it’s a question that will go to them, and we’ll see what the members of the Security Council have to say.

I still don’t see any hands raised in the briefing room.  Is that the case?

Okay.  If that’s the case, I’ll wish you all a good weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday.  Take care of yourselves.

For information media. Not an official record.