19 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.


The Security Council this morning held closed consultations on the political situation in Syria.  The Council Members heard from the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, who participated by VTC (video-teleconference) from Oslo. 

In an effort to move the political process forward, Mr. Pedersen has urged all sides to define, with greater precision, what kind of reforms and steps they are willing to take, if concrete steps are taken on the other side.  The Envoy noted that any steps should be reciprocal and mutual.  They should be realistic and precise.  They should be implemented in parallel. 

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that it continues to protect civilians and help local communities affected by clashes in Western Equatoria State. 

The Mission deployed a patrol to the county of Mundri West last week.  A UN team is also assessing the situation in the town of Tambura, where it is working with humanitarian partners to help families displaced by a recent spate of armed attacks. 

The Mission also tells us that UN Police officers recently trained national police officers on how to deal with cases related to sexual and gender-based violence.  This was part of a series of trainings on investigating crimes in a sensitive manner and supporting survivors of abuse. 


Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, despite recent improvements in access within Tigray since the end of June, movements in and out of the region remain restricted.  This affects the ability of aid workers to replenish supplies and mobilize personnel to sustain aid operations. 

Inside Tigray, access is currently possible to areas that were previously hard-to-reach. 

An estimated 75 per cent of people who need assistance — this is 4 million out of 5.2 million people in need — are now in zones where humanitarian operations can take place, compared to 30 per cent in May. 

Humanitarian supplies, however, are rapidly being depleted inside Tigray, with road access only possible through Afar Region with heavy control by regional and federal authorities. 

Last week, a 54-truck humanitarian convoy carrying food, fuel, medical supplies and other vital items arrived in Mekelle, the first to reach the region in more than two weeks.  However, the supplies are far from adequate to sustain humanitarian assistance.  Many more trucks should be arriving every day to meet the needs of people who need help. 

Following approval from the Government of Ethiopia, the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) successfully conducted a test flight Saturday to Tigray.  Regular flights are scheduled to resume on 21 July. 

In the meantime, we continue to call for the restoration of basic services, electricity, communications, commercial flights and banking system to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation.  Funding is also urgently needed.  More than $430 million — half of the total requirement — is still required for the humanitarian response in Tigray until the end of the year. 


And I have COVID-19 updates for you today from Bhutan and Tunisia.  Bhutan will roll out its second mass vaccination campaign tomorrow.  Bhutan has received doses from COVAX and through bilateral arrangements. 

The Government has started registering people over 11 years old and those who had not registered during the first round of the vaccination with the aim of becoming one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate its entire eligible population with both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month. 

The UN country team is supporting authorities, with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) assisting in fast-tracking the second shipment of vaccines and providing operational support.  The UN is also strengthening the cold chain system to store the vaccines.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing financial support. 


In Tunisia, hospitals are facing huge pressure and have exceeded capacity in several regions.  Last Wednesday, the country recorded 7,878 new COVID-19 cases with 164 new deaths.  So far, 728,000 people in Tunisia are fully vaccinated. 

The UN in Tunisia is mobilizing to support the Government.  WHO has mobilized funds to help authorities strengthen the hospital system, equip laboratories, provide personal protective equipment and diagnostic kits. 

For its part, UNICEF has provided protective equipment to public schools and provide social assistance to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable families. 

**Myanmar — COVID-19

From Myanmar, the UN country team tells us it is stepping up its response following an alarming spike in the reported number of COVID-19 cases in the country. 

Our colleagues are prioritizing planning for scaling up immunizations — this includes both COVID-19 vaccines and routine immunizations. 

Even with limited testing and reporting, there were nearly 5,500 new cases and 233 deaths on 17 July.  The actual figures are expected to be much higher. 

Also on 17 July, the test positivity rate reached 39.12 per cent, compared to 22.34 per cent two weeks earlier.  In addition, several COVID-19 variants have been detected, including the Delta variant. 

The UN country team is working to address the oxygen shortage by procuring oxygen concentrators and other equipment.  The World Health Organization and its partners are working to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, including through the COVAX facility. 

**Covid-19 Recovery

A new policy brief released today by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery. 

The brief found that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels.  In addition, only 43.2 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 68.6 per cent of working-age men. 

The brief says that women have suffered disproportionate job and income losses because of their over-representation in the hardest-hit sectors, such as accommodation and food services and the manufacturing sector. 

The Americas experienced the greatest reduction in women’s employment as a result of the pandemic (9.4 per cent).  The second highest drop in the number of employed women was observed in the Arab States where, between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.1 per cent and men’s by 1.8 per cent. 

The full brief is online. 

**Emergency Response

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization have launched a new project to improve emergency response to health crises. 

The project, called INITIATE², will develop solutions such as disease-specific field facilities and kits.  The agencies will also train logistics and health responders on their installation and use. 

**Resident Coordinator for Colombia

Our colleagues from the Development Coordination Office tell us that Mireia Villar Forner is taking up her new function as UN Resident Coordinator in Colombia. 

Resident Coordinators are the designated representatives of the Secretary-General for development at the country level.  They lead the work of our UN teams on the ground, including to support authorities in their response to the ongoing pandemic and its multiple impacts, to recover better towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Ms. Villar Forner’s full biography is available on the UN Sustainable Development Group website. 

And I would like to also remind you that tomorrow, UN Headquarters will be closed for the Eid holiday and the briefings will resume on Wednesday. 

And with that, I'll open up the floor for questions. 

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Célhia?

Question:  Farhan, I heard that, in South Sudan, the country got some vaccine that were out of date from the European…  from the African Union.  Do you know who gave the vaccines to the African Union?  And why do they wait so long to send the vaccines over there, because when they come, nobody can use them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't speak, of course, for the African Union.  You'd have to check with them. 

From our side, the facilities that the UN is involved in, including the COVAX facilities, we make sure that all of the vaccines that we send out are at the adequate date for their use, and we hope and expect that all of the various international bodies on the ground will follow the same practices. 

Is there anything more in the room?  If not, let me see whether there's anything in chat. 

Is there any question in chat?  Anyone got your hand raised?

Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, about 1,500 settlers forced their entry into Al-Aqsa Mosque and the vicinity, and they attacked Palestinian worshippers.  A number of them were wounded, and yet this is one of the biggest — I can’t call it invasion — of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, yet there was no statement or any comments from the UN Special Envoy, Mr. [Tor] Wennesland.  Why is that?  Why he silent?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, rather than ask why there's no comment, I actually have a comment, and it's in the name of the Secretary‑General, not Mr. Wennesland, which is the following:  The Secretary‑General is following with concern the heightened tensions in and around the Holy Sites of the Old City of Jerusalem.  He underscores that the status quo must be upheld and fully respected.  He calls upon community, religious and political leaders on all sides to refrain from provocative action and rhetoric, in the interest of peace and stability. 

Okay.  Are there any further questions?  Yes, Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I…  maybe I missed it when you read it out, but I'm not sure.  I just got a flash saying, “UN urges better regulation of surveillance technology after Pegasus revelations.” It’s from AFP.

Deputy Spokesman:  Really, what I can say on that, we’re certainly aware of these reports.  And, as you know, the UN has been calling consistently for better regulations of these cyber activities to make sure that people’s rights, including the rights of activists, the rights of journalists and others, are not violated. 

But in any case, we've seen this particular report, and the Secretariat will take any actions that may be required to ensure the security of our communications systems.

Question:  But you don't have an idea where…  from which UN entity that might come right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there's many different entities that would deal with this issue.  I'm not sure which one you’re referring to. 

There are many bodies, of course, that deal with communications, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on the one hand.  There’s…  and our own various technology offices, but you’ll have seen that the Secretary‑General himself has been calling for a greater sense of regulation of this system to avoid the basic loss of people’s rights from improper information sharing.  [He later added that the AFP article cited the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.]

Okay.  And with that, I will wish you all a very happy Eid, and we'll see you all on Wednesday. 

Correspondent:  Farhan, I have a question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh.  I didn't see you.

Correspondent:  It was in chat.

Deputy Spokesman:  Go ahead and ask. 

Question:  Yes.  I was going to ask the same thing on the Pegasus system.  Could you kindly keep us informed whenever it moves closer to the UN or you have an agency dealing with it?  Because it's a very serious…  just…  I was going to ask the same questions Benno did, but could you please keep us informed as it develops?  Because it's quite serious, if true.  Secondly… 

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly.

Question:  On the Central African Republic, you’re moving towards elections.  I haven’t heard anything about mercenary guerrillas raising havoc.  Are they still there?  Are you following it and so forth?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ve provided updates about the work that our UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, has been doing, and they are trying to work to making sure that these elections will be held in safe and secure conditions. 

Obviously, as part of that, it’s incumbent on groups that send mercenaries to pull those out of the country.  Obviously, we are encouraging that, but we are not the ones who can ensure the departure of such groups, but this is something we’ve called for.

Question:  But how can you have…

Deputy Spokesman:  Alright.  Have a good weekend, everyone…

Question:  Yeah.  How can you have elections if they are marauding through the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, there’s…  we’ve called for an end to all armed activity of any sort, but the departure of mercenaries is ultimately something that is needed for the overall stability of the Central African Republic.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  All righty.

For information media. Not an official record.