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26 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.

Good afternoon.  Happy Monday, everyone.

**Secretary-General — Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit

Today, the Secretary-General spoke in a video message at the Official Ceremony of the Pre-Summit of the Food Systems Summit, which started in Rome.  He stressed that we are at a pivotal moment, and we are seriously off track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

The Secretary-General noted that the pandemic, which still assails us, has highlighted the links between inequality, poverty, food, disease and our planet.  He stressed that at the Pre-Summit, we can define the scope of our collective ambition and strengthen our efforts to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals by transforming our food systems. 

**Deputy Secretary-General — Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit

Also in Rome, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, this morning spoke at the opening plenary of the Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit.  She said that even as the pandemic has physically pushed us apart, the Food Systems Summit process has brought people together around the simple idea that food can help us accelerate our actions and bring in solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that there is no one size that fits all and that we must work country by country, region by region, community by community, to ensure that the diversity of needs are addressed. 

The Deputy Secretary-General also spoke to the press along with other officials present at the pre-summit.  Ms. Mohammed stressed that by 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion and that we need to ensure that we can feed each person, and that no one goes to bed hungry.  She emphasized that we need to find solutions and then face the challenge of implementing them afterwards. 

Later today, the Deputy Secretary-General will attend a televised event with Andrea Bocelli and Food Systems Heroes.  Tomorrow, she will participate in the opening of a ministerial round-table and will hold another series of bilateral meetings. 

**G20

The Secretary-General issued a statement following the G20 meeting on environment, climate and energy.  He said that the world urgently needs a clear and unambiguous commitment to the 1.5° goal of the Paris Agreement from all G20 nations.  There is no pathway to this goal without the leadership of the G20, he added. 

Science tells us that in order to meet this ambitious, yet achievable goal, the world must achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels, the Secretary-General said, adding that we are way off track. 

In the remaining days before COP (Conference of Parties) 26, the Secretary-General urged all G20 and other leaders to commit to net zero by mid-century; present more ambitious 2030 national climate plans and deliver on concrete policies and actions aligned with a net zero future including no new coal after 2021, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and agreeing to a minimum international carbon pricing floor as proposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

The full statement is online.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, reports that civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 reached record levels, including a particularly sharp increase in killings and injuries since May, when international military forces began their withdrawal and the fighting intensified following the Taliban’s offensive. 

In a new report issued today, the UN Mission says that Afghanistan is on course for 2021 to witness the highest ever number of documented civilian casualties in a single year since UNAMA records began, unless there is a significant de-escalation. 

Much of the battlefield action during the deadliest months of May and June took place outside cities, in areas with comparatively low population levels, the Mission reports.  The number of civilian casualties during May and June — 783 killed and 1,609 injured — was the highest for those months since UNAMA began its systematic documentation in 2009. 

Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the report provides a clear warning that unprecedented numbers of Afghan civilians will perish and be maimed this year if the increasing violence is not stemmed.

**Yemen 

Turning to Yemen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that heavy rains have hit the country over the last few days, causing serious flooding in parts of Hudaydah, Al Jawf and Sana’a.  This includes areas hosting internally displaced people who had fled conflict in other locations.  

Humanitarian agencies are working with local authorities to identify needs and to provide initial assistance.  Priorities include shelter, food, water, and essential household items. 

More rain and storms are expected in much of the country over the next 24 hours, including medium to heavy rainfall in flood-prone areas, including in Taiz governorate. 

**FSO Safer

We have seen the recent statements from the Ansar Allah authorities in Sana’a on the Safer tanker issue, which we find disappointing. 

As we’ve told the Security Council and everyone else many times, the UN is eager to help.  Back in November 2020, we agreed with Ansar Allah on a mission plan to assess the tanker and, if conditions are safe enough onboard, to do some light maintenance to help minimize the risk of an oil spill. 

From what we can understand, the Houthis are demanding advance guarantees that the UN will complete all the potential light maintenance activities in the mission plan. 

The Safer is a very dangerous site, and advance guarantees — before verifying conditions onboard — are not possible.  That is also why the November 2020 agreement explicitly conditions the light maintenance activities on the safety environment we find onboard. 

We remain eager to help.  For a UN-led solution, that starts with an assessment and, if it’s safe enough, some light maintenance that we hope will buy a bit more time for a longer-term solution.  We also remain open-minded regarding any other safe, quick solutions to this problem. 

**Mali

The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that earlier today, five peacekeepers were injured in Aguelhok (Kidal Region), during an attack involving an improvised explosive device. 

A Quick Reaction Force was immediately dispatched to the site of the incident and the wounded were transported to a hospital for treatment. 

Yesterday, there was an indirect fire attack, also in Aguelhok, this time on Mission premises.  There were no reports of casualties or damage. 

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Mission assets, including helicopters, dispersed armed combatants before they were able to launch an attack in Bandiougou, in Central Mali.  Peacekeepers continue to monitor the situation closely. 

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is urging local and national authorities to put an end to extrajudicial executions following the killing of at least 42 people accused of criminal activity who were not given access to a fair trial. 

In some of the cases documented by our colleagues at the Mission’s Human Rights Division, victims in Warrap State were allegedly brought before local officials for “sentencing”.  Eyewitnesses reported that some men were taken to remote areas, tied to trees, and executed by firing squad. 

The Mission has raised its concerns directly with local officials, and also asked the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to investigate and prosecute those responsible. 

Our peacekeeping colleagues are helping build the capacity of rule of law institutions across the country.  They also facilitated the deployment of mobile courts and are in touch with the Chief Justice of South Sudan to support the deployment of more judges to the area. 

**Madagascar 

We have an update from the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) on the situation in Madagascar.  Today, they are telling us that as the drought worsens, malnutrition rates among children are expected to quadruple in the country’s South. 

At least half a million children under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished there.  This includes 110,000 boys and girls in severe condition. 

In the worst-affected district — Ambovombe-Androy — malnutrition rates have reached an alarming 27 per cent.  Unless urgent steps are taken, there is a risk of famine, the agencies say. 

WFP and UNICEF have been working closely with the Malagasy Government and partners.  As the crisis deepens the agencies are in the process of strengthening their emergency nutrition response in the south.  But to address this emergency, they call for a robust multi-sectoral prevention and response plan in collaboration with all partners and the national authorities. 

**Security Council

The Security Council held closed consultations this morning on the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA). 

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the Centre, Natalia Gherman, briefed Council members. 

And this afternoon, the Security Council will hold closed consultations on COVID-19 and other matters. 

**Honduras — COVID-19

A COVAX update for you, today from Honduras, which recently received more than 1.5 million doses through COVAX which were donated by the Government of the United States. 

This is the second donation of vaccines from the United States to Honduras through COVAX. 

So far, Honduras has received 3.6 million doses through COVAX.  This is 92 per cent of the total vaccines that the country is set to receive from COVAX.  These doses will cover 20 per cent of the country’s population. 

**Philippines — Human Rights

And last, I have a note on the Philippines. 

The UN team in the Philippines has just launched its first national-level joint programme on human rights. 

The three-year programme was developed to implement a Human Rights Council resolution, which was adopted last October 2020.  It outlined how to boost national capacity and technical cooperation to promote and protect human rights in the country. 

The initiative aims to strengthen domestic investigation and accountability mechanisms; boost data gathering on alleged police violations; and enhance engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights. 

The Resident Coordinator, Gustavo Gonzalez, signed the initiative with Filipino authorities and called this new programme a critical milestone to support a wide range of national institutions. 

**Questions and Answers

And I’ll now take questions. 

Ibtisam, yes?

Question:  Farhan, any comments on the latest development in Tunisia?

Deputy Spokesman:  Funny you should ask that.  Yes.  Yes, I have that.  What I can tell you is that we are following the situation in Tunisia very closely since the announcement by President [Qais] Saied yesterday.  We call on all stakeholders to exercise restraint, refrain from violence and ensure that the situation remains calm.  All disputes and disagreements should be resolved through dialogue. 

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Sorry.  I have a follow‑up.  Do you consider it to be a coup?  Because it was described by some critics of the President as a coup.  And is the Secretary‑General and…  or anyone from your office in contact with any Tunisian officials?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are in contact through our team that’s there on the ground, and we’ll also be in contact with the officials here, with the Mission, as matters proceed.  At this stage, like I said, we’re monitoring the situation, and you’ll have seen what our initial comments are.  But we’ll see how this goes ahead, and we’ll continue to be in touch with our Tunisian counterparts. 

Edie?

Question:  Quick follow‑up on that.  What kind of presence does the United Nations have in Tunisia at this point?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do have, I believe, a country team there, and I seem to remember that we recalled…  I recall last week we mentioned that that country team was helpful also in the distribution of COVAX vaccines to Tunisia, which it’s in need of right now.  And I think, aside from the Resident Coordinator and the country team, that we still have some personnel from the Libya Mission who had also worked there as a backstop.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that this…  the protests in particular and this conflict over power in Tunisia could spill over into what is already a volatile region?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t want to speculate on what the future might hold.  We’re hoping that the situation will remain calm, and we’re trying to see to it that all of the various parties on the ground do what they can to ensure that the situation does remain calm. 

Obviously, as you just noted yourself, the region is a very volatile one, and it’s certainly a region that cannot bear to have more unrest than it has presently had.

Question:  And has any senior…  have any senior UN officials been in contact with the President or any of the other Tunisian officials?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t know about any contact with the President.  Like I said, both at the country level and here through the Mission, we are and will be in touch with the Mission…  with the Tunisians.

Correspondent:  I have one other question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, let me come back to you, because I think that there’s a Tunisia-based set of questions happening. 

Yes, Célhia?

Question:  It’s about vaccine.  While every rich country or so-called rich country is trying to vaccinate its own people, a lot of countries, like Africa, the African continent, don’t have access to vaccines.  So, it’s like a sort of a catch‑22 because the world will not get off…  or get back to a normal life if nothing is done.  So, what can WHO (World Health Organization) do?  Or the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN can’t do more than we are able to do with the support of the Member States.  This is why the Secretary‑General has been saying the same things that you’ve been saying:  that the problem will not be solved until it is solved everywhere in the world, including in Africa.  He’s made very clear the need to make sure that there’s vaccine equity, that vaccines go to the parts of the world that do not currently have it, with a particular eye on places such as Africa. 

We’ve been doing what we can through the COVAX initiative.  We’re very thankful for the countries that have been supporting and donating vaccines through COVAX, and yet we definitely need to have more of this done.  Otherwise, this is a crisis and a pandemic that will not end. 

Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just a quick follow‑up on latest developments in Tunisia.  Security forces there have raided Al Jazeera’s office in Tunis.  The journalists there were told to leave, and their equipment was confiscated.  Does the Secretary‑General have a comment on this, particularly as it regards press freedom in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Certainly.  We’re dismayed by these reports, and we hope that all reporters, including the ones at Al Jazeera, will be able to go about their work without harassment.  And we want to make sure that, as we have the situation on the ground in Tunisia, that press freedoms are respected. 

Yes?

Question:  On a different subject entirely, Farhan, we are now just about two months from the high‑level week at the General Assembly.  Has the Secretary‑General made a recommendation on how it should be convened?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think you’ll have seen that, in fact, the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, came out with an informational note last week, on the 22nd, and there have been letters that he put out, both on 14 July and more recently on 23 July, last Friday, setting out the scenarios and proposals to Member States for high‑level week. 

My General Assembly colleague, Amy Quantrill, will be able to talk more at length about this tomorrow when she’s at the briefings.  But just to point out a couple of the highlights from that information note, he’s…  the President of the General Assembly talked about the need to ensure that there would be in‑person meetings. 

As the situation in New York has improved, the President has implemented an increase in the number of delegates in the General Assembly Hall so that, for the high‑level week, it will be at one‑plus‑three for the General Assembly Hall.  And then to ensure that all Member States have equal opportunity to participate in high‑level week, the option for Member States to send a pre-recorded video statement was included if delegations are unable to travel due to ongoing COVID‑related concerns. 

So, it will be a hybrid setup with some video statements and then some presence of potentially one‑plus‑three in the GA Hall.  And we’ll get more of these ironed out, but some of the relevant details are, like I said, in the two letters that the GA President has sent to the Member States.

Question:  I hadn’t seen the 20…  the letter from the 23rd, and I’m not sure anybody else had.  Were those recommendations, or is that policy now of what’s going to happen?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think this is essentially a set of steps that were agreed upon in his discussions with Member States.  What we can do is, after this briefing, I’ll try to send you a link to the two sites, so we’ll send that to the correspondents’ list so you can click on the link and see the letters themselves. 

Okay.  Yes, please, Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just back to Tunisia, does the United Nations consider what happened just, like, an internal change made by the President or a coup as said [by] a member of the Parliament?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have anything further to say about the steps that were taken at the national level.  Like I said, for us right now, the important part is that all stakeholders exercise restraint, avoid all violence and ensure that the situation remains calm, and we’ll continue to follow it as it progresses. 

And unless I see any further questions…  Ephrem, on screen, you have a question?  Please, over to you, Ephrem.

Question:  Yes.  Hi.  Thank you, Farhan.  I was just wondering if you had…  if you could elaborate just a little more on what the new Houthi demands are concerning…

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you’re muted.  Please un‑mute. 

Question:  I did un‑mute.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks, Farhan.  Sorry about that.  If you could just elaborate just a little more on what the new Houthi demands are concerning the Safer tanker and what exactly is being done these days in terms of negotiating with them over this issue.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re continuing to negotiate.  As I just mentioned, the big point of dispute, really, is that they want, as I said, an agreement in advance so that we perform light maintenance.  And they wanted that, the light maintenance activities, to be mentioned in the Mission plan. 

We can’t provide those advanced guarantees for the reason that I just mentioned, which is the lack of safety on‑board the ship.  First, we need to do an assessment and see whether it’s possible to do that. 

If it is safe, we are definitely willing to do light maintenance activities, but first, we have to make sure that it’s safe.  That’s where we need to find a solution. 

Okay.  And I don’t see anything further in chat, so if that’s the case…

Correspondent:  Farhan, I have a question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Iftikhar?  Yes, yes, please.

Correspondent:  Yes.  Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re muted, Iftikhar.  Please, please, un‑mute and try again.

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

Deputy Spokesman:  I can hear you. 

Question:  Okay, thank you.  With regard to UNAMA’s report, which speaks about record number of casualties in Afghanistan, is there any progress being made to bring the Afghan Government and the Taliban to the negotiating table?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are doing what we can to do that, and we have been supportive of the process.  As you know, our envoys, Jean Arnault and Deborah Lyons, have been also in touch with many different parties to try to make sure that the parties stay on the table.  We’ve been encouraged by the fact that the parties have remained in touch in talks in Doha, and we hope to continue supporting that process. 

All right.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.