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30 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 Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan:  In a statement, the United Nations in the country condemned in the strongest terms today’s attack on our main compound in Herat, in which an Afghan police guard was killed, and others injured.  No UN personnel were hurt in the incident.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that the attack targeting entrances with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire of the clearly marked UN facility was carried out by anti-Government elements.  Today, the area around Herat where the compound is located witnessed fighting between the Taliban and Government forces.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the UN Mission in the country, Deborah Lyons, said that the attack is deplorable.  She stressed that the perpetrators must be identified and brought to account.

Ms. Lyons added that our first thoughts are with the family of the officer killed and she wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

Attacks against civilian UN personnel and compounds are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.  The UN Mission in Afghanistan expressed its gratitude to the Afghan Directorate of Protection Services officers who defended the compound from the attackers.

Also, today, in a tweet, the UN Mission in the country said that it is concerned by escalating violence in and around Kandahar amidst ongoing Taliban attacks on the city.  The UN Mission said that there are credible reports of scores of civilians killed and that it is working to establish facts on civilian harm.

Continuing in Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues today also warned of the alarming increase in civilian casualties and injuries, including women and children, in Kandahar City.

Fighting has also been reported in the Nangahar Province and in new areas in the north-east province of Kunar, where 20,000 people were displaced.

We, along with our partners, are assessing needs in the regions.  In Kandahar, last week, about 1,800 internally displaced persons received assistance, such as food and relief items.  In Kunar, urgent needs include food, water, shelter and health services.

Our humanitarian colleagues also said that scores of people have died following severe flooding in the hard-to-reach eastern Kamdesh District.  The Afghanistan Red Crescent Society, the only organization with access to Kamdesh, is sending a mobile health team and will provide temporary shelter.

The UN is negotiating access with a non-State armed group and will provide medical supplies, food and other relief items.  Afghan authorities will mobilize additional support from Kabul.

Humanitarian partners in Afghanistan need $1.3 billion to help almost 16 million people in 2021, but only 38 per cent of the required funding has been received to date.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths has arrived today in the Tigray region on a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight.  He visited a site for internally displaced people and heard from people affected by the crisis.

Mr. Griffiths was also briefed by humanitarian partners in Mekelle on the challenges they face.  According to our humanitarian partners, an estimated 5.2 million people need assistance in Tigray.

Also today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that it estimates that more than 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the next 12 months.  This is a tenfold increase compared to the average annual caseload.

UNICEF warned that this malnutrition crisis is taking place amid extensive, systematic damage to the food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation systems and services that children and their families depend on for their survival.  The risk of disease outbreak is high, particularly in the overcrowded, unsanitary sites hosting displaced families.

**Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomed the official opening of the Coastal Road, in the presence of UNSMIL, which happened today.

The Mission congratulates the Libyan people, national and local authorities, institutions, and stakeholders involved, especially the role of 5+5 Joint Military Commission in this landmark and historic achievement.  The Mission acknowledges the support provided by the Presidency Council and the Government of National Unity under the leadership of the Prime Minister in this regard.

Ján Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, hailed the ongoing efforts and achievements of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission and its subcommittees for laying foundations for durable peace in Libya.  The opening of the Coastal Road is another step in strengthening peace, security, and stability in the country, and in the unification of its institutions, said the Special Envoy.  The Mission’s full statement is online.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN is very concerned about reports of civilian casualties and displacement due to hostilities in Dara’a Al Balad and the risk of further escalation.

We are monitoring the situation with concern, including reports of a period of relative calm today as discussions to reach a local agreement were under way.  But the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented the death of eight civilians, including a woman and four children, with another six civilians, including two children, wounded between 27 and 29 July.

The UN has also confirmed the displacement of 2,500 people due to violence and insecurity over the last 72 hours, and we have received reports of the displacement of over 10,000 people.

UN and humanitarian partners are working to scale up the humanitarian response to people in need in Dara’a Al Balad and in the areas of temporary displacement.

We reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a nationwide ceasefire and urge all parties to de-escalate the situation and ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.  The UN further calls upon parties to ensure safe, sustained, and unimpeded access to all in need.

**Yemen

The Acting Head of the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, Muin Shreim, concluded yesterday a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, during which he met with Yemeni Vice-President Ali Mohsen and Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalek, as well as other senior Yemeni officials.  He also met with US Special Envoy Timothy Lenderking and other diplomats working on the Yemeni file.

Mr. Shreim discussed the urgent need to agree on the cessation of all forms of military operations in Yemen and across the border.  He reiterated the importance of taking urgent humanitarian and economic measures to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.  That, in turn, would create a conducive environment to resume the long-awaited inclusive and Yemeni-led political process under UN auspices.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN country team there continues to call for the protection of civilians, as reports of breaches of human rights continue, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment and enforced disappearances.

Since the military takeover nearly six months ago, the violence carried out by security forces has left at least 930 civilians dead, including women and children, with thousands more people injured.  The UN in Myanmar calls for accountability to bring the perpetrators to justice.

**Philippines

In the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of yesterday, at least 38,000 people have been displaced by floods following monsoon rains.

The UN and humanitarian partners stand ready to support the response if requested.

**Hunger

In a new report, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say that in the next four months, conflict, the pandemic and the climate crisis are likely to increase hunger in 23 countries.

Ethiopia and Madagascar are the world’s newest “highest alert” hunger hotspots according to the report.

The “highest alert” list also includes South Sudan, Yemen, and northern Nigeria.  In some areas of these countries, significant numbers of people are at risk of falling into famine.

The report flags other countries where life-threatening hunger is on the rise.  They include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan and Syria.

WFP and FAO say that humanitarian action is urgently needed to prevent hunger, famine and death in all 23 hotspots.  Country-specific recommendations are included in the report, which is available online.

**World Day against Trafficking in Persons

In his message to mark the Day against Trafficking in Persons, the Secretary-General calls on Governments to take urgent steps to strengthen prevention, support victims and bring perpetrators of trafficking to justice.

Half of the victims in low-income countries are children, the Secretary-General says.  Trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation continues to be one of the most widespread forms of human trafficking, he adds.

In our fight to end and prevent this terrible crime, the Secretary-General concludes, the UN is committed to listening and responding to the voices of victims and survivors of human trafficking, ensuring their rights and dignity.

Also, on the topic of human trafficking, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned today of life-threatening gaps in the assistance provided to victims of trafficking along different routes within the Sahel and East Africa.

Survivors speak of sexual abuse and rape, kidnappings for ransom, being left to die in the desert, and being subjected to physical and psychological torture.

UNHCR and its partners have stepped up their efforts to identify those in need, and to help them access asylum procedures and other safety mechanisms.  However, the agency says that critical services to protect vulnerable people on the move are still woefully lacking.  Victims of trafficking have practically no one to turn to for help along these routes, they say.

UNHCR calls for more sustained efforts to address the root causes of forced displacement.  The agency also calls for the expansion of safe and legal pathways for refugees, which are instrumental to providing viable alternatives to human smuggling and trafficking.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

In Brazil, over 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines — provided through the COVAX facility — were delivered yesterday.  More than 400,000 additional doses are expected to arrive later today.  This brings the total number of vaccines received through COVAX in Brazil to nearly 10 million.

The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Silvia Rucks, continues to support authorities to address the impact of the pandemic.

While more than 80 per cent of municipal public schools continue with remote learning, several UN entities, including UNICEF, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and PAHO/WHO (Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization) are advocating for the safe reopening of public schools in the country.

Through the Joint Sustainable Development Goals Fund, UNICEF, in partnership with other UN agencies, launched an early childhood care campaign to support national efforts.  This includes the monitoring of pregnant women and children up to 6 years of age in nearly 3,000 municipalities.

For its part, IOM (International Organization for Migration) has conducted over 400 medical consultations for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the Amazon region with mobile health units.  UN-Women, in partnership with indigenous organizations, is providing emergency care, including basic items for disease prevention and food security in the Amazon.

**International Day of Friendship

And today is also International Day of Friendship.  The Day was proclaimed in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.

**Press Briefings

On Monday at 12:30, there will be a hybrid press briefing, here, by the Permanent Representative of India, and the President of the Security Council for the month of August, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti.  He will brief you on the Security Council’s Programme of Work for the month.

All right.  Does anybody have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Eri.  Two follow-ups.  First, on Tigray, can you please put in a request, I’m sure on behalf of all of us, for Martin Griffiths to brief us after his trip to Tigray?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  Duly noted.

Question:  And, secondly, on Libya, I wasn’t quite clear, after listening to you, whether the coastal road has actually reopened.  Is traffic actually flowing on the road for the first time?

Associate Spokesperson:  All we’ve learned is that the road has been opened, but I will ask on the status of the actual flow of traffic.  [cross talk]

Question:  Can you please check that?  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  Will do.

Question:  Thank you.  My question is, there was an attack on an oil tanker off Oman in the Arabian Sea, and two people were killed, one from Romania, one from the UK.  This was, apparently, the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region, and it was also the worst-known maritime violence so far in regional attacks on shipping since 2019.

Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this attack?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we have no first-hand information regarding this attack.  We’ve seen the same reports that you’ve probably seen, but I think the Secretary-General has quite often called… or stressed the importance of the need to protect seafarers, and I think this latest incident shows the increased need for that more than ever.

Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question regarding Afghanistan.  We know that the NATO is leaving the country, as well as the United States.  My question is regarding the United Nations.  Will the UN staff still be there?

And do you have any procedures to make sure that they will be safe once everyone leaves?  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations has no intention of leaving Afghanistan.  Our Mission is still there.  It’s still active.

Regarding security, we have security in place, but beyond that, as I’m sure you can understand, we can’t provide any specific security details to you.

Yes?

Question:  Two follow-up on the question from [inaudible].  How many people are part of the Mission in Afghanistan?

And will they be able to maybe protect woman and young girls whose life are going to be terrible?

Associate Spokesperson:  So, it’s a political mission.  It’s [not] a peacekeeping mission, but, of course, we have continued to call for the protection of human rights of women.  We’ve said countless times that the deterioration of the security condition is only worsening the plight of women and girls in the country.  So, we will continue to speak out.

Question:  I have another question.  During your briefing, you said the UN is concerned, talking about an attack or something like that.  Who is the UN?  because I thought the UN was composed of 193 countries.  So, who at the UN is concerned when something bad happen in the world?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, we’re speaking on behalf of the UN Secretariat, the Secretary-General, but also on behalf of the various UN agencies working on these issues.

Question:  Do you think it’s enough?

Associate Spokesperson:  We are using our voice to corral the Member States to take action.  For example, on the case in… on the situation in Afghanistan, recently, we had our Special Representative brief the Security Council in a bid to galvanize action by the part of the Member States to do more to help the people and prevent the security situation from worsening.

Kristen?

Question:  Thanks.  Just following up on Afghanistan, I’m wondering if you have any more specifics on non-government… anti-Government elements?  It says later in the release that Taliban was fighting with Government forces nearby.  Was it not Taliban that targeted these forces?  What other anti-Government elements are there?  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  At this point, this is all that we’ve been provided by the Mission.  If we have any clarification, we’ll let you know.  Thank you.

I think we will go to the screen.  Let’s see.  James?

Question:  Hi there.  Can you hear me?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Great stuff.  First, a couple of questions on Tigray and seconding Edie’s request for a briefing directly with Mr. Griffiths when he’s back.

As to my questions, Mr. Griffiths’ trip is roughly at the same time as one by USA’s administrator, Samantha Power, and they’re basically pushing for the same kinds of thing in terms of humanitarian access and human rights.  Is there any coordination between the two missions?

And also on Tigray, Farhan [Haq] told us a couple of days ago that 44 trucks carrying food were headed from Afar region up into Tigray.  Are they there yet?  Have they been able to cross into the Tigray control region?

Associate Spokesperson:  On the second part of your question, my understanding, as of two days ago, was that, yes, indeed, they were on their way to Tigray.  Let me double-check and see whether they’ve arrived safely.

And on Mr. Griffiths’ meetings, any potential meeting with Samantha Power, we will let you know if and when such a meeting occurs.

Question:  And thanks so much.  Can I just do one question on Yemen quickly?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, of course.

Question:  There have been claims by the Houthi rebel group of significant military gains in Marib and Al Bida regions in the last 24 or so hours.  Do you have anything on that, any reaction?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have no first-hand reporting of these attacks, but I think it just underscores what the acting envoy is saying about the need to end this fighting so that we can get aid to those who need it the most.

And I think… Abdelhamid, do you have a question?

Question:  Yes, I do.  Thank you.  I have two questions.  My first question is about a visit by the Algerian Foreign Minister to Ethiopia.  Ethiopia is calling on Algeria to mediate between Ethiopia and Sudan and Egypt.  So, do you have any comment on that?  And…

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  Go ahead.  [cross talk]

Question:  Yes, please go ahead.

Associate Spokesperson:  Oh, okay.  We would welcome any effort by any countries, especially those in the region, to help foster dialogue and decrease tensions regarding that issue.

And your second question?

Question:  Thank you.  My second question is, where is Mr. Tor Wennesland?  He is nowhere to be found.  Whatever is going on in the West Bank and Jerusalem, he has been absent, including the murder of a 12-year-old boy, as I mentioned yesterday to you.  I mean, didn’t he notice the volume of violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces?  He has been silent completely.  I didn’t see… except two congratulations, one to the Israeli new President and one on the Eid al-Adha holiday.  Where is he?

Associate Spokesperson:  He is continuing his work.  As you… [cross talk]

Question:  But where?  Tell me.  Tell me details what he is doing.

Associate Spokesperson:  He has been continuing to speak out.  He’s been reporting to the Security Council on the deaths occurring in the region.  His office is active.  He is aware of these incidents taking place, but he continues his work, and his office continues to be active.

Question:  Then where is his voice in the case of the murders of a 12-year-old…?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m sorry.  You’re muted.  I’m sorry?

Question:  I… where is his voice?  Why he doesn’t speak up?  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  He continues to be active.  He continues to be active.  It’s not… his work is not just about what we see on Twitter or the statements that he issues.  He is continuing his talks with the players in the region, with… here with us in New York.  I can assure you he is quite active.

And I see Iftikhar’s had his hand up for a while.

Question:  Thank you, Eri.  Questions about political and security situation in Afghanistan have been asked, but there is also a lot of flooding going on in Parwan provinces and in other provinces.  Is the United Nations providing relief to the flood-affected people?  Eighty people have been killed.

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check with our humanitarian colleagues to see if we can let you know exactly what the aid that we are providing to people there is.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  And, Evelyn, do you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  All my Afghan questions have been answered.

The… there’s been a human rights report on Libya in that mercenaries and contractors have been violating, have been raising havoc.  Is there anything… do you have anything on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve seen these reports, and we have called on some actors, such as the ones that you mentioned, to respect international law and fulfil international human rights obligations.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  All right.  Do we see… is there anybody else?

Okay.  Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.