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2 August 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.  If I were to say I am happy to be back, I would be lying, but it is nice to see all of you.

And I know you are all here for the Permanent Representative of India.  So, let’s try to get through this quickly.

**Ethiopia

Just a quick update on Ethiopia, where Martin Griffiths, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is continuing his mission.

In Addis Ababa today, he met with the Minister of Peace, Mrs. [Muferiat] Kamil, as well as the Amhara Regional President, Mr. [Agegnehu] Teshager, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Amhara.  He also had discussions with the African Union Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Amira El Fadil, and Member State representatives to Ethiopia.

Over the weekend, in the south-east region of Tigray, he visited a health centre and a school, both located in Hawzen.  He met with women, men and local authorities.  In Firweni, in Eastern Tigray, he visited a site for internally displaced persons and heard from affected people, community leaders and humanitarian partners.

We also have an update on the humanitarian situation in the Afar region, which is deteriorating due to the spillover of the conflict in Tigray.  About 70,000 people have been displaced, according to regional authorities.  There are also 35,00 people displaced by the ongoing Afar–Somali ethnic conflict in the south.

Afar authorities have distributed food and non-food items to some of the recently displaced people.  Humanitarian partners will provide health, protection, and emergency food, water, hygiene and sanitation assistance to 70,000 displaced people.  In collaboration with the Afar Regional Health Bureau and humanitarian partners, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has deployed four mobile health and nutrition teams to provide services.  […]

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN team in that country has reaffirmed its solidarity with the people of the country in their pursuit for democracy, peace, human rights and the rule of law, six months after the Myanmar military seized control over the democratically elected government.

Since 1 February, at least 930 people — many of them women and children — have been killed at the hands of security forces, while thousands more have been injured.

At least 3,000 people remain under detention — this includes politicians, authors, human rights defenders, teachers, health-care workers, civil servants, journalists, monks, celebrities and ordinary citizens.

The protracted crisis has impacted humanitarian access to people in need, as well as education, health and the fight against COVID-19.  It has also, of course, affected the basic rights of the people of Myanmar to express themselves and have a government that represents them.

For their part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN-Women in Myanmar have warned that the compounded political and health crisis, coupled with an intensification of fighting, is putting more women and girls this year at risk.  They also said that the deteriorating socioeconomic situation means that hundreds of thousands more people now are in need of humanitarian aid.

Since 1 February, women and girls have been at the frontlines as leaders of civil society organizations, civil servants, activists, journalists, artists and influencers, exercising their fundamental rights to express their hopes for the future of the country.

**Central African Republic

And turning to the Central African Republic, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports that last Saturday, in Paoua, in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture, over 200 hundred suspected combatants from the 3R armed group [Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation] attacked an army post of the Central African forces, as well as the village of Mann.  The armed combatants reportedly killed seven civilians and injured two others during an exchange of fire with the country’s armed forces.

UN peacekeepers were immediately deployed to ensure the protection of civilians.  The combatants fled, and injured civilians were treated at the local hospital.  Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that the situation is now relatively calm.

We also have an update on the final round of legislative elections, which took place last week in the seven constituencies that had not yet completed the process.  All 262 polling stations opened without major incidents.  The UN Mission, in close coordination with the Central African defence and security forces, secured the polling places to allow civilians to safely cast their ballots.  The Mission also deployed monitoring teams to all constituencies to ensure a smooth conduct of the polls.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, over the weekend, said he is following with great concern the developments in south-west Syria.  He is actively in contact with relevant parties to ensure that violence ceases and he is calling on all to de-escalate.

In a statement over the weekend, Mr. Pedersen stressed to all that the principle of the protection of civilians and international humanitarian law must be upheld.   The Special Envoy emphasized the humanitarian dimension of the situation, recalling the messages he received from people in Daraa stating they did not want to leave their homes.  The Special Envoy said this uptick in tension in the south-west reiterates the need for all in Syria to agree on a nationwide ceasefire, in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

**COVID-19 — Malaysia

From Malaysia, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Stefan Priesner, continues to support authorities to roll out the COVID-19 national vaccination plan.  The UN team is helping authorities prepare for the vaccination of undocumented people, refugees and asylum seekers.  This includes technical and advocacy support to prepare specific guidelines.  UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is helping to gather data on refugee populations, while we are also working on outreach and mapping of vulnerable groups.

The UN team has also been working on risk communication and community engagement in various languages, as well as on outreach programmes and hotlines to increase access to information about vaccines.  This includes a website that is tailored to support refugees, asylum seekers and organizations supporting refugees.  Our team on the ground is also supporting authorities in tracking public sentiment to help tackle rumours and misinformation.

**Resident Coordinator — Uruguay

We have a new Resident Coordinator to announce.  Pablo Ruiz Hiebra of Spain is the new Resident Coordinator in Uruguay, according to our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office.  His appointment follows the approval of the host Government.  He took up his post yesterday, 1 August.  As you know, Resident Coordinators lead the work of UN teams on the ground, including supporting authorities in responding to COVID and to recover better to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  They also represent the Secretary-General for development issues at the country level.

**World Breastfeeding Week

This week is World Breastfeeding Week.  In a joint statement, the heads of UNICEF and WHO (World Health Organization) said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of the gains realized in breastfeeding rates in the past decades.  They are calling for measures that prioritize breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.

**Press Briefing

At 12:30, as you know, the Permanent Representative of India and President of the Security Council for the month of August, Ambassador [T.S.] Tirumurti, will be here to brief you on the Security Council’s Programme of Work in August.

**Financial Contributions

And finally, we thank our friends in La Paz and Maputo.  Bolivia and Mozambique have paid their full budget dues, taking us up to 117 payments from Member States.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to switch positions because my back is not agreeing with me as I hoped it would agree with me.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions.  First, does the Secretary—General have any comment on the military in Myanmar extending the state of emergency and elections until mid—2023?  And secondly, in a very closely watched ruling, an Israeli court has proposed a compromise that would avoid Palestinian evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.  That was one of the sparks of the recent Gaza conflict.  Does the Secretary—General have any comment?

Spokesman:  Okay.  [laughter]  All right.  On your first question on Myanmar, I think the short answer is that it’s not taking us in the right direction.  It’s moving us further away from what we have been calling for, Member States have been calling for, which is a return to democratic rule, a release of all prisoners, political prisoners, a halt on the violence and the crackdown.  I mean, from what I’ve just read, the numbers continue to be extremely concerning.  I think if you look at Myanmar, also, six months since the takeover, the precarious situation, the wider implications, threatening regional stability, have been made even worse by the COVID—19 outbreak.  And for us, a unified international response remains paramount.  On your second question on Sheikh Jarrah, we’re, obviously, following what’s going on in the court closely.  Our understanding is that a final ruling is expected later in the week.  From our standpoint, what has always been our standpoint is that all settlement activities, including evictions, demolitions, are illegal under international law.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes, Steph, and welcome back.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  A follow—up to Sheikh Jarrah.  The offer given to the residents of Sheikh Jarrah was to consider them rental, consider them renting these houses, which was not acceptable, so the court was postponed to next week.  So, do you have any concrete…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, listen, I think… we’ve seen those press reports… I mean, we’ve seen the reports, the reactions from the different parties.  Our position, I think, is pretty clear.  We will wait, obviously, till the full decision taken by the court…

Question:  Steph, I’ve been asking few questions, and I had not received an answer.  One of them is, where is Mr. Tor Wennesland?  I haven’t seen any statement from him, including the murder of a 12—year—old boy, and I’m sure you probably saw, and I didn’t get any answer.  My… and I also ask about point of information that Morocco is establishing a big port in the city of Dakhla in southern part of Western Sahara, if you confirm that from MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara].

Spokesman:  No, I have no information on that.  Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Wondering, given the continuing escalation of violence in Afghanistan, particularly in Herat, if the Secretary—General is confident that the UN can protect its workers at UNAMA (UN Mission in Afghanistan) headquarters and throughout the country, given the quick withdrawal of US troops and the escalating violence.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  The… we clearly take the security of our staff extremely seriously.  It is being assessed on a regular basis, whether in Afghanistan or many… or in many other high—violence zones in which we operate by definition.  The responsibility for… ultimately, the responsibility of the protection of UN staff is with the authorities.  But obviously, we take the measures we need to take, and we will keep assessing those measures.

Question:  And would a different mandate or a stronger mandate from the Security Council in Afghanistan be helpful, not only for UN workers but for the people of Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, what would be helpful is for a political settlement to take place, for a halt to the violence, and a political settlement that takes into consideration the gain… the human rights gains made by all Afghans but especially Afghan women and the minorities in Afghanistan over the recent years.

Question:  Is the UN considering any further way to advance those talks?  Is there anything that the Secretary—General could do or is doing given…

Spokesman:  Well, we’re continuing, whether through Deborah Lyons in the country or Mr. [Jean] Arnault, who’s dealing with the more regional implications, we’re continuing with our contacts at many different levels.  Madame and then madame, who’s outside of my peripheral vision.

Question:  Yeah, most of the mission…

Spokesman:  If you could just take off the mask while you ask the question because…

Question:  Most of the missions the UN have around the world, Governments cannot provide security.  So, what can the UN do to provide security to its own people?

Spokesman:  In everywhere we operate, ultimately, the protection of UN staff is the Government… is the responsibility of the local authorities.

Whether they can or they can’t in different places, obviously, we assess that risk.  And we take the necessary precautions, and we put in place the necessary security procedures.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is it okay with mask or no mask?

Spokesman:  If… just… I’m a little hard of hearing, besides my back being in pain.

Question:  Okay.  Sure.  Follow-up to Kristen’s story… Kristen’s question about Afghanistan, does the UN have any concerns about whether the Afghan security forces are up to the task or able to protect UN staff?

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t want to get into speculative mode.  We know that the situation in Afghanistan is very precarious.  I mean, UN staff have been wounded or killed in different parts of Afghanistan, even in the not-too-distant past.  We work with the local authorities.  We also take our own precautions.  As the situation evolves, we will take the necessary precautions.  What is clear — and I think Deborah Lyons herself said it very clearly — is that we will also stand and remain with the people of Afghanistan.

Question:  And what sort of contingency planning does the UN have under way?

Spokesman:  We have contingency planning for many places in many parts of the world.

Question:  And — sorry — just one more?

Spokesman:  Even without James Bays being here, everyone’s doing three or four questions.

Question:  Well, you know, you’ve been away for a while.  [laughter]  Does the Secretary—General have any reaction to the attempt by the Belarusian authorities to patriate the athlete who is now seeking refuge in Poland?

Spokesman:  I think what is important is that everyone who asks for protection, for refugee status, is afforded that opportunity.  Everyone also deserves some… I mean, we can’t publicly speak about specific cases, but from what I understand, I think this athlete has been… from what I’ve read in the press, at least, the local… the Japanese authorities have done what they can to protect her, and I think that is the most important part.  No one should be forced to go home under threat or under force.  Dulcie and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thanks.  Back to Afghanistan, The Washington Post reported this morning that the Taliban did make a statement that the attack on Herat base was “regrettable” and that they said the group remains committed to protecting UN sites.  Have you heard… has the UN actually had a communication from the Taliban?

Spokesman:  We have been in touch with the Taliban.  I will have to check whether that particular message was passed via private channels, as well as public ones, but I will get back to you on that.  Evelyn?

Correspondent:  Thank you…

Spokesman:  Nice to see you.

Question:  It’s nice to see you.  The IOC (International Olympic Committee) has observer status at the United Nations.  Does the SG or anyone else communicate with it when it does controversial things or take a position on anything while it’s happening?

Spokesman:  I… you want to rephrase your question about a specific issue?  I mean, we are partners with the IOC in a number of global initiatives.  It’s an important partnership as they… and they also have… as you know, they have observer status, but I… let me know what you’re getting at and…

Question:  I’m getting at, in the Olympics, this one or past Olympics, the IOC makes some controversial decisions, takes people in or out of games depending on what they feel, such as those who take the knee and… does the… it’s not this one specific… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think… the IOC is an organization that has rules and regulations for competitions.  We’re not going to get into the sports business.  That being said, there is… everyone has a fundamental right to express their opinions freely without fear of harassment.

Question:  Yeah, well, this particular IOC Chairman is not quite the same as Avery Brundage, who took ideological positions that were contrary to everything the UN did, and I just wonder if at any time the UN speaks up.

Spokesman:  I mean, I’ve answered your question to the best of my limited ability.

Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  All the questions on Afghanistan have been asked by Kristen and Michelle and Dulcie, but may I ask you, where is Special Representative Arnault, and what is he doing and anything from him?

Spokesman:  Last time I checked was a couple weeks ago, he was about to embark on another regional tour, but he is… I will check where he physically is.  But he is continuing his mandate, which is to engage with regional Powers on the issue of Afghanistan.

Okay.  Unless… I don’t see anything else.  I will escape and leave the floor to the Permanent Representative of India.

For information media. Not an official record.