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4 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.

**Lebanon

All right.  Good afternoon.  As you saw, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke this morning by videoconference to the international conference in support of the Lebanese people, which takes place one year since the tragic explosion at the port of Beirut left some 200 people dead and thousands more displaced.

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, she said that 12 months on, our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the survivors, and all those affected.  We continue to reiterate the need for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion, she added.

The Deputy Secretary-General added that a people-centred reform, recovery, and reconstruction framework, otherwise known as 3RF, has been developed with support from the European Union, the World Bank and the United Nations, in consultation with all stakeholders.  That framework, she said, is anchored in participation, transparency, accountability, inclusion, social justice and partnerships.

She also noted the UN’s help to emergency recovery efforts and added that the international community must lay the foundations for longer-term recovery, anchored in the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

Her remarks are online.

To say also, just on Lebanon:  Just after noon today, local time, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, received reports that at least two rockets had been fired from Lebanon towards Israel.

The Israel Defense Force confirmed the reports to UNIFIL and responded with artillery fire.

UNIFIL’s Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, was in immediate touch with the parties.  He urged them to cease fire and to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation, especially on this solemn anniversary.

UNIFIL remains fully engaged with the parties through our liaison and coordination channels.  It is imperative to restore stability immediately so that UNIFIL can begin an investigation.

**Central African Republic

Moving to the Central African Republic:  A report today by the United Nations details the dire and worsening human rights situation over the past year in the country, where armed groups carried out a violent bid to disrupt elections.  In response, the country’s defence and security forces launched military operations to retake territory from them.

The joint report by the UN Office for Human Rights and the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) covers the period from July 2020 to June of this year in the context of the presidential and legislative elections.

The Human Rights Division of the UN Mission on the ground documented 526 incidents of abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law across the country during this period.  Among these are extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence and serious violations against children, including their recruitment by parties to the conflict.

According to the report, a coalition of armed groups, known as the CPC, was responsible for 54 per cent of the documented incidents.  The remainder of the incidents were committed by the Central African Armed Forces, Internal Security Forces bilateral personnel, and private military contractors.

The extensive report is available to you.

**Afghanistan

Moving to Afghanistan:  We can tell you that we are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of people in Lashkargah, in the south, where tens of thousands of people could be trapped by fighting.

Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that in Helmand and Kandahar there are reports of increased civilian casualties, destruction or damage to civilian houses, as well as to critical infrastructure, including hospitals.  Hospitals and health workers are becoming overwhelmed by the number of wounded people.

We, along with our humanitarian partners in Afghanistan, are assessing needs and responding in the south, as access allows.  On 1 August, more than 2,000 people were reached with food, water, sanitation and cash assistance in Kandahar.

Since the start of the year, nearly 360,000 people have been forcibly displaced by the conflict in Afghanistan.  About 5 million people have been displaced since 2012.

Attacks on health facilities in the first half of the year have deprived 200,000 people in Afghanistan of access to basic care.

We urge the parties to the conflict to protect civilians, aid workers and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Also, humanitarians are committed to staying and delivering in Afghanistan and expect to have reached almost half of the nearly 16 million people targeted for assistance so far in 2021, despite the worsening conditions.

We also call on donors to urgently fund Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $1.3 billion but has only received $485 million to date.  By my calculation, that is less than 50 per cent funded.

And to give you an example, as if we needed more examples of the horrific violence faced by children in Afghanistan, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said today that it is outraged by a report that a 12-year-old boy from Shirin Tagab district, in Faryab province, suffered a brutal flogging by a member of an anti-government group.

The UN Children’s Fund said that the young boy endured wounds to his back, legs and feet, and is traumatized by the vicious attack.  UNICEF, with local partners, is providing urgent help to the child and his family, including psychosocial support, medical care, as well as other immediate needs.

**Security Council

Just to flag that in the Security Council today they held a meeting on the issue of Syria and chemical weapons.  Thomas Markram of the Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) briefed the Council members.  We will circulate his remarks as soon as we get them.

At around 1 p.m., there will be a joint stakeout by Security Council members:  Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and incoming Council member Albania.  They will make a joint statement on the situation in Georgia.  This will take place at the Security Council Stakeout here.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, our colleagues in OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) tell us that heavy rains and flooding have affected at least 28,000  people, according to initial estimates.  Our humanitarian partners on the ground are conducting assessments and providing assistance, including shelter, food and health care.

Meanwhile, the virus cases have increased over recent days, with concerns that the country is entering a third wave.  So far, just over 310,000 vaccines have been administered — meaning only 1 per cent of the population has received their first dose.

At the same time, more than half of Yemenis are facing crisis levels of food insecurity, and 5 million people are only one step away from famine.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is currently 47 per cent funded — $1.82 billion has been received out of the $3.85 billion required, but most of the money will run out in September.  Additional and predictable funding is urgently needed so that we can continue to send life-saving assistance to the people who need it.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission there (UNMISS) said it welcomed the swearing into office of 504 members of the Revitalized Transitional National Legislative Assembly and 84 members of the Council of States, calling this a positive step forward in the peace process.

The legislature is responsible for passing new laws and reforms that will help move forward the full implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

The UN Mission said the appointment of the country’s first female Speaker, Jemma Nunu Kumba, is also a notable achievement.  The peace agreement targets 35 per cent representation for women in governance structures in South Sudan.

**COVID-19

Quick COVID-19 updates for you from Cabo Verde and Belize.

Our UN team in Cabo Verde tells us that 40 per cent of people eligible have received at least one dose of the vaccine.  The country has received more than 61,000 doses through COVAX.

The UN team is supporting the vaccination campaign by providing technical assistance and helping to address misinformation.  We are also helping authorities with their online COVID-19 digital certificates to help the economy, which is highly dependent on tourism.

The Resident Coordinator, Ana Patricia Graça, said that, with a forthcoming donation of 200,000 doses from the United States through COVAX, 70 per cent of eligible people could be fully vaccinated by the end of the year.  Good news.

Yesterday, Belize received its third shipment of vaccines from COVAX of more than 33,000 doses.  This brings the total number of doses from COVAX to more than 100,000.

Since the start of the pandemic, the team has been supporting authorities to protect those who are most at-risk, especially vulnerable communities.  Our colleagues are working on all aspects of the response, including health, education, nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, child protection, ending gender-based violence, and socioeconomic recovery.

**Financial Contribution

Finally, we are now up to 118 Member States having fully paid up their dues.  The Member State that paid today their national dish is pupusas.

What country are we talking about?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Oh.  P-o… I would write it p-o-u-p-o-u-s-a-s.  It’s El Salvador.  Oh, God!  The level of culinary ignorance in this room is shocking and unacceptable.

**Questions and Answers

All right, Edie.  [laughter]

Correspondent:  I love the name.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Yes.  Yeah.

Question:  A couple of questions, Steph.  First, does the Secretary-General have any comment on Sudan’s cabinet taking the first step to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) by deciding to ratify the Rome Statute, which could mean justice for Darfur victims?

Spokesman:  I mean, as we saw, it’s a first step in the legislative process.  Let’s let it play out, but it’s, obviously, an important first step.  I mean, the ICC globally plays a critical role in accountability for human rights violations.

Question:  Secondly, does the Secretary-General support the World Health Organization (WHO) chief’s call for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccination booster shots, which he announced today?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to get into medical issues.  I think countries… you know what?  I’m not going to comment on this at this point.  WHO is in the lead on medical issues, and we, of course, fully support their work.

Question:  And another quick follow-up to the Lebanon conference in Paris co-hosted by the President and the Deputy Secretary-General.  Is the United Nations satisfied with the pledges, which I believe were over $500 million?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, I think we’re looking… we’re still doing the final tally.  These look to us like very good numbers.

Madame?

Question:  Also on Lebanon, any reaction to… apparently forces have been using water cannons and teargas against protesters at this anniversary or memorial service that’s being held.  Any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Look, I think it’s very important — and we’ve seen this before in Lebanon over the last year — that security forces show restraint and allow people to demonstrate and express themselves peacefully.

I mean, today, as we say, is a very solemn day.  We stand in total solidarity with the people of Lebanon and, in particular, the victims and families.  Some, as you know, were staff members of the United Nations.

It is very important that our call… that there is a thorough and transparent investigation, but we have been concerned and will continue to be concerned at the force that we sometimes see and we’ve seen over the last year against peaceful protesters.

Question:  Also, if I may, on Afghanistan, you mentioned the UN’s concerns about the humanitarian situation.  We’re seeing attacks on Government officials now by the Taliban.  Sounds like they’re planning to continue that assault.  And we’ve asked about whether or not there’s a greater role for the UN to play, and it’s kind of been put back on the Security Council.  But given there are so many calls for help going out to the UN, not just on the humanitarian front but on the political front, is it time for the Secretary-General to take a stronger stance on this and come out and do something?  Some of his… or some of the UN’s former envoys have called for him to do so in an op-ed in The New York Times.  I mean, I’m just wondering where he stands and what more… if he’s considering any further action.

Spokesman:  Look, it is clear that all the violence that we’ve seen against civilians, against civilian infrastructure, is unacceptable and is to be condemned.  I mean, I just read out that this is just one horrific example of what’s happening to one child, and we know that civilians are suffering tremendously.

We have two senior UN officials who are working on behalf of the Secretary-General, Deborah Lyons and Jean Arnault, who are trying to help and move the parties… all of the parties, the regional parties, the national parties, and those beyond, in the right direction, which is finding a political solution so the violence can stop, and we will be continuing to do that.

At the same time, we’re continuing to stay and to deliver on humanitarian and development assistance.

Yeah?

Question:  How long does it take between the pledging and the money being really distributed?

Spokesman:  That’s a very good question, and we have seen… the short answer, it depends, right, because pledges are great, but getting the money out of wallets… out of one wallet into our wallet can sometimes take time.  It is…

Question:  What is your tool…?

Spokesman:  Well, our tool is to ask very nicely.  [laughter]

We don’t have… it’s not like… we’re not like the utility company that has automatic… that has a right to go into your bank account and take your money.  We have to wait for Member States to move from pledge to disbursement.

There are… sometimes there are delays that are due to the bureaucracy because, obviously, a pledge is made by one part of the Government, and then the treasury has to move.  And countries, understandably so, have different steps to take.  So, we understand there will be a delay, but sometimes those delays are greater than they should be, frankly.  And so, we always urge donors to… once they’ve pledged, to disburse the cash as quickly as possible.

Okay.  Let’s see if there’s somebody in the chat.

Iftikhar?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph.  My question has been asked by Kristen.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A number of Palestinian detainees went into hunger strike, had reached now 18.  Some of them have been on hunger strike for 22 days.  Some of them just joined the hunger strike recently, and yet there is no word from the United Nations about this tragedy.

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I personally had not seen those reports, but I will check for you.

Question:  And I have another related question.  Also, the number of Palestinian corpse, or dead bodies, that had been killed by Israel have reached 81 now.  Some of them have been there for years.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Abdelhamid, can you start again?  The number of?

Question:  Palestinian bodies killed by Israel, they are kept in freezers.  The corpse of those killed have been kept for many years, Some of them for months, some of them recently.  But the number had reached 81 now, had been kept by Israel all this time.  These bodies should be let go to their families to give them a final burial, and yet the UN had been ignoring this issue and had not been even mentioned in the final… in the monthly reports to the Security Council.

Spokesman:  I don’t think we’ve ignored the issue.  I think it’s always important that families, wherever they are, on whichever side of the conflict, be able to get the remains of their loved ones.

Okay.  Any other questions?

Okay.  Thank you, all.  Hasta mañana and try culinary dishes, pupusas, pupusas.

For information media. Not an official record.