26 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Guest Note

As soon as we are done, we will be joined by our two guests from Port‑au‑Prince, Ramesh Rajasingham, who as you know is the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and who is currently on an official visit to Haiti, and also our friend Bruno Lemarquis, who is the Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti.  So, I will thank them in advance for their patience as we get through this briefing first.


Obviously, we are going to start with Afghanistan.  I just spoke to the Secretary-General, who is following with great concern the situation, ongoing situation in Kabul, especially at the airport.  He condemns this terrorist attack which killed and injured a number of civilians and extends his deep condolences to the families of those killed.  He stands in solidarity and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  This incident underscores the volatility of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan but also strengthens our resolve as we continue to deliver urgent assistance across the country in support of the Afghan people.


And at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will be in person at the Security Council to deliver remarks on Ethiopia, and the Council is meeting, as you know, on Peace and Security in Africa.  In his remarks, he will underscore his appeal for action for all parties to immediately cease hostilities, ensure unrestricted humanitarian access everywhere, fully re-establish public services and create the conditions for the start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue to find a solution to this ongoing crisis.  He will emphasize that the unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake — and the human price of this war is mounting by the day.  And we are trying to get you his remarks ahead of time.


Turning to Lebanon, the Secretary-General is expressing his deep concern about the rapidly deteriorating socioeconomic situation in the country.  The people of Lebanon are struggling every day with hyperinflation, acute shortages of fuel, electricity, medicine and even access to clean water.  The Secretary-General calls on all Lebanese political leaders to urgently form an effective government of national unity that can bring immediate relief, justice and accountability to the people of Lebanon and also drive an ambitious and meaningful course for reform to restore access to basic services, restore stability, promote sustainable development and inspire hope for a better future for Lebanon and its people.


A quick note on Venezuela, where our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that 10 out of 24 states in the country have been seriously affected by heavy rains since May.  In support of the local response in Merida, UN agencies are coordinating the delivery of emergency kits, hygiene and sanitation supplies, as well as drinking water.  An interagency mission – including UN agencies and NGOs – is also underway today in Merida delivering assistance and conducting a rapid needs assessment in coordination with local and civil protection authorities.


And you will have seen that yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General… excuse me… we issued a statement to mark four years since the beginning of the massive refugee influx of Rohingya people and other communities from Myanmar’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh.  This reminded us that nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees continue to live in dire conditions and the Secretary-General called for urgent action to help bring about meaningful progress in creating the conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees to Myanmar.  Addressing the root causes of systematic discrimination, disenfranchisement and communal violence in Myanmar is critical, he said.  The Secretary-General also called on the international community to continue to act in solidarity with Rohingya refugees, as well as with the Government and people of Bangladesh, who are generously hosting them.  The UN remains committed to continued active support.  The plight of the Rohingya must not become a forgotten crisis.

**Children and Armed Conflict

And a quick note to mark the anniversary of a report that’s had a profound impact on our understanding and work to address the plight of children impacted by conflict.  Twenty-five years ago, with the publication of her report on the impact of war on children, Graça Machel illustrated that “the impact of conflict on children is everyone’s responsibility and must be everyone’s concern”.  Since then, we verified 266,000 cases of grave violations against children and worked relentlessly to end these violations and to secure the release of children associated with armed forces and groups.  In a statement today, UNICEF’s Henrietta Fore and Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, reiterated their commitment to work directly with families and communities to provide children the support they need to recover from war.  They also urged parties to conflict to take concrete actions to end and prevent grave violations against boys and girls.


A quick COVAX update, this one from Barbados, which has received 33,600 vaccine doses through the COVAX.  This is the third allocation for the country, which brings the total doses of vaccines delivered to 100,800.  And Honduras just received 99,450 vaccine doses out of a total of some 3.7 million vaccines received in the country through that facility.


I want to flag that the Secretary-General will convene a high-level dialogue on energy on Friday, 24 September, under the auspices of the General Assembly.  The dialogue, which will be held virtually, is an opportunity to mobilize action and cooperation to ensure that all people can access clean, affordable energy by 2030 and to achieve net‑zero emissions by 2050.  The dialogue will feature Heads of State and Government as well as other global leaders, many of whom are expected to announce commitments in the form of “Energy Compacts” that show how they will achieve net-zero emissions and universal energy access.  And so, to avoid any confusion, there will also be a high-level meeting on climate that will take place on 20 September.  I'm done.  Betul?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Afghanistan.  Are there any UN staff among the casualties in this attack in Kabul?  And there was a second explosion and any UN staff…

Spokesman:  Right, so… we're conducting a head count.  As far as we know, at this moment, there are no casualties of UN staff.  I think we did have a few numbers of staff around at the airport, but they're all reported safe and sound.  Yes.

Question:  When you talked about a number of killed and injured, is that your own information on the ground?  Do you… can you be more specific…?

Spokesman:  No, we have not, at this point, counted ourselves the number of killed and wounded.  We're basing our information on what we were getting from local sources and other places, but we, at this point, cannot be a source of data of exact numbers of killed or wounded.

Question:  And can… do you have any other information about, for example, perpetrators, anything that could help right now?

Spokesman:  I mean, we don't have any information as to claims or responsibilities or perpetrators, but clearly, anyone who would intentionally commit such a crime of targeting civilians in a crowd where there are desperate people, there are children is just heinous and horrendous, to say the least.  Okay?  Let's go to the screen.  All right.  I don't see any question except for Michelle unless that's just…

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  Let's go to Michelle, and then we'll go to you, Rick.  Rick, Michelle has yielded to you.

Question:  Yes, I have a question.  Do you have any updated information for us on… on who… which leaders may be physically attending the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  No, I think nothing more than what you may have seen on the provisional speakers list.  I think my guess — and it's really a personal guess — is that the situation is in such flux that that the indications of who will be in person will likely change.  I would encourage you to check with those certain individual Member States, but I have no official list of people who we expect in person to share with you at this point.  All right.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Sorry.  Some more questions on Afghanistan.  Do you have any updated figures on movement of UN staff, how many local staff may have left the country?  Have you relocated any further international staff?

Spokesman:  No.  I have no update to share with you.  There's been no large relocation since we last reported it.

Question:  And as the foreign forces start to move out of Kabul, any further progress on who's going to control the airport and whether a flow of aid can… stop it quick?

Spokesman:  No.  I think we'll have to wait and see what happens.  As I said, the airport is critical to the comings and going of humanitarian staff, of humanitarian aid, though, obviously, there are land routes available, and I know WFP [World Food Programme] and others have also been using land routes.  But as in any situation where there's a humanitarian crisis, being able to have free access to an airport is extremely important.

Question:  And how involved is the UN in those discussions?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to report to you on that.

Question:  And anything to report on UN attempts to get other countries to grant visas to local staff?

Spokesman:  Those discussions are continuing.

Correspondent:  And sorry, one last one on…

Spokesman:  I'm going to call you James Bays one day, yeah.

Question:  One last one on aid again and… sanctions.  Some countries have sanctions on the Taliban.  There are a lot of leaders and entities listed by the UN Security Council who are associated with the Taliban.  How might this affect the delivery of aid to Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  Couple of things.  Before I answer your direct question, I just want to underscore that humanitarian aid is continuing.  I think, yesterday, we had more than 1,000 people out of some 3,700 who had been identified for humanitarian assistance were able to receive food and relief items in Kabul.  These were mostly people who were displaced from other parts of Afghanistan, from Kunduz, Baghlan and other areas into Kabul.  There were a number of joint needs assessment missions that were deployed by the UN to three districts in Kabul to verify internally displaced people that had newly arrived.  But needs are high across the country.  Just to give you an example, almost 3,000, 2,800 displaced people in Mazar‑e‑Sharif are being assessed for assistance, while others are returning to their places of origin where assistance will be delivered.  It's important to note that, across Afghanistan, supplies are constrained and will need to be replenished.  This will continue to be a challenge due to limited funding and, of course, the logistical challenges.  We, once again, appeal urgently to donors to give and to give generously now and in the coming months.  We have appealed for about $1.3 billion for Afghanistan, as you know, but about 39 per cent of the appeal is funded.  On your other issue, just to reiterate what the Secretary‑General has said, what I've said from here, is that States and including donors must ensure that any sanctions or counterterrorism measures comply with international humanitarian human rights law and do not impede the impartial humanitarian activities.  They should consistently exclude impartial humanitarian activities, including basic services, from the scope of their sanctions and counterterrorism measures.  Stefano and then Dulcie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I mean, today, in Afghanistan, there was an explosion.  So, of course, it's again on the centre of the media attention.  But, for the Secretary‑General, what is, in this moment, this particular moment, the crisis, the international crisis, that concern him the most?  We know today he's going to talk on the Security Council about Ethiopia and Africa, but there is on top of the list something that occupy his more the most?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is able to focus on multiple crises at once.  You know, it…

Correspondent:  I'm asking a rating… there is…

Spokesman:  Let me just finish.  I think it's… what's important is to not only focus about what's in the news.  Right?  We're all rightfully focussing on Afghanistan this very minute.  It doesn't mean that the situation in Tigray or the humanitarian situation in Myanmar have gotten better just because there's less reporting about it.  So, we're, obviously, very much focussed on Afghanistan because it's a very fluid and volatile situation, but we're also and the Secretary‑General is also spending a lot of time on dealing with Ethiopia, on dealing with Yemen, and all different humanitarian crises.  Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah, just a couple more questions on Afghanistan.  So, who is securing the UN base in Kabul now?

Spokesman:  Well, the outside security is the responsibility of the de facto authorities, which are the Taliban.

Question:  So, the Taliban is securing your base…?

Spokesman:  As anywhere, the authorities in control of a territory are responsible for the security of UN staff.  I mean, it's no secret; there were Afghan National Police and others guarding UN compounds.  The events over the last week have changed the situation on the ground.

Question:  So, they… they've agreed to keep the UN compound secured?

Spokesman:  They have a responsibility to keep UN premises, UN staff safe and secure.

Question:  A responsibility based on what?

Spokesman:  Based on international law.  They are the de facto authorities.  They have the responsibility to uphold the inviolability of UN premises.

Question:  And can you give us an update on the numbers of international staff still left in Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  No change since what we were reported over the weekend.

Question:  Okay.  So, it sounds like there might be 100 or so left…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think a bit more than that.

Question:  And then the inter… the foreign… sorry, the foreign staff… or… sorry, national staff, so approximately, because it's still ranging from 3,000 to several more thousand, so it's hard to really…?

Spokesman:  The number I've been given is around 3,000, and that number has not changed significantly.

Question:  And that's across the entire UN system, not just…?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Okay.  And so, on these IDP assessments in Kabul, are more people still flowing into Kabul, or are they leaving?

Spokesman:  Yes, we had an inter‑agency team that went to three different districts to follow reports of newly arrived people.  I think there's a lot of fluidity on the situation on the ground.  We're getting reports of some people going home, some more people coming in.  We're trying to find the people that need help and to help them.

Question:  So, the Taliban is agreeing to the UN providing food to IDPs?

Spokesman:  That's correct.  Dulcie and then Mike.  Oh, sorry.  Betul.  Sorry.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Dulcie's question, Steph:  Have the Taliban taken over any… control of any UN compounds in Kabul?

Spokesman:  Like…?

Question:  Take control of UN compounds?

Spokesman:  Like kicked us out and taken control of UN compounds?  No.  I'm not aware of any of that.  Okay.  Mr. Hanna, and then we'll go back to Michelle.

Question:  Given the attacks today and the potential threat of further ones, are you concerned that this is going to impact on average humanitarian operations into the…?

Spokesman:  Listen, we're taking this an hour at a time.  Obviously, it could have an impact, and it could not have an impact.  The situation as a whole is concerning us.  Right?  It's a concern in the way that it will impact the suffering of the Afghan people, how it might impact our humanitarian situation.  But this is literally, as you and I all know, I mean, as we all know, this is a very quickly evolving situation.  Ms. Nichols, and then we'll go to Alan.

Question:  We heard about, in the past few days, warnings that such an attack could happen at the airport.  Does the UN have any intelligence or any fears that ISIS‑K could directly target the UN?

Spokesman:  Look, specific intelligence, not that I'm aware of.  Again, it is the responsibilities of the de facto authorities on the ground to ensure safety of UN premises and UN personnel.

Question:  And have the Taliban committed to that?

Spokesman:  We're in discussions with them on several issues at different levels.

Question:  Oh, and one other question.  Have you received any letters about repres… Afghanistan's representation?

Spokesman:  No, as of yesterday, we had not.  I will check.  Nabil on the screen, then we'll go back to the room, and then we'll try to go to our guests.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up and then a question on Tigray.  But, on Afghanistan, I'm not sure that you mentioned accountability in your statement.  Do you call for the perpetrators to be held accountable? And do you call on Taliban to have been accountable?

Spokesman:  Look, of course, we always call for accountability, and the authorities in place have a responsibility to keep people safe.  They have a responsibility to ensure that there's accountability in line with international human rights and international law.

Question:  And on…?

Spokesman:  Mr. Bulkaty.  Yeah.  Go ahead, Nabil.

Question:  Is the SG, I mean, taking initiative here or proposing an old map for Tigray, or can you tell us more in details, please, what he's doing on the political track in Tigray?

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to wait until you get his remarks.  He will speak, and that will be more interesting than when I speak.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The follow‑up on today's developments in Kabul airport.  Do you think some adjustments in security mode or in evacuation from the Kabul airport should be made?

Spokesman:  I mean, we have no authority or responsibility vis‑à‑vis the airport.  Right?  But, it is clear that it is the responsibility of those in charge to ensure for the safety of civilians and of the civilian infrastructure.  Okay.  Thank you very much…

Correspondent:  I have one more…

Spokesman:  …Ramesh…

Correspondent:  I have a…

Spokesman:  …are you on?

Correspondent:  I put my name for a question, Stéphane.

Correspondent:  Yeah, me, too.

Correspondent:  I put my name even before Nabil.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'm so, so sorry.  Abdelhamid, go ahead, please.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  I have [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?  All right.  Rick, why don't you…?

Correspondent:  Yeah, I have a quick question.

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can't… I mean, I cannot hear you.  I cannot hear you.  Rick?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Question:  Try again.  Can you hear me now?  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Rick.

Question:  Okay.  My question is a follow‑up on Afghanistan.  Of the roughly 3,000 Afghan nationals who work for the United Nations in Afghanistan that are still there, are you continuing to pay them? And if so, how are you doing it… [inaudible] the banking system and [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean… they continue to be on the payroll, of course, working from home.  The technicalities on how we're paying them, I would have to check.  I did see reports that some banks were re‑opening.  Obviously, the closure of the banks was an issue.  I can try to get back to you on the logistics of it, but they, of course, remain on the payroll.  Okay.  Let's go to Haiti, please.

For information media. Not an official record.