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24 September 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.

**Energy

Good afternoon.  This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the High‑level Dialogue on Energy.  He said that we have a double imperative – to end energy poverty and to limit climate change - and he added that we can do that by investing in clean, affordable and sustainable energy for all.  He outlined four priorities for a sustainable energy future:  closing the energy gap, shifting to decarbonized energy systems, mobilizing finance and promoting technology transfer to the developing world, and ensuring that no one is left behind.

More than 150 voluntary commitments in the form of Energy Compacts have been submitted to the Dialogue, including more than $400 billion in new finance and investments from Governments and the private sector to increase electricity and clean cooking for hundreds of millions of people, and significantly expand renewables and energy efficiency.

**Afghanistan

I also want to flag that this morning, in a side event entitled “Supporting a Future for Girls’ Education in Afghanistan”, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, underscored that the focus now must be to stop the reverse of the gains made by women and girls in Afghanistan.  She emphasized that the need to engage with the Taliban to make sure that what we have succeeded in doing with every girl in school, in leadership positions and work, is not reversed.

Among the speakers in the panel were Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Malala Yousafzai, the Co‑founder of the Malala Fund and a UN Messenger of Peace.

Also on Afghanistan, just a quick humanitarian update, in terms of what we are doing.  Since 1 September, we, along with our partners on the ground, have provided food assistance to more than 340,000 people.  We have also treated more than 20,700 children under 5 suffering from acute malnutrition across the country.  More than 10,000 children have been reached with community‑based education activities and 4,200 people have received health screening services at Afghanistan border crossing points.

In addition, some 177,500 drought‑affected people have been helped through water trucking.  Our humanitarian colleagues add that new routes - by road - between provinces have started for staff for the first time in many, many years.  The UN Humanitarian Air Service is fully operational on a daily basis.  International staff are arriving in the country and are being deployed to provincial hubs.

However, our humanitarian colleagues stress that more flight options are needed, as well as the loosening of administrative requirements, including for visas and other waivers for humanitarian aid workers.

**Sudan

On Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues are also telling us that more than 300,000 people have been affected by heavy rains and flooding.  This is leading to increased humanitarian needs, but aid organizations are warning that stocks are running out.

Fourteen out of 18 states in Sudan have been hit by floods since the start of the rainy season in July.  Flooding has destroyed and damaged homes, bridges have collapsed and farmland have been inundated.  The Sudanese Government is leading the response with the UN and NGO (non‑governmental organization) partners.  Some 183,000 people have been reached with assistance, including food and shelter supplies.

Our humanitarian colleagues warn that relief supplies most urgently must be replenished.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan calls for $1.9 billion this year but is currently only 25 per cent funded.  This is 10 per cent below the average across all UN‑coordinated response plans, which is already pretty low.

**Kenya

And we have an update from our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP), which illustrates pretty clearly what happens when money runs out.  […] Just, I wanted to illustrate.  We always talk about money being an issue, and from Kenya, our World Food Programme colleagues said today that it is further cutting food aid for 440,000 refugees in the country due to severe funding shortfalls.  WFP warns that it may be forced to stop assistance altogether by the end of the year if funding is not available immediately.

The agency says that cutting food assistance to already highly vulnerable families is a heartbreaking decision to have to make, more so with a national drought emergency declared by the Government in Kenya recently.  It added that low funding levels have left WFP with no choice – and this is the absolute last resort.  WFP is urgently seeking $40 million to restore full food rations to refugees in Dadaab, Kakuma and Kalobeyei camps over the next six months.  Forty million dollars, it’s not that much money.

**Central African Republic

Quick update on the issue of the Gabonese troops in the Central African Republic.  Our colleagues at the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us that, as requested by us at UN Headquarters, national investigation officers from Gabon have been deployed on the ground to conduct investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by their peacekeepers in the country.

We were also informed that the Gabonese authorities have agreed to hold joint investigations and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Mission will provide all necessary support to the national investigators in that regard.

The Senior Victims’ Rights Advocate and our UN partners are ensuring that the needs of the victims are properly assessed and met.  The Advocate will also work with OIOS to ensure that the national investigation is done in a victims‑centred manner.

The repatriation of the Gabonese contingent started today and it is ongoing.

**Pacific Islands Forum

Yesterday evening, the Secretary‑General spoke at a virtual meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders.  He noted that their nations are confronting what he called a dual crisis of climate change and the COVID‑19 pandemic, both of which threaten Pacific lives and livelihoods.

The Secretary‑General warned that if we follow the current path, the consequences of climate disruption for prosperity, well‑being and the very survival of Pacific communities will be severe.  He called for more ambition on climate change from every country.  And he also said that recovery from the pandemic presents us with a rare opportunity to change course to put the world on a more sustainable path.  Those remarks were shared with you.

**UN Numbers

I was asked by Lenka, I think, yesterday about the numbers of people coming into the UN building during the General Assembly.  This year, the first day of the General Debate, we had 1,929 swipes into the building.  That’s for Tuesday.  As a point of comparison, last year, on the first day of the General Debate, we had 874 swipes.  And that was the session, the seventy‑fifth session was completely remote.  In 2019, if you can remember that far, pre‑COVID times, 26,000 people came on to the campus that day, for the first day of the General Debate.  So you can see the big difference.

As a reminder, the building remains under phase 2, which means a significant reduction in our overall footprint in the building.  To do this, access is restricted to delegates, staff and resident correspondents.  Decisions relating to the different phases and efforts to limit the footprint are based on recommendations from the Senior Emergency Policy Team and advice from our medical services and the Occupational Safety and Health Committee.  The relevant departments only transmit that information to their constituencies – for example, DGC (Department of Global Communications) informs visitors and journalists and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs informs NGOs of the decisions that have been taken.

**Noon Briefing Guests On Monday

On Monday, my guests will be the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) President, Collen Vixen Kelapile, and Citi Vice‑Chairman for Banking, Capital Markets and Advisory, Jay Collins.  They will be here to brief you on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Investment Fair, which will take place on 28 and 29 September of this year.  That’s it for me.  Let me go to your questions. Pam?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  There have been some comments by the refugee chief Filippo Grandi about the Haitian refugee crisis, that it may be a violation of international law, and there was some more today.  Could you talk about that?  And number two is, the third member of the Brazil delegation has tested po… I mean to this General Assembly has tested positive.  Are there… has the UN done any mitigation efforts, contact tracing, whatever?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, we’re in touch with the Brazilian Mission.  We have done the relevant contact tracing.

Question:  Beyond that, have you… I mean, he was in… the Health Minister who did come down… who did test positive was in contact with the SG, with Boris…?

Spokesman:  The Health Minister was not in contact with the Secretary‑General.  He was not in the meeting with the Secretary‑General.

Question:  He… oh, with Boris Johnson, then.  Have you reached out to the UK Mission or does… is that something they do?

Spokesman:  We have dealt with what has happened on the grounds of the UN.  My understanding is that those bilaterals… other leaders had bilaterals outside of this building.  So, we’re focused on, obviously, as our responsibility is, within this… what happened within this building.

Question:  So, if anybody had a bilateral downstairs, in the building, you’ve contacted them, or how does it work?  Or do you put it out publicly?

Spokesman:  We’ve contacted the relevant staff, and I know the Brazilian Mission has been quite helpful with us, and they’ve been also engaged with all relevant people.

Question:  And any other cases that you know about?

Spokesman:  No, ma’am.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes.

Question:  [Inaudible] a clarification.  You’ve identified two cases out of the Brazilian delegation to UNGA or three?

Spokesman:  There was a… I recall, from public reporting, there was an earlier case before the GA got under way.  There was the Health Minister, and then the latest report that we saw in the media today.  Hold up.  Yes, go ahead.  Kaitlin, go ahead.

Question:  All right.  Okay.  And then, separately, a different follow‑up on the other question.  On Haiti, the Mexican President today seemed to blame the UN for failing to address the driving causes of migration out of Haiti, said we need to find a way for the UN to intervene; the UN is taking a long time.  Where are the human rights defence organizations at the international level?  Mexico doesn’t want to become a migrant camp, he said.  Do you have a response to that on behalf of the UN?

Spokesman:  Well, on the issue of Haiti and, I think, what Pam said about violations of international… it is the responsibility of the High Commissioner for Refugees to defend those laws and according to the Convention, so he’s doing what he should be doing.  You may have seen that Henrietta Fore also… from UNICEF also issued a statement.  In terms of what we are doing on the ground, UNICEF is present in Ciudad Acuna in Mexico, where they’re facilitating access to child protection services and will deliver drinking water, hygiene kits, mobile toilets and handwashing stations.  Our colleagues in Haiti are also helping those Haitians that have been sent back and repatriated from the US, including helping with performing COVID tests, making sure people have food and water, distribution of hygiene kits, giving cash out as… to help people survive when they first come in.  We’ve talked about the issue of migration for a long time.  There is a global compact for migration.  The issue of migration needs to be dealt with in a comprehensive way between those countries that are countries of origin, those countries that are countries of transit, and those that are countries of destination.  What we are seeing with unmanaged migration is, first and foremost, human suffering.  We’ve seen the images coming out of US, coming out of Mexico, coming out of Haiti.  Just on this particular crisis, they’re heartbreaking, but we’ve also… we’ve all seen pictures of migrants risking their lives.  They’re risking their lives because they’re very often in the hands of criminal enterprises who are preying on people who are already the most vulnerable.  I mean, the UN is very present.  I mean, the High Commissioner for Refugees, I think, is speaking out.  As I mentioned, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies are doing what they can, as well.  Lenka?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the pledges on Afghanistan, how much has been converted to cash, if you know?  And separately, did Taliban request meeting with the Secretary‑General or a Zoom meeting?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, no meeting that I’m… has been requested that I’m aware of.  The contact is really being had on the ground.  Martin Griffiths was the most senior person to have met with them, but the Mission on the ground continues to meet with them in order for us to deliver the humanitarian aid we need to.  Your first question?  You asked…

Correspondent:  Just…

Spokesman:  Oh, pledges.  Not enough, but we’ll get you a more scientific answer, as well.  Carine and then we’ll got to Fathi.

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  I’m going to ask this question in English even if I prefer to do it in French, but it’s an important matter which will interest my colleagues for sure, as it’s the newest chapter of the Congo files.  As my colleague from RFI (Radio France Internationale) has written to you, one of our collaborators, Sosthene Kambidi, a journalist who worked on the murder of two UN experts in 2017 in the Republic Democratic of Congo [sic], has been arrested last Monday.  He was arrested to be heard by the military in charge of the new inquiry.  He’s been detained since then and could be charged tonight with terrorism and criminal conspiracy, which is death penalty over there.  During the first 36 hours of his detention, he couldn’t contact his family or his lawyer, which is against the law over there.  He was interrogated, and among the people who were asking questions were two UN experts who are assisting Congo military justice on the inquiry at the request of the SG.  My questions are, why have the UN experts accepted to interrogate a journalist knowing that his arrest was in complete violation of the law?  I understand one of these experts works from Australia and these video conferences are happening sometimes at night to accommodate the timetable… the timetable of these experts.  So, is the UN… is the UN aware of these methods?

Spokesman:  Let me answer you because I have an answer; I was on the phone with some of our colleagues just before I came here, and that’s why I was late.  We’ve, obviously, seen these reports of… regarding Mr. Kambidi, and we’ve been in touch with the Follow‑on Mechanism, which, as you will recall, was created by the Security Council to help with the investigation having to do with the murder of our two colleagues, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán.  The Mechanism is monitoring the investigation and offering advice and counsel to the investigating magistrate.  It does not lead the investigation nor does it interrogate witnesses or suspects directly.  That’s an important point.  Our colleagues in the Mechanism tell us that at no stage during the remote process during which they were there, right, during two days, was Mr. Kambidi asked or pressured to reveal, quote, his sources.  The support that we’re providing to the Congolese authorities includes guidance to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a manner consistent with international law.  And from what I understand, Mr. Kambidi does now have access to lawyers, who were present during one of the sessions.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yeah, go… yeah.

Question:  It’s a mic who doesn’t… yeah.  The experts knew and they heard him when he wasn’t having his lawyer and they knew that it was in complete violation of the law.  So, why did they accept and participated in this interrogation?  And why didn’t they protest?  Isn’t it their role…?

Spokesman:  They… during the time that they were there, the two sessions, it is my understanding that he was first heard as a witness and as a… then as a suspect.  During the time that the people from the Follow‑on Mechanism were there, they did not feel that there was any violation of… from what they understand of the Congolese law, and at no time when they were there was Mr. Kambidi pressured in any way to reveal his sources.

Correspondent:  He was pressured…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean… your… listen, I’m not… I’m telling you what I know.  You have your information.  Obviously…

Question:  I agree with you, but, Stéph, just honestly, at one point, why having the video conference in the middle of the night to interrogate him, because your experts is based in Australia.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I’m not… okay.  I’m not… you’re raising issues that I cannot answer.  I don’t know what time these meetings took place.  We’re happy to find out.  Okay.  Madame Saloomey and then… sorry, then we’ll go to Ahmed.

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Can… clarification, the $400 billion in funding for renewables, decarbonizing energy, is that separate or in addition to the commitments that were announced on climate finance?  So, for example, would the $11 billion‑plus that the United States promised, is that included in that $400 billion fund which is going towards the $100 billion fund or is that separate?  I’m confused.

Spokesman:  That is a very good and technical question that is beyond my abilities to answer off the top of my head, but we will get somebody with a bigger head on climate to answer you.

Question:  Thank you.  And I’m wondering, how reliable are these pledges?  For example, the United States, President [Joseph] Biden has yet to pass his infrastructure plan.  So, what is the standard difference between promises made and money collected?  And how confident is the Secretary‑General that this money is going to materialize?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we always hope that pledges materialize into real money, into real action.  We also recognize, especially on issues to climate, that Member States have various legislative processes, political processes they need to go through.  And we’re also very… we’re hopeful and confident that those who make the promises will ensure that the money will materialize for those who need it the most.

Question:  Is there a standard amount that you count on when you make… like, we got pledges for $100 billion, that means we’re [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  Microphone.  Oh.  Oh, you mean, like, do we have… no.  I mean, that would be interesting, but I don’t think we do.  Ahmed, and then we’ll go to Jennifer, yeah.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  With regard to the energy high‑level meeting today, the Secretary-General… I have no doubt about his sincerity, about his involvement with this issue.  At the end, it all falls under the SDGs and climate change.  But in terms of the question that we get constantly, what are the deliverables from these meetings?  I know there is hope to establish some compacts down the line, but for this…

Spokesman:  I mean, deliverables are money.  Deliverables are a project that will ensure that people have access to clean energy, that people have access to energy in which to power their lights so that students can actually study, that they will have energy sources in their villages that won’t pose a health threat to them, as we see now with the people burning coal and wood in stoves in villages in many countries.  So, that’s what the deliverables are.  There is, obviously, a process from high‑level conferences to bring attention to a problem and to ask Member States to make pledges; there’s a whole system that will then lead to people actually seeing those things materialize.  Jennifer?

Question:  Thanks.  I guess I’m going to take this a little bit off the beaten track to an ocean matter.  Today, the Associated Press and Univision have published a pretty extensive investigation of Chinese fishing fleets off the coast of South America, did a lot of observation and found a number of these have histories of various violations.  Wonder if you have any thoughts about that, especially since this was kind of undertaken in the wake of concerns last year about this kind of activity near the World Heritage Site in the Galápagos Islands.

Spokesman:  Look, I haven’t… I’ll be honest with you.  I haven’t read the story, though I did see the headline.  Wherever… and this is an issue on the global stage.  Right?   This is a problem… there’s a need the world over for, first of all, countries to respect… for all countries to adhere to existing laws, especially the Law of the Sea, and for countries and commercial enterprises to ensure that they engage in a sustainable harvest of fish and other products from the seas.  Okay.  Ray, and then we keep forgetting we have friends on the screen.  Then we’ll go to Rick Gladstone.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Iranian President [Ebrahim] Raisi, as well as his Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed that the will of Iran to go back to a negotiation.  We know that the SG… I think he met some Iranian official yesterday.  Did he talk with them about the nuclear weapon programme which is still moving forward?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On that, I would refer you to the readout that we issued, but, obviously, our position remains the same, that we believe the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is an important diplomatic achievement that should be supported by all the parties who signed on to it.  Let’s go to Rick Gladstone and then Joe Klein.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéph.  I had a question about Afghanistan.  Can you provide us with any guidance as to who, if anyone, will occupy Afghanistan’s position to speak at the General Assembly?  I believe this… right now, they’re the last speaker on the last day of the general debate on Monday.  Do we know who’s going to… who’s going to be doing the speaking?

Spokesman:  I will check.  My understanding is it’s somebody from the Permanent Mission here, but we’ll try to give you a name.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Joe Klein?

Question:  Yes.  I have a follow‑up question and a question of my own.  The follow‑up is, isn’t it the case that the Haitians who… some of the Haitians who arrived in Texas in recent days were actually previously settled in various South American countries like Chile?  And, if that’s the case, wouldn’t they be considered just economic migrants, not refugees, who are entitled to an asylum hearing?  That’s my follow‑up question.  And…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Your follow-up question should be addressed to UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) because they’re being… taking the lead on this.  Your actual… your question?

Question:  My regular question is, it’s been reported that yesterday or the day before that the Taliban have issued a new framework of rules to journalists that are very restrictive and have been called by the [audio gap, inaudible] as spine‑chilling.  For example, it requires journalists to coordinate with Government officials, with the media office before publishing anything, can’t have any criticism of Taliban officials, etc.  Now, I know you often have made a general statement about the Secretary‑General’s support for freedom of the press and to protect the rights of journalists, but I’d like to know very specifically if the Secretary‑General has any comment that he would make public criticizing this new framework of the Taliban.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I had not seen the report on the new framework.  What I can tell you, however, Joe, is that our people on the ground have been in contact with the Taliban, continue to be in contact with the Taliban, not only to press them for humanitarian access but also to ensure that there is full respect for human rights, which means for everybody, including journalists.  And if you’ll allow me, I will restate that, wherever in the world, the Secretary‑General stands for freedom of the press.  Okay.  Let’s go to… I have another… for… Mara Cepeda from Rappler.

Question:  I have two questions.  The first one is, Philippine President [Rodrigo] Duterte, in his address, described the UN to be inadequate and a product of an era long past.  He also criticized the Security Council, in particular, for being neither democratic nor transparent in its representation processes.  How would the Secretary‑General respond to these criticisms of the work that the UN does?

Spokesman:  Well, as we’ve always said, the UN is as strong and as effective as its Member States want it to be and will it to be.  Okay.

Correspondent:  For my second…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  The International Criminal Court (ICC) greenlighted a crimes against humanity investigation on Duterte’s drug war.  Would the UN or Human Rights Council in particular consider a full investigation on these human rights abuses, as well?

Spokesman:  I mean, we are independent from the International Criminal Court.  We’ve seen their decision.  And as for the Human Rights Council, you would have to reach out to them.

Correspondent:  Great.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Okay.  I think we’re done here, or at least I am.

Question:  Will you check on the Monday Afghanistan and let us know?

Spokesman:  Will I check on the Monday Afghanistan and let you know?  Yes, I will do that.  We will be… meetings are going on tomorrow.  We will be staffed in the office so if you want to drop by, but we will not be briefing.

Question:  All right.  Is there a briefing in this PBR [press briefing room] on Russia?

Spokesman:  I think you have to check the schedule or ask Theodore.

For information media. Not an official record.