1 October 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Good afternoon, everyone.  Happy Friday.  I will start with a personnel announcement.  Following consultations with the Executive Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Secretary‑General is pleased to reappoint Natalia Kanem of Panama as Executive Director of UNFPA for a second term of four years.  The Secretary‑General notes his appreciation of UNFPA’s powerful advocacy to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda, to address population dynamics, and to empower youth, as well as UNFPA’s focus on accountability and effective management, and its commitment to delivering transformative results in both development and humanitarian settings to end the unmet need for contraception, end preventable maternal deaths and end gender‑based violence in all its forms.  The Secretary‑General looks forward to furthering this work, together with UNFPA and partners, and with urgency towards the 2030 deadline.  Ms. Kanem brings more than 30 years of strategic leadership experience in the fields of preventive medicine, public and reproductive health, social justice and philanthropy to the role.  And we are happy to have her around.


I want to flag that on Saturday, the Secretary‑General will be going to Barbados to take part in the opening ceremony of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, known as UNCTAD15.  The opening ceremony will take place in Bridgetown, on 4 October.  In his remarks, he is expected to underscore the challenges of tackling debt distress and the need to get down to the business of a sustainable and equitable recovery for all.  He is also expected to highlight the need to re‑ignite the engines of trade and investment, and ensure they benefit the poorest countries, as well as the need to build a global green economy.  Also on 4 October, the Secretary‑General will speak with reporters in a press conference with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, and UNCTAD Secretary‑General, Rebeca Grynspan.  On Sunday, the Secretary‑General will take part in a series of activities with Government officials, including a visit to climate impacted areas in Barbados.


Turning to Afghanistan, in September, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided 3 million people with food assistance, double the number of people reached in August.  This included 1.5 million women and girls, and 1.5 million men and boys.  So far this year, 8.4 million people have received food assistance in the country’s 34 provinces.  WFP aims to provide emergency food and nutrition assistance to 14 million people by the end of the year.  With winter approaching, humanitarian partners are working to get food and other non‑food items prepositioned at strategic locations.  You will recall that on 13 September, donors and Member States pledged more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian and development aid for Afghanistan.  Since then, only $135 million has been received in support of the Afghanistan Flash Appeal seeking to help 11 million people before the end of year.  We urge donors to fast‑track the disbursement of funds to address the rapidly growing humanitarian needs that are set to worsen in winter.  There is a risk of pipeline breaks in October and November in the provision of food, agriculture, health, nutrition, protection, education and water and sanitation hygiene assistance, due to funding shortfalls and import and transport delays.


Moving to Syria, we are concerned about the dire situation of civilians in the northwest where hostilities, an economic crisis and COVID have made the situation of already vulnerable people even more difficult.  Hostilities continued to be reported across northwest Syria throughout September, with intensified airstrikes along the frontlines in southern Idlib and almost daily reports of violence.  We are also extremely concerned about the spike in COVID‑19 cases, with over 1,000 people per day testing positive in northwest Syria.  There has been a 170 per cent increase in the total number of positive cases in the last month alone.  Limited equipment to test for COVID‑19 is a problem, on top of a severe oxygen shortage.  In addition, less than 3 per cent of the population in the northwest is vaccinated.  With 1.6 million people living in crowded camp settings the spread of COVID‑19 will further tax an overburdened system.  In addition, 97 per cent of the population in northwest Syria live in extreme poverty depending on humanitarian aid for food, medicine and other basic services.


We have an update from Haiti.  Our UN team and humanitarian partners in the country are continuing to support the Government‑led efforts to respond to the needs of half a million people affected by the August earthquake.  Despite constraints, 13 emergency medical teams have been established in the impacted area and more than 35 tonnes of medicines and supplies have been deployed.  So far, a total of $330,000 in emergency cash has been transferred to people impacted by the earthquake.  More than 103,000 households are expected to receive direct cash assistance totalling over $20 million.  Our UN and humanitarian partners have also delivered food and water, as well as non‑food items.

As you know, the earthquake added to other dire challenges faced by Haitians.  Since June, the escalation of gang violence has affected 1.5 million people and displaced 19,000.  More than 4 million Haitians are experiencing high levels of food insecurity, and this number is likely to increase in the coming months.  Our team on the ground, along with national partners, is also boosting the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse with toll‑free helplines and new channels to report allegations of misconduct in Creole, including on the UN in Haiti website.  The UN and partners appealed for $187 million to provide life‑saving relief to half a million of the most vulnerable people in Haiti.  This appeal is currently only 8 per cent funded.

**Resident Coordinator

We have a new Resident Coordinator to announce:  Jaap van Hierden of the Netherlands is our new Resident Coordinator who will lead a new multi‑country office to serve Micronesia.  This includes Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, in addition to the Federated States of Micronesia.  Mr. van Hierden’s appointment follows confirmations from the host governments.  As you know, our Resident Coordinators lead the work of UN teams on the ground and represent the Secretary‑General on development matters.  Mr. van Hierden’s full biography is online.

**International Days

I have a few International Days to flag.  Today is the International Day of Older Persons.  This year’s theme is “Digital equality for all ages.”  In his message, the Secretary‑General said that as we face the challenge of navigating our world’s growing reliance on technology, perhaps no population could benefit more from support than older people.  He called for more inclusive policies, strategies and actions to achieve digital equality for people of all ages.  And tomorrow [sic] is the International Day of Statistics which also has a theme related to digital technology.  It’s called “Connecting the world with data we can trust”.  [The International Day of Statistics is actually 20 October.]  And tomorrow is also the International Day of Non‑Violence.  You can find out more about these Days online.

**Hybrid Press Briefing

As soon as I am finished here, at 12:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council and Permanent Representative of Kenya, Ambassador Martin Kimani, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme for October.  [That briefing was later delayed until 2 p.m.]  And before we get to that, do you have any questions for me?  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With regard to the Ethiopian Government's decision to expel the seven key UN staff, what has happened since?  Have there been further discussions?  At what level?  Has the Secretary‑General picked up the phone?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, yes, there's been action, including the sending of a note verbale.  The UN is sending a note verbale to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to clarify that it is the long‑standing legal position of the Organization not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials.  This is a doctrine that applies to diplomatic agents accredited by one state to another state.  The application of this doctrine to United Nations officials is contrary to obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and the privileges and immunities to be accorded to the United Nations and its officials.  At the same time, the Secretary‑General is sending a letter to the United Nations Security Council to inform the Council on the situation in Ethiopia and the recent developments regarding United Nations staff.  And regarding what you asked about contacts, those have been at the highest level, and I can confirm that the Secretary‑General received a call today from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, in which the Secretary‑General reiterated the position of the United Nations, which was formally conveyed today to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia.

Question:  And from the other side, were you told anything more about the allegations of internal meddling?  Have you got any more detail of exactly what they're complaining about?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything to share about what the other side said in their conversation.  What I can say is that there is a rule that we have when concerns arise with regard to the conduct of UN personnel, which is, whenever there are such concerns, the requirement is that such concerns are appropriately conveyed to the Organization.  It's then for the Secretary‑General to make the necessary determinations and take the necessary steps to address the matter.  So, that is our standing principle.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  So, Farhan, does that mean that the UN… the seven UN officials will stay in Ethiopia and not leave in 72 hours as ordered by the Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, what I can say is that the Organization has decided, in accordance with its position, not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata.  Again, this is something that applies between States.  We are not a State.  And for now, I have nothing to say about the status of the seven individuals.  As far as I'm aware, they're in Ethiopia.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just wondering why it has taken so long to issue a press release on Cyprus following a meeting between the Secretary‑General and the two leaders from the island.  Will there be a statement or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  To be honest, at this stage, I'm not expecting anything.  How shall I put this?  When we don't say something, it's not that we've forgotten; it's that a conscious decision is taken not to say something.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  On Ethiopia, just a follow‑up, because I'm trying to understand what… the statement you read… the answer to James' first question.  So, from your side, you are not taking any action to… the seven UN representatives who are in the country, they are not going to leave.  Is this what you're saying?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that's what our legal position is, that our position… and this has been our consistent position in all such matters, is not to accept the doctrine of persona non grata as it applies to UN officials.  It should not apply to them.

Question:  How this would… how would this affect the issue of security? Because if I understand it right, very often, countries in which there's UN present are responsible to provide security.  So, how will this influence?  Is this also the case or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, whenever there are any developments that could impact or hinder the security of our personnel on the ground, we take those into account.  And if we need to take steps to ensure the security of staff, of course, we will do that.  But I'm not going to speculate on what course of action it is.  But, certainly, we do evaluate any developments in terms of the impact it has on security.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About two weeks ago, the Permanent Representative of Morocco, Ambassador Omar Hilale, said that his country approved the appointment of Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura as a Special Envoy to Western Sahara.  What's happening?  Why is this announcement did not come up… come about?  Where is the issue now?  Is it in the Security Council or maybe the other side, Frente Polisario, or what's going on?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, for us, appointments are only announced once they're finalized.  I'm not going to speculate on appointments until they're finalised, so I would neither confirm nor deny any reference to the person you've named.  All I know is that, in this case, we've been following the process of having the position on Western Sahara filled for some years.  And there have been many different types of hurdles, and hopefully, we will clear them.  But, for now, we're still working to resolve this issue and have no announcement to make.  And I don't see any questions in chat.  So, are there any further questions in the room?  Yes.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry.  Just want some more clarification on the Ethiopia situation, and the question was asked yesterday, and I understand that it was… only just happened and Stephanie [Tremblay] couldn't answer.  But when did you first get notification from the Ethiopians of their claim that these people are persona non grata?  I understand that you're disputing that that can apply to UN officials, because it is important, given there's a 72‑hour deadline, to know when that started, because we know when the tweet was issued, which puts us now with about 47 hours to go, but can you tell us when you were first informed?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a precise tick‑tock on this.  We were trying to get the information, the most reliable information, about what was happening on the ground in Ethiopia just in the hours before yesterday's Noon Briefing.  And it was difficult to get a clear response in terms of what was entailed.  Right now, we've gotten, as you can see, more details, and we're responding and in a manner that is consistent with our legal positions and in a manner that's consistent with the United Nations Charter.

Question:  If you could try and find for us exactly when the UN and how the UN was officially informed, because you, clearly, I think, knew before that tweet, so if you could tell us how that came about, if you could find that information out, that would be useful.

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of the details about the action being taken against the staff, I mean, that was something that was being discussed very urgently both here at headquarters and on the ground yesterday morning.  If there were any glimmers of information before that, I'm not aware of it.

Question:  Just that if you issue a 72‑hour warning, one assumes it comes in some sort of formal document saying, you have 72 hours from now.  And I'd quite like to know whether there was a letter or how that was received, if you can try and find out when the clock started as far as the Ethiopians are concerned.

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, it's for the Ethiopians to determine when they've started their clock.  It's not a clock that we recognise.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  Just quick follow‑up because they said it was also not really clear.  Did this decision influence your operation on the ground in any way?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our operation on the ground is continuing.  We've made it very clear and you've heard, certainly, in particular from Martin Griffiths in recent days about the urgency of the situation on the ground in Ethiopia.  There's a tremendous amount of hunger, and we have been trying to… especially to get aid into Tigray to make sure that we can avoid the spectre of mass hunger, and so, we're continuing to deliver food, medicine, water, sanitation supplies.  Those activities are going on to the best of our abilities, but we've had, as you know, problems of access, and those continue.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Is the AU involved at all?  Because they do have a big headquarters there.

Deputy Spokesman:  You'd have to ask the African Union.  Certainly, we would appreciate the assistance of all.  Like I said, the Secretary‑General…

Question:  But have you asked them?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has… is informing today the Security Council, and we'll see where we go with that.  And if that's it, I wish you all a pleasant weekend.  Be sure to come back around for the Permanent Representative of Kenya.

For information media. Not an official record.