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8 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and good morning to our guests who are in Beijing, where I think that it is already the weekend, so thank you for your patience and we will be with you very shortly.

**Noon Briefing Guests

And my guest today will be Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  She is joining us virtually from Beijing about the forthcoming UN Biological Diversity Conference.

**Afghanistan

As you may have seen, in a statement they issued earlier today, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that the UN family in Afghanistan is deeply concerned by reports of very high casualties in an attack today in a Shia Mosque in Kunduz.  The UN Mission said that initial information indicates that more than 100 people were killed and injured in the suicide blast inside the mosque.

The Mission noted that today’s incident is part of a disturbing pattern of violence, which is the third deadly attack this week apparently targeting religious institutions.

And the Secretary-General, of course, condemns this barbaric attack and extends his condolences to all the victims and the families of those who are wounded, and we expect a more formal statement to be issued shortly.

**Nobel Peace Prize

And you may have seen that this morning the Secretary-General made a statement congratulating Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov on being awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.  He said that no society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power.

However, Mr. Guterres noted that anti-media rhetoric and attacks against media workers continue to rise, while technology is being used to mislead public opinion.  He called for a reaffirmation of the right to press freedom, recognizing the fundamental role of journalists, and reinforcing efforts at every level to support a free, independent and diverse media.

His full statement was shared with you, as well as the video.

**Central African Republic and Gabon

A quick update from the Central African Republic and on the sexual exploitation and abuse allegation concerning the Gabonese contingent that have been serving in the Central African Republic under the UN flag.

The national investigation by the Gabonese authorities is under way, jointly with the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services and with the support of the Senior Victims’ Rights Advocate in the Central African Republic.

Thirty-two victims, including eight children, have been identified through preliminary investigations.  Incidents allegedly took place at various points in time from 2014 up until this year, 2021.  The allegations involve a total of 51 alleged perpetrators, the identities of whom are still unknown, pending the results of the investigation.

A total of 11 paternity claims have been recorded with this allegation, where either the child has been born or the victim is currently pregnant.

Ensuring victims’ well-being and assistance is our utmost priority.  All identified victims have been referred for assistance according to our protocols.

The UN Mission and the Senior Victims’ Rights Officer are on site assisting with the investigation and ensuring the victims’ rights and dignity are upheld.

Meanwhile, 410 Gabonese soldiers, including their leadership were repatriated to Gabon, and the last 40 Gabonese soldiers remain in country to safeguard and pack up the contingent’s equipment.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, […] the UN Human Rights Office today said that it is gravely concerned over the recent substantial deployment of heavy weapons and troops by the Myanmar military in several parts of the country.

This comes as the military is intensifying attacks in these areas, apparently to seek out people in the armed resistance and as reprisals against villages perceived to be sympathetic to people’s defence forces or ethnic armed groups.

The UN Human Rights Office has received credible reports of mass arrests, as well as torture and summary executions, and urges the international community to speak with one voice to prevent the commission of further serious human rights violations against the people of Myanmar.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund continues to work to help the people of Myanmar.  After more than 100,000 people were displaced by flooding in recent months, UNICEF and its partners provided water and sanitation supplies to tens of thousands of people in Rakhine and Kayin states.

UNICEF is also helping more than 120,000 internally displaced people in Kachin, Northern Shan and Rakhine states.

And just as a note related to the region, I was asked by one of your colleagues earlier about the upcoming ASEAN-UN Ministerial Meeting, which is a regular occurrence, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General has requested that the ASEAN-UN Ministerial Meeting be postponed.  We are liaising with the Chair of ASEAN in further consultations on the format of the meeting.

**Libya

And an update just handed to me on Libya, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) has just concluded a three-day meeting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

They agreed on, and signed a comprehensive Action Plan, which will be the cornerstone for the gradual, balanced, and sequenced process for the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign forces from Libyan territory.

Ján Kubiŝ, the Secretary-General’s envoy for Libya, welcomed the signing of the Action Plan, describing it as “another breakthrough achievement by the 5+5 Joint Military [Commission]”.

He said that today’s agreement responds to the overwhelming demand of the Libyan people and creates a positive momentum that should be built upon to move towards a stable and democratic stage, including through the holding of free, credible and transparent national elections on 24 December of this year.

**World Post Day

I also want to flag a couple of international days.  Tomorrow is World Post Day.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that, as we continue to be confronted by the [COVID-19] pandemic, the resilience and commitment of postal workers are an inspiration.

He notes that the theme for this year, “Innovate to recover”, highlights how the postal sector is adapting to new realities and redefining itself, taking on new roles founded on digitalization, e-commerce and financial services.

**World Mental Health Day

I also want to flag that Sunday is World Mental Health Day.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General notes that around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a terrible toll on people’s mental health, and stresses that without determined action, the mental health impact may last far longer than the pandemic itself.

The Secretary-General calls on all to commit to work together with urgency and purpose to ensure quality mental health care for all people, everywhere.

**Mental Health Atlas

And on that, on a related note, the World Health Organization today published its latest edition of the Mental Health Atlas.  The report paints a disappointing picture of a worldwide failure to provide people with the mental health services they need, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting a growing need for mental health support.

The Atlas shows that none of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health — provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems — were close to being achieved.

**The Weeknd

And lastly, given that today is a day before the weekend, I want to flag that our very good friends at the World Food Programme have announced a new Global Goodwill Ambassador, and it is The Weeknd — the person, not the concept.  The Weeknd is teaming up with World Food Programme as an advocate for ending global hunger.

WFP said that Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known as The Weeknd, has been a passionate advocate and generous supporter of humanitarian causes throughout his career, with over $3 million in donations to various organizations in the past year.  Most recently, he donated $1 million to the World Food Programme’s relief efforts in Ethiopia.

He is the son of Ethiopian immigrants who are in Canada.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Okay, before we go to our guest, we will take some questions.

Mr. Ucciardo, I see you wanting to ask a question.

Correspondent:  Yes, Stéph, I had two questions on Ethiopia as follow-ups.  First of all…

Spokesman:  Could you speak a little louder, please?  Sorry.  A little louder, please.

Question:  Yeah.  How many agencies of the UN still operate in Ethiopia?  And how many personnel do they have there?  And also, has the Secretary-General heard back from the Ethiopian Mission about his documents request for proof of allegations?

Spokesman:  No.  No… no correspondence to report on your second question relating to, from anything from Ethiopia.  As of the 6th of October, so that’s two days ago, we had 492 UN staff members from about 10 UN agencies supporting the humanitarian response in Tigray.  A bit more than 100 of them are internationals, and so we have 106 international staff and 219 national staff in Tigray, and 35 international staff and 132 national staff in Shire.  This is for the humanitarian operation.

And there are also a lot of other NGOs, as well, that are present.

Question:  If I may, just one more follow-up.  Do you expect the senior UN aid officials that were expelled to be able to return to Ethiopia?

Spokesman:  At this point, I don’t have any updates on, on them.  Obviously, their functions are critical, and will need to be, need to be, will need to be done.  We’re looking at sending some more people in.

But just to be clear these… these are 10, there are 10 UN agencies supporting the humanitarian response.  There are a total of 28 UN humanitarian… sorry, there are a total of 28 UN agencies operating in Ethiopia.  Obviously, we have a big country office, they do very important work, but this is just about the humanitarian response in Tigray.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Margaret Besheer, Voice of America.  Maggie?

Correspondent: Sorry, I was having trouble unmuting.

Spokesman:  Go ahead, yes.

Correspondent: Oh, okay.

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry, you sort of blew through that thing on the ASEAN ministers meeting, and I didn’t quite understand it.  When… it was a meeting between ASEAN ministers and the UN coming up?  Because we have something else…

Spokesman:  There’s a…

Question:  … something on the sidelines with UNGA, so what were you referring to?

Spokesman:  No, there’s a… sorry….

[cross talk]

Correspondent: Like, in the Security Council?

Spokesman:  No, what I was referring to is the regularly scheduled ASEAN-UN meetings that take place every year, not always on the sidelines.  It’s something not related to, to the General Assembly, it’s part of a regular consultation.  They were obviously going to be virtual this year, but the Secretary-General has asked for their postponement, and it will be… and we’re in touch with them, in consultations with them about the format of the meeting.

Did you have another question?

Question:  Do you have any details on why he asked for the postponement?  Is it strictly about format or something?

Spokesman:  I think it could be, I think if you read through what I said, I think it will be pretty obvious, but did you have another question?

Question:  That’s it.  Thanks, have a good weekend.

Spokesman:  Okay, thank you.  Indeed.

Iftikhar.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, thank you, Stéph.  For planning purposes, how soon do you expect to give us Secretary-General’s statement on Kunduz blast?

Spokesman:  At the risk of getting wrong predictions on timing of statements, I will say fairly soon.

[In a statement issued after the Noon Briefing, the Spokesman said:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific attack at a mosque in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan.  This is the third attack against a religious institution in less than a week.  Attacks that deliberately target civilians exercising the right to freely practise their religion are violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law.  The perpetrators must be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.]

Question:  Okay, and secondly, the UN Human Rights Council today declared healthy and clean environment a human right.  Does the Secretary-General have a reaction on that?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, for the Secretary-General, climate and the environment are, are such critical issues that cut across everything, right?  Every aspect of our lives.  And we support anything that will ensure that men, women, and children across the world have access to a healthy environment and to a healthy planet, and can enjoy a healthy planet.

Célhia.  I saw you twitching or am I… no?  Okay.

Let me see if I have any other questions.  Otherwise, we’ll go to our guests.

Evelyn.  Sorry, Evelyn, go ahead.

Correspondent: Thank you, Stéph.

Spokesman:  Evelyn Leopold.

Question:  Yes.  You can hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Okay, good.  On the Central African Republic, there have been sporadic fighting every other day it seems.  The BBC points to mercenaries and security companies very much involved.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesman:  I mean, we’ve been very clear in our reporting to the Security Council on the, what the bilateral, the issues related to the bilateral forces, and others, and obviously, and especially the armed groups that have been operating, and I think Mr. Lacroix was also very clear about it when he spoke here, so I would refer you to what he’s said and what we’ve been reporting to the Council.

Question:  Okay.  Also, any… any comment on the new Nobel Peace Prize winners?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may have seen the Secretary-General’s statement this morning.

Correspondent:  Oh sorry, I missed it.

Spokesman:  And I mentioned it at the start of the briefing.  It’s okay.

Ms. Muslimova.

Correspondent: Thank you.  The ICC [International Criminal Court] just asked the Secretary-General to decide on Afghanistan’s representation at the United Nations by November 8.

Spokesman:  The ICC?

Correspondent: Yeah, because they need to continue their investigation into the war crimes, and they cannot do so, as far as I understood it.  I’m just going off the press release that you put out.

Spokesman:  Let me look at the press release.

Question:  They asked for help.

Spokesman:  For help.  We’re all looking for help.  And I think in terms of the help, that will come from the Credentials Committee, which my understanding [is] will be meeting, at some point, and is being chaired by Sweden.

Correspondent: But they asked for a specific deadline, November 8.

Spokesman:  Well, let’s… let me take a look, but the bottom line is that the determination of our credentials — who gets to sit behind a nameplate — comes not, if there is a conflict, doesn’t come from the Secretary-General, it comes from the Credentials Committee.  You’re most welcome.

Great thank you very much.  We will now go to our guest.  Elizabeth, are you on the line?

For information media. Not an official record.