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13 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.

Let’s start with stuff that is happening on the ground, as opposed to stuff that is happening here.  All right.  A number of humanitarian updates for you.

**Yemen

First one from Yemen, where fierce fighting continues, including in Marib, Shabwah and Al Bayda Governorates, where clashes have escalated over recent weeks, according to our humanitarian colleagues.  This escalation is having an increasingly devastating impact on civilians.  Nearly 10,000 people were displaced in Marib in September — the highest rate recorded in the governorate in a single month so far this year.  We are particularly concerned about the situation in Al Abdiyah district, in the south-west of Marib.  The district is home to an estimated 35,000 people, including many who had found refuge there after fleeing conflict in neighbouring areas.  The area has been encircled by Houthi forces since late September.  We urge all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, and other laws, including ensuring the protection of civilians and providing safe passage for those fleeing conflict areas.  We also call on all parties to facilitate safe, timely and sustained humanitarian access in all impacted areas of Yemen.

**Ethiopia

From Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues have told us that the situation in the northern part of the country continues to be highly unpredictable and volatile.  The delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray remains heavily constrained through the only road access route from Afar.  Between 6 and 12 October, 211 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies arrived in Tigray, compared to 80 trucks a week earlier.  While the increase in the number of trucks is a positive development, this is still insufficient, given that, as we know, we need 100 trucks a day arriving into Tigray to meet the needs.  Since 12 July, nearly 900 trucks have entered Tigray — which is just 14 per cent of what is needed to enter the region.  We have not been able to get fuel into Tigray since the end of July.  Ten fuel tankers are currently sitting in Semera, in Afar Province.  These tankers have received approval by the Government to proceed, and we hope they will be able to move into Tigray with the next convoy.

However, we still have not been able to have medicine into Tigray.  Several of our partners have significantly reduced or shut down programmes because fuel, cash and supplies have either been depleted or are facing severe shortages.  In spite of this, our partners have continued to respond to some of the most urgent needs in the province.  While more than 146,000 people received food last week, at least 870,000 people on average per week need to be reached.  In neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, our partners are scaling up the response, having reached some 639,000 people with food in Amhara since early August and some 72,000 internally displaced people in Afar.  We urgently call on all parties to allow unimpeded and sustained access to all people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.

**Afghanistan

And in Afghanistan, our UN team there continues to support the people of the country to tackle the pandemic.  Our colleagues there tell us that, to date, there have been more than 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as more than 7,200 deaths.  With support from the UN, some 760,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted.  Nearly 80 per cent of the 5.2 million vaccine doses that have arrived in Afghanistan came from COVAX.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helped with vaccine delivery and distribution, as well as the cold chain.  As of earlier this month, nearly 2.4 million people have been vaccinated, with more than 1.5 million being fully vaccinated.  The UN team has held awareness-raising sessions on preventing COVID-19 and how to treat it.  We have provided personal protective equipment, medical equipment and medical training.  Our colleagues tell us that [all] 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces have allocated isolation wards for COVID-19.

**Fifth Committee

This morning, back here, the Secretary-General spoke to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee on the proposed programme budget for 2022.  As you know, we continue to be in an experimental phase of providing yearly budgets.  He noted that, around the world, thanks to the support and engagement of Member States, the United Nations has stayed and delivered in a world upended by the pandemic.  Mr. [António] Guterres said that, throughout the pandemic, reforms have remained on course.  Unlike past emergencies, the Secretariat did not need to create new structures to manage the response.  Instead, the new reform structures in development, peace and security and management already in place facilitated a unified and agile response to the pandemic, saving time and money.  The Secretary‑General told Member States that we require a total of $3.119 billion before re-costing for the programme budget for 2022.  We’ve shared his full remarks with you.  And of course, just to note that there are likely to be additions to that budget, given additional mandates and decisions taken by the General Assembly and other legislative bodies.

**International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction

Today is the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.  Now, you know my ring tone for the DSG.  One day, you will hear my ring tone for the SG.  So, I know to pick up the phone, and it works.  Okay.  Maybe I should have answered to avoid a disaster.  Anyway.  In a message for the Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Secretary-General stresses that to meet the cascading challenges of the twenty-first century and safeguard the lives, health and livelihoods of all people, we must reduce systematic risks.  The Secretary-General notes that weak governance, growing poverty, biodiversity loss, collapsing ecosystems and unplanned rapid urbanization are all interconnected drivers of disaster risk.  Left unaddressed, they aggravate the intensity and frequency of disasters and increase the need for humanitarian assistance.  Before I turn it over to Monica [Grayley], Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  First, a follow‑up on Yemen.  Can you update us on what's happening with the UN Special Envoy and any political efforts?  And secondly, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea put out a report today basically saying that food isn't getting in; there's a risk of starvation.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to do anything to try to basically get rid of the roadblocks, which he says includes sanctions and other obstacles?

Spokesman:  All right.  Let me… remind me of the first question.  It was… oh, Yemen.  Yes, sorry.  Hans Grundberg, our envoy, as you know, just recently concluded a regional tour.  He was in Aden, in Oman, in Saudi Arabia, to speak with interlocutors there.  The Secretary‑General, I know, yesterday spoke to the Foreign Minister of Yemen.  We continue to be engaged politically in order to help the Yemenis reach a political agreement that would lead to a sustained nationwide ceasefire, among other things, which would, obviously, have an extremely positive impact on our ability to deliver humanitarian aid, which is… as I've noted, is desperately needed.  On the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], we've… obviously… we've seen the report from the independent rapporteur.  We've expressed our concern already about the humanitarian situation in the DPRK.  We do not have, at this time, as far as I know, international staff there, due to COVID restrictions.  We do run some programmes.  Obviously, it's a challenging environment to work in.  The Secretary‑General is for… has repeatedly called on Member States to avoid any sanctions that would hurt people and called for targeted sanctions.  James?

Question:  Yes.  Your statement on Ethiopia, unpredictable and volatile, the situation, and then you talked about the humanitarian situation.  You've got people on the ground.  What about the military situation?  Can the UN confirm that there is now a new offensive being carried out by the Ethiopian military?  And how concerned are you about such an offensive?

Spokesman:  I'm not in a position to confirm military movements.  What… we're, obviously, hearing reports, and this… the situation on the ground is not making our ability to deliver aid any easier.  I can tell you the Secretary‑General yesterday spoke to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, basically reiterating a lot of things we've said publicly and… to see what… an engagement to help avoid war, in a sense.

Question:  Can I ask… also ask you about someone I know the Secretary‑General spoke to yesterday, which is President [Uhuru] Kenyatta?  He… they spoke, clearly, because they were both in the Security Council yesterday.  But, about the same time, they were there, there was the decision of the ICJ [International Court of Justice] on the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia.  That is a final decision by the highest court in the UN system, and yet Kenya now is rejecting that ruling, saying it is totally erroneous.  What is the UN's reaction to Kenya's rejection?  What is the Secretary‑General saying to the Kenyan President about this?

Spokesman:  Look, we… it's not for us to comment on rulings by the ICJ.  As a matter of principle, we believe that the ICJ and its rulings are extremely important to the international system that we all believe in.

Question:  What… did he discuss…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that he discussed it.  Sorry.  I was ignoring your question, not on purpose.  Señora?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Stéphane, yesterday, it was announced by the DA of Venezuela, the former Venezuelan Ministry of Defence… Minister Raul Baduel, died in detention because of COVID.  Family members have questioned that theory that he died because of COVID.  And today, the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed her concern because of his death, but also while he was in detention.

Spokesman:  We have really nothing to add to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said and back what she said, but I have nothing to add.  Either I don't know you or don't recognize you.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Hi.  Hi.  Yeah.

Question:  So, the Western Sahara, the new Personal Envoy, do we have a date for his visit…?

Spokesman:  1 November.  Well, he… let me… I should not have cut you off.  He starts his mandate 1 November.  And then he will start planning what he does next, but he starts to work 1 November.

Question:  We cannot give a date for the first trip to the region…?

Spokesman:  That's correct, yeah.

Question:  And he indicates, in this trip, will he travel to the territories of the…?

Spokesman:  We're jumping a number of berms, if you'll allow me.  Let him start, and then he'll decide where he needs to go.  Yes.  Please, go ahead.  Go ahead.  Yes, please?

Question:  This may be premature, but has the Secretary‑General been in contact with the authorities in Taiwan regarding the… what seems to be an escalating situation in the cross‑border straits and also in contact with China, as well?

Spokesman:  I have nothing on that.  Michelle Nichols?  And then Joe Klein.

Correspondent:  Thanks.  Thanks, Steph.  Actually, go to Joe first if that's okay, and I'll come back to you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Joe, I hope you're ready.

Question:  Yes, I am.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Okay.  Actually, I want to follow up on Carla's question, I guess a related question.  Earlier in the month, you were asked whether the Secretary‑General had any comment about the rising tensions in the vicinity of Taiwan with China's flights and [inaudible] and so forth and kind of gave the same kind of answer you just did here, basically no comment.  I'm wondering if… number one, if you have anything more to say about that level of increased tension that we saw earlier in the month.  And I'm going to ask you a related question because Taiwan is considered almost the sole source of Takeda chips made by one of its leading manufacturers, and this could be viewed as part of the broader supply‑chain bottlenecks that we're seeing out of [inaudible].  So, wondering whether the Secretary‑General had any comment or concerns about the widespread supply chain bottlenecks in general and, in particular, whether he sees a relationship between the rising tensions involving Taiwan and its strategic supply of sophisticated chips.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On your first part of the question, I have nothing to add to what I said previously on that issue.  On the global trade bottleneck, I personally don't have, right now, the intellectual bandwidth to make a comment.  So, sorry.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Sorry about that.  Just a follow‑up on Ethiopia.  You said that the SG spoke with the Prime Minister yesterday.  Has the Prime Minister or the Government of Ethiopia provided any evidence yet to back up the accusations they made last week in the Security Council meeting?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware that any information has been brought up.

Question:  Okay.  And then just another follow‑up, still on Ethiopia.  It looks like there was a UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] and an IOM [International Organization for Migration] officials recalled after some audio recordings came out which criticised or claim… accused some top UN officials globally of sympathizing with forces in the Tigray region.  What's your response to those accusations?

Spokesman:  Look, on your… on that particular question, we've seen that the agencies have recalled personnel; up to them to comment.  What I can tell you is that the UN's work, especially the UN's humanitarian work, continues unabated in Ethiopia based on the principles of needs‑based humanitarian help and, most importantly, impartiality — impartiality in all our work.  The Secretary‑General has been very concerned for a long time about the situation in Ethiopia.  I mean, his message to the parties is to step back from military action, to cease hostilities and allow space for unhindered humanitarian assistance, and that humanitarian assistance is done by the United Nations in a wholly impartial way.  James?

Question:  And yesterday's phone call was initiated… yesterday's phone call was initiated by the Secretary‑General or the Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  Let me double‑check on that.  I believe it was by the Secretary‑General, but I… let me… give me a few minutes, and I'll confirm that.  James?

Question:  A question on Captain Kirk?

Spokesman:  Ah, yes.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General congratulate the actor William Shatner on becoming the oldest person in space, or does he believe, to partially quote the Secretary‑General last month, he was just joy‑riding to space thanks to a billionaire friend while millions go hungry on earth?

Spokesman:  You're putting me in a tight spot here.  The Secretary‑General clearly believes and continues to believe what he said in his speech.  And I think, for the first time in my Spokesperson's career, I will say, on a very personal note, that, as a fan of the real Star Trek, it was a nice moment for William Shatner.  But, in all seriousness, I think the Secretary‑General very much continues to believe what he said in the General Assembly.  Celia?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  Just a quick question about the possibility of the United Nations verifying or sending a mission to the elections on 21 November.  We know that…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Sorry.  I'm still with James T. Kirk going to bold new world… so let me… let's come back to earth.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry.  So, 21 November will be elections in Venezuela, parliamentary, mayors.  We have heard from different parties, the opposition, as well as the official Government of Venezuela, they have asked international organizations, the EU [European Union] just announced a few weeks ago that they were going to send a mission.  It has become a little bit controversial now, but is the UN prepared to send a mission?  Has the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  I don't recall any letter very recently to that effect.  As you know, to bring assistance, electoral assistance, we usually… we need some sort of a legislative mandate.  But, I'm not aware of any recent requests.  There had been a request for other elections in the past, but I'm not aware of a request for this one.

Question:  And just a follow‑up.  Would be this an opportunity maybe to advance in a call to try to ask the Government of [Nicolas] Maduro to release political prisoners in the light of the death of the foreign, defence minister…

Spokesman:  We've always called for the release of political prisoners everywhere.  Okay.  Unless there's something on the chat, I will hand it over to Captain Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.