8 November 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.

**Trip Announcement

I have a trip announcement for you.  The Secretary‑General will be heading back to the twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26).  He will leave tomorrow evening from New York.  He will be speaking at the High‑Level Event on Global Climate Action taking place on Thursday and he will continue his meetings with various Heads of State, Ministers and other key figures in place at the Conference.  The Secretary‑General is expected to be back in New York over the following weekend.


And just a couple of notes related to COP.  Today is resilience and adaptation day at COP26.  Speaking at the side event entitled “Getting Ahead of Climatic Disasters”, Selwin Hart, the Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser on Climate Action, said there is strong support for urgent and ambitious action on adaptation and resilience.  But he warned that we face two challenges.  First, that not enough support is being provided to peoples, communities and nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis.  Second, that the countries and people who need this finance, adaptation and resilience support the most continue to face insurmountable challenges in accessing climate finance.  Right now, adaptation finance represents a mere 25 per cent of total climate finance.  Selwin Hart reiterated the Secretary‑General’s call on donors to allocate at least 50 per cent of their climate finance and support towards adaptation and resilience.

**Greening the Blue

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released its annual Greening the Blue Report, which is the report on the UN system’s own environmental footprint and our efforts to reduce it.  The Report focuses on the environmental impact of over 315,000 personnel in Headquarters, field offices and operations throughout the world.  Data from 56 UN system entities is included in the Report.  The report reveals that with significant worldwide travel restrictions and large portions of UN personnel working from home, the UN system generated approximately 25 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than in 2019.  The steep reduction in emissions reflects the sudden and dramatic adaptation in operations that had to be made throughout 2020, as a result of the pandemic.  The Secretary‑General said the UN is committed to leading by example in reducing our carbon and environmental footprint in all our operations around the globe.  The report is, of course, on the Internet.

**World Bank

And, also over the weekend, we had some questions over the role of the World Bank concerning climate change, and I can tell you that on Friday, the Secretary-General and World Bank President, David Malpass, spoke by phone.  The conversation was outlined in a readout issued by the World Bank.  As you know, the World Bank is a critical partner for our work across the development sector and we acknowledge its important contributions to climate action, including investments in adaptation.  We will continue to work closely in partnership with the Bank and other multinational development banks, as well as Member States, to secure a 1.5°C threshold and a climate‑resilient world.


Today marks one year since the 2020 elections in Myanmar.  Those polls were deemed free and fair by domestic and international observers, with the National League for Democracy winning approximately 80 per cent of the elected seats in the upper and lower houses of Parliament.  Myanmar’s democratic process was then derailed by the military takeover on 1 February.  The United Nations reiterates its call on the military to respect the will of the people and put the country back on track to democratic transition.  The United Nations remains gravely concerned about the intensifying violence in Myanmar, accompanied by growing displacement, which continues to take a heavy toll on vulnerable civilians and affect women disproportionately.  We continue to urge all stakeholders to allow for unimpeded humanitarian assistance to respond to the increasing humanitarian needs, against a deteriorating economic situation, caused by the military takeover and intensified by the COVID‑19 pandemic.

On that note, the Security Council discussed Myanmar in a closed meeting this morning, in which Council members heard from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Special Envoy, who is the Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei.  They also heard from Peter Due, the Director of the Asia and Pacific Division of the UN Departments of Political [and Peacebuilding] Affairs in their closed meeting.  On the humanitarian front, I can tell you that across the country, there are now more than three million people in need of humanitarian aid because of growing conflict and insecurity, the pandemic and a failing economy.  Without an end to the violence and a peaceful resolution of Myanmar’s crisis, this number will only rise.  Since the armed forces’ takeover on the first of February this year, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes by violence across the country, and 223,000 people remain internally displaced.

Long‑term displacement remains unresolved, with 144,000 Rohingya people still confined to camp‑like settings in Rakhine State, many since their displacement in 2012, and more than 105,000 men, women and children are displaced in Kachin and Shan States, some for many years.  So far this year, the humanitarian workers have reached more than 1.67 million people in need across Myanmar with food, cash and nutrition assistance.  Our humanitarian workers stand ready to do more but remain constrained by a lack of humanitarian access and, of course, money.  Martin Griffiths, our [Emergency Relief] Coordinator, in a statement, called on the international community to fund the response in Myanmar.  Less than half of the $385 million required under the Humanitarian Response Plan and Interim Emergency Response Plan launched after the coup has been received.


Turning to Ethiopia:  The Under-Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, will speak to the Security Council this afternoon.  In an open meeting, she is expected, again, to highlight the risks in the year‑long conflict in Tigray, and the risks it poses for the country and the region as a whole, and the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities, talks on a lasting ceasefire and the creation of the conditions for an inclusive Ethiopian dialogue to resolve the crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability.  We will share her remarks as soon as we get them for you to check against delivery.  And also on Ethiopia, on the humanitarian front, Martin Griffiths, our Emergency Relief Coordinator, will conclude his four‑day visit to Ethiopia today.  Yesterday, as you may have seen, he went to Mekelle, in the Tigray region, where he met with women affected by the conflict, as well as humanitarian partners.  He also engaged with the de facto authorities on the need for humanitarian access, on the protection of civilians in all areas under their control, and also on the respect for humanitarian principles.

Today, in Addis Ababa, Mr. Griffiths met again with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs — Demeke Mekonnen — to identify means of improving humanitarian access and aid to all people across Ethiopia.  In addition to conflict and large‑scale displacement, drought, flooding, disease outbreaks and desert locust infestation continue to drive humanitarian needs across the whole of Ethiopia.  Some 20 million people have been targeted for humanitarian assistance, including seven million who are directly affected by the conflict in the northern part of the country.  The funding gap for this year’s humanitarian response in Ethiopia stands at more than $1.3 billion.  An estimated $606 million has been mobilized for the Northern Ethiopia Response Plan, and $474 million for the draft Humanitarian Response Plan, which covers areas outside of Tigray.  However, this is far from sufficient to cover the mounting humanitarian needs.


Quick note from Yemen, where our friend, Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy for Yemen, visited the Yemeni city of Taiz today and he spoke to the press there.  He said that he had a very constructive meeting with the Governor and with other representatives of political parties in Taiz.  Mr. Grundberg said that Taiz shares the same pains as we see elsewhere in Yemen, with people having their freedom of movement severely restricted and being affected by the declining economic situation and general insecurity.  Again, as elsewhere in Yemen, it is the civilians that bear the burden of this conflict, he said, noting that the people of Taiz have been at the forefront of civil society mediation initiatives on the exchange of prisoners, improving the delivery of basic services and working to open roads and identifying solutions caused by the protracted conflict.  He said that Taiz is the reminder of the possibility of a pluralistic Yemeni state and remains a key part of achieving sustainable peace in the country.  His remarks are online.

**South Sudan

A quick note from our friends in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  They report that recent conflict between armed groups in and around Tambura, in Western Equatoria Province, has caused significant damage.  Civilians were killed and injured.  Over 80,000 people, men, women and children, were displaced, properties were destroyed, and humanitarian activities disrupted.  The Peacekeeping mission quickly responded by establishing a temporary base in Tambura.  The base has enabled peacekeepers to carry out patrols and to protect over 9,000 people who have sought refuge nearby.  Peacekeepers are also facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  The temporary base has also allowed our colleagues to support engagement with political and traditional leaders.  It has also been instrumental for negotiations between various armed groups to restore a tenuous stability.


Moving on to Afghanistan, our colleagues at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) yesterday said they were deeply concerned at reports of the killing of human rights defenders Frozan Safi in Mazar-i-Sharif and Hijratullah Khogyani in Jalalabad.  They call for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation.  The Mission stresses that civil society should never be a target and that impunity is not an option.

**Acute Hunger

The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that the number of people teetering on the edge of famine in 43 countries has risen from 42 to 45 million people, as acute hunger spikes around the world.  WFP notes that the increase is explained by recent food security assessment data that shows an additional three million people in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification phase 4 in Afghanistan.  There were also marginal increases in Angola, Burundi, Haiti, Kenya and Somalia.  WFP and its humanitarian partners are ramping up efforts to assist millions of people facing starvation.  However, the UN agency warns that the needs are vastly surpassing available resources at a time when traditional funding streams are overstretched.  The agency notes that the cost of averting famine globally now stands at $7 billion, up from $6.6 billion just earlier this year.

**Sierra Leone

You saw that over the weekend, the Secretary‑General expressed his deep sadness at the extensive loss of life following the fuel tanker explosion that took place in Sierra Leone, in Freetown, on Friday.  Our colleagues in the country are closely monitoring the situation and working with the Government to overcome the consequences of this disaster.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting health‑care facilities by mobilizing specialized supplies.  WHO is also working to deploy experts to help provide care for burn victims.


And lastly, we issued a statement over the weekend, where the Secretary‑General condemned the assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.  He called on the perpetrators of this crime to be held accountable.  The Secretary‑General calls on all Iraqis to exercise utmost restraint and reject all violence and any attempts to destabilize Iraq.  He urges all political actors to uphold the constitutional order to resolve differences through peaceful and inclusive dialogue.  Speaking of inclusive dialogue, Célhia and then we'll go to Edie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two questions, Stéphane.  Thousands and thousands of young people demonstrated all around the world, accusing the Heads of State in Glasgow of not acting enough, talking too much, not acting.  What does the SG think about that? And does he agree with them? That is my first question.  The other one, do you have information about the attack against the ten peacekeepers in Central African Republic?

Spokesman:  No, no further information on that, more than we shared.  The Secretary‑General's message to the young people who are demonstrating is pretty simple:  Continue to shout.  Continue to mobilize.  Continue to push for action.  And he stands with them.  Edie?

Question:  A follow-up on the Secretary‑General and his return to Glasgow.  There've been reports that Saudi Arabia is blocking a final statement.  There's been a text that Greenpeace put out.  Has the Secretary‑General been on the phone to Saudi leaders or any other countries that appear to be blocking a final statement from COP26?

Spokesman:  Well, we are kind of at the midway point, which is always, I think, a very delicate point in the COP, in the ongoing negotiations that are taking place, negotiations that are taking place between Member States.  The Secretary‑General will return to Glasgow, continue meeting with various Member States, groups of Member States as he had, to encourage them on the path for bolder, stronger action and, I would say, verifiable action.  But we're not going to get in the weeds of the negotiations, as they are currently ongoing.

Question:  And on a second totally unrelated question, police in Portugal are searching premises across the country on a tip‑off that Portuguese troops stationed with the UN peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic have smuggled diamonds, drugs, and gold back into Europe.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?

Spokesman:  We've just seen the press reports this morning.  We're following up on the matter.  But as a matter of principle, we will always cooperate and assist within the legal frameworks, but we're following up on it.  I'll get to you in a second.  Benno and then… go ahead, Benno.

Question:  Thank you.  My question is regarding Ethiopia.  Farhan [Haq] gave us numbers on Friday that you have… UN has 5,400 personnel in the country, and today he came back and said that was from last month.  Now it's 2,400 national and 1,077 international.  Does that mean you downsized within one month 2,000 people?

Spokesman:  A, I would never question what Farhan says.  B, I would go with the numbers that we have today.  There may have been some changes, but basically, the actual staff we have in Ethiopia is, as you said, 2,398 and then ‑ that's national staff ‑ 1,077 international staff, plus the number of dependents, as well.

Question:  Yes, and… but this is such a big difference…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I know.  We had… I think there had been some adjustments, especially on the humanitarian end.

Correspondent:  I would like that to be clarified.

Spokesman:  That makes two of us.  Evelyn, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The UN is constantly asking for more funds for Burma… for Myanmar.  What kind of guarantees are there that the money is not going to go to the junta?

Spokesman:  The money is spent by UN agencies on the ground.  It is not channelled…

Question:  It's not channelled?

Spokesman:  It's not channelled to the authorities in place.  Okay.  Maggie and then Michelle.

Question:  Welcome back, Steph.  On Ethiopia, will Mr. Griffiths phone in or someone from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] also brief at the 3 p.m.  today?

Spokesman:  I do not believe anyone from the humanitarian end will brief.  We're also trying to get Mr. Griffiths here, whether virtually or in person.

Question:  And also, how soon… with this funding shortfall for Ethiopia, how soon until there are food ration cuts?

Spokesman:  We haven't been warned of any food rations cuts as of yet, but obviously, a gap between what we need and what we have will, at some point, mean that we may be forced to cut back.

Question:  And just one final… on the WFP famine numbers you just mentioned, has Mr. [David] Beasley heard anything further from Elon Musk about their little Twitter exchange the other day?

Spokesman:  I do not believe so. Michelle and then Majeed.

Question:  A question on Afghanistan.  Do you have any updates on UN attempts to get cash into the country and to combat this cash liquidity crisis?

Spokesman:  No.  We're continuing on the path, I think, that was laid out previously.  Let me check if there's any updates.

Question:  Can you remind us what that path was? because I don't think it was ever very clear.

Spokesman:  I will get you an update as soon as I can.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question on Iraq, then migrants.  The first one… I saw this statement of the Secretary‑General condemning the assassination attempt of Iraqi Prime Minister, but now, according to Reuters, five high‑level Iraqi officials… security officials are saying that two Iran‑backed militias, Kataib Hizbullah and Kataib [Asaib] Ahl al‑Haq, they are responsible for the assassination attempt.  Given the fact that these groups are directly funded and equipped by Iran, I just want to ask these questions.  And there are accusation that Iran is behind this.  This was a problem between two countries.  Has there been any request for the UN to have an impartial investigation of the assassination? And is UN willing and capable of such kind of investigation?

Spokesman:  We do not have… this is not… that would not be within the mandate, as it stands, of the UN Mission in Iraq.  I have no further information on who was responsible beyond what I read in the press.  What is clear is that Iraq's stability is critical and for the benefit of the whole region.

Question:  And regarding Iran, like, is there… there are two groups now funded by Iran, attempting assassination of a leader of the country.  Do you have any message for Iran?

Spokesman:  Well, the message that I have… the message that the UN has for all of the Iraqis, Iraqi political parties, Iraqi civil society, is to work towards the unity of the country and towards the stability of the country ‑ all of that to ensure that Iraqi men, women and children live in stability and in peace that they so deserve.

Question:  Going to the question about the migrants, there are now reports of more than 1,000 migrants, mostly from Middle East, from different parts of the Middle East, Kurds, Arab, from everywhere, that are trapped between Poland and Belarus.  And the Belarusian authorities are forcing them toward the Polish border, and the Polish security forces are using tear gas and other forces, both sides, to… against these migrants.  I just wanted to know, have you seen these reports? Do you have…?

Spokesman:  I mean, we've been seeing the reports of what's going on on the Polish‑Belarus border for some time.  There are a number of critical principles, and I think UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has also spoken on them, that human beings should never be used as political pawns, especially when you're talking about people who are vulnerable, people who are just seeking safety, whether it's asylum, whether they are migrants in any way.  There are basic principles notably enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention that need to be respected by all.  Go ahead.

Question:  Do you know if…?

Spokesman:  You'll be James Bays today.  Go ahead.

Question:  Sorry about… do you know if UN has any presence on the ground helping these migrants?

Spokesman:  You shouldn't… if any, there would be… you should check with UNHCR, see if they have people there.  Okay.  Let's go to somebody… Mr. Hanna.

Question:  Stéphane, on… Israel has refused a US request to re‑open its embassy in East Jerusalem.  Does the Secretary‑General have a position on this matter?

Spokesman:  That's a bilateral issue.  At this point, I would… so, I have nothing to say on that at this particular moment.  Maggie, and then we'll go to the screen.

Question:  I'll just do one follow‑up on Majeed's question.  The Iraqi President, Barham Salih, said that the assassination attempt was basically an attempted coup on the Iraqi state.  Does the UN have any reaction to that?  Do you see it as a coup attempt?

Spokesman:  Without making light of this tragedy… of this tragic event, trying to kill a head of government or trying to kill a prime minister could lead one to believe that some are looking to change that government by force.  James Reinl?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I got two questions, one on Myanmar, one on Libya.  On Myanmar, Peter Due spoke on behalf of the UN at a meeting today.  Could we get a copy of his comments, or can you characterize his key message?  Second question on Libya, you mentioned that Mr. [António] Guterres is going to Europe this week for COP.  With this meeting on Libya in Paris on Friday, will the UN Secretary‑General be there? And also, will Mr. [Ján] Kubiš be there?

Spokesman:  Mr. Kubiš… my understanding is that Mr. Kubiš will be there.  The Secretary‑General will be there via the beauty of technology and will have a prerecorded video message.  On your first question, it's a private closed meeting of the Security Council.  We cannot share the remarks, but I think the statement that I read out on the anniversary of the election and on the political situation in Myanmar reflects what Mr. Due will tell the Council, as well as the updated humanitarian statement that I read out on behalf of Martin Griffiths.  Okay.  Any other questions? Oh, yes, I'm sorry, Dulcie.  I didn't see you.  Sorry.

Question:  Yeah.  I just have a couple of clarifications.  So, who is the most senior UN official dealing with the Taliban in Afghanistan? Is it Martin Griffiths or Deborah Lyons?

Spokesman:  Deborah Lyons is the head of Mission and is the one dealing with the de facto authorities to ensure that we can fulfil our mandate, notably on the humanitarian end.  This does not preclude other senior officials from coming into the country from time to time.

Question:  When was the last time, if you know, that she met with the senior Taliban officials?

Spokesman:  I do not know.  We can check with the Mission.  [He later said that she had several meetings about a week ago, immediately prior to her current trip to Washington, D.C., where she has been in meetings with US and international finance entities concerning the economic and fiscal crisis.]

Question:  Okay.  And, so, who in the UN is… the top UN official dealing with the Ethiopia Government? Who is doing that negotiating?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the… you saw Martin Griffiths was in Mekelle dealing with the de facto authorities there.  The Secretary‑General has been, a number of times, on the phone with Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed], the UN operations are led by our… on the ground, are led by our country team.

Question:  Right.  So, that means that Mr. Guterres is basically directing the negotiations or the discussions…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is giving the political direction for all of the political files that we have.  He deputizes some senior officials that travel either from New York or on the ground to also deal with these things in a more granular matter.

Question:  So, would you be considering naming a Special Envoy to deal with this?  Because it sounds like it's a little dispersed, that it’s…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, it's very focussed in… as all of these urgent political matters are very focussed in the hands of the Secretary‑General.  We also have a Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, who briefed the Council not too long ago.

Question:  And one more, this is on Myanmar.  Bill Richardson acted, more or less, on his own as a negotiator with the military leadership there.  It… the article in The New York Times said that the UN knew about his trip to Myanmar.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  Yes, and I think either myself or Farhan ‑ must have been Farhan ‑ mentioned it, that Mr. Richardson had spoken to the Secretary‑General before going and had said he would report back to him on the way home.

Question:  So, has he reported back?

Spokesman:  Not as far as I'm aware.  Okay? I think we will leave it there as I see no other…

Question:  My name is there.  Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Oh, Abdelhamid.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  Go ahead, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and welcome back.  On Friday after… evening, Israelis shot a little boy in the village of Deir al‑Hatab, east of Nablus, is 13‑year‑old Muhammad Daadas.  This is his picture.  I want everyone to see that little boy.  Okay?  And there… why there is no word from the UN on the ground, neither from the Secretary‑General or his Special Envoy in Palestine, occupied Palestine…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General… the Special Coordinator, I think, reports back more than regularly to the Security Council on events that have taken place on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and he will continue to do so, and I will look in the particular matter of this case.

Question:  Mr.  [Nickolay] Mladenov used to…?

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Enjoy what remains of the day.

For information media. Not an official record.