15 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.


The Secretary-General is back in New York after attending the closing of the Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow.  As he said in his statement following the close of the conference, the approved texts are a compromise.  They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.  They take important steps, he said, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.

The Secretary-General said we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive.  We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe, he warned.

He reaffirmed his conviction that we must end fossil fuels subsidies, phase out coal and put a price on carbon.

At the same time, he said, we have some building blocks for progress.  Those include commitments to end deforestation, to drastically reduce methane emissions and to mobilize private finance around net zero.

We are in the fight of our lives, the Secretary-General said, urging everyone to keep pushing forward and adding that COP27 begins now.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council discussed Syria in its closed consultations.  Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, and Martin Griffiths, the head of humanitarian affairs, briefed the Council on the latest developments there.

This afternoon, the Council will meet on Sudan and South Sudan, followed by a meeting on Somalia.


Turning to Ethiopia, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, today allocated $25 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, to support humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians in the country.

A $15 million allocation from the Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund was also announced.

These funds will help scale up emergency operations in Ethiopia’s conflict-affected northern regions and support early response to the drought in southern Ethiopia.

In the regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar, the funds will help aid agencies provide protection and other assistance to people affected by the conflict.

In the drought-affected Somali and Oromia regions, agencies will provide drinking water to prevent waterborne diseases and help pastoral communities to maintain their livestock.

Today’s allocation brings CERF’s support to Ethiopia this year to $65 million, making Ethiopia the second-highest recipient of CERF funds in 2021.  Support from the Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund this year now totals $80 million.

As we have told you, humanitarian operations throughout Ethiopia face a funding gap of $1.3 billion, including $350 million for the response in Tigray.

**Central African Republic

A new report by our colleagues from the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict says that the protection and well-being of children in the Central African Republic has gravely deteriorated since the end of 2020.  This, the report says, coincided with renewed hostilities in the country.

The report documents violations affecting close to 1,300 children between July 2019 and June this year, with girls accounting for more than 40 per cent of all victims.

The report also notes progress, including the release of 653 children by armed groups, as well as the promulgation last year of a new Child Protection Code that criminalizes grave violations against children.

The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, is calling on the Government and parties to the conflict to develop a national strategy to prevent grave violations against children and reiterated the UN’s support for efforts to better protect Central African children.

**Detention of Children during COVID

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today released a report showing that Governments and detaining authorities in at least 84 countries have released more than 45,000 children since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the time, UNICEF drew attention to their increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in confined and overcrowded spaces and called for their immediate release.

According to a second UNICEF analysis also released ahead of the World Congress on Justice with Children, an estimated 261,000 children in conflict with the law — those who have been alleged, accused or recognized as having committed an offence — are held in detention worldwide.

UNICEF notes that COVID-19 has profoundly affected justice for children, shuttering courts and restricting access to essential social and justice services.

The two reports are available online.


Moving to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the Uruzgan COVID-19 provincial hospital has suspended its medical services since Saturday due to a shortage of funds and the lack of medical supplies and equipment.

Our humanitarian colleagues also say that yesterday an inter-agency team assessed the needs of families displaced by drought from Badghis and Ghor provinces to Hirat province.  About 1,000 people are staying in the open.

Needs assessments are also ongoing across the country to identify people in need of help to cope with the winter.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing winterization assistance in districts of Badakhshan Province for 1,000 families, including shelter, non-food items and clothing.

Our humanitarian colleagues stress that while the response in Afghanistan continues, much more must be done by the international community.  They warn that one in four pregnant women and one in two children are malnourished in the country, and half of all people do not know where their next meal is coming from.

The Flash Appeal for Afghanistan, targeting 11 million people with aid through the end of 2021, is currently 86 per cent funded.  So far, $524 million has been received.

**COVAX — Latin America and Caribbean

Nicaragua and Venezuela have received new shipments of COVAX-backed COVID-19 vaccines yesterday.

Over 130,000 doses of vaccines landed in Nicaragua to support the vaccination campaign.  To date, through COVAX and with support from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), over 3 million doses are being used to vaccinate Nicaraguans.

Venezuela received over 2.5 million vaccine doses, also through COVAX.  This was the third COVAX shipment that Venezuela has received and so far, the country has gotten almost 6 million doses — half of the number that Venezuela officially requested to COVAX.

Our colleagues from PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO) have supported health authorities in the surveillance and investigation of disease cases.  They also provided laboratory supplies for the diagnosis and material to prevent infection, especially in health facilities.  Our team on the ground is also training health-care personnel to manage cases, providing logistical support and supplies to health services in the country.

**Resident Coordinators

We have three new resident coordinators starting their roles this week.

Maria Jose Torres Macho of Spain and Jose Miguel Barreto of Peru took up their posts as Resident Coordinators in Chile and Guatemala, respectively, yesterday.  Shombi Sharp of the United States is starting his new post today as Resident Coordinator in India.

These appointments follow the approval of the host Governments.  As you know, resident coordinators lead the work of our UN teams on the ground, including our continuing support to national COVID-19 response plans to recover better for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These senior UN officials are also the representatives of the Secretary-General for development at the country level.  You can find their full biographies in our office and on the UN Sustainable Development Group website.

**Financial Contributions

We would like to thank our friends in Belize and Saint Kitts and Nevis for paying their contributions to the regular budget in full.  This brings us to 138 Member States who have paid in full.

**Hybrid Press Briefing

And last, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a hybrid press briefing following the High-Level Event to launch the School Meals Coalition.  We will have representatives from the Permanent Missions of Finland and France here in this room to brief reporters on the School Meals Coalition.

And that is it for my part.

**Questions and Answers

And now we turn to Maggie.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  What else can you update us on from Ethiopia?  Do you have any news on the detained national staff there, any new numbers?  And… yeah, start with that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  On that, what I can say, the 10 UN staff members that we said were detained last Friday are still detained.  However, a little bit of good news that, regarding the contracted drivers, we’ve been informed that 34 have been released, while 36 of them are still detained.  These are not UN staff but subcontractors, but we’re still very happy that any of them have… that about half of those held over the past few days have been let go.

Question:  So, does that mean they’re allowed to go back to their trucks?  And have we had any movement on that Semera road of any aid going to Tigray?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not aware that the trucks that were halted have been able to go on.  It’s good that the drivers have been released, but we certainly want to see more happen.  We want to see all of the drivers released, as well as, of course, all of our staff, but in addition to that, we want to see that the convoys that are sent into places like Tigray can actually get to their intended destination.

So, we have heard some… in recent days, we’ve heard some greater signs of agreement that we can be able to move aid along, but we want to see that carried out in practice.

Question:  Can I just ask one other thing?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  The IOM Director-General is meeting with the US Secretary of State in a little while, I think at 1 it was on the schedule.  Do you think we can get a readout after?

Deputy Spokesman:  From the IOM Secretary-General?  Well… Director-General.  Yeah, I believe that you’d have to check with Mr. [Antonio] Vitorino’s people, but we’ll also ask them.


Question:  A couple of follow-ups also and a question.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the release of Danny Fenster by the Myanmar Government after he was sentenced to 11 years in prison?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, clearly, of course, you heard what our concerns were last week.  And so, given that, we welcome the reported release of Danny Fenster.  That’s clearly a positive step.

At the same time, we and our colleagues in the country team in Myanmar reiterate our call for the immediate release of at least 47 other journalists, including seven women, who remain under detention.  All of those who have been held need to be freed, although this certainly is at least one positive step.

Question:  And a second follow-up on Ethiopia.  Can you give us any details on diplomatic contacts, what’s going on?  Trying to get some movement on that score.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we continue to be available to help with the parties in Ethiopia, but we’re also supportive of the efforts of the African Union.  And as you know, there’ve been several different envoys sent to the country, and we encourage… we are supporting their activities, and we encourage the Ethiopian parties to work well with our African Union colleagues.

Question:  And is there any follow-up on what’s happening on the diplomatic front in Sudan?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, as well, we are continuing our work.  Mr. [Volker] Perthes, our envoy on the ground, has been continuing to deal with both Lieutenant-General [Abdel Fattah al-]Burhan and Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok as he tries to deal with the situation in the country.

Along with that, I would like to add our concerns, our immense concern, about the use of force against peaceful demonstrators over the weekend.  We’re aware that demonstrators were met with excessive force over the weekend, and we’ve seen reports of at least seven Sudanese citizens having died.

So, we want to make sure that freedom of expression, which was one of the slogans of the Sudanese revolution, should always be maintained and protected.


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just another follow-up on the truck drivers who were released.  Any information on how they were treated in detention or why they were detained?

Deputy Spokesman:  These are not contracted by the UN.  I believe they are contracted by one of the non-governmental organizations, CRS.  So, they would be better positioned to comment on what their particular conditions were.

Question:  And on Myanmar, you mentioned previously, or your Office has, that the Secretary-General was aware of Bill Richardson’s visit and that he would be in touch with him when he returns.  Anything scheduled?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s nothing scheduled, but Mr. Richardson’s team had made clear that, once he had completed his trip, he would then provide a briefing to the Secretary-General on his findings.  So, we expect that to happen in the coming days.

Question:  And what was the Sec… when the Secretary-General was told that Bill Richardson was going to Myanmar, what was the Secretary-General’s reaction to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we pointed out at the time that we took note of that and that he would be… and that he expected to be briefed following that, and that’s where we stand.

Question:  Was he supportive of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We support all efforts to deal with the situation in Myanmar, and we’ll have to see how that goes.


Question:  On the subject of Sudan and on freedom of expression, have you taken note and do you have comment on the detention of the Al Jazeera bureau chief in Khartoum?  And now we’ve just learned the prosecution ordered his release, but he is now being re-detained by the authorities.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we’re calling for the release of all of the detainees since 25 October, including of the journalists.  But certainly, we believe that all of those who are on the ground, simply reporting the facts on the ground, should not be harassed or mistreated for their work.

Question:  But here we have an apparent escalation where you’ve got prosecutors ordering the release of a detained journalist and this being ignored by the ruling authorities.

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to see how the system itself deals with the matters.  Certainly, we believe that all of the journalists and, indeed, all of those others who have been detained in recent days need to be released.

Yes, Celia?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Cuba is expected to have massive protests during today… today in Cuba, some of the members of the opposition had been barred from coming out of their houses.  It is expectation also the artists and young people will come out even though it is… the Government is trying to prevent those efforts.  How the United Nations sees the possibility of clashes or of what happened in the summer could be repeated during today’s protests call?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t want to speculate on what might happen.  What we want to make sure is that the right to peaceful protest is fully respected.

Yes, Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, in Libya, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who is the son of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, he put candidacy to be President of Libya.  And it looks like his candidacy was approved by the local committee.  You have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, what I can say on that is that we, of course, continue our support to the Libyan authorities in preparation for the presidential and parliamentary elections.  We have a Mission on the ground, UNSMIL, that’s engaging with all Libyan stakeholders to facilitate consensus on organizing timely, credible and inclusive elections.

As for candidates, it’s the prerogative of the Libyan High National Commission for Elections to receive nominations from candidates in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.  And it’s also for the High National Commission to decide on their eligibility in accordance with the legislative framework and the executive regulations by that Commission.

James Reinl, I believe you have a question online?

Question:  Yep.  Sure.  Thank you, Farhan.  It’s a question about Yemen.  Over the weekend, in the area south of Hudaydah, the Coalition forces withdrew from a large tract of land, and the Houthis moved in to take that land.  What does the Secretariat say about this?  And where does it leave the Hudaydah Agreement, also known as the Stockholm Agreement, which you guys helped negotiate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, if… I don’t know whether you noticed it, but I had actually announced that from this podium last Friday.  So, if you go back to Friday’s briefing, I spoke on this at the time.  But this is something that the UN Mission in Hudaydah is monitoring, and as I mentioned at the time, we want to make sure that the civilians who are in that… in those areas are not adversely affected by anything having to do with the changing of the lines.  But go back to what I said on Friday, and you’ll see the details.


Question:  I just want to check on when the Secretary-General’s last phone call was with Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed].  Any change on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we’d mentioned it about last week.  I don’t…

Question:  Still last Wednesday?  Like a week ago.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I think it was… it’s then.  There hasn’t been any new one since the last one we announced.  Yeah.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.  See you tomorrow.

Correspondent:  Farhan, I have a follow-up.  I put my name there.

Deputy Spokesman:  You know… I’m sorry.

Correspondent:  I put the follow-up question on Saif al-Islam.

Deputy Spokesman:  All right.

Correspondent:  Sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  Yes.  Your statement on the candidacy of Saif al-Islam is neutral.  I didn’t understand anything from it.  This man is wanted by the ICC (International Criminal Court).  He’s still wanted.  And today the Electoral Commission in Tripoli rejected his candidacy, and the city of Misrata in [inaudible], they closed all electoral offices in that city.

How can the UN ob… in… be neutral on a person submitting his candidacy and he’s wanted for the International Criminal Court?

Deputy Spokesman:  You may not have understood what I’ve said, but I will repeat what I said.  It’s the prerogative of the Libyan High National Commission for Elections to receive nominations from candidates in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections and decide on their eligibility in accordance with the legislative framework and the executive regulations of the High National Commission for Elections.

So, that is where we stand on that, and you can evaluate that in light of today’s circumstances.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.