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15 June 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.

**Yemen

You just saw Martin Griffiths, our Special Envoy for Yemen, gave his final briefing in the Security Council today as the Special Envoy for Yemen.

Just to remind you that he will be here virtually to brief you as soon as the Council gets out with its close consultations on Yemen.

Also briefing was Mark Lowcock, who as you know, Mr. Griffiths will replace as Emergency Relief Coordinator, and he said that May was the deadliest month this year for civilians in Yemen, with 60 people killed.  He said the Ansar Allah offensive in Marib continues to threaten millions of people and he called once more for a nationwide ceasefire and for the parties to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure.

He noted the work that humanitarians have done to prevent famine in Yemen but added that two brushes with famine in the last three years are not a success.

Mr. Griffiths will… as soon as Mr. Griffiths is done, we will let you know, and he will be back here in this room.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we are, indeed, very concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation of 13.4 million people throughout the country following a decade of conflict, compounded by the economic crisis and, of course, the pandemic.

The situation is particularly dire in north-west Syria, where more than 90 per cent of the 3.4 million people in need are facing extreme or catastrophic need.  That is particularly the case for the 2.7 million internally displaced people along the border with Turkey.

The only way we can reach these millions of people is through the UN Security Council-authorized cross-border operation.  The Bab al-Hawa crossing is the UN’s last remaining entry point for delivering assistance to north-west Syria.

That assistance, including critical food, livelihood, nutrition and health assistance, reaches an average of 2.4 million Syrians each month; that’s around 1,000 aid trucks crossing the border each month, as well.  Cross-border assistance comprises roughly half of all humanitarian assistance to north-west Syria.

As the Secretary-General has stressed, a large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months is essential to save lives, and we have no alternative for that cross-border delivery of aid.  The Security Council’s current authorization for use of that cross-border operation expires, as you know, on 10 July.

**Afghanistan

Moving to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that five health workers were killed, and four others injured in five separate attacks today in Nangarhar Province.  These attacks took place on people who were conducting a polio vaccination campaign.  In March, three health workers also lost their lives during the national polio vaccination campaign in Nangarhar Province.

We, of course, express our deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of these health workers and wish those who are injured a swift recovery.

As you may recall, these attacks come just a week after 11 staff members working for the Halo Trust NGO (non-governmental organization) demining operation were killed in an incident in Baghlan Province.  And that left 15 others of their colleagues injured.

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Ramiz Alakbarov, said that he is appalled by the brutality of these killings.  He stressed that the delivery of health care is impartial and any attack against health workers and those who work to defend them is an attack on the children, whose very lives we are trying to protect.

As a direct result of these attacks, the national polio vaccination campaign, which began yesterday, has been suspended in the eastern region of Afghanistan.  And that is depriving millions of children of protection against this preventable disease.

The parties to the conflict must protect civilians, aid workers and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, in compliance with international humanitarian law.

**Lebanon

Just a note from Lebanon, where the Deputy Special Coordinator, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Najat Rochdi, briefed Member States in Geneva on the deepening crisis in the country.

She said that Lebanon is facing one of the worst financial and economic crises in modern history.  Acute malnutrition rates among children under 5 have increased over the past two years and more than 1 million Lebanese now need assistance to meet their basic needs, and that includes food.

The public health system is also stretched by the impacts of both the economic crisis and COVID-19, with people increasingly unable to access and afford health care.

Ms. Rochdi called on the international community to help meet the critical emerging needs of the Lebanese people and foreign migrant workers.  She said that the UN is also working to mitigate the effects of the crisis — including through humanitarian response — until an inclusive social protection system is actually in place.

**Venezuelan Refugees

And ahead of the virtual International Donors’ Conference for Venezuelan refugees and migrants that is supposed to be held on Thursday, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency, IOM, called for renewed international support to address the needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and to assist their host countries and communities.

The continued departure of refugees and migrants from Venezuela is one of the largest external displacement crises in the world.  To date, 5.6 million people have left their country.

The agencies reminded countries that this year’s Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan — which aims to help 3.3 million Venezuelans and their host community members — remains critically underfunded.

The Conference will be hosted by Canada, UNHCR and IOM, and the event will bring together host and donor Governments and key actors involved in the response, including the private sector, development banks and civil society.

More information in the interweb.

**Domestic Workers

A report released today by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that 10 years after the adoption of a historic International Labour Organization Convention, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers.  The report notes that working conditions for many have not improved in a decade and have been made worse by the pandemic.

ILO points out that at the height of the crisis, job losses among domestic workers ranged from 5 to 20 per cent in most European countries, as well as Canada and South Africa.  In the Americas, the situation was worse, with losses amounting from 25 to 50 per cent.

According to the report, only one in five domestic workers enjoy effective, employment-related, social protection coverage.

**Child Health — E-Waste

And WHO (World Health Organization) today published a report warning that effective and binding action is urgently needed and required to protect the millions of children, adolescents and expectant mothers worldwide whose health is jeopardized by the informal processing of discarded electrical or electronic devices, otherwise known as e-waste.

According to the report, as many as 12.9 million women are working in the informal waste sector, which potentially exposes them to toxic e-waste and puts them and their unborn children at risk.  The report also shows that 18 million children and adolescents, some as [young as] 5 years of age, are actively engaged in the informal industrial sector, of which waste processing is a subsector.

WHO says that children exposed to e-waste are particularly vulnerable to the toxic chemicals they contain due to their smaller size, less developed organs and rapid rate of growth and development.

More information on WHO website.  Something to think about as we upgrade phones and computers.

**World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

And today is also World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General noted that rates of elder abuse, a global issue affecting millions of older people worldwide, have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.  He urged for increased prevention and response [measures] to protect and uphold the health and human rights of older people.

WHO warns that elder abuse is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.  According to WHO, if the numbers remain constant, around 320 million people could be victims of elder abuse by 2050.

And I will sadly leave on that note.

**Questions and Answers

Miss Lederer and then Toby.  Yeah.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the detention of five more prominent opposition figures in Nicaragua?  This adds to quite a number of other opposition leaders who have been arrested.

And also, today, at least 10 people were reported to have been killed at an army training camp in Somalia.

Spokesman:  Excuse me.  On Somalia, I have to check.  I have not seen those reports.

On Nicaragua, we continue to express our concern at the ongoing situation.  We strongly believe that there is need for broad-based agreement on measures towards credible, participatory and inclusive elections in November.

Toby and then Benno.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Can the SG provide a report card on the G7?  How does he think it went, and is he happy with the outcomes?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary-General is not a teacher that grades the outcomes of meetings at which he was a guest.  That being said, I think he was very clear in what he was looking for, both in terms on climate, in terms of COVID.  He spoke publicly at a briefing on Friday and outlined what he was looking for.  So, I think I will leave it up to you to do the compare-and-contrast.

Question:  And then, second question on Myanmar, it’s shaping up to be a very Myanmar-focused Friday.  We’ve got a private Security Council briefing from the Special Envoy, and now we have an announcement on a… potentially a vote on a resolution, I think, in the General Assembly.  What would the Gen… what would the Secretary-General like to see in the language from the General Assembly on their resolution?

Spokesman:  I think what is important for us is a strong and unified voice from the General Assembly, from the international community that will help return the voice of the people of Myanmar to the… in terms of having a Government that is participatory, that reflects their wishes and that we go back… we kind of get back on track in terms of a democratic process.

Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I came a bit late.  I hope you didn’t touch that topic already, but NATO, yesterday, went quite directly after China and asked the Secretary-General once… not only once but at least two or three times in the last month for… that there could be a new cold war coming up.  What is the Secretary-General’s opinion about this new development?

Spokesman:  Look, the fact that there are tensions between the world’s biggest Powers that has… and that, frankly, has an impact on the work of the Security Council is not… and the work of the United Nations in its multilateral settings is not new.  What we’ve always called for and we would hope for is greater dialogue and greater cooperation.

Question:  Does that mean the way NATO goes now is not in favour of the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  Again, the Secretary-General is not a global commentator to rank, grade the outcomes of the various summits.  I think I’ve expressed it, and he’s expressed his call for the world where we have greater cooperation and greater unity to deal with issues that, frankly, can only be dealt with through multilateral settings.

Alan.  Let’s talk about other summits where we’re not participating.

Correspondent:  Exactly.  [laughter]  Who told you, Steph?  [laughter]  Yeah, I want…

Spokesman:  Years of experience, Alan.  [laughter]

Question:  Yeah, exactly.  I wanted to ask about tomorrow’s summit between Presidents [Joseph] Biden and [Vladimir] Putin.  Does the SG have any expectations regarding the outstanding issues between Russia and United States?  I mean, the non-proliferation arms control, prisoners exchange, cyberspace security, cooperation in cyberspace, does he have any expectations in this regard?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to get into expectations, but obviously, it is important for the work of the United Nations, again, in its legislative multilateral settings for these two very important permanent members of the Security Council to have good, open and cooperative relationships.  So, we, obviously, welcome the fact that President Putin and President Biden will sit together to have a discussion.  But for us, good and cooperative and positive relations between the Russian Federation and the United States are good for the United Nations.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Oh, thank you, Stéphane.  I am reading the tweet by Mr. Tor [Wennesland].  He wrote today, “Tensions are rising again in Jerusalem.”  “Tension are rising.” I want to ask you, does tension rise by itself?  How does tension rise?  How does it rise?

Spokesman:  [inaudible]…

Question:  Can’t hear you.

Spokesman:  …that we have almost every day is the highlight of this briefing for me, but I’m not going to get into the linguistics.  I think we all know very well what Mr. Wennesland means.

Mr. Wennesland is concerned at the fact that we have a ceasefire that is not that old.  We need to do…  the parties need to do everything possible to try to avoid provocation, to try to avoid tensions rising in order to solidify the end of this current cycle of violence, and he was expressing his concern in that regard.

Question:  So, he also continues to say about provocations and urge all relevant parties to act responsibly and avoid any provocations.  Is the mar… Israeli Flag Day march is a kind of provocation or not?  Who is “provocating” and who…

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Wennesland’s tweet speaks for himself.  If we have anything more to say on today events, I will share that with you.

Question:  When he puts both sides, Stéphane, the occupier and occupied, on the same footing, is that fair?  That’s my question.  Anyone who reads this message, he will think that there are two equal parties.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  If you want… nobody’s asking you to read it that way.  What is clear is that we have an area in which there are tensions, in which there are… we’ve seen very violent conflict not too long ago, where there’s always a risk of conflict.  And what is important is that those who have the power to make things better or to make things worse exercise that power responsibly in order to make things better.

Okay.  Let’s see if there are any more questions in the… Stefano and then James Reinl.

Correspondent:  Yes, I’m here in the room.  I was upstairs…

Spokesman:  Oh.  Always better to see you in person.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Me, too.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Two questions.  One is, yesterday, we had a press conference under embargo, so I’m not going to talk about it, but with Filippo Grandi on the next report, with very, very interesting numbers, they’re going to… are going to reveal on Friday.  But the Secretary-General was on the G7 meeting, and I wonder, how did he… of course, he knew about all these numbers.  What kind of reaction he had from the leaders of the world that can actually fix the problem?  And so, any… can you tell us something, how he delivered those… did he deliver this number… those numbers to the G7 leaders?  Then I have another question.

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary-General participated in three sessions as part of the outreach session, right, on… kind of on societies; how do we build back societies on issues around democracy, on climate.  He also spoke at the one on global health.

He found the meeting to be very useful for him, especially in terms of personal relations and having discussions with leaders.  Again, I leave you to read the rather long communiqué that was put out by the G7, and you can compare it with what the Secretary-General has said in the past.

Question:  Was he satisfied with the…

Spokesman:  Again, he is not a…

Correspondent:  Teacher.

Spokesman:  Exactly.  Right.

Question:  And the second question is about, you know, this Italian that died in Colombia while working for the UN, Mario Paciolla.  Do you have any news about the investigation?

Spokesman:  No, nothing new except to say we continue to cooperate fully and actively with the Italian and the Colombian investigations, which are the criminal investigations; right?  Because that’s where the authority and the legitimacy is with those; it’s between the Colombian authorities and the Italian authorities.  We are there to support, and we want the truth to come out, and we’re doing what we can to support both of those.

James Reinl and then Karina, and then we’ll go to our guests, who I… Mr. Griffiths, who I think has been connected or is being connected.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Oh, great, Steph, yeah.  It’s on Mr. Griffiths and this timeline relating to him and Mr. Lowcock.  As we understand, Mr. Lowcock steps down as humanitarian chief on Friday.  Does that mean that Mr. Griffiths replaces him on Friday or soon after?  And does that also mean that the job of Yemen Envoy may be open for days or weeks until Mr. [António] Guterres appoints somebody new?

Spokesman:  There will be… and Martin can go into this in a bit more detail, but there will be an officer-in-charge of the Office of the Special Envoy.  Martin is, obviously, a Special Envoy, but he leads a great team, and they will be continuing to work.  The objective to find peace is not changing.

Mr.… there will be an officer in charge in OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) for a little bit while we give Mr. Griffiths a bit of time to, perhaps, recharge his batteries before he joins us in New York in a few weeks.  We want him fresh and refreshed in his new job.

Karina?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  In March, the UN Human Rights Office announced a probe into Tigray violations.  Has there been a probe?  Because the initial period was three months, but I don’t think we have heard anything ever since on the issue.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn’t hear… what is the probe about?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  You’re muted, Karina.

Correspondent:  The violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Spokesman:  Oh, human rights.  No, I have… you should check with our human rights colleagues.  I have not heard anything from our end.

All right.  Carla, and then we’ll go to the guest.

Question:  Thank you very much.  I have two questions actually.  One, does the United Nations have anything to say about the dragging out, it would appear somewhat, for questionable reasons, of the elections in Peru?  And it appears as though Mr. [Pedro] Castillo has won, and Miss [Keiko] Fujimori is simply trying to take the election.

Spokesman:  Well, as always, we encourage people who have to follow whatever constitutional path and legal pathway there is in any country to file complaints or anything about the elections.  And I would refer to you to what Michelle Bachelet said on that issue on Monday.

Your second question?

Question:  The second question is, the pro… does the UN have anything to say about the ProPolitico [ProPublica] report on rather outrageous inequality in the tax system in the United States where the…

Spokesman:  No, I’ve seen that report.  I mean, I saw the headlines.  I don’t really have anything to add to it.

Okay.  Mr. Griffiths, Martin, are you connected?  Are you with us?

For information media. Not an official record.