The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you know, the Secretary-General is in Brussels where he is continuing with his meetings with national and European Union leaders. He had several engagements today.
He started by meeting with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander de Croo, as well as members of the Belgian Cabinet. In a press encounter immediately afterwards, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of the partnership between Belgium and the United Nations to address challenges posed by the pandemic and the climate crisis, among others. […]
At the European Parliament in Brussels, the Secretary-General delivered a formal address during which he said that we live at a time when the strategic partnership between the European Union and the United Nations is more indispensable than ever.
On issues such as cyberspace, the recovery from the pandemic, climate, or human rights, the Secretary-General highlighted the challenges we face. He reiterated the importance of the collaboration with the European Union, adding that the EU must champion universal values and fundamental rights and help lead the way.
He concluded his day with a session with the Heads of State and Government of the European Council. At a press encounter with the European Council President, Charles Michel, the Secretary-General restated his appreciation of the work the European Union does with the UN, adding that the world’s fragilities show us how important it is to enhance international cooperation and to have a stronger and more inclusive multilateralism.
Back here, Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council today that the cessation of hostilities reached last month between Israel and Hamas remains very fragile. He said the UN is working closely with all concerned parties and partners, including Egypt, to solidify a ceasefire, allow the entry of urgent humanitarian assistance and stabilize the situation in Gaza.
Mr. Wennesland urged all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, to take steps to reduce tensions, and to allow these efforts to succeed.
He also said that recent weeks have witnessed an alarming increase in the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, including hostilities between Israel and factions in Gaza at a scale and intensity not seen in years. He is especially concerned by the attempt to exploit the sensitive status of Jerusalem and to use it to justify a broader armed conflict.
Ján Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, today welcomed the Conclusions of the Second International Conference on Libya, known as the Berlin II Conference, endorsed yesterday in the German capital. The Special Envoy praised the collective efforts of all Member States and regional and international organizations to assist the Libyan people in their quest for unity, peace, stability, and prosperity for their future generations.
Mr. Kubiš reiterated the Secretary-General’s call “to put an end to all foreign interference, including the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya”. Mr. Kubiš joined in urging all Libyans and external parties to agree on a comprehensive plan, with clear timelines, to achieve this goal, which the UN Mission (UNSMIL) stands ready to support.
As you’ll recall, yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council by videoconference from Brussels on the humanitarian situation in Syria. He strongly appealed to the Security Council to reach consensus on allowing cross-border operations as a vital channel of support for another year.
The Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ramesh Rajasingham, provided more detail on humanitarian needs and response. He said that, with more crossings and more funds, the UN can do more to help the rising number of people in need in Syria.
The acting Under-Secretary-General also highlighted the alarming increase in hostilities in north-west Syria in the last month, which has resulted in civilian casualties and displacement.
I think, as you’ll remember, tomorrow, the Security Council will hear from Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy, and he will be briefing you in person at the stakeout afterwards, before you ask!
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) says that, yesterday, the country’s new Government was formed with the signing of the Presidential Decree, which announced the appointment of 32 new ministers, seven of whom are women.
The UN Mission remains committed to working with the new Government to strengthen our partnership and support the peace process.
An update from Ethiopia, where our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that the security situation in Tigray remains highly complex and extremely volatile, with continued fighting, including on main roads, and the use of artillery shelling reported in several locations.
Aid organizations say they have faced challenges in transporting medical supplies, food and other items, especially to hard-to-reach areas, due to the denial of access.
Food aid is the largest component of the humanitarian response. Under the latest response plan for Northern Ethiopia, since 1 May, some 3.7 million people out of the targeted 5.2 million people have received food assistance.
Last week, more than 1,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition and about 5,000 children for moderate acute malnutrition. More than 22,000 people received medical services in the second week of June.
While aid partners continue to gradually scale-up their work, the response is not sufficient to help people in need. We are continuing to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access, as well as urgent funding.
And, as for reports of the bombing of the market in the town of Togoga, we have still not yet received permission and not been able to access the area.
From Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues there said today they remain concerned about the impact on civilians of continuing and intensifying fighting in certain parts of the country.
Clashes between the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups, or among ethnic armed groups themselves, since the military takeover of the Government on 1 February have forced some 230,000 people to flee their homes. That’s according to our UN colleagues on the ground.
The UN team in Myanmar is particularly alarmed by the situation in the south-eastern part of Myanmar, where nearly 180,000 women, men and children have been displaced since 1 February. Most people have been displaced in the past four weeks.
A few updates from the Ministerial Forums for the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, which is continuing today, and you heard about it yesterday from [UN Development Programme Administrator] Achim Steiner [and Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All].
Nauru, the world’s smallest island nation, is committing to achieving 50 per cent renewable energy by 2023.
The City of Ithaca, right here in New York State, pledged that all of its buildings would rely on 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
And the global association for the off-grid solar energy industry committed to deliver improved electricity access for 1 billion people by 2030.
The Forums wrap up tomorrow.
We had received questions about an attack that took place on Monday in Burkina Faso, and we issued the following note yesterday:
The Secretary-General condemns the attack on 21 June, which led to 11 deaths, injuries, and the disappearances of several police officers in Barsalogho in Burkina Faso. He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Burkina Faso. He calls for the swift return of those who were disappeared.
**COVAX — Chad
A COVAX update from nearby Chad, which received its first shipment of vaccines yesterday.
The more than 100,000 doses will target health-care workers, those intending to make pilgrimage to the Hajj, people over the age of 65, and other vulnerable people.
The nationwide vaccination campaign kicked off earlier this month with logistical support from the UN, including in transporting doses to vaccination sites.
The Resident Coordinator, Violet Kakyomya, reiterated the UN’s commitment to continue supporting Chad’s national vaccination campaign in all its components, such as the cold chain and combating misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.
Our friends in Vienna at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are telling us that around 275 million people used drugs worldwide in the last year, while over 36 million suffered from drug use disorders. That’s according to the 2021 World Drug Report released today.
Most countries have reported a rise in the use of cannabis during the pandemic. In surveys of health professionals across 77 countries, 42 per cent asserted that cannabis use had increased. A rise in the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs has also been observed in the same period.
Tomorrow, we have quite a busy day.
First, today, at 1:30 p.m., in this very room, you will have a briefing by Felipe Carlos Solá, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Argentina. English/Spanish interpretation will be provided.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by Yon Fernández de Larrinoa, Chief of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Indigenous Peoples Unit, and Ms. Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. They will speak to you on the launch of the FAO’s Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems Report. The room will be open though the briefing will be virtual.
And at 12 p.m., I will be joined virtually by WFP’s (World Food Programme) Regional Director for Southern Africa, Ms. Lola Castro, who will brief you on the situation in Madagascar, which we have been talking to you about and is particularly dire.
And then probably around 1:15 p.m. or so, we will have Geir Pedersen in person and live.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. First, a question on the attack on the market in Tigray. You said that the UN had not been granted permission. Who… who does the UN need permission from to get to this place? Is it the Government, or is it…?
Spokesman: It’s the authorities on the ground. I don’t have the granular details, but as you know, between the fighting and the different groups on the ground, we need clearance to go, and we’ve just not been able to get it.
Question: And has the UN heard anything or had — because there apparently were a lot of civilian casualties, according to health authorities. Does the UN have any information on the casualties?
Spokesman: We don’t have any confirmed numbers and that’s part of the reason why we want to get to the place.
Question: Okay. My question about the last issue of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy paper, the Apple Daily, being published today following the arrests of its publisher, top editors, and reporters, which at least, among press freedom advocates, has been seen as a major blow under pressure from China’s government.
Does the Secretary-General have any comment?
Spokesman: I mean, I think one of your colleagues asked the question… I think Célhia asked a question yesterday, and I think… what we have always said is that a free and vibrant press is essential to any society, and I think the Secretary-General said so himself in his remarks to the stakeout last week.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Question on the situation in the Black Sea between the UK and Russia. Tensions flaring up there. What does the Secretary-General think about this?
Spokesman: We’ve seen the press reports, differing accounts of what happened. What we would want to see is obviously a lowering of the tension in any way possible.
Question: And then just a follow-up on Apple Daily. Does the UN see this… does the UN recognize a trend here in the attitude of China toward… toward the press?
Spokesman: You know, I’ll leave that analysis to you. I would also refer you to what I think Michelle Bachelet has said on the issue. Ibtisam?
Question: Thanks, Steph. On the briefing today… so the UN Envoy talked about also that today or yesterday, a Palestinian activist and parliamentary candidate, Nizar Banat, was pronounced dead, hours after being arrested by Palestinian Security Forces. Do you… at house in Hebron. So Mr. Banat… Banat was actually also very well-known to many Palestinians, because he also posted a lot of videos about corruption regarding the Palestinian Authority, and this is… that was not the first time that he was attacked. He didn’t live in his house for the last two months, according to his wife in an interview with my colleagues on the ground.
Do you have more to say on that? And do you believe that this should be investigated?
Spokesman: Yes, I think Mr. Wennesland said it very clearly. He was deeply concerned by the death of Nizar Banat and called for, clearly for an independent and transparent investigation.
Question: Now, a follow-up… the problem with such investigations, is that they are, whether… when such attack happens, whether by Israeli forces or by Palestinian Authority or anybody, that when such investigations happens, it happens from the same bodies that did these human rights violations. So, do you see a problem there, that these investigations could be not independent and not transparent, et cetera?
Spokesman: I… you know, first of all, Governments have the primary responsibility for protecting civilians, for ensuring their respect for human rights. And they should have the capacity to run independent investigations, right, outside of those services which are… which may have been involved in the initial incident. It is their primary responsibility, and Governments everywhere have a responsibility to ensure that the results are made public.
Question: A follow-up on this report. In many of his statements and in many… a lot of times, when he talks about Palestinians being killed by Israeli forces, often, he uses the term “reportedly attempting to carry out an attack”, or stabbing, etc., but we do not know actually if… I assume that this is the Israeli position, or this is how the Israelis are reporting about such attacks or incidents, in which Palestinians are killed.
My question to you why… if you are not able to verify… first of all why don’t you include also the position of the families, how their loved one were killed by Israeli forces? And why it’s not clear whether you can verify or not verify such incidents?
Spokesman: Well, we try to verify things inasmuch as we’re able to. We don’t have… you know, whether it’s there or in many other places, we don’t actually have a mandate to actually run our own investigations, so we work with partners, with all interested parties and try to get as much information as we can and report back with the information that we feel that we have confidence is close enough to the reality.
Correspondent: That is very often in these cases that you are taking the Israeli official position and that’s… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think if you look at the body of reports, I think, that have been produced to the Security Council, we report back to the best of our ability on incidents wherever they occur.
Célhia, and then we’ll go to the screen.
Question: Stéphane, do you have an update on the dam on the Nile that [inaudible] Ethiopia and Sudan, because the last time, no? They failed to reach an agreement.
Spokesman: What I’ve… I’ve had the reports of a request for a Security Council meeting. We’ll have to see where that goes. The Secretary-General has been very much involved in speaking to all the parties linked to this, which is… whether it’s the Ethiopian Prime Minister, the leaders in Sudan. I know he’s spoken to the Foreign Minister of Egypt on this, as well as President [Félix] Tshisekedi of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), who is head of the African Union (AU) for this year, has been leading on this. We have worked very closely with the AU. We very much support their efforts, and we do hope that eventually, the parties will agree to a way to move forward on this to the benefit of all the people who rely on the Nile and its waters.
All right, Benny.
Correspondent: Sorry. My question was on Nizar Banat, so strike it.
Spokesman: I like that question, Benny. Okay. [laughter]
Correspondent: Your favourite of mine ever. [laughter]
Spokesman: Okay. Any other questions? All right. Edie, and then Abdelhamid.
Correspondent: My name is there.
Correspondent: I have a question also, I asked for a question, please.
Spokesman: We’re not seeing you in the chat but let me go to Edie, and then I’ll go back to the screen.
Question: Steph, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the decision of the six leaders from the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) to send a regional military force to Mozambique to help the country battle its growing insurgency in the north?
Spokesman: Look, we very much think that the situation in Mozambique is extremely dire, the humanitarian situation. We have talked about this over and over again, the way civilians have suffered in the region of Cabo Delgado. The Secretary-General does… very much believes in the role that regional and subregional organizations have as front-line responses to these kinds of crises. So, we’re taking a look at exactly what’s been decided, but the fact that it is a regional effort is one that needs to be supported.
Okay. Nabil and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow-up on Ibtisam’s question. Mr. Wennesland also said in his briefing today that the Israeli… or 66 Palestinians, including 12 children, were injured by rubber bullets, and we know, or at least many activists from the ground and Palestinians believe that there is nothing called “rubber bullets”, because these are bullets, actual bullets, covered by rubber. So, what do you mean when you say, “rubber bullets”?
Spokesman: The term “rubber bullets” is one that is commonly used as referring to… like you said, that are bullets coated in rubber.
We have condemned the use of disproportionate force against children, against unarmed demonstrators, but I think the reports… you know, Mr. Wennesland’s report speaks for itself. I don’t have anything else to add to it.
Correspondent: Because many people believe it’s not an accurate term.
Spokesman: I hear you. It is a term that is used in referring to that type of ammunition commonly across the world. I can look to see if we can use another nomenclature, but I hear what you say.
Question: And also another question, if I may, also on this. The US Ambassador said in the Council today that we need a mechanism, which allows authorities to mitigate any risk of diversion… she means in Gaza. Is the UN working on such a mechanism? Mr. Wennesland working on it? Are you part of it?
Spokesman: If you’ll recall, I think Lynne Hastings, when she briefed you, and I think it probably wouldn’t be bad to get her back here, is that there is already a mechanism when it comes to aid provided by the UN of inspection and verification. This is something that had been put in, if I’m not mistaken, after 2014… after the conflict in 2014, and that system still exists. Aid that comes through the UN is tracked in a very transparent manner.
Question: Thank you. I might have missed the question of Ibtisam, and I want to ask again about Nizar Banat and to see if the SG was briefed about this heinous crime committed by the PA (Palestinian Authority). What you can tell me about this?
Spokesman: I mean, I would refer… the Secretary-General is very much aware of the situation. He fully backs Mr. Wennesland, who spoke on his behalf in the Security Council and spoke about it in his remarks to the Council.
Question: Yeah, I have a question now about the statement given by Mr. Wennesland to the Security Council. He mentioned that… he called for Hamas to release two Israeli soldiers after captive… captive in Hamas prisons and two bodies. And he also asked Israel to release the Palestinian bodies, for a long time. He didn’t mention the number. Why is that?
Spokesman: He didn’t mention what?
Question: Why he didn’t mention the number of bodies kept by Israeli forces?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I don’t know. We can…
Spokesman: Okay. I understand. I can’t answer your question, because I don’t have that knowledge.
Question: Okay. My second question is… also said that Israel should observe international humanitarian law governing armed conflict. So, is he qualifying what happened in the last… in May as armed conflict between two equal groups? Armed conflict is between two armies, between two countries. Why he used this term, “armed conflict”?
Spokesman: Because there was an armed conflict.
Correspondent: But there wasn’t aggression. There was… Gaza is under siege… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I mean… we’re not… I’m not… I mean, I’m not going to start analysing the roots in how far you want to go back. It seems pretty obvious to me, as sitting here in New York, looking at a picture, that it was an armed conflict.
Correspondent: But that term means that two equal armies, two equal States, two equal… [cross talk]
Spokesman: That’s what you infer from it. I infer from it that there were… there was a conflict and arms were used and violence [was] used and civilians suffered. Okay. I don’t see any other questions.
Correspondent: Steph, I have a question.
Spokesman: Oh, Pam. Sorry. Yes, go ahead, Pam. Go ahead.
Question: It’s all right. We’ve seen a lot of back and forth about the options for UN GA (General Assembly) in September. Where does the Secretary-General… I mean, obviously, it’s up to the Secretariat and Member States, but where does… does the Secretary-General hope that world leaders can attend in person? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, it’s up to the Member States. We presented different options to the President of the General Assembly (PGA). My understanding and I think as Amy [Quantrill] has said, there should be a letter going out from the PGA to Member States at some point. We want to have as many… kind of as open as possible United Nations within what is considered very safe public health regulations.
But again, we will follow and support whatever Member States decide. You know, of course, we would rather see more people than fewer people in this building during the General Assembly, but we also need to be very cautious; we need to be very careful; we need to work with our host country authorities and observe safe public health regulations.
Question: Thank you. Do you have any sense of the timing on that?
Spokesman: No. That’s a question for the President of the General Assembly.
Correspondent: All right, thank you.
Question: Just to follow-up on that. Will there be a GA resolution confirming what the policy will be?
Spokesman: I don’t know. That’s… you’d have to ask Amy. You can reach… Amy should be here today. You can just ask her what the GA needs to do… wants to do.
Okay. Thank you, all. Hasta mañana and 1:30 here, Foreign Minister of Argentina.