The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon to all of you.
**Noon Briefing Guests
Good afternoon, in a short while, I will be honoured to be joined by the President of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, who was just appointed by the Secretary-General as Global Advocate for Every Woman Every Child.
Then at 1:15 p.m. I will be joined by the Under-Secretary[-General] for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, Catherine Pollard, and the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, along with Ambassador Mathu Joyini, the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN. Mr. Lacroix will join us virtually and Ms. Pollard and Ambassador Joyini will be here in the room to discuss this morning’s virtual high-level meeting on “Strengthening the Conduct of Peacekeeping Personnel”.
Speaking at the Security Council’s VTC (video teleconference) open debate on children and armed conflict, the Secretary-General said that as we mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the mandate’s creation, its continued relevance is sadly clear.
The disregard for children’s rights at times of conflict and upheaval is shocking and heart-breaking, he added. He called on all parties to conflict to prioritize the prevention of violations against children and to engage in dialogue, ceasefires and peace processes.
Turning to his annual report, the Secretary-General reiterated that it is a crucial tool.
He called on the Security Council and all Member States to strongly support the protection of children in all ways at all times.
There is no place for children in conflict, he concluded. We must not allow conflict to trample their rights.
**Secretary-General — Terrorism
And also this morning, he spoke at the Second High-Level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States.
He said the fight against terrorism has seen important advances, with attacks thwarted across the world, yet the threat has persisted and diversified.
The Secretary-General noted how Al-Qaida and ISIL have continued to exploit social grievances and gender stereotypes to inspire lone actors and co-opt other groups.
At the same time, he said, years of increasing polarization, governance failures and a normalization of hate speech have benefitted terrorist groups.
The Secretary-General said it is also clear that terrorist groups will exploit hardships and inequalities related to the ongoing pandemic.
He stressed the need to build resilience; the need for a human-rights reset for counter-terrorism; and for counter-terrorism to rise to the challenges and opportunities of transformative technologies.
His remarks have been shared with you.
**Action for Peacekeeping
Speaking via a pre-taped video message, the Secretary-General addressed the Member States on Accountability for Misconduct by Peacekeepers.
He said that the vast majority of peacekeepers live up to the highest standards of conduct, but noted that when they do not, it has a devastating impact on victims and survivors, and undermines our operational efficiency and our global reputation.
He said that the UN steadily has made progress on improving training and creating safe ways to report misconduct, and that we are working to increase transparency, strengthen internal accountability and emphasize the needs and rights of victims and survivors.
The Secretary-General asked Member States to continue supporting initiatives to improve the UN’s ability to prevent misconduct, enforce standards and remedy harm.
He also underscored that we need bold action to ensure accountability for UN peacekeeping personnel who are guilty of misconduct.
Over the weekend, you saw that the Secretary-General issued a statement, in which he said he was shocked by the murder of three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) humanitarian workers in Tigray, in Ethiopia, saying that this is totally unacceptable and an appalling violation of international human rights law, and that the perpetrators must be found and severely punished.
The Secretary-General also strongly condemned the air strike on the village of Togoga that took place earlier last week. He reiterated the need for all parties to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law and to ensure the protection of civilians. He called for an independent and swift investigation into the incident.
The Secretary-General once again calls for an immediate end to the fighting and for urgent steps to peacefully resolve the conflict.
And a number of you asked me about reports of attacks on humanitarian assets in Mekele, and I can tell you that we condemn any and all attacks on humanitarian workers and assets and remind again all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
All parties must ensure the protection of civilians, and that all humanitarian assistance provided by the United Nations is provided according to humanitarian principles.
The safety of our staff is a priority, and we are doing everything we can to ensure it.
Turning to Gaza. Tor Wennesland, our UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, announced that, under the UN framework, the Qatari-funded fuel deliveries for the Gaza Power Plant are resuming today. That is in accordance with the previous agreement between the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the State of Qatar.
Mr. Wennesland welcomed all steps taken to de-escalate the situation. The UN will continue to work with all concerned parties and partners to solidify a ceasefire and help the people of Gaza.
**Central African Republic
And a quick note on the Central African Republic: Our Humanitarian Coordinator there, Denise Brown, strongly condemned the killing yesterday of a caretaker working with Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) who was killed while transferring patients last week in Batangafo, in the north-west of the country.
The attack is the third attack against Médecins Sans Frontières in the past month and the NGO (non-governmental organization) has now suspended its work in the region.
This comes of course in the same week as our friends in MSF suffered another tragic loss in Ethiopia, as we just said.
Our humanitarian colleagues say that attacks on civilians and aid workers have become widespread in the CAR since late 2020, including killings, looting, attacks on health facilities, forced displacement and school occupations.
OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says that, in 2020 alone, the Central African Republic was the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian workers. As of 31 May, 229 incidents — or at least one a day — have affected aid workers, with one death and 11 injuries.
Some 2.8 million people — that’s 57 per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Seven hundred twenty-seven thousand people are currently displaced in the country, a level not seen since 2014.
Despite the worsening security environment, aid workers have helped 1.2 million people in the CAR in the first quarter of this year. To date, our Humanitarian Response Plan is only 34 per cent funded.
In a report published today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, made an urgent call for States to adopt a transformative agenda to uproot [systemic] racism.
The report states that the worldwide mobilization of people calling for racial justice has forced a long-delayed reckoning with racism and shifted debates towards a focus on the systemic nature of racism and the institutions that perpetrate it.
She called on all States to adopt “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” reforms and responses, through adequately resourced national and regional action plans and concrete measures developed through national dialogues, with meaningful participation and representation of people of African descent.
From Myanmar, the World Food Programme (WFP) colleagues there say they are concerned about significant increases in food prices nationwide.
For example, the price of cooking oil has jumped 40 per cent since February.
The price increase is especially troubling at a time when 80 per cent of households in Myanmar have lost nearly 50 per cent of their income this year.
WFP plans to help up to 2 million vulnerable people in urban areas. The agency has already reached more than 300,000 vulnerable people in parts of Yangon.
And over the weekend, you saw that we issued a statement on Colombia, in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack on Friday against a helicopter carrying the President of Colombia and other officials.
Let’s pause and answer some questions and then we will go to the President. We’ll take some questions. Célhia?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, is there a way for the UN to protect the humanitarian workers? Can something be done?
Spokesman: First of all, if you’re referring to the situation in Ethiopia, in Tigray, the responsibility to protect humanitarian workers falls squarely first and foremost on the Government and also on all parties involved in this conflict. The UN does not have any armed security of any sort to protect humanitarian workers. As we have repeatedly said, attacks on humanitarian workers aren’t just attacks on those individuals, tragic and horrific as it is — it is an attack on the people they are there to serve, and it is unacceptable.
Benno and then we will go to James.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Today marks that it’s six months ago that the Secretary-General said that Fabrizio Hochschild is under investigation for harassment. I wonder if after six months, there is anything substantial to say about this case.
Spokesman: No. As far as I understand the process, it’s still ongoing.
Question: Then I have a follow-up. The internal guidelines say the probable duration should not exceed three months. So, this is now…
Spokesman: Which internal guidelines?
Correspondent: OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services).
Spokesman: For investigation?
Correspondent: For investigation of staff.
Spokesman: Listen, the investigations are done as speedily as possible. But sometimes you have to take… you need to have both speed and thoroughness. And I’m not speaking about this particular case, because I am not involved and have no insight into the investigation. But investigations need to be done in a way that takes into account thoroughness and, of course, speediness for the benefit of everyone involved.
Question: I do understand that. But, like, double of the duration is quite much. And I talked with the UN staff members who are puzzled about that.
Spokesman: You know, I can’t really say anything more than I’ve just said. I know the investigators are working very thoroughly and as speedily as possible. But when you do an investigation, any investigation, you have to follow where… follow the facts as you find them. James?
Question: Yeah. I have a number of questions. US air strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria, the UN’s reaction?
Spokesman: And your second question?
Correspondent: You have it.
Spokesman: Okay, all right.
Question: I can give you another question now, which is Palestine and protests against the Palestinian Authority, a large-scale protest. There seems to be all sorts of cases of beatings and arrests of protesters; the UN’s reaction to that, too?
Spokesman: Okay, we’ve seen the reports of the air strikes, the US air strikes in the Iraqi-Syria border area. The Secretary-General remains concerned about the volatile situation in the area and the region, in fact. He renews his call for all concerned sides to exercise restraint and avoid any risks of escalation, which could undermine the ongoing diplomatic efforts at finding a peaceful solution to the region’s tensions.
On Gaza, we honestly have been following this very closely.
Correspondent: Sorry, the question was more about the West Bank.
Spokesman: The West Bank, I’m sorry, sorry. You know, it’s literally I need an IFB, like an anchor, so people can tell me what to say as it comes in. But thank you for pointing me in the right area. We are obviously following very closely. And we have seen… I think we have all seen the images coming out of the West Bank. I think the conduct of the Palestinian security forces is concerning. This, obviously, follows the death of the former parliamentary candidate, Nizar Banat, who died in unclear circumstances, as it were, right now, in the custody of Palestinian security forces. We have our human rights colleagues on the ground who witnessed both Palestinian security forces and nonuniformed persons using force against protesters, as well as journalists and human rights officers, who are themselves documenting the event. Several people have been injured, as you probably have seen. We call on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that security forces ensure freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and peaceful assembly. And that any excessive use of force is investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law.
Question: I will ask about Gaza. Do you know why the reconstruction process has not kicked off in Gaza after the recent escalation?
Spokesman: Look, obviously, it’s a very complex situation, where various parties have to manage and be managed. We would like to see reconstruction start as quickly as possible. I think the start of the fuel deliveries that we saw today and are expecting again tomorrow are a positive sign, in the sense that ensuring that the Gaza power plant has electricity to function is sort of the backbone, in a sense, of any reconstruction. Because you need electricity for everyday living, but you need electricity and power for reconstruction.
My understanding is that eight trucks with fuel went through today. Sixty trucks are expected this week. The power plant uses fuel for electricity. The average daily amount of electricity currently generated by the Gaza power plant is about 60 to 70 per cent of the amount generated before the latest conflict. We understand a third turbine was turned on a bit earlier today, about 1 p.m. local time, with total electricity supplies from the power plant and other sources now returning to about 14 hours a day. That’s up just recently from about 11 to 12 hours a day.
Question: A follow-up: I heard here in New York and now Reuters reports, quoting an Israeli official, that Israel has a condition here that the reconstruction would be eased or facilitated if the Palestinian groups in Gaza release or engage in the releasing of the four Israelis, I think two soldiers and two others released, who were captured in Gaza.
Spokesman: We’ve seen these press reports. As I’ve said, the reconstruction issue from our end is, I mean, from anyone’s end is a complex one, because they are obviously, it’s within a political context. We hope all the parties involved will ensure that reconstruction starts as soon as possible for the benefit of the civilians in Gaza who have already suffered tremendously.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Two questions for you today. May we have an update on the work of the Special Envoy to Myanmar? Where is she and what is she working on?
Spokesman: She is working on Myanmar. That much I know. I believe she is back in Bern. After she was here in New York and she spoke to you, she went to Washington, had a number of meetings with senior State Department officials, I think including Wendy Sherman. And I believe she is back in Bern now.
Question: Are we going to get a readout of the US meeting?
Spokesman: The readout is that she briefed them on… she briefed on her work and her discussions that she’s been having… the one she had, she very much had in the region.
Question: And second question is on Afghanistan. I note that the Government of Afghanistan is giving a gift to the UN today. Do you see this as a sign of the increasing political fragility in the country and a desire for more international attention?
Spokesman: One doesn’t question people when they give you a gift; at least, I don’t. It’s a sign of friendship and a sign of the importance they bring to the United Nations. I’m not going to read anything more into it.
Okay, I think, Abdelhamid, do you have a question?
Question: Yeah, I have a follow-up. In fact, James took my question. But my question is: if Mr. Tor Wennesland had any contact with the Palestinian Authority, with Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas or any of his associates about what happened from the minute that Nizar Banat was assassinated to the present?
Spokesman: My understanding is that contacts were had with the Palestinian Authority. Okay, James?
Question: A couple more questions, if I can. Does the Secretary-General believe in a rules-based international order?
Spokesman: Clearly the answer is yes. I fear there is a second question coming now.
Question: Well, because in a lengthy article, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has taken aim at that phrase. He says the rules-based order is the embodiment of double standards. Do you… is it a phrase that you’re going to continue to use now that one permanent member of the Security Council has written a very lengthy objection to that phrase?
Spokesman: I will leave the analysis of what the Foreign Minister has said to you. I don’t take it in that sense.
Question: So, the UN will still use that phrase?
Spokesman: I think what is important is that there are rules and there are principles in this Organization that 193 Members have signed on to. And it is up to those countries that have signed up to observe those rules and abide by these principles.
Question: Second question is about Pakistan: whether there have been protests by women following comments made by the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, in an interview with Axios. What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to those comments from the Pakistani Prime Minister: “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the man unless they are robots. I mean, it’s common sense,” in talking about rape and sexual assault in Pakistan? Does the Secretary-General, as a woman’s rights advocate, think those sort of comments are acceptable?
Spokesman: I had not seen those comments. It is very clear that no one who is the victim of rape should be blamed for the attack, and that’s to me pretty common-sensical. Okay, I don’t see any more questions in the chat and I don’t see any questions.
Correspondent: Yes, I have a question. Joe Klein, I have a question.
Spokesman: Sorry, okay.
Correspondent: I have a question, too.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Correspondent: All right, I’ll go ahead. Thank you.
Spokesman: Then we will go to you, Pam.
Question: Okay, this concerns Iran. I believe you quoted, saying the Secretary-General is intent on cooperating with the newly elected Iranian officials and newly elected President out of mutual respect. First of all, I want to know if that is an accurate quote? And, secondly, does that mean that the Secretary-General is willing to overlook the long record of human rights abuses by the newly elected President [Ebrahim] Reisi? Does he have no problem… [cross talk] let me just finish… and also that he has no problem with the way the so-called election was carried out?
Spokesman: We were not involved in the election at all. Every Member State of this Organization has a Head of State that is reported to us. It is the role of any Secretary-General to work with every Member State of this Organization. That does not mean that the Secretary-General will not speak up about human rights violations or any other issues in any country.
Pam, and then… Pam Falk, go ahead.
Question: Hi, thanks, Steph. On Tigray, do you have an overview of what…how many and from what agencies the UN staff is in Tigray? And what protection or added protection is being issued because of the Doctors without Borders killings? And then I have a second question.
Spokesman: On Tigray, what I can tell you is that as of 24 June, so a couple days ago, there was 419 UN staff supporting the humanitarian response in Tigray. The majority of them are national staff, though we have a substantial number of international staff. Most of them are in Mekelle and then there are others in the town of Shire. We assess the security of our staff on a regular basis and adjust our work accordingly. As I mentioned to Célhia in the beginning, the responsibility to protect humanitarian staff falls first and foremost in any country on the Government, and if we operate in a conflict area, on all the parties involved in the conflict. Your other question?
Question: Yes, on the Afghanistan gift, maybe I missed this, but they made the point of saying this is the first gift since the 1960s and that this is the first time a gift that they gave will be displayed. Can you just explain where it will be displayed?
Spokesman: I think it’s going to be in the first basement, but I have to check. Yes?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: I’m told… I’m getting thumbs up for my answer.
Question: All right. And nothing to replace Picasso, right, yet?
Spokesman: No, ma’am, not yet.
Correspondent: All right, thank you.
Spokesman: Not that I know of.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay, so with your permission I will now go get the President.