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1 July 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 Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Sorry for the delay.

Welcome to the noon briefing.  It’s good to see you all in person.  The last time I was here, the last time I was briefing you, it was from my apartment.  This is an infinitely better view.  And for those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting in person, my name is Eri Kaneko, and I am with the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Guest Today

Following this briefing, we will be joined virtually by the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Mr. Munir Akram.  He will brief on the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will take place from 6 to 15 July.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General today was in Valencia, in Spain, where he toured the UN Information and Communications Technology Facility.  The Secretary-General was there to mark the tenth anniversary of the base, which delivers technology services and solutions for the UN and its partners.

Just to let you know, the UN base operates, maintains, and supports 197 centrally hosted applications for approximately 65,000 users.  It operates in three different satellites and delivers a bandwidth of information to peacekeeping and special political missions.

The centre is also an environmentally friendly facility.  It has 700 solar panels, infrastructure that reduces cooling needs in the summer and heating requirements in the winter and a rainwater harvesting tank for landscape irrigation, among other features.

After the tour, at a press encounter, the Secretary-General thanked Spain for its support and for the expansion plans for the Facility.  We shared those remarks with you.

And a few moments ago, he met with students at the Centre for Arts and Science.  The Secretary-General had a frank discussion with the students about the global challenges we face today.

He thanked them for their commitment to calling for more climate ambition.  He encouraged them to keep up the pressure and also focus on the needs relating to finance, adaptation and resilience in the run-up to COP26 (26th Conference of Parties) to ensure that these concerns are high on the political agenda.

He is currently on a train, heading to Madrid.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues say that the situation in Tigray remains volatile and unpredictable.  Major towns, including Mekelle, Adigrat, Adwa, Axum and Shire, remain calm, but there are unconfirmed reports of clashes in the Southern and North-Western Zones.

Electricity and telecommunications are still cut off throughout the region.  There are no flights or road transportation in or out of the region.

Despite this, our humanitarian partners continue to operate, in line with humanitarian principles.  For example, yesterday, the UN migration agency (IOM) delivered fuel to operate water pumps, as well as firewood for cooking in a few displacement sites in the Mekelle area, benefiting several thousand people.  Partners are continuing to bring water into Shire and displacement sites in Mekelle.  An international NGO (non-governmental organization) partner continues to provide medical services in Samre town, in the South-Eastern Zone.

We, along with our partners, are assessing access along main roads to several areas to resume aid delivery.  Our colleagues say it is urgent to get additional staff and supplies into Tigray, to restore electricity and telecommunications, and ensure that cash and fuel are available throughout the region for the continuity of humanitarian operations.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, we are concerned about reports of another disruption of the water supply in Syria — from Alouk water station to Al-Hasakeh — which shut down on 23 June.  This is the twenty-fourth such disruption recorded by our humanitarian colleagues since November 2019.  This latest disruption follows months of reduced functionality.

Up to 1 million people in the region are affected when Alouk ceases to operate, including 460,000 people who rely on Alouk as a direct water source and an additional 500,000 people served by water trucking supplied by the station sources, including people in Al Hol and other camps and settlements.  Other critical infrastructure, including at least 30 health facilities in Al-Hasakeh, rely on Alouk for water.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners are trucking in emergency water supplies and installing reverse osmosis pumps in Al-Hasakeh city to address the most pressing needs, but significant gaps remain.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Syria, and with limited access to vaccines, access to adequate clean water and sanitation remains a vital first line of defence for communities to further stem transmission of the pandemic, and to also ward off other health risks, such as outbreaks of waterborne and water-related diseases.

With no other current viable solution to Alouk, it is imperative that the station resumes its water supply to the area.

We urge the parties to ensure the safe and rapid access of technical teams to Alouk and its related infrastructure.  We call on all parties to find a sustainable solution to ensure the continued operation of the water station.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, our colleagues in the UN Country Team today said they are alarmed that the death toll for women has increased between May and June.  In many cases, our team on the ground said, the women were not directly targeted but rather they were victims caught in the crossfire of shootings and other violent attacks.

An estimated 177,500 people have been displaced in the south-eastern parts of Myanmar due to violence, armed clashes and insecurity since the military takeover of the Government on 1 February, and that is according to the UN Human Rights Office.

Our team in Myanmar warns that the increasing numbers of displaced people in areas affected by armed conflict will worsen the current humanitarian crisis, especially for the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

We’ve been asked about the recent judgments concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General has taken note of the delivery yesterday of the retrial judgment by the Trial Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which convicted Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war committed by Serb forces following the takeover of the municipality of Bosanski Šamac in Bosnia and Herzegovina in April of 1992.

The Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the victims, survivors and their families who have suffered from these crimes.

The Secretary-General commends the judges and staff of the Residual Mechanism involved in this case for their unfaltering dedication and hard work as the Mechanism progresses towards the completion of its current judicial work.

**Prespa Forum

And staying in the area, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenca, delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary-General today to the First Prespa Forum Dialogue under way in the Republic of North Macedonia.

The Secretary-General applauded the people and Government of North Macedonia for creating this Forum, with the aim of building bridges across the region.

He recalled how, three years ago, Skopje and Athens signed an agreement, showing that intractable issues can be solved when there is political will.

Leadership by example can pave the way for goodwill gestures that build mutual understanding and trust – the most essential elements to resolve differences.

**COVID-19 — Honduras

We have a COVID-19 update for you today from Honduras, which received, on Sunday, 1.5 million doses donated by the Government of the United States, through COVAX.

Honduras is the first of 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean receiving vaccines donated by the United States through COVAX.

With this latest shipment, Honduras has now received more than 1.9 million doses through COVAX.  The country aims to vaccinate over 7 million people above the age of 12.

The Pan-American Health Organization, or PAHO, worked with the Governments of the United States and Honduras on the logistical arrangements for the safe arrival of these vaccines.  The PAHO Representative in Honduras thanked the United States for the generous donation through COVAX and said she hoped this would encourage other world leaders to boost solidarity to fight the pandemic and donate more doses of vaccines.

**COVID-19 — Poverty

Staying on the topic of COVID-19.  Our colleagues at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a new report that cash assistance policies significantly reduced the number of people who might otherwise have fallen into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report found that in the 41 countries for which data is available, 80 per cent of people — or 12 million out of 15 million people — who would have fallen below the $1.90 poverty line did not as a result of social assistance measures.

However, the study revealed this impact was largely found in high and upper middle-income countries, as richer countries could afford to spend more on social protection measures.

For low- and middle-income countries, social assistance spending was not sufficient to prevent an increase in the number of poor people, and in low-income countries it could not prevent income losses at all.

**Financial Contribution

And to our daily quiz:  Which South American bilingual country has Guaraní and Spanish as its two languages?

This Member State has just paid its dues in full to the United Nations.  Do you have any guess?  [responses from the floor]

Good, who said that?  And this meeting is being recorded.  [laughter]  Paraguay!

**Hybrid Briefing

And at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing in this room by Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, the President of the Security Council for the month of July and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.

**Questions and Answers

And I’m done here so if you have any questions.

Edie, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you very much, Eri.  A question, first, about Tigray.  The International Rescue Committee says a key bridge over the Tekeze River was destroyed, which is blocking the delivery of critical aid to a large part of Tigray.  Does the UN know about this?  And is the UN doing anything to try and put up a temporary bridge?  And then I have one other follow-up.

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.  On the bridge, we’ve seen the reports.  We don’t have any first-hand information, but we will check with our humanitarian colleagues and see what we can find out.

Question:  Thank you.  Secondly, on Myanmar, when you were talking about the death toll for women, are there numbers?  And how do the numbers compare to men?  And you said that it appeared that a lot of them were caught in the crossfire; they were not targeted.  Can we get some more details?

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.  So, these are reports that our human rights colleagues are collecting on the ground.  We don’t necessarily have first-hand eyewitness accounts, so I don’t have exact numbers for you.  We can check for you on that.

But we… the latest figures, I think, we have were 883 people have been killed as of earlier this week; so, we don’t have a breakdown of men versus women, but the trend seems to be going upwards for women.

James?

Question:  Follow-up on the bridge, which I know you’re still trying to check the information of its destruction, but this is a bridge over one of the four main routes into Tigray, and some of those routes are already impassable.  How worried is the UN if these reports are true about the impact on humanitarian delivery into Tigray?

Associate Spokesperson:  Now, as you know, we’ve been saying for quite some time now… we’ve been raising the… sounding the alarm on the impact of the clashes and that’s worsening an already terrible humanitarian situation in Tigray.  We’re trying to get our people in.  We’re trying to get other agencies in to help the people.  And if the reports are confirmed of this bridge being severely damaged, that would be yet another setback to our efforts to help the people of the region.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks.  Very nice to see you.  First question is on the humanitarian situation in North Korea.  Do we have any more contact between your office and… or just any more information on the humanitarian situation there?

Associate Spokesperson:  The short answer is no.  [laughter]  But we have been in close contact with the relevant authorities in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).  As you know, the humanitarian work in the country is a critical lifeline for millions of people who are in a protracted humanitarian situation, which has only been further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We do hope that the conditions will allow for the UN and our humanitarian partners to continue our programmes, and it is crucial that international staff can return to the DPRK as soon as possible, as well as supplies being able to come in and that staff can access sites and projects that have been stalled since last year due to the pandemic.

Any other questions?  All right.  Let’s see if there are questions in the chat.  Oh, sorry.  Evelyn, please, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry.  Evelyn Leopold.  Is it possible in the future, when vaccines are distributed and the UN announces them, to say which vaccines there are?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we can do that.  Just so you know, today, for Honduras, it was the Moderna vaccine.

Correspondent:  Right.  Because not all vaccines are equal.  [laughter] Okay.  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  No problem.

I see that Doyin from Reuters has a question.  Are you there?

Question:  Yes.  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can hear you.

Question:  Perfect.  Does the Secretary-General have a reaction on the 2,300 detainees released in Myanmar yesterday, many of whom were charged with incitement for taking part in protests?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware of these reports, and we reiterate our call for the immediate release of all of those arbitrarily detained, and that includes President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  This has also been highlighted by the Security Council, as you know.

And we remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests by the security forces.

And let’s see.  Abdelhamid has a question?

Question:  Yes, I do.  Thank you for the briefing.  Today, at the UN, there was an important international conference on Jerusalem.  Madame Rosemary DiCarlo delivered an important message on behalf of the Secretary-General.

The activity has not been mentioned yesterday in the noon briefing, nor it was mentioned today in your briefing.  You didn’t quote Rosemary DiCarlo the way you just quoted another statement delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General.  Why this activity has been ignored by the Spokesman’s Office?

Associate Spokesperson:  Probably a glaring omission on our part that has no bearing on these… the substance or the content of the meeting.  [The remarks were later posted at https://dppa.un.org/en/statement-rosemary-dicarlo-under-secretary-general-dppa-international-conference-question-of-0.]

Correspondent:  The UN committee is not like an NGO, so you say it’s not… it’s the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Palestinian People of their Inalienable Rights so it’s a UN committee.  It’s…

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  It’s scheduled for some time.  It’s an important message.  It’s important activity where so many speakers spoke today in the [inaudible], yet it has been ignored, including the speech by Rosemary DiCarlo.  Is that…  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  We hear your message.  Thank you, Abdelhamid.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Associate Spokesperson:  And let’s see.  Iftikhar has a question?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Eri.  Good to see you.  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  Good to see you, too.

Question:  My question is on Afghanistan.  There is so much going on on the diplomatic front and there’s also violence continuing, but we have had no update on the activities of the UN envoy who has been visiting the area.  And what is the progress towards organizing the peace conference in Istanbul?

Associate Spokesperson:  You may have heard the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Deborah Lyons.  She briefed the Security Council… I believe it was last week.  But just to answer your question, the United Nations in Afghanistan is still working to support peace.  We’re there to promote human rights and provide vital humanitarian assistance to the millions of people in need.

Both Deborah Lyons and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Jean Arnault, are continuing to actively engage Afghan stakeholders, regional countries and other partners in support of an inclusive peace process that leads to a sustainable settlement of the conflict.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Associate Spokesperson:  And let’s see.  James Reinl, are you there?

Question:  Yeah, I’m here.  Thanks so much, Eri.  Abdelhamid, I think your speaker’s still on, also Iftikhar, as well, if you can switch them off.

Yeah, I’ve got another question on Tigray, and it kind of follows on what Edie and James were asking you about, access to Tigray, humanitarian access, the bridge coming down, lack of road access.  I guess that leaves open the possibility of air access?  I think there are two airports in Tigray, one in Mekelle, one in Axum.

Are you… is the UN… is OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) able to fly air supplies in at the moment?  Do you have people on the ground in those towns?  Are the airports safe?  Are the runways working?  Are you going to be able to establish a humanitarian air bridge?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  We checked, actually, on those exact points with our humanitarian colleagues a short while ago.  Our understanding is that the airports are still closed.  So, we have not been able to get staff or supplies in or out.  And, so, as I believe Stéphane [Dujarric] has already mentioned, we still have our 419 UN staff supporting the humanitarian response in Tigray, and most of our staff are in Mekelle and in Shire.

Question:  And are you actually working on getting a humanitarian air bridge open?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, as you know, the situation is still quite fluid there, the security situation.  Communications are down.  So, we are doing the best we can, and let’s hope that we make some headway soon.

Yes?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Eri.

Question:  Sort of a question, but it’s also sort of an appeal, following Iftikhar’s question, and you are in the fortunate position of having two envoys in Afghanistan, yet… you mentioned the Security Council.  That’s great, but they’re supposed to be accountable to the public, as well, and I don’t know when they last, either of them, took questions from reporters.  This is a pivotal moment in what’s going on in Afghanistan.

When are we going to get to speak to at least one of these envoys about the UN’s position on Afghanistan?

And I would add to that what James just… you know, Tigray.  You’ve got officials in Tigray.  Can we speak to people about what’s going on on the ground, please?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  So, we’re having a difficult time reaching our own colleagues in Tigray, as I’m sure you can understand.  So, as soon as we have stronger Wi-Fi/VSAT links, we’ll see what we can do about getting people to talk to you.

And on Afghanistan, we hear you.  We will do our best to see if we can get one of them to come speak to you.

All right.  Do we have any other questions?  Okay.  So, I think we will go to our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.