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

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Food Systems Summit

In a statement that we are issuing now, the Secretary-General says that new, tragic data informs us that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 — as many as 161 million more than in 2019.

He says that addressing hunger and malnutrition cannot be done in isolation of other global challenges.  As we recognized through the 2030 Agenda, they are interconnected.

It is time to keep our promise.  In a world of plenty, we have no excuse for billions of people to lack access to a healthy diet.  This is unacceptable, the Secretary-General says.

This is why the Secretary-General is convening a global Food Systems Summit this September.  He says we must come together to urgently make a change.  He added that the upcoming pre-summit in Rome at the end of this month will help us define the scope of our ambition and work out how we must address hunger, the climate emergency, incredible inequality and conflict, by transforming our food systems.

The full statement will be available online.

**Noon Briefing Guests

And also today after I’m done, we will be joined by Mr. Máximo Torero, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Chief Economist, and Mr. Arif Husain, the World Food Programme (WFP) Chief Economist.  They will be joining us virtually and will brief you on the launch of the flagship report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021”.  And that will be right after this part of the briefing.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that a convoy of 50 trucks arrived in the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle today with 900 metric tones of food, as well as other emergency supplies.  However, WFP noted that double this number of trucks needs to be moving in every day to meet the vast humanitarian needs in the region.

With almost 4 million people in need of emergency food assistance in Tigray, WFP requires transporting more than 10,000 metric tons of food and 150,000 litres of fuel every week on behalf of the humanitarian sector.

This was the first humanitarian convoy to reach Tigray since WFP re-started operations in the north-west on 2 July following fighting.  Since then, it has provided 135,000 people with emergency food.

Across Ethiopia, WFP aims to reach 11.9 million people in 2021 with food, nutrition, cash support and activities to boost communities’ self-reliance and capacity to be food secure.

**Biological Diversity

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity secretariat has a new draft Global Biodiversity Framework to guide actions worldwide through 2030 to preserve and protect nature and its essential services to people.

This draft framework will serve as the basis for negotiations for countries at the Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, on how to reverse the destruction and degradation of nature.  That meeting will take place in Kunming, China, in October.

The new draft document includes calls for protecting 30 per cent of land and sea areas, halving the introduction of invasive alien species, sharply curbing subsidies or incentives that harm nature and stepping up nature-based solutions.

**Economic and Social Council

Today, the High-Level Political Forum of the Economic and Social Council held a session that explored concrete policy recommendations to catalyse investments in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), within the context of pressing debt sustainability challenges faced by developing countries.

The morning also began the presentation of the voluntary national reviews, as part of the follow-up and review architecture of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  These national reviews are expected to serve as a basis for the regular reviews by the Forum.

Forty-two countries are presenting the voluntary national reviews at this session, including 8 for the first time, 24 for the second time, and 10 for the third time.  Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General, led a discussion on the reviews this year.

**Latin America — COVID-19

I have an update from our colleagues on the delivery of vaccines in Latin America through the COVAX facility.

Over the weekend, Honduras received nearly 190,000 vaccine doses.  With this shipment, the country has received a total of over 2 million vaccine doses, which amounts to nearly 55 per cent of the total number of vaccines committed through COVAX and will cover 20 per cent of the country’s population.

And on Sunday, Bolivia received over a million doses donated by the US Government through the COVAX Facility.  Bolivia is one of 14 countries in the region receiving vaccines donated by the United States through COVAX.  With this shipment, the country has now received a total of 1.4 million doses through COVAX.  Our team there worked with the Governments of Bolivia and the US on the logistical arrangements for the safe arrival of the vaccines.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN country team there said today that, more than five months since the military takeover of the Government, it remains concerned by continued reports of violence across the country.

This includes explosions in major towns and cities, as well as armed clashes involving the security forces, the people’s defence forces and ethnic armed groups.  Civilian deaths and injuries are being reported on an almost daily basis.

Our colleagues in Myanmar continue to call on all to refrain from violence and speak out against the disproportionate use of force, including the use of live ammunition and the laying of landmines in civilian areas.

**Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in recent days has provided agricultural equipment, including water pumps, cisterns and trailers, to local communities in south-eastern Lebanon.  Those are part of two agricultural projects in the villages of Bani Hayyan and Bourj Al Malouke.  The projects aim to improve the livelihoods of local residents during the ongoing socioeconomic crisis.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

Yesterday, the Secretary-General marked the anniversary of the massacres in Srebrenica, saying in a tweet that we will never forget the Srebrenica genocide.

He added that denial of genocide and war crimes, or the glorification of war criminals, are all unacceptable.  The Secretary-General said that we must work for a peaceful future for all.  We owe this to the victims, the survivors, and to all.

**World Population Day

And I also just want to flag that yesterday was World Population Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend our world, reaching one grim milestone after another.

The Secretary-General pointed out that in every corner of the world, we are seeing a reversal of hard-won gains and an erosion of women’s reproductive rights, choices and agency.  He stressed that these gaps in access to health rights are unacceptable and that women cannot be alone in this fight.

**Noon Briefing Guests

And I have already mentioned that we will be joined shortly by the Chief Economists of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.

And then, tomorrow, we will be joined by Mr. Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.  He will brief you following his briefing to Security Council members on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Colombia.

And before we go to our guests, are there any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the protests that broke out all over Cuba over the weekend?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  I mean, I think what I can say about that… I mean, you’re well aware of our normal principled position on the need for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to be respected fully, and we expect that that will be the case.  And beyond that, we’re simply following the course of these demonstrations.

Yes, James?

Question:  Sorry.  Further on that, just can you tell us what presence does the UN currently have in Cuba?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we have a country team led by a Resident Coordinator that is present, but my colleagues will check if I’m wrong on that.  But I believe we provide normal assistance.

Question:  And if you could give us some numbers… some numbers of how many you’ve got there, as well, would be useful…

Deputy Spokesman:  Our numbers?  Okay.  Yes.  I’ll check and see what our number of staff in Cuba is at this point.

Yes, Celia?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Following on Cuba, is there any possibility for the Secretary-General to try to bring the subject to the Security Council?  We know that leaders on the ground have claimed that activists had been taken out of their houses; arrests had been happening overnight; the press had been attacked.  We have seen photos of journalists that had been battered and beaten by some of the members of the plainclothes police by the Government of Cuba.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, I think that it would be a question for the members of the Security Council themselves to see what issues they wish to take up.

For our part, we’re simply monitoring what is happening.  And like I said, we want to make sure that the basic rights of people and especially including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly are upheld.

Question:  Can you…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Among the journalists that was beaten and hospitalized and had to undergo surgery was an Associated Press photographer.  Do you have any comment on the need for freedom of the media?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, in… everywhere around the world, press have to be free to go about their work without harassment, without violence or the threat of violence, and that’s certainly the case in this situation, as well.

And with that, we’ll go to the screens.  James Reinl, you have a question?

Question:  Yeah, sure, Farhan.  Thanks so much.  You mentioned your… Secretary-General hosting a food summit later this year.  You said September.  You didn’t say a date.  Is that going to be part of high-level week of the GA?  And is it going to be in person?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we expect it to be in high-level week.  And regarding the format of meetings, as you’re well aware, we continue to be in discussion with Member States about what the format of the high-level week of the UN General Assembly will be.

Question:  Thank you.  I also had another quick one on Haiti.  The meeting on Friday, Security Council, the Haitian envoy asked for UN support.  I’m not sure if it was exactly Blue Helmet support or security assistance.  I’m just wondering, does that involve the Secretariat in any way?  I mean, for example, does that mean that Peacekeeping Operations needs to send some information to the Security Council saying, we could do this, we could do that, it’s a good idea, it’s not a good idea?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you’re well aware, any request for peacekeeping support would be an issue for the Security Council to decide, and we would stand beside… behind whatever they advocate.

Right now, on the ground, our office, BINUH, has four police investigation advisers working closely with the Haitian National Police General Inspectorate and in the Judicial Police to assist with their work.  And so, we will be working with them as per our normal practice.

And I believe there’s a question from Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Thank you.  Palestinian member of Legislative Council Khalida Jarrar, she’s in jail.  Her daughter just had a heart attack and died.  She’s 25.  And there is a world pressure now on Israel to let her attend the funeral.  Do you have anything to say?  I expected Mr. [Tor] Wennesland to say something in sympathy with Miss Khalida Jarrar’s tragedy.  Do you see there is validity of calling the Israeli authorities to let her attend the funeral of her daughter?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, it’s a case for the authorities to consider the case for compassionate leave.  Beyond that, of course, I would also point out that we have called for all those in detention to be tried promptly and to face due process or otherwise to be released.

Question:  I still have two question.  Can I?  Sorry.  Mr. [Michael] Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on violations for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said during the weekend that the… building settlement, confiscating land, destruction of homes, they could be considered a war crime.  Do you subscribe to that analysis?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are against the construction of settlements, and we’ve discussed why that is.  The views of Mr. Lynk, as an independent Special Rapporteur, are his own.

Question:  I have another quick question, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  One more, and then we’ll go back to James.

Question:  That’s it.  In England, the… England lost the European Cup, and two of the players who happen to be black, been target to racist remarks to the point that the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince interfered.  Do you have anything to say on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously, we’re against any expressions of racism, and it’s as clear that, at all public events, people participating need to have their dignity respected.

James, and then we’ll go to Joe Klein after that.

Question:  Yeah.  I have two questions.  One is your or the Secretary-General’s reaction to violent protests in South Africa.  Six people now have been killed.  More than 200 arrested and the military deployed.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Regarding that, what I can say is that the Secretary-General has expressed concern as we’ve received reports of increasing incidents of violent protests in South Africa.

The Secretary-General urges protesters to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence while respecting national and local measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question:  And the other question was a follow-up.  I know you and Stéphane [Dujarric] have been asked this a million times:  high-level week.  And I know it’s a matter that you are discussing with Member States, but it is a massive undertaking for everyone involved, particularly your people who organize this every year, particularly if it’s going to be a more in-person affair.

Is there a cut-off date?  I mean, we’re coming… we’re two months now before UNGA.  Is there a cut-off date that they need to know in order to get this thing together?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, we want to have the information on this as soon as possible.  I don’t have a hard-and-fast date to give you, but we do need to get this planning under way.  This is why we’re working fairly intensively with Member States to see what kind of arrangements will be in place.

But as you know, ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the Member States and will be expressed by them through the President of the General Assembly (PGA).

Question:  The PGA is, I believe, back after his travels.  Will the Secretary-General and the PGA be discussing this?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any confirmation of that.  But obviously, those offices are in touch, and we’ll try to do what we can to get arrangements put in place swiftly once we know what the final decision of the Member States is.

We’ll go to Joe Klein first and then to Celia.  Joe?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  Just back to Cuba and the COVAX vaccines in Latin America that you mentioned.  It’s a combined question.  Do you know whether Cuba has received any vaccines from the COVAX facility or at least has requested to receive such vaccines from the COVAX facility?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll need to check.  We have available on our website the relevant information about all the places which have received the COVAX vaccine, so you can check the site, but we’ll also see whether we got a request from them on that.

Celia?

Question:  The Foreign Minister/Vice President of Colombia is visiting the UN, and I believe she has a meeting today with the Secretary-General.  Will the subject of the about 28 or 26 Colombian mercenaries that were involved… allegedly involved in the assassination of the President of Haiti might be a subject of their conversation?  We understand that the Colombian Government is collaborating with the FBI that is being sent to the island to try to investigate.  You mentioned the UN have some assistance, as well.  Will that be a subject that might be explored more in-depth?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t want to prejudge what the meeting discusses before it happens.  A lot of mutual issues of concern between the United Nations and the Government of Colombia will come up, but we’ve asked for a readout of that meeting, so we’ll see what happens once that actually takes place.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up, Farhan.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this use of mercenaries in the region to assassinate a sitting President?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll need to have a full investigation before we see what exactly happened here.  Of course, we have been concerned about mercenary activity in many different parts of the world, and our concerns in this case are the same elsewhere — that we want to make sure that there’s no foreign interference in the sovereign affairs of any country.

And Stefano Vaccara, and then we’ll go to our guests, so Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Still Colombia.  It’s exactly one year ago — in two days, will be one year — the body of Mario Paciolla was found.  He was working for the United Nation in Colombia.  There has been investigations in Italy, in Colombia, and also the United Nation is investigating the case to decide if it was suicide as of… at the beginning was said by the Italian investigation already said that is a murd… you know, they’re investigating a murder.  So, I will…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and the question?

Question:  The question is, what is now… at what point the investigation at the UN is now?  because you never really told us what is… what the UN found out, because the… so far, you have been saying that the UN is investigating, and you need time.  But in two days will be one year from the event.  So, can you update us with anything you know now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the fact is, what we’ve been saying consistently is that the information we’ve had, we’ve been sharing with the investigating authorities, which is to say the authorities in Colombia and the Italian authorities, and we have done that and are continuing to do that.

Question:  Just a…

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately… excuse me.  Ultimately, they are the ones who are… who will come out with their conclusions, because they’re the ones who are investigating, but we have been cooperating with both of those.

Question:  Farhan, can you just answer to this question?  At this point, does the UN think they still a suicide case or is a different?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, just to repeat, we’re not in charge of the investigation.  There are investigative authorities in Colombia and Italy.  They will be the ones who make the conclusions, but we’re the ones who have provided the relevant information on our side.

And with that, let us turn to our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.