The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. We are going to get started now.
To start off, as you are aware, right now, some of your colleagues are down the hall. That is because the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Colombia and Head of the UN Mission there, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed the Security Council this morning on the latest developments in the peace process.
He also talked about his recent visit to the country and his meeting with women leaders and victims of violence. And after I’m done, he will join us here in person to tell you more about it.
And, yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General met with the Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez. [The Secretary-General] reaffirmed the UN’s support for peace and sustainable development in Colombia and its pandemic recovery efforts. They discussed the importance of the comprehensive implementation of the Final Peace Agreement and the Secretary-General also acknowledged Colombia’s generosity in granting Temporary Protection Status to Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, also met with Vice-President Ramírez. They discussed, among other things, Colombia’s leadership in promoting and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Deputy Secretary-General welcomed the Vice-President and Foreign Minister’s role in people-focused and green recovery from COVID-19, and in promoting women’s empowerment.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director, has informed the Secretary-General of her intention to resign, to devote herself to a family health issue.
The Secretary-General fully understands her decision and has accepted it, with deep regret. He extends his thanks and his best wishes to Executive Director Fore and her family. The Secretary-General wishes to express his sincere appreciation to Ms. Fore for her inspiring leadership of UNICEF and for her service to improve the lives of children all around the world. In particular, he noted UNICEF’s critical role in the global response to COVID-19 and in reimagining education.
As a result of her leadership, UNICEF is now an organization with a broader array of public and private sector partnerships and a bolder focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. She has also contributed enormously to efforts to build a UN system with a much stronger focus on inclusion and organizational culture. The Secretary-General thanks Ms. Fore for her outstanding work to address the extraordinary challenges facing children and young people around the world.
Ms. Fore took up the position of UNICEF Executive Director on 1 January 2018 and will remain in her post until her successor is appointed.
**Economic and Social Council
The Secretary-General addressed the High-Level Political Forum of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this morning, and he warned that the pandemic has taken 4 million lives and devastated the global economy. And, while some countries plan for recovery, the pandemic is gathering pace in others.
He noted that global GDP (gross domestic product) decreased by an estimated 4.6 per cent in 2020 and that the pandemic has pushed a further 124 million people into extreme poverty. Nearly one person in three around the world could not access adequate food in 2020 — an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year, he added.
Rather than progress, the Secretary-General warned, we are moving farther away from our goals. But, he added, that we can and must turn this around.
First, he said, everyone, everywhere, must have access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments and support. Second, we need urgent, ambitious climate action, including on finance. Third, we must heed the lessons of this crisis and invest in more equal and inclusive societies. Fourth, and underpinning progress in these three areas, is financing for development, he said.
The Secretary-General’s remarks are available online.
**Central African Republic
You may have seen that, in a tweet last night, the Secretary-General called for an end to the violence in the Central African Republic. As the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, he wrote, aid workers need safe and unimpeded access to the population.
He also called for more funding to meet the acute humanitarian needs of people in the country.
Turning to Ethiopia: In a statement issued today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said that he is extremely concerned about the conditions of Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. He noted that since the outbreak of hostilities in November 2020, they have been caught up between warring groups, two refugee camps have been completely destroyed, and tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees have been forced to flee — yet again — for their lives.
Mr. Grandi stressed that the violence and intimidation of Eritrean refugees must stop. He emphasized that UNHCR calls on all parties to not only comply with their international legal obligations, including the protection of civilians, but also to stop using and manipulating refugees to score political points.
The full statement is available online on UNHCR’s website.
From Myanmar, our colleagues there today say they are concerned about the impact of the current political and economic instability on people’s food security due to job losses, increased food prices and currency depreciation.
The situation could worsen with the impending monsoon season putting pressure on infrastructure and transport, together with disruptions to banking services, not to mention the continued fighting in the country.
The Food and Agriculture Organization says millions of people in Myanmar are expected to become hungry over the next six months, with food insecurity predicted to rise sharply and plunge sections of the population into a food crisis.
We and our partners are working to address this through emergency food deliveries, support to farmers, and food security programmes targeting both newly displaced people and vulnerable rural host families.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the escalating conflict brings increased human suffering and civilian displacement. According to UNHCR, an estimated 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021 — primarily due to insecurity and violence. This brings the total uprooted population to more than 3.5 million.
The UN Refugee Agency said that the needs of those who have had to flee suddenly are acute. UNHCR and partners, as part of a coordinated response, are assisting newly displaced Afghans with emergency shelter, food, health, water and sanitation support and cash assistance, despite challenges in accessing vulnerable groups.
UNHCR warns that a failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond.
**COVAX — Moldova
I have a COVAX update for you, today from [the Republic of] Moldova, which yesterday received more than 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Yesterday’s delivery is part of the half a million doses expected to arrive in the country through COVAX, as a donation from the United States.
To date, Moldova has received more than 380,000 doses from COVAX.
The UN team in Moldova, led by Resident Coordinator Simon Springett, has supported the national vaccination campaign since its launch in February 2021. Around 12 per cent of the country’s 2.6 million people have been fully vaccinated.
A recent survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) and authorities found that nearly 60 per cent of people in Moldova are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to just 31 per cent last November.
**Post-COVID-19 School Closures
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) today released a report showing that one in three countries are not taking action to help students catch up on their learning post-COVID-19 school closures.
According to the report, fewer than a third of low- and middle-income countries reported that all students had returned to in-person schooling, heightening their risk of learning loss and dropout. The report stressed that these findings reinforce the importance of reopening schools, remedial learning and more effective remote learning systems that can better withstand future crises and reach all students.
And there is more information online.
So, at this point, I’ll turn to your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, the European Union has banned people from some country who got the AstraZeneca vaccine to enter into the European Union country. I saw that this vaccine was recognized by WHO. So, how are we going to go from there if all vaccines are not recognized equally?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly hope that different Member States around the world recognize the recommendations of the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization has spoken out on the safety and reliability of the AstraZeneca vaccine. As you know, the United Nations has included AstraZeneca vaccines among its COVAX deliveries, and we… of course, we do not make policy for the Member States, and we respect their right to make those policies, but we certainly hope that they can take into account and act on the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
And we turn over to Evelyn from the screen.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Farhan. Moldova, what kind of vaccine did they get? Do you know, what flavour?
Deputy Spokesman: They got Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Question: I can’t hear you.
Deputy Spokesman: They got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Question: I see. With the warning?
Deputy Spokesman: Everyone… yeah, everyone who gets the vaccines gets the various recommendations that are with them, in terms of the people who are distributing these and performing vaccinations. [cross talk]
Question: Okay. Secondly, on Cuba, what is the UN staff doing? What has it done? Does it bring in food? Does it bring in supplies? Does it help with vaccination? What does it do?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the UN has been helping with a number of things, including our normal support for the economic and social programmes on the ground in Cuba. I’m not aware that we’ve been requested to help with any COVID-19 vaccination at this point.
Question: Sorry. What is it exactly that they do? I missed… I didn’t quite get… [cross talk]
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have a country team there that provides support in terms of the work of the various agencies, funds and programmes, as well as support for our social and economic efforts on the ground.
With all such countries, we help promoting Sustainable Development Goals and with projects along those lines.
As… like I said, I don’t believe we’re required… we’ve been requested to do any vaccination efforts.
And with that, Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. In view of deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and you spoke about it in your opening remarks and the fact that some agency… some embassies like the United States are even downgrading their staff, what is the UN doing? Is it taking special steps to boost security around its offices in Afghanistan?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn’t comment on our security preparations. Of course, we do planning for different eventualities, but regarding that, our main work is focused on doing what we can to ensure that negotiations go ahead and that we can have an agreement among the parties in Afghanistan on a peaceful resolution to the conflict. And so, both Jean Arnault, in his capacity as envoy, and Deborah Lyons, in her capacity as Special Representative, are working on that.
And along those lines, by the way, we do expect to have, possibly by Thursday, a briefing for you from our Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground in Afghanistan. We’re trying to set that up right now.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. Thanks. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. First, with the spread of Delta variant virus, is the UN doing anything in… as preventive measures in case this virus spread out, as some areas in the US are sounding the alarm, including my state, New Jersey?
Deputy Spokesman: Your state and my state, alas. But we’re taking steps to monitor the situation. If we feel that there’s any need to adjust the current policies that we’ve been having, including the advice given to staff, as well as the policy for the gradual re-opening of Headquarters, we will take things into account as things develop. Right now, we continue to be on track and continue to be gradually re-opening the building.
What was your next question?
Question: My second question, I raised this before, Farhan. As you know, the Palestinian Authority had arrested number of Palestinian activists and demonstrators who went to the street after the assassination of Nizar Banat, and I asked if Mr. [Tor] Wennesland had raised this issue with the… with any official among the Palestinian Authority, and I still ask for the same question. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Wennesland has been relating all of our various human rights concerns with his interlocutors on the ground, and that’s as much detail that I can give on that at the moment.
Is Nicos there for a question? Yes. I see your hand. Nicos. Over to you. [cross talk]
Question: Yes, I’m here. I’m here. Everything okay?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Farhan. My question is on Cyprus. In fact, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. [Nicos] Anastasiades, he stated that he was expecting the Secretary-General to be clearer regarding his statements on Famagusta and other issues relating to Cyprus.
He also added that this diplomatic way of unacceptable facts must stop. This way, this diplomatic way, unfortunately, what President Anastasiades added, is often taken as tolerance. This is, in fact, doubtful of the Secretary-General actions on Cyprus, and I would really appreciate to have your response. How would you respond to that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I wouldn’t have any response to the overall comment, but regarding the question that you raised of Famagusta, or Varosha, as it is also known, the status of Varosha is unchanged. The… and of course, the status of Varosha is as it was spelled out in the resolutions of the Security Council and also, of course, in the reports of the Secretary-General on Cyprus.
And… thanks. And with that, I’ll turn over to our guest, who is waiting for us, Carlos Ruiz Massieu.