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14 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 Florencia Soto Niño, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Hello, everyone.  I think that I know most of you, and if you don’t know me, I am Florencia and I work at the Spokesman’s Office, and I will be briefing today.  So, let’s get started.

**Yemen

On Yemen, the Security Council met this morning to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA).

The Council members then held closed consultations on Yemen, in which they received briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Acting Head of Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham, and Lieutenant General Abhijit Guha, the Head of the Hudaydah Mission.

Ms. DiCarlo briefed on the continuing efforts to move forward with the four-point plan devised by the former Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths.  As you’ll recall, that plan’s four points involved a nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sana’a airport, the easing of restrictions on the flow of fuel and other commodities through Hudaydah port, and the resumption of face-to-face political negotiations between the Yemeni parties.

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains dire, including the very real threat of famine this year.  We are particularly concerned by the pronounced escalation in conflict in Marib and elsewhere in recent weeks, which threatens millions of people.

The collapse of Yemen’s currency will also make it much harder for Yemenis to afford food and other essentials.  That is very bad news for the risk of famine, and this means more people are likely to look to humanitarian agencies for support.

The fastest way to help is to increase support for the UN response plan.  Yemen’s appeal is currently 44 per cent funded.

And this funding is making a real difference, allowing agencies to scale up programmes and reach more people.  But it will start running out again in September, which will force agencies to scale down assistance just as people’s needs are likely to intensify.  That would be catastrophic for millions of people who rely on these programmes to survive.

**Afghanistan

And now, turning to Afghanistan:  We are increasingly concerned with the number of reported serious human rights abuses and violations alleged in communities most affected by the ongoing military offensive across the country.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today said that the reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity.  The UN Mission emphasized that those who carry out any such acts must be held accountable.

And the UN Mission urged all parties to announce an Eid ceasefire that can give Afghans a respite from the conflict and that may contribute to sustained and meaningful peace negotiations.

**South Sudan

Going to South Sudan:  The Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim there, Arafat Jamal, is condemning the latest attack on aid workers and assets in Warrap State.

Fighting broke out last Thursday between youth groups in Marial Lou, in the Tonj North county, and continued into the next day.  According to initial reports, more than 5,000 people have been displaced; hundreds of shelters were burnt down; health centres, schools and churches were vandalized.

Tonj North is one of six counties in South Sudan where families face the risk of catastrophic levels of hunger at the height of the lean season.

Since early this year, more than 900 metric tons of food items and nutrition supplements have been looted or destroyed during violent episodes across the country.  These supplies would have been sufficient to feed more than 41,000 food-insecure people for up to four months.

Since March, there has been a rise in the number of attacks against aid workers, people serving the community, and assets across South Sudan.

The Humanitarian Coordinator is calling on authorities to make every effort to protect communities, humanitarian personnel and assets across the country, adding that those who commit these crimes are punishing the most vulnerable people in their own communities.

And staying in South Sudan, the peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) has conducted a two-week patrol, following ambushes on travellers along the main roads connecting Western Equatoria to the capital, Juba.

The patrol team included members from the mission’s Human Rights and Civil Affairs Divisions, as well as military observers, and was escorted by peacekeepers.

The UN mission also set up a Temporary Base in Mundri West County to protect civilians and build confidence among local communities who have been affected by repeated attacks in the area.

**Ethiopia

And on Ethiopia, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that the upcoming seasonal rains in hunger-stricken northern Ethiopia offer a tight window of opportunity for farmers to get a crop in the ground and reboot local food production.  However, without funding and better access for aid agencies, that opportunity could be missed.

FAO noted that many farmers have been stripped of productive assets like seeds, animals, or tools due to looting, or saw their sources of credit disappear and seed markets also disappear.  As a result, local food production has been brought to a virtual standstill.

FAO has urgently appealed for $30 million to reach nearly 1.2 million of the most food-insecure people in the northern part of the country.  To date, just $6.2 million has been pledged.

**Migrants

And the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that at least 1,146 people have died while attempting to reach Europe by sea between January and June.

Deaths along these migration routes have more than doubled this year, compared to the same period last year.

IOM reiterated its call on States to take urgent and proactive steps to reduce loss of life on maritime migration routes to Europe and to uphold their obligations under international law.

They also called for an increase in search-and-rescue efforts, for predictable disembarkation mechanisms and to ensure access to safe and legal migration pathways — all key steps to avoid more migrant deaths at sea.

**Libya

And an update on Libya and the situation on COVID-19.  Libya has recently imposed new preventive measures against the pandemic as the daily rate of infection continues to rise in the country.

Authorities are closing all public and private offices and entities for two weeks.

This past Monday, nearly 2,700 new COVID-19 cases were reported, pushing the daily rate of infection to nearly 40 per cent, and that is the highest since the first case was detected in March last year.

Of the over 670,000 vaccine doses that were delivered to the country, more than 430,000 have been administered so far.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) supported health authorities to train 90 vaccine supervisors on cold chain and vaccine management and is carrying out a vaccination campaign with the national emergency team, and IOM is helping authorities implement surveys on mobility restrictions and vulnerabilities and training laboratory workers and health-care providers to reduce virus transmission.

**COVID-19 — HIV

Staying on the topic of COVID-19.  The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, today released a report highlighting evidence that people living with HIV are more vulnerable to COVID-19 virus.  It added that widening inequalities are preventing them from accessing COVID-19 vaccines and HIV services.

According to the report, studies from England and South Africa have found that the risk of dying from COVID-19 among people living with HIV was double that of the general population.  The report also shows how COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions have badly disrupted HIV testing, referrals to care services and HIV treatment initiations.

And the Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, said that we have failed to learn the lessons of HIV, when millions were denied life-saving medicines and died because of inequalities in access, and that this is totally unacceptable.

The full report is online.

**Niger

And in response to questions we received about an attack in Niger, I can tell you that the Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack by unidentified gunmen that took place on 11 July in the Tillabéri region.  This attack resulted in the killing of at least five civilians and four soldiers.

He expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a swift recovery to the injured.

**Economic and Social Council

And bear with me, we are almost done.  The ministerial segment of the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) High-Level Political Forum continued today with messages from the Ministerial Chairs of the Regional Forums and the Executive Secretaries of the Regional Commissions.

The 2030 Agenda stresses the importance of the regional and subregional dimensions in the follow-up and review of implementation.

The session included an interactive discussion with participants, focused on ways in which Regional Commissions are mobilizing action and leveraging regional frameworks.

The morning also included voluntary national review presentations from six second-timers:  China, Afghanistan, Denmark, Thailand, Chad and Norway.  And this afternoon will feature presentations from the Bahamas, Tunisia, Dominican Republic and Sierra Leone.

**Guest Tomorrow

And I am happy to tell you that tomorrow, we will be joined virtually by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mr. Ramiz Alakbarov, who will update you on the situation there.

And that’s it.  I am ready to take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, and welcome to the briefing.  First question, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the European Union’s sweeping new plan to address climate change?

And secondly, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the Taliban raising their flag at a key crossing on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Associate Spokesperson:  Right.  On your first question, yes, we saw the new European plan.  We very much welcome it.  We know that it’s still a proposal for legislation, so there’s a long way between legislation and implementation.  But we very much welcome it.  It’s… we welcome heightened ambition from this bloc of countries, and we urge other countries to follow suit.

And on your question on Afghanistan, yes, we also saw those news reports.  For now, all I can tell you is that our focus continues to be on the peace efforts and that we’ve been reiterating that military escalation is not really the way for a lasting peace in Afghanistan, and the Afghan people deserve peace through a political process and dialogue.  So, that’s all we have to say on that front.

James?

Question:  First, a follow-up on Afghanistan.  I mean, you’re focused on the peace negotiations, but increasingly, the Taliban are holding more and more of the cards.  These border crossings, that’s the second most important border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan after Torkham.  How worried is the Secretary-General that the peace negotiations are getting completely overtaken by events?

And then, secondly on that, there are some talks coming up in Doha, not part of the formal Doha process but talks involving an Afghan delegation meeting with the Taliban.  Can you tell us how the UN will be represented there?

Associate Spokesperson:  On your second question, I will have to get back on that, and I will check with my colleagues on what our participation or involvement will be.

And what I can say is, yes, we’re increasingly concerned about the military escalation in the country, but as I said, we are doing what we can to ensure that negotiations are still going ahead and that we can have an agreement, because it’s only through a negotiated solution and by bringing all the parties to the table that we can end the conflict there.

Question:  And one question on something here in New York.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Four people have been charged with conspiring to kidnap a journalist on what seems to have been an audacious plan to kidnap the journalist, and the suspicion is that the Iranian Government was involved.  How concerned is the Secretary-General to hear about something like this happening here in New York, the home city of the United Nations, targeting a member of the press?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, I think, regardless of where it happens, we’ve been very clear in our stance in that journalists need to be able to do their job freely without fear of intimidation, without the threat of violence.  And obviously, we completely find it unacceptable that a journalist would be kidnapped just because of the nature of their work.  So, this goes not just for the specific case you’re talking about, but for every case everywhere.

Wait.  Over here and then Toby.

Question:  Protesters are in front of the United Nations, Cubans that are asking the United Nations to take action.  They are asking the Secretary-General to take a stand and to provide some guidance to be able to resolve the situation in the island.  What’s the response from the Secretary-General to the protesters that are in front of the United Nations but, also, to the calls from the international community to do something in Cuba, especially after the reports and videos this morning of people being hurt in their homes, detentions and so forth?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, obviously, we continue to follow the situation there very closely, and we are concerned about the reports, as you say, of the death of a demonstrator.  I mean, our principle has been… our position has been very clear in that demonstrations should be conducted peacefully and that the right of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly should be respected.  We want to make sure that people’s basic rights are respected and that really continues to be our position on that.

As for anything else, I know that Farhan [Haq], yesterday, answered a question on this, on whether… if the Security Council decides to do anything on that.  It’s up to the members of the Security Council.

Benno.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Toby first and then Benno.

Question:  That’s okay.  Thanks very much.  Just can… who’s briefing tomorrow on Afghanistan?  And what’s the nature of the briefing?  Is it humanitarian or… [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  It’s our Humanitarian Coordinator, and I just don’t want to mispronounce his name again, but it is the Humanitarian Coordinator, and his name is Mr. Ramiz Alakbarov.

Benno?

Question:  Speaking of protesters in front of the United Nations, there is also another protest against German Chancellor [Angela] Merkel’s blockade of easing patent rights for COVID.  Is the Secretary-General with the protesters who demand an easing of these rights?  Patents for the vaccines, I mean.  They are saying Germany is blocking the vaccine patents so they can’t be distributed faster than they are now.

Associate Spokesperson:  I was not aware of those demonstrations.  I have not seen the reports.  I guess all I can say is that the Secretary-General has been asking for vaccines to be available for everyone and that they should be free and that we should prioritize the vaccines going to those most vulnerable.  That’s all I have on that topic for now.

Behind Toby, and then I’ll take a question from Abdelhamid.

Question:  Sorry about that.  The General Assembly today adopted the resolution which says that the GA decides — ba, ba, ba, ba — that… that each Member State, observer State and, etc., may submit a pre-recorded statement of its Head of State, Vice-Minister, Crown Prince, Head of Government, Ministers, Vice-Ministers and so forth.  Can you please explain what’s the difference today and… between today and the situation last year?  There was, as well, the pre-recorded messages… [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  I think that will be a question more for our… for the team of the President of the General Assembly (PGA).  I know that we’re still in negotiation with Member States as to the format of the GA this year.  So, I can’t quite comment yet as to what the exact format will be, but once the PGA is back, maybe we’ll have some more news on that.

Yes, Michelle, a follow-up.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  With the rise in cases in many countries due to the Delta variant, how concerned is the SG that that will affect how many Heads of State and Government can actually get here in September?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, I think… just regarding the Delta variant, we’re, obviously… the Secretary-General has said he’s very concerned about the variants.  Right?  That’s why his focus has been on global access to vaccines.  As to how that will affect the GA, quite frankly, we are very much depending on the New York authorities, and we’re going to work with them, as we have in past GAs, to follow their guidelines.

Obviously, if the variant gets worse, that is not great for anyone, neither here or anywhere else in the world.  And, yes, that could potentially affect any events that have large gatherings.  But for now, all I can say is that we’re following the city’s guidelines, and we’re continuing, as you’ve seen, to reopen, and we’ll see what happens before September.

Before that, Abdelhamid, are you online?

Question:  Thank you.  Yes.  I was wondering about the UN representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mr. Tor Wennesland.  He had time to congratulate the new Israeli President, but he didn’t say one word about the increased settlers’ violence.  They almost invade Al Aqsa Mosque every day.  They’ve been attacking Palestinian villages and towns.  They are attacking Palestinian cars.  They are burning their trees, and yet I didn’t hear one word from him even when we appealed to him to say something to allow Khalida Jarrar to attend the funeral of her daughter; yet he remained silent.  Can you explain that, please?

Associate Spokesperson:  Right.  Well, what I can say Mr. Wennesland reports regularly on settler activities, including in his briefings to the Security Council.  But in addition to that, I think we here in this briefing, as well as the Secretary-General, we have been very clear on our stance on these settlements, so there has been no lack of a voice here on that topic.

Next question?

Anyone else?  Okay.  Thank you.  So, we’ll see you here tomorrow.  Tomorrow, Eri [Kaneko] will be here with you, and we’ll have the Afghanistan Resident Coordinator.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.