27 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.

**Korean Peninsula

I was asked earlier this morning about the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula.

I can say that the Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the two Koreas of the resumption of the Panmunjom and inter-Korean liaison office communication channels today, as well as the reconnection of the military hotline.

The Secretary-General fully supports the continued efforts of the parties towards the improvement of their relationship, sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


Also, the Secretary-General has learned of the sudden dismissal by Guatemala’s Attorney-General of Juan Francisco Sandoval, the lead prosecutor of the anti-impunity unit that worked closely with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG.

It is of great concern that, since CICIG was closed, a growing number of former prominent prosecutors have needed to leave the country — to all appearances, because of their work on accountability and justice.

The ability of prosecutors to perform their functions without intimidation and improper interference is an essential prerequisite for addressing and preventing corruption and impunity.

The Secretary-General calls on the Guatemalan authorities to enhance their efforts in strengthening the rule of law, and to respect and ensure the safety and security of justice operators, in accordance with international standards.

**Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit

Moving to Rome, where the Pre-Summit for the Food Systems Summit is on its second day:  This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the Ministerial Round Table on Transforming Food Systems for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Deputy Secretary-General highlighted that the Food Systems Summit has been designed to provide national Governments and other key stakeholders an opportunity to ensure that food systems are inclusive, that they are transformative and that they are fit for future generations.

Ms. Mohammed noted that, despite COVID-19 and the multiple challenges that have been associated with launching the process on a tight timescale, we have seen more than 145 Governments that have appointed national dialogue conveners.  She added that we hope to continue the journey with them as we move from discussions to implementation.

The Deputy Secretary-General today also met with several Government officials, food producers, indigenous people and youth representatives, among others.

Tomorrow, which is the last day of the Summit, Ms. Mohammed will take part in the event’s closing plenary and will also hold a final press briefing with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio.

**Food Systems

And to stay on the same subject:  In a joint statement, the heads of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Henrietta Fore and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, are calling for stronger food systems that promote healthy diets and improve nutrition for children and young people.

Globally, they said, one in three children is not growing well due to malnutrition.

They are calling on Governments and decision-makers to scale up measures such as incentivizing healthy diets through price policies and improving the nutritional quality of food through mandatory fortification of staple foods.

Their full statement is online.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, Atul Khare, updated the Security Council on the closure of the United Nations-African Union hybrid mission in Darfur (UNAMID), whose mandate was terminated at the end of 2020.

Mr. Khare told the Council that all uniformed personnel, except for a uniformed Guard Unit, have been withdrawn.

The former mission headquarters and team sites have been closed and handed over to local authorities for civilian use in Central, South and North Darfur States.


Turning to Pakistan, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that about half a million people in parts of Balochistan Province are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.  Another 100,000 people need immediate life-saving assistance due to severe drought-like conditions.

The dry spell and reduced water availability have destroyed crops and threaten livestock survival.

Balochistan is also still reeling from the effects of multiple recent disasters, including a harsh winter, a locust infestation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together with provincial disaster management authorities, the UN and food security sector partners are supporting livelihood projects in some of the affected districts.  Assessments are ongoing.

Pakistan’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which is targeting 4.3 million people out of 11 million people in need, requires $332 million but is just 18 per cent funded.


The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today said that it is extremely worried about the fate of thousands of Eritrean refugees currently trapped in two refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region as fighting between armed groups escalates in and around the camps.

UNHCR says an estimated 24,000 Eritrean refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps are facing intimidation and harassment and living in constant fear.  They are also cut off from humanitarian assistance.

The agency implores all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international law.

UNHCR says its staff have lost all access to the refugee camps for the last two weeks, stressing that trapped refugees need urgent life-saving assistance.  Clean drinking water is running out, no health-care services are available, and hunger is a real danger.  The last food distribution to both camps was done in late June, providing rations for one month.

You can read more about this on UNHCR’s website.

**COVID-19 — Indonesia

From Indonesia, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand, has accelerated its COVID-19 response amid a surge in new infections and deaths in the country.

The World Health Organization has recently helped to strengthen the monitoring of movement restrictions.  WHO has also trained 31,000 frontline responders.

The UN Children’s Fund continues to help the Government address the immediate and longer-term effects of the pandemic on children through ensuring that education continues and that children are protected.

More than 16.2 million vaccine doses have arrived in Indonesia through COVAX.  Our team is helping to distribute these vaccines and has trained health workers on monitoring the vaccine supply chain.

**COVID-19 — Africa

Also on COVID-19, some updates from our colleagues in Africa.

Liberia received more than 300,000 vaccine doses from the United States through COVAX.  This will allow Liberia to resume its vaccination campaign.

The UN team, led by Niels Scott, continues supporting authorities, including by helping with the transportation and customs clearance of the vaccines, as well as supporting the cold chain system.

We are also working to strengthen contact tracing and expand the capacity of laboratories.

Also recently receiving vaccines from the US through COVAX was Tanzania, which will distribute these doses in the regions most affected by the virus.

WHO and UNICEF have been helping develop national and regional vaccination plans and are engaging with communities to provide accurate information and dispel misconceptions.

In addition, the UN team also helped to improve infection prevention and control and raised funds to increase oxygen therapy capacity.

And that is it for my part.  We will soon be joined by the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, Amy Quantrill.

Before that, do you have any questions for me?  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the conviction of the first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law on charges of secessionism and terrorism?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any specific comment on that.  As you know, our priority has been to expedite what can be done so that the High Commissioner for Human Rights can visit China and deal with the human rights concerns that we have there.

Is that… oh, yeah, Kristen?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just wondering, given a special rapporteur made some… a statement about COVID in Myanmar, calling for more action from the Security Council, given the high rates there.  Is that something that the Secretary-General would support?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  It’s very clear that Myanmar needs support for COVID.  You’ve heard the updates we’ve been providing about this.  We take the situation very seriously, and we’ve been working through the country team on the ground to do what we can to provide vaccines, but it is one of the places where we’re concerned about the spread of the coronavirus.

Along with that, of course, as you know, in just a few days from now, on 1 August, we’ll be at the six-month mark since the coup that took place on 1 February.  And we continue with our efforts to bring about a restoration of the previous status quo.  And as you know, our envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, continues to work on that end.

Part of the issue is that we think that that sort of stability is needed in order to fully deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  In all countries, you need that sort of stability, and certainly, that’s the case in Myanmar.


Question:  On… just on Tigray, you talked about the Eritrean refugee camps, but the World Food Programme is also saying that they’re running out of food for people in need.  Do you have any more information on that and what the holdup is to getting these deliveries into the region, and is there concern about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yeah.  Our access has been improving, and you’ve seen that the flights of the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) have been going into Mekelle.  We do need continued access through all ways, including through the roads and so we’re hoping to have that improve.

But beyond that, we also encourage all countries to continue to support funding the humanitarian response in Ethiopia so that we can continue to provide the sort of food and other supplies that are desperately needed on the ground in Tigray and the surrounding area.

Question:  But is it Government troops that are preventing them from getting in or other forms of insecurity?  Do you have any idea?  [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there’ve been fighting forces on the ground.  We’ve been working with all of the forces on the ground to make sure we have the access that we need.  That can be the Government sometimes, but sometimes it’s other forces, as well.

Yes, Dulcie?

Question:  Hi.  Can you tell us whether the UN was preparing to re-open the CICIG agency in Guatemala?

Deputy Spokesman:  CICIG supports different accountability bodies and, so, we’ve been working through that.  You’ll have seen the concerns we raised about the treatment of the CICIG prosecutor towards the end of his tenure, and right now, we’re working to do what we can to ensure that there’s follow-up and that there are accountability bodies.  And that’s why we made clear our concerns about how the various prosecutors who have been trying to further the work done by CICIG have been treated.

Question:  But you said CICIG had closed.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the work of the CICIG prosecutor, you’ll recall, had ended.  So, CICIG has closed its work, but CICIG supported various bodies, and we continue to hope that the various accountability bodies, including different prosecutors on the ground, are able to continue to follow up with the work that was started by CICIG, in terms of making sure that there is accountability for the various violations that were found by the prosecutors during CICIG’s existence.

Question:  But there’s no actual plan to reopen it?

Deputy Spokesman:  That would be something that would need to be worked out with the Government.  As you know, the reason for the closure had been a case of mutual agreement with the Governments on the ground… the Government of Guatemala.  And ultimately, we do need the support of the Government on the ground in order to go about the work of CICIG.  And right now, we’re calling for the Government to support the work of the various accountability bodies that continue with the work that was started by CICIG.

Yes, Edie?

Question:  A question on Tigray.  David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), has said that Tigray’s going to run out of food on Friday and that people are starving to death, and WFP has trucks held up in the neighbouring Afar region.  Obviously, WFP is going to be putting pressure on the Government to let these trucks in, but what’s the Secretary-General doing?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General certainly supports what David Beasley is saying and also what UNHCR and the High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, are saying, that there’s a dire need for food there.

Like I just said, the last food distribution to the camps was done in late June, and those provided rations for one month.  And, so, here we are in late July, and those rations are ending.  Now we need to get more food in.  And without that, there’s a significant number of people who will face hunger very shortly.

Question:  But in addition to supporting what David Beasley is doing, is the UN or the Secretariat taking any other action?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  We’re working at various levels with our Ethiopian counterparts to make sure that we can get access to those areas and, so, we will continue to press that case.  But we’re doing it at the UN Secretariat, as well as through UNHCR and the World Food Programme.


Question:  Talking about reopening, do you know when the bar at the delegates will be reopened?  Because we love this… [laughter]

Deputy Spokesman:  I know what your favourite places are, and it’s true.  It will be great once we have that.  It’s not reopened yet.  As you’ve seen, we’ve made some progress.  There’s… beyond the first-floor cafeteria, the Riverside Cafeteria on the fourth floor is now open, and we’ll gradually open that up.  I think it will be fairly soon, but I don’t have a date to give just yet.


Question:  Sorry.  Yeah.  Any updates on… any contact between the Secretariat and Tunisia, any contact given the ongoing instability there with the President… his contact… and has the Secretary-General reached out or made any contact, what… any updates there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t have anything in particular from the Secretary-General’s side to say about this.  We are continuing our contacts with the Tunisian Government, both here in New York and through our team on the ground.

What we’re doing is encouraging the Tunisian political leaders and stakeholders to quickly resolve disagreements through dialogue and compromise and act with responsibility to maintain calm.

And at this point, there’s a critical importance that all sides continue to respect the rule of law, rights and liberties.  And that includes, of course, the freedom of the press and the regular functioning of the democratic institutions.  So, we will continue to make that case, whether it’s from here on this podium or at the country level or otherwise.

I believe James Reinl has a question?

Question:  Thanks so much, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Can I start with a follow-up on Edith’s questions about Tigray?  WFP can’t get its food trucks from Afar up into Tigray, but that, as I understand, is no longer the responsibility of the Government forces but the Tigrayan rebels who’ve launched their offensive along that road into Afar.  Can you confirm that, that the problem now is the Tigrayan rebels, not the Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in different areas, the problem is a different side.  You’re quite right that the Tigrayan rebels control some of the territory that we need to get through to get access, and that is a matter of concern for us.

There are other parties on the ground, as well.  So, we’re working with all of them, whether it’s… whatever the de facto authorities on the ground are, we’re trying to work with them to get the food in.

Question:  Thanks so much.  And my real question was going to be about coronavirus.  Could you give us the latest daily number of swipes into the building, a quick reminder of what normal number of swipes looks like?

And also, on this thing about leaders coming in September for high-level week and their plus-three delegations, what is it they need to prove to get inside the GA Hall, proof of vaccination, coronavirus tests in the last few hours?  What do they need?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll leave it to my colleague Amy Quantrill to talk about what the rules would be for the GA proceedings.

Regarding… overall, the basic point is we operate on an honour system, but we have been… [phone rings]  Could someone please mute that phone?  Thank you.  Hold on one second.

But we have been making sure that people are vaccinated as they enter this building.  Those… if you are not vaccinated and are staff or otherwise, you’d have to be masked throughout and be distanced from those who are vaccinated.  So, that is what we have had in place, and we’re continuing to review what the measures are so that we have the same basic system of precautions in place as the city and state of New York.

What we’re told is also that, by swiping their UN passes, staff and others are confirming that they have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 10 days and have not had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 in the last 10 days.

For unvaccinated people, swiping their pass means that they have not had close contact with a person with COVID-19 in the last 10 days.  So, that is the conditions under which you are to enter this building.

And regarding the number of swipes that you’d also asked about, as of yesterday, there were 1,717 swipes.  That’s less than in the pre-COVID era by a substantial amount because you’d have more than 5,000 swipes on an average day in that era.  But just a few weeks ago, there [were] roughly 1,000 swipes each day, and so we’ve come up from that level.

And if I see no further questions, I’ll turn the floor over to Amy Quantrill.  Amy?

Correspondent:  I have a question.  I have… Farhan, I put my name.

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, remember, if… whenever you’re writing, please make sure that you write to all panellists.  Otherwise, my colleagues cannot see your name.

Correspondent:  Oh, I thought I did.  So, I’m sorry for that.  If it’s…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yeah.  So… but go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  I have few questions also.  Starting with the… 15 Palestinians detainees went into hunger strike, and the number of Palestinians in detention with no trial reached 450.  Now they started… 15 of them started a hunger strike.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, our point of principle on this is that anyone who is detained needs to actually be charged formally and tried and face… and have their due process rights respected.  Otherwise, we believe that they should be let go.

Question:  My second… [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  Your next question?

Question:  My next question, Save the Children issued a report today under the title “I Must Live amidst the Rubble”, about the ISIS children left behind in Raqqah.  Thousands of them are living in ruins with no water, no electricity.  It’s a very sad situation.  Are you aware of the situation?  What the UN is doing for those children?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve raised our concerns in past years about the situation in Raqqah, and we’ll continue to do so.  As you know, various UN bodies, including UNICEF in particular, have talked about the problem faced by the children left behind in these areas.  And we believe that all the various parties on the ground and the Governments should take responsibility for them.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  And… yes?

Question:  Thank you.  There was recently report of an indictment of the former President of the KLA in Kosovo for… I believe it was war crimes.  I think this indictment is with a court connection with Kosovo.  Does the United Nations have any input or information about that?  Because I know when Carla Del Ponte was here — that was about eight years ago — she was very concerned with the war crimes, and now it appears something’s being done, but is the UN involved or this is a separate…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, this is a separate court proceeding.  This is not part of the UN proceedings.  Thanks.


Question:  Yeah.  Just one question.  When is Henrietta Fore’s last day?

Deputy Spokesman:  It… she has said that she will not depart until her successor has been named and then there can be a smooth transition.  So, we are a ways from that point.

Okay.  Amy, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.