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3 August 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Lebanon

Tomorrow, the French Government and the United Nations will co-convene an international conference in support of the Lebanese people, one year after the deadly explosion in Beirut.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will address the conference by VTC (video teleconference), on behalf of the Secretary-General.

She will point to the need to support Lebanon’s people while the country is in the throes of one of the worst crises in its recent history.  Over half of Lebanese people now live in poverty, one in three Lebanese suffer from food insecurity and nearly 4 million people are at risk of not accessing safe water.  She will stress that, under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, we look to the rapid formation of a Government to implement reforms and tackle the crises.

The Secretary-General has said that the Lebanese people are resilient with immense spirit and will to build forward, together.  This conference will be a moment to demonstrate strong political support for the population of Lebanon.

**Lebanon

And, also on Lebanon, the International Support Group for Lebanon, of which the United Nations is a member, met today on the eve of the anniversary of the Beirut port explosion.  All members expressed their solidarity with the families of the victims, and with those whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted.  The Support Group urged authorities to swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosions, so that the truth may be known and justice may be rendered.  Members also welcomed the forthcoming conference that I just mentioned to you that is co-chaired by the UN and France to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.

The International Support Group noted that one year has now passed without a Government in Lebanon.  Members took note of the designation of a new Prime Minister and called on leaders to support, without delay, the formation of an empowered new Government that implements meaningful reforms.  The full statement of the Support Group — which includes the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and seven countries — is available online.

**Financing for Development

You will have seen that, late yesterday, there was an announcement out of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to announce that the Board had approved a $650 billion allocation of Special Drawing Rights to boost liquidity.

I can tell you that the Secretary-General very much welcomes this decision.  This is coming at a time when fiscal constraints have been worsened by the COVID-19 crisis.  The Secretary-General notes that it will be important for the economies who do not need this boost to consider channelling these resources to vulnerable low- and middle-income countries that need a liquidity injection by replenishing the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust Fund.

It is critical also to also quickly establish the proposed Resilience and Sustainability Trust at the IMF to support a comprehensive response and recovery, including providing more support for vaccinations and debt management and to support the efforts of developing economies in restructuring [for] inclusive growth.

**Yazidis

Early this morning, you will have seen that we issued a statement to mark that it has been seven years since Da’esh brutally targeted the Yazidi communities in northern Iraq.  Thousands of Yazidis were subjected to unimaginable violence on account of their identity, and, until today, many remain in displacement camps or are still missing.  Full accountability remains essential.

Recognizing the pain and courage of the Yazidis, recovery and rehabilitation remain a priority.  The Secretary-General therefore commends the recent enactment of the Yazidi Survivors Law by the Government of Iraq and its recognition of the crimes committed by Da’esh against the Yazidis and other communities.  He encourages swift and full implementation of this law.

**Afghanistan

Today, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called for an immediate end to fighting in urban areas, saying that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence.

The latest reports show that 40 civilians have been killed and 118 injured within the last 24 hours in the city of Lashkargah as the Taliban continue their ground assault.  In Kandahar, at least five civilians were killed and 42 wounded.

The Mission said that the Taliban ground offensive and Afghan National Army air strikes are causing the most harm and added it is deeply concerned about indiscriminate shooting and damage to health facilities and civilian homes.  All parties must do more to protect civilians or the impact will be catastrophic, according to the UN Mission in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the country said it is continuing to provide emergency life-saving assistance to families who have been newly displaced [because of] the violence.  Nearly 360,000 people have fled their homes this year due to conflict.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has deployed Mobile Health Teams to respond to communities impacted by the conflict and provide quick relief in the form of health and psychosocial support to the most vulnerable.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, is ending his mission today in Addis Ababa, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen Hassen, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gedu Andargachew Alene, as well as UN and non-governmental heads of agencies, as well as our humanitarian staff.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the Amhara region due to ongoing regional and ethnic conflicts, flash floods, and food insecurity.  In Amhara, intercommunal conflicts in the Central Gondar zone, and in the Awi zone, continue to increase the number of internally displaced persons.  Worsening conflict [along] the Amhara-Tigray regional border is further increasing displacement, with an estimated 100,000 internally displaced men, women and children in various pockets across the region.

UN agencies are supporting our partners and Government counterparts throughout Amhara, including in health and nutrition and cash programmes.  Response, however, remains insufficient to meet increasing humanitarian needs, with limited humanitarian presence in the region.

Immediate resource mobilization is required to meet the urgent needs of impacted communities.  Emergency shelter, food and non-food items are the key priorities for us.  Pre-positioning of supplies particularly for health, nutrition, shelter, and protection is urgently required.

**Iraq

A new report by the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stresses the need to prevent torture in places of detention in Iraq, including in the Kurdistan region.

More than half of all detainees interviewed by UNAMI and the UN Human Rights Office for the report provided credible and reliable accounts of torture — consistent with patterns and trends that have been documented in past reports.  “No circumstances, however exceptional, justify torture or any form of impunity,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, our Special Representative in Iraq.  She encourages increased efforts towards prevention and accountability, in line with Iraq’s obligations under international and its domestic law.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground there continue to be concerned by the humanitarian impact of the fighting in various parts of the country.  More than 220,000 people have been internally displaced due to armed clashes in the west, north and south-eastern parts of Myanmar since 1 February.

This comes against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases and the onset of monsoons, with recent floods affecting thousands of people across the country.  There is also growing food insecurity, and critical services — such as health care and the banking sector — continue to be disrupted.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, are trying to reach some 3 million of the most vulnerable people with aid and protection, but are hampered by access constraints, [such as] insecurity, road blockages, travel restrictions and, of course, COVID-19-related measures.

Also, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, will be briefing you by videoconference on Friday at 10 a.m.  We will have the room open.  She will be in Switzerland, and that will be at 10 in the morning on Friday.

**COVID-19 — Malawi

We have a couple of COVID-19 updates for you, one from Malawi and the other from Kyrgyzstan.

In Malawi, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres, continues to help authorities address the multiple impacts of the pandemic.  The UN recently facilitated the delivery of 192,000 doses donated by France through COVAX.  This adds to the 360,000 doses previously received through COVAX in March.  The new vaccines enabled Malawi to resume vaccinations last week after a month-long pause due to a shortage of vaccines.  We are working closely with our partners to get more doses into the country.  We are also supporting authorities with prevention, testing and treatment of COVID-19 cases, while addressing the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

**COVID-19 — Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan last week received more than 220,000 doses of vaccines through COVAX.  Those were donated by Sweden.  This is the first shipment of 2.6 million doses the country expects to receive in total through COVAX.  Kyrgyzstan will also receive nearly 200 vaccine freezers and 86 refrigerators later this month to bolster the country’s cold chain, with the support of UNICEF.  Since the start of the pandemic, [the UN team, led by] Resident Coordinator Ozonnia Ojeilo, has been working to boost the health system, including ensuring the safety of frontline workers.

**Resident Coordinator in Gabon

Last thing, we have a new Resident Coordinator to announce, and that is Savina Ammassari of Brazil as the Resident Coordinator in Gabon, following the host Government’s agreement.  Ms. Ammassari started in her new post a month ago and is leading our efforts on the ground in supporting authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic, to recover better from COVID-19, and towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Madame?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, the end of June, the security… the Secretary-General [inaudible] to increase the number of peacekeepers in Mali, and I’d like to know if you have an update on that and when they will be sent to Mali.

Spokesman:  I do not have an update, and I will get you one.  I will try not to make one up.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions.  First, the body of a Belarus activist who went out for a run and never returned was found hanged in a park in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, today, and police are investigating whether he was killed.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment?

Spokesman:  Well, we’re, obviously, glad to see that this is being investigated.  I think his death needs to be investigated fully to elaborate all of these circumstances.  And we, of course, send our condolences to his family and friends.

Question:  Secondly, around 50 bodies, apparently of people who were fleeing the war in Tigray, were found in a river between Ethiopia and Sudan and some had gunshot wounds.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this apparent… these possible killing… mass killings?

Spokesman:  I mean, this is yet another tragic example of the impact on civilians, on men, women and children of the conflict in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia.  One can only imagine the… what propels someone to flee their home, right, to try to cross a body of water to get to safety and then being killed.  Our humanitarian needs in Tigray remain great, but they remain great because the fighting continues.  And I think what we want to see is a halt to the fighting immediately, and of course, we want to have an investigation into what happened.

Correspondent:  Just one comment.  Earlier this week or… I asked on behalf of my colleagues for Martin Griffiths to brief us on his trip.

Spokesman:  Yes, and we’re working on that.  So, we’re working on that, to have him brief here.  I know he may do a briefing in Geneva, as well.  Anyway, but that’s something that was actually discussed this morning.  Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Stéphane, you mentioned the call for an end to the violence in Afghanistan.  You talked about Lashkargah, and now we’re hearing reports of an explosion in Kabul, very close to the Defence Minister’s home.  I’m wondering if you have any information about that, any concerns that this may be tipping out of… towards chaos in Afghanistan.

Spokesman:  I had not seen those reports.  We’ll look into it.  I don’t want to comment on an event that I know… I have no details on.  We are, of course, extremely concerned by the fighting that we’re seeing in different parts of Afghanistan.  And yet again, as in so many other situations around the world, it’s civilians that are paying the price.  Whether it’s the Taliban fighting, we’re concerned, as I just mentioned, by what we think is a lot of indiscriminate shooting, also by the Afghan national air force.  I think this all underscores the need to redouble efforts for a political solution to be arrived at very quickly.  Oh, sorry.  Then we have people on the screen.  I keep forgetting, we have people on the screen, but yes, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Me?

Spokesman:  Yes, you.

Question:  I just wanted to… what was the point for the international community to [inaudible] Afghanistan, when we see now that the Talibans are so close to seize everything, even the Government.

Spokesman:  That’s a question for a dissertation.  I’m not questioning the validity of your question, which is, as I said, a very valid one.  I can only speak for the United Nations.  The reason we’re there is because of the Afghan people.  The Afghan people have suffered through decades and decades of conflict.  They’ve suffered through a long period of rule where human rights were blatantly ignored, where women’s rights were non-existent, to say the least.  We are there to help the Afghan people, but it is up to the Afghan parties to reach a political solution.  We and the international community are there to support and guide in whatever way we can, but there needs to be a political solution.  Okay.  I keep forgetting we have people on the screen.  I’m completely still in vacation mode here.  Who do we have?  Benny.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Mercer Street — not the address in SoHo — two questions about it.  First of all, does the UN have any information to corroborate the assertion by the United States, Great Britain, Romania and Israel that Iran is behind the attack on the tanker?

And secondly, does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the violation of freedom of navigation and so on?

Spokesman:  I do not… we do not have any specific information.  We have… on who could have attacked the vessel.  What is clear is that any attacks… that any attack is, of course, something we condemn.  But it is vitally important to ensure freedom of navigation anywhere around the world but especially in that area, which is so critical to world commerce.  We would also, of course, call on everyone to avoid any escalation that could make matters worse.

Question:  Just to reiterate, you’re saying the UN did not receive any information from those countries that said that Iran is behind it and said that they have proof that it is?  The UN didn’t receive any such information?

Spokesman:  No, I… let… the way I understood your question is if we had any independent information.

Correspondent:  Okay.  So, I’m asking for this now.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Now that I understand you better, I will check if we’ve received any letters.  Dulcie?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes, perfectly.

Question:  Oh, okay.  Yesterday, I asked about the Taliban sending a communication to the UN regarding its attacks on the base this Friday.  Were you able to follow up on that?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  We did not receive any written or oral communication from the Taliban.  I would just, again, reiterate our concern at the continuing violence and especially the indiscriminate shooting, which is extremely deadly for civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, the Indian Ambassador, in an answer to a question from Al Quds al Arabi about Kashmir, he said Kashmir is an integral part of India, and anything happens there is a… it is an internal affair of the Indian Government.  Do you share the same view?  I just want to also add that the Pakistani Ambassador issued a statement denying that.  So, what is the UN official view on the dispute…?

Spokesman:  Our position on Kashmir is well established and has not changed.  Okay.  I will leave it at that.  Enjoy the rest of the day.

Question:  Can you repeat… can you repeat the official position of the UN if you…?

Spokesman:  You will find it in relevant resolutions.  I’m not going to go and repeat it, but ours is unchanged.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.