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9 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.

**Climate

As you will have seen, early this morning, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest climate report.  The Secretary-General said that this report is a “code red for humanity” with irrefutable evidence that emissions from fossil fuels are choking our planet and putting billions [of people] at risk.

He warned that we are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near future and he underscored that the only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts and pursuing the most ambitious path.

“We owe this to the entire human family, especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities and nations that are the hardest hit despite being least responsible for today’s climate emergency,” he said.

The Secretary-General added that the report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.  He added that if Governments, the private sector and civil society combine forces now, we can still avert climate catastrophe, but noted there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.

His full statement was released to you very early this morning.

**South Sudan

And, as a small yet significant example of how climate change hits the most vulnerable communities.  In South Sudan, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator, Arafat Jamal, says that aid workers and the Government are helping people affected by early seasonal flooding.

He said that climate change is disrupting normal weather patterns and intensifying the impact of flooding.

Some 90,000 people are believed to have been affected by heavy rains which inundated homes and agricultural fields.

The Humanitarian Coordinator visited Jonglei, where more than 70,000 people have been impacted affected by flooding, many of them for the second time since May.  Community leaders and representatives of women’s groups stressed to him the urgent need for food, shelter, cooking utensils, medicines and, of course, access to clean water.

**Maritime Security

This morning, the Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, spoke to Security Council members at the high-level open debate on ‘Enhancing Maritime Security: A case for international cooperation.’

She said that maritime security is being undermined at alarming levels — from challenges around contested boundaries to the depletion of natural resources and armed attacks at sea.

These threats impact people in every country in the world, coastal and landlocked alike, she said, and underscored that this calls for a truly global and integrated response that addresses the root causes of the challenges we face.  This includes poverty, a lack of alternative livelihoods, insecurity and weak governance infrastructures.

Ms. Viotti called on countries to commit to the full and effective implementation of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.  She highlighted the UN’s work with impoverished coastal communities to develop new opportunities for decent and sustainable work.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, today expressed his extreme concern at the deteriorating situation in the country.  More than 1,000 people have been killed or injured due to indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Helmand, Kandahar and Herat provinces in the last month alone.

In a statement, Mr. Griffiths echoed calls by the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council strongly condemning attacks against civilians and he called for a ceasefire.  He reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including their responsibility to protect civilians and ensure access for humanitarian organizations to reach people in need.

Mr. Griffiths underscored that fighting across the country, which has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people since 2009 when UN reporting began, needs to stop.  People have suffered enough, he said.

As an example of the brutal nature and scale of violence in Afghanistan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that, in the last 72 hours, 20 children have been killed and 130 injured in Kandahar province alone.

UNICEF said that it is shocked by the rapid escalation of grave violations against children in Afghanistan, and that the atrocities are growing higher by the day.

**Mali

Our colleagues in Mali at the UN Mission there (MINUSMA) strongly condemn the barbaric attacks against civilians that took place yesterday near the town of Ouatagouna and other nearby localities — in the area in Mali that also border Niger and Burkina Faso.

According to our colleagues in the field, members of an unidentified armed group are responsible for this act.  Local sources tell the Mission that the provisional toll could be more than 50 dead and several injured.

These deliberate attacks against civilian populations constitute serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law.

Arrangements are under way for the deployment by the peacekeeping mission of a field mission to secure the scene, as well as the intensification of patrols in the affected areas in coordination with the Malian Defence and Security Forces.  The UN Mission will also assist in the opening of a human rights investigation in order to determine the circumstances in which these atrocities were committed and to help identify the responsibilities to help the Malian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

A full statement was issued by the Mission.

**Ethiopia

Moving on to Ethiopia, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today said that, despite numerous challenges, it has delivered food to more than a million people in the north-west and parts of southern Tigray in June and July in a second round of distributions.

However, severe shortages of food, cash, fuel and functioning telecommunications equipment mean that WFP has only reached half of the people it planned to assist, including communities on the verge of famine.

More than 175 trucks arrived in the Tigray region, via the Abala corridor, during the first week of August.  An additional 90 trucks are expected to arrive in the coming days in the region.

But with 5.2 million people in the region in need of humanitarian food assistance, which is about 90 per cent of Tigray’s total population, the World Food Programme and its partners require at least 100 trucks to be arriving daily to meet the needs.

Also, UNICEF, in a statement by its Executive Director, [Henrietta Fore,] said in a statement that UNICEF is extremely alarmed by the reported killing of over 200 people, including more than 100 children, in attacks on displaced families sheltering at a health facility and a school in Afar region, and that took place on Thursday, 5 August.  She warned that the intensification of fighting in Afar and other areas neighbouring Tigray is disastrous for children.

Ms. Fore noted that UNICEF estimates a 10-fold increase in the number of children who will suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in Tigray over the next 12 months.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, I wanted to just let you know that, at long last, our Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, will be briefing you on the record tomorrow at 10 a.m.

She will be speaking to you from Switzerland, where she is currently working, but we will have… this room will be open and will moderate from here.

Also on Myanmar, our colleagues there tell us that forced labour remains a new challenge, according to a recent new study by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

In the first major study on the prevalence of forced labour in Myanmar since 2015, it found that one in six workers in low-skilled employment are in a situation of forced labour.

The study found that, despite progress having been made in increasing workers’ rights, 91 per cent of workers interviewed had no formal contract and 93 per cent had no access to social security.

**Secretary-General — Nagasaki

At the Nagasaki Peace Memorial this morning, the Secretary-General, in a message that was delivered by his High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said he continues to be humbled by the selfless acts of the hibakusha, telling them that their courage in the face of immense human tragedy is a beacon of hope for humanity.  As you know, the hibakusha survived the atomic attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

In his message, he said that the efforts by hibakusha have helped to build a powerful movement against nuclear arms, a global movement.

Mr. [António] Guterres reaffirmed the United Nations’ full support to ensuring that their voices are heard by the world’s people, especially by younger generations.

He noted that, for more than three quarters of a century after the destruction of Nagasaki, we continue to dwell in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.

The Secretary-General welcomed two recent developments:  the commitment by the US and the Russian Federation to engage in arms control dialogue, and the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Together, he stressed, we must prevent the tragedy of what happened in Nagasaki on 9 August from ever occurring again.

**COVID-19 — China

A quick COVID update for you from China, this time, where our UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee, is supporting authorities’ response to the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, WHO (World Health Organization) has provided technical support and has supported the vaccine development and roll-out.  WHO continues to support prequalification work on vaccines and is working with health authorities on vaccine communications.

The UN team is also working on communications on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Chinese authorities have recently pledged $100 million to the COVAX Facility and, over the next four months, will have donated more than 100 million doses towards equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for lower-income countries.

**International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Lastly, today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that indigenous peoples around the world continue to face overwhelming marginalization, discrimination and exclusion.

The Secretary-General pointed out that in recent months, the world has again been exposed to just some of the horror faced by indigenous communities at the hands of colonizers.  He noted that some nations have begun to address this heinous legacy through apologies, truth and reconciliation efforts, and legislative and constitutional reforms.

But much needs to be done, he stressed.  The Secretary-General emphasized that we need a new social contract — one that restores and honours the rights, dignity and freedoms of those who have been deprived of so much for so long.

The Secretary-General said that there is no excuse for denying the world’s 476 million indigenous people’s self-determination and meaningful participation in decision-making.

Hold on.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I don’t know if it’s a question, but I’d like to know, every day when we come here, you’re talking about what is going on in Afghanistan, the number of people who are killed.  So, I know the UN cannot do more than the UN is doing right now, but can’t we hold responsible the countries that are the — what is the word? — at the base of what is going on right now, or are we going to wait for the Taliban to seize all country and kill so many people?

Spokesman:  Look, the… it’s clear to anyone that Afghanistan… the people of Afghanistan have suffered through a long and tortured history, not just in the last decades but for more than… going back, right?  So, one could look at the historical record.

Our focus, really, right now is a multi-pronged one.  One is a focus on trying to get the parties to a political settlement, right, one to help the people in Afghanistan, to continue helping the people in Afghanistan, which we are doing through humanitarian and development projects, and to bring to light and denounce what we are seeing, the fighting, the indiscriminate shooting.

I mean, I think Deborah Lyons’ remarks to the Security Council could not have been clearer in denouncing the situation.

Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  But, to follow up on Afghanistan and then one on Myanmar.  On Afghanistan, I’m wondering, the children/civilian casualties, is there any more information on that or how they’re dying?  Are they just simply caught in the crossfire?  Is it air strikes?  Or is it while they’re going about their lives?

Spokesman:  It’s a combination of things.  We have seen horrendous cases of children being flogged.  Right?  We are seeing children get caught in the crossfire.

By definition, if you’re fighting in an urban environment, there are going to be civilian casualties.  And very often, those in the front lines are the most vulnerable, and those are children.

Question:  On Myanmar, I’m sure you’ve seen that two people were arrested in New York for trying to… plotting to assassinate a UN Ambassador.  I’m wondering if the Secretary-General has any reaction to that, number one, if the United Nations was contacted by investigators in any way or is in any way involved in that investigation.  And what are the implications for the credentialing committee that’s being asked to certify someone else for the job other than the current Ambassador?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Credentials Committee will go about its business as it’s mandated.  I can’t speak to what implications those will be.

On the investigation, I spoke to our security colleagues late last week.  We were not involved in this.  This is something that happened outside of the gates of the UN.

I think I can say, frankly, we’re very grateful to the US authorities for the work they have done.  The protection of ambassadors, the protection of the diplomatic community is the responsibility of the host country.  They do a terrific job here in doing so, and it is… and diplomats, all the people who represent their countries here, should be able to go about their work free of fear of violence.

Question:  I understand it’s the Credential Committee’s job to credential ambassadors, but does the Secretary-General have any guidance for them or any opinion on how to deal with the situation where the military is now controlling the Government and asking for a different representative?  Do they have the right to do that and… how… what’s the guiding principle here?

Spokesman:  The guiding principle is the Charter, and the Charter is pretty clear on how this Organization works:  that the Member States alone have the authority to question the credentials of anyone who is representing a Member State.

If you look at the UN’s history, there have been different times when the authorities, the de facto authorities, and the representative here may not belong to the same group.  So, I mean, we’ve sadly had these situations before, but it is the role of the Credentials Committee and the Member States who sit on the committee to do their job.

Okay.  James Reinl, then Benny.

Question:  Thanks so much, Stéphane.  You mentioned the statement from UNICEF’s Henrietta Fore about the… what appears to be a massacre in Afar region of Ethiopia, 200 civilians dead, 100 kids.  To me, that looks like a significantly more egregious massacre than anything we’ve ever seen in the conflict so far.  Do you have any more details about it, who died, who did it?

Spokesman:  No.  All I have is what we’ve gotten from UNICEF.  Assigning responsibility in a conflict zone like we are seeing is something that we’re not able to do at this point, but I would encourage you to contact UNICEF.  We’re also trying to get a few more details.

Mr. Avni?

Question:  Steph, two questions.  First of all, the organization UN Watch issued a report on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), detailing a lot of incitements and some shenanigans.  Two questions on that.  First of all, I’ve seen UNRWA referring to the report.  I haven’t seen anything from the Secretary-General.  Specifically, should there be… since the report is so detailed, should there be a outside… an investigation outside of UNRWA into the allegations?

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t have any further information.  We fully support our UNRWA colleagues.

Your second question?  [cross talk]

Question:  My second question is the law firm — what is it called? — Quinn Emanuel wrote a letter to the UN asking about reinstatement of our colleague Matthew Lee into the UN press corps.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No.  All I can tell you is that we’ve received the letter, and I’m not aware of any change to his status.

Question:  You’re not aware?  I mean, aren’t you part of the group that decides the fate of… or even the negotiations…  The letter calls for renegotiation.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I decide the fate of no one.  [laughter]

Trust me, trust me, my authority is extremely limited, whether at home or at work.

What I can tell you and, joking aside, is that the letter has indeed been received, and I’m not aware of any… and there has been no change in Mr. Lee’s status.

Question:  Has the letter been answered?  Do you plan to answer it?

Spokesman:  It’s been received.  Whether or not it’s been answered, I don’t know yet.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I had one question, but after Benny’s question, I have now a second one, but I’ll start with my original question on Libya.  Today, General Khalifa Haftar had issued a number of appointments from [inaudible] military staff and even reshuffling some of the major positions, including the operation [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  All right.  Abdelhamid…

Question:  [inaudible] was issued last Saturday that the appointment isn’t solely in the hands of [inaudible] Council.  So, do you have any comment or do you have any feedback from… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Abdel… Abdelhamid, I can only hear two… every other word.  I don’t have any guidance on the current situation, but let me ask our colleagues.

All right.  Your second question?  [cross talk]

Question:  I’ll try.  I took the…

Spokesman:  Maybe shut off your video, Abdelhamid.  Abdelhamid, shut off your video.  Maybe that will help.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  My second question, does UN Watch have any credit… can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I cannot hear you.  We’ll try another way.

Margaret Besheer, Margaret?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Can you hear me okay?

Spokesman:  I can hear you, and I can see you, Maggie.

Question:  Lovely.  On Haiti, could you update us on Foreign Minister Claude Joseph’s request to the United Nations for a special inquiry into the assassination of President [Jovenel] Moïse?  What’s going on with the request?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  The letter… there’s been no change, I think, since it may have been raised on Friday.  We’ve received the letter.  We’re… which asked for assistance into the investigation of the assassination of President Jovenel and the prosecution of those who are responsible.  We’re taking a look at the letter, and that letter will be answered.

What I can tell you is that we are… through the current mandate that we have in the UN, we have four police investigative advisers who are deployed with the Inspector General and the Judicial Police in the Haitian National Police, and that’s part of the regular work of the Mission.

Okay?

Question:  Steph, is it with… Steph?  Can I have a follow-up?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may.

Question:  Is it within the Secretary-General’s gift, so to speak, to… does he have the mandate to have this investigation, or does it have to go to the Human Rights Council or something, to another body, basically?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  It’s…  No.  I mean, there are different ways, and let me not speak about this but just in general… a general point.  There are different ways we can assist.  One is through material… through… we already have a mandate to assist.  We could assist in the investigation through our existing resources and existing mandate.

As for an international inquiry, an international Tribunal, those would have to go through competent legislative bodies of the UN, as we’ve seen them in the past for other various incidents around the world, be it the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or others.

Okay.  Célhia?

Question:  About the high-level week of the GA, I’ve heard that some 30 Head of State [inaudible] should come.  Do you have the list?  Could we have the list?  And when can we get the list?  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Short answer is, I don’t have the list.  I think what we have to… which is not to say the list doesn’t exist.  I think what we have to keep in mind is that the situation is extremely fluid with the Delta variant, and what plans and what people may announce now may very well change before 21 September.

I think it was clearly announced what… how the general debate would be held.  This was a few weeks ago.  What Member States decide to do at the last minute, given the situation in their own country, given the status of international travel, given what’s going on here, that may change.  So, I think we just need to plan for the unexpected.

Okay.  Thank you, all, and we shall see you tomorrow, Tuesday.

For information media. Not an official record.