The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right. Good afternoon.
Let’s start off with Afghanistan and echo a call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who warned today that the failure to stem the rising violence and human rights violations is having disastrous consequences for the people of Afghanistan. She said that, since 9 July in four cities alone — Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, Herat and Kunduz — at least 183 civilians have been killed and 1,181 injured, and that includes children. Madame Bachelet noted that these are just the civilian casualties they have managed to document, and that the real figures is likely to be much higher. She added that her particular concern is about early indications that the Taliban are imposing severe restrictions on human rights in the areas under their control, particularly targeting women. The High Commissioner stressed that the parties to the conflict must stop fighting to prevent more bloodshed, and that the Taliban must cease their military operations in cities. She also urged all States to use their influence — bilaterally and multilaterally — to bring the hostilities to an end.
And also on Afghanistan, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, said that he is extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation impact on mobile and displaced populations, including returnees. He emphasized that IOM would continue to support the people of Afghanistan, providing emergency shelter, core relief items, emergency health services and protection assistance to displaced persons. For its part, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that, amid intensified clashes in Nimruz in the country’s south-west, nearly 200 Afghan refugees have been forced to flee into Iran over the weekend. UNHCR warned that many more Afghan civilians may find themselves trapped if they are unable to escape from the highly volatile situation. It is also estimated that since the beginning of the year, nearly 400,000 Afghan men, women and children have been internally displaced within the country — some 244,000 of them since the month of May.
Turning to Ethiopia, UNHCR and its partners said that they regained access to the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps that house Eritrean refugees in the Tigray Province. Violent clashes in the area had prevented UNHCR staff from reaching the camps since 13 July. UNHCR adds that the delivery of urgently needed assistance restarted on 5 August for the 23,000 refugees that are in both camps. However, access remains limited due to the security situation and refugees continue to face dire conditions. Basic services such as health care remain unavailable, and clean drinking water is running out. UNHCR is calling for safe passage, which will allow refugees from Mai Aini and Adi Harush to be moved to the new site [of] Alemwach, near Dabat, which is about 135 kilometres away. UNHCR is also concerned about fresh displacements they are seeing from fighting in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions. According to estimates from local authorities and our humanitarian colleagues, some 100,000 people in Amhara and 70,000 people in Afar have been displaced internally.
And a quick note from our humanitarian colleagues in Nigeria, who tell us that we, along with aid organizations in the country, have formed a task force to respond to increasing food insecurity in the northeast part of Nigeria. The task force is working with the Government to implement a comprehensive plan to address food security, nutrition, health, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene. This plan needs $250 million and aims to help the hardest-to-reach people to receive the food they need.
And just to note that here, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of peacekeeping, briefed the Security Council this morning in closed consultations on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). As you know, the mission’s mandate comes up for renewal at the end of this month.
And turning to Central America: In Nicaragua, the Secretary-General continues to be very concerned about the situation in that country, and he condemns recent actions taken against political opposition in Nicaragua. These developments seriously undermine the public’s confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November elections. The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to fully respect Nicaragua’s international human rights obligations, to immediately release the political leaders and reinstitute their political rights. He also reiterates his call for a broad-based agreement across the political spectrum, towards holding a credible and inclusive electoral process in November.
And our humanitarian colleagues and the Government of Honduras today launched a humanitarian response plan to address the needs of 1.8 million of the most vulnerable people in the country. The plan will provide for health, nutrition, food security, and protection to people in need, and address displacement. The plan requires $222 million in funding and covers the period from August this year to December 2022. Today, 2.8 million people in Honduras need humanitarian assistance — nearly a third of the country’s population. That is more than twice as many people as the 1.3 million people who required assistance in early 2020. And just to flag that the Governments of El Salvador and Guatemala will also be launching their plans in the coming days. They will be available on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.
And just to conclude with a COVAX note, from Latin America and the Caribbean: COVAX-backed vaccines have arrived in Suriname and Nicaragua. Suriname today received its third shipment — more than 26,000 doses donated by Spain. The UN team in the country is helping authorities to address the multiple impacts of the pandemic, as well as the roll‑out of the nationwide vaccine campaign. Nicaragua has also received its third shipment of COVAX-backed vaccines. And they received 100,000 doses, also donated by Spain. We thank Spain for those two gifts. This brings the total number of doses Nicaragua has received through COVAX to nearly 270,000. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) asked countries with excess vaccine doses to donate them to countries where coverage is still low. Basta. Madame? Go ahead, Célhia.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, do… does the UN has… have an update on the clash over the Nile River Dam between Egypt and Ethiopia? Where are we now?
Spokesman: No, we're continuing to support the [African Union]‑backed mediation. I think you had heard from the statements made by Inger Andersen and others. We are there to help the parties in any way possible. It is clear that there still remain differences but that the management of water, the management of a river that is really a lifeline for so many people can be used as an opportunity for increased cooperation, and we hope that it will be. Iftikhar?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. Apart from United Nations' laudable work on the humanitarian side in Afghanistan, have there been any contacts directly with the leadership of Taliban or the Government of Afghanistan to move the peace process forward?
Spokesman: We continue to be in touch with all the parties, whether in Afghanistan or the regional parties, in an effort to find a political solution. I mean, the facts on the ground as we report them, as you see them in the media, are extremely worrying, extremely concerning. We see, yet again, the most vulnerable civilians being… finding themselves in the crosshairs of fighting, especially difficult fighting in urban areas. All this should be a reminder for the parties to actually focus on a political process. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Sala from Azerbaijan Media. I have question regarding ecological terror ongoing by Armenia in liberated regions of Azerbaijan. So, the transboundary Okchuchay River is being polluted with their waste of metal mining industry of Armenia, as this fact proved by Armenian Minister of Ecology, which leads to killing of the many who fish that river. Unfortunately, this is an ecological disaster and… and considering all the climate change issue in the world, what kind of an official summon the UN make about it…?
Spokesman: Let me… if you could send me some more information on this case. I had not seen it. I'm sure my colleagues have. But, let me look into it, and I will get back to you on this, but I will look into it. Monsieur, sidi rais?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So, the Security Council discussed Lebanon today. Did the SG… I don't know. Does he have any position on the escalation in Southern Lebanon, how to support stability in the region, especially that now the UNIFIL will be renewed later this month? Does the SG believe that new measures should be implemented, or what does he think about that?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we are… I think we've expressed our concern at what we've seen across the Blue Line in… recently. I think it is very important that all the parties avail themselves of the coordination mechanism that UNIFIL offers. We often talk about this tripartite mechanism between the Israeli Defense Forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL, and it's a mechanism designed to lower tensions. I think the immediate imperative for UNIFIL has been to do whatever it can to calm the situation and restore a cessation of hostilities. Célhia?
Question: Steph, maybe I missed it, but do you know the name of the head, the next head of UNICEF? Or maybe I missed it.
Spokesman: You did not miss anything. Okay. You did not miss anything. We have not announced anything…
Question: When will you do…?
Spokesman: The recruiting process is under way. Okay. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, a couple of questions. Are there any civil society members on the interview panel for the UN‑Women Executive Director selection?
Spokesman: I'm not in a position to go into detail who sits on the panel. The Secretary‑General tries to have as broad a number of views represented throughout the selection process.
Question: Separately, did the Secretary‑General make a statement regarding the Burmese ambassador's… the death threats against him?
Spokesman: I mean, the question was asked, I think, yesterday or two days ago, and I answered it, expressed our concern about the plot against him and expressed our thanks to the US law enforcement authorities for having taken swift action and a reminder that the safety of envoys and diplomats is of paramount importance.
Question: But, the word "condemn" was not used. Correct?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, of course, we stand against any plot to murder anyone. Okay. I don't see any questions in… you may add one more. It's… price is the same.
Question: Now it seems that Pentagon says that they suspect that the attack on Mercer Street tanker was launched from Yemen. Do you have any information or reaction?
Spokesman: We have no mandate, nor do we have the capacity to do a forensic investigation. We've, obviously, condemned the attack on the tanker. We continue to express our concern at the volatile situation in the Gulf. I mean, it is a waterway that is critical to the global economy. It is a place already of high tension, and it is important that all the parties in the region and beyond do everything they can to de‑escalate the tensions. And I think we saw at the Security Council meeting yesterday, different Member States express different opinions on what… on the source of the attack and the death, I think, of two civilians. Okay. Ah, Abdelhamid. Thank God. I was saddened at the idea that you did not have a question.
Question: No, I have a ton. I hope you hear my voice today. Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes, much better.
Question: Okay. My question, which as I posed it yesterday about Libya, I mean, General Khalifa Haftar has announced a number of appointments and promotion of military staff. He even reshuffled some of the important position in the region that he called the situation room in Jufra and Sirte. That goes against the will of the National Unity Government. So, do you have any information about his steps and if you have any position on that?
Spokesman: No, I don't have any details. What is important for us is that all the parties in Libya, political and others, works toward a unity of institutions, which is what has been agreed upon. Okay. Thank you, all. I shall see you tomorrow.