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16 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.

**Security Council — Afghanistan

As you will have all seen, this morning, the Secretary-General took part in an open meeting on Afghanistan.  He appealed to Council members and to the international community as a whole to stand together, to work and act together, and to use all tools at their disposal to suppress the global terrorist threat in Afghanistan and to guarantee that basic human rights will be respected.

The Secretary-General called upon the Taliban and all parties to respect and protect international humanitarian law and the rights and freedoms of all persons.  Mr. Guterres says he is particularly concerned by accounts of mounting human rights violations against the women and girls of Afghanistan who fear the return of the darkest days of the history of their country.

The Secretary-General noted that the UN is committed to supporting Afghans, and that we continue to have staff and offices in areas that have come under Taliban control.  He said that the UN presence will adapt to the security situation, but, above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.  The Secretary-General noted that the following days will be pivotal and that the world is watching.  He stressed that we cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan — Humanitarian

On the humanitarian front, what our humanitarian colleagues are telling us is that, since 1 July, there has been an influx of people fleeing to Kabul and other large cities, seeking safety from the conflict and other threats.

Seventeen thousand five hundred newly internally displaced people have been identified in the past month.  Most of the displaced people arriving in recent days are reported to have arrived from Ghazni and Logar provinces.  Some 13,500 of these people have received support in the form of food, cash, health care, household items, and water and sanitation support.

Assessments were ongoing yesterday morning — that’s August 15th — with inter-agency teams deployed around Kabul to assess humanitarian needs.

Despite [immense] challenges, humanitarian organizations — both the UN and [non-governmental organizations] — in Afghanistan are committed to delivering aid and services to millions of people in need while adhering to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

The $1.3 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan remains just 38 per cent funded, leaving an almost $800 million shortfall.

**Afghanistan — Children and Armed Conflict

I also want to flag that, on Friday, you may not have seen this, the fifth report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan was released.  It highlights that an additional 5,770 boys and girls have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan between January 2019 and December 2020.  Furthermore, child casualties for the first half of 2021 constituted the highest numbers of children killed and maimed for this period ever recorded by the United Nations in Afghanistan, a situation compounded in the last few weeks and days.

**Haiti

The other big story we’ve been following is, of course, the earthquake in Haiti, and I want to give you an update on what we’re doing there in order to support the Government and assist those impacted by the deadly earthquake.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, allocated $8 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to support the humanitarian response.  This money will provide essentials such as health care, clean water, emergency shelter and sanitation for people impacted by this disaster.

Our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that access to the southern peninsula — where the earthquake hit — is challenging because gangs are controlling movements.  Local authorities are negotiating access, and an initial convoy of six vehicles with UN staff from various agencies and the Government travelled to the affected area yesterday.  Further convoys carrying supplies will travel today.  Staff from the UN’s Disaster Assessment and Coordination Teams are also arriving in the country to support coordination and assessments.

A UN Humanitarian Air Service helicopter managed by the World Food Programme is transporting government and staff into impacted areas along with medical supplies and other essential needs.  WFP said that they need $1.4 million for this critical service to remain operational until the end of 2021.

The most urgent humanitarian needs are expected to be linked to the provision of medical services, [and] water, sanitation and hygiene.  UNICEF will send three health emergency kits to the two hospitals in Les Cayes and one in Jeremie, which will help around 30,000 people.

For its part, the UN Migration Agency is providing life-saving assistance including blankets, hygiene kits, jerrycans, repair materials, and tarpaulins.  It is also focusing on finding safe buildings where thousands of displaced residents can shelter from the approaching storm, which is likely to cause flash flooding and mudslides, and of course this impending storm is very much likely to complicate rescue efforts.

And you will have seen that we issued a statement over the weekend in which the Secretary-General extended his deep condolences to the people and Government of Haiti.  We are also sad to report that one of our own staff members died in the earthquake.

**Lebanon — Humanitarian

Turning to Lebanon, our humanitarian colleagues told us that, yesterday, as you will have seen, a fuel tank exploded in Akkar in the country’s north, reportedly killing 28 people and injuring more than 80 [others].

We and our humanitarian partners responded immediately by supporting area hospitals, which declared a state of emergency.

Earlier today, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Najat Rochdi, led an inter-agency UN mission to Tripoli to visit hospitals treating those injured by the explosion.

The incident comes as Lebanon grapples with a deepening crisis, as fuel and electricity shortages make the delivery of basic public services difficult.

Major hospitals across Lebanon are operating at reduced capacity.  The delivery of life-saving care could be further curtailed due to a lack of electricity.

We, along with our partners, are trying to ensure the delivery of critical basic services.

Last week, the UN launched the Emergency Response Plan for Lebanon, which calls for almost $380 million to help 1.1 million of the country’s most vulnerable people, including migrants.

The new Emergency Response Plan complements long-standing efforts to support refugee and host communities impacted by the Syria crisis.

**Venezuela

A couple of notes in answer to questions I’ve received, one on Venezuela.

I can tell you the Secretary-General welcomes the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Unitary Platform of Venezuela for the start of a comprehensive negotiating process.  He encourages them to fully commit to an inclusive and meaningful dialogue with full respect for human rights.

The Secretary-General also reiterates his strong support for Norway’s facilitation efforts and welcomes the readiness to assist of Mexico as the host country and of the Netherlands and Russia as accompanying nations.  He echoes the call to all members of the international community to support a negotiated solution that is owned and led by Venezuelans themselves.

**Zambia

Turning to Zambia, the Secretary-General congratulates the Government and people of Zambia, as well as the electoral authorities, on the conduct of the 12 August general elections.

The overall peaceful conduct of the elections is a clear testament to the continued commitment of the Zambian people to upholding Zambia’s democracy, peace and stability.

The United Nations will continue to support the Government and the people of Zambia in their efforts for a democratic, stable and prosperous country.

**Fiji — COVID-19

A quick note from Fiji:  The World Food Programme and the World Health Organization have transported more than 15,000 kilograms of medical supplies to treat COVID-19 patients and protect frontline health-care workers.

WFP’s Pacific Humanitarian Air Service flew oxygen concentrators, pulse oximeters, masks and other supplies at the request of Fiji’s Health Ministry.

To date, the Pacific Humanitarian Air Service has operated 30 flights, transporting 250,000 kilograms of vital cargo to 14 countries and territories in the region.

**Turkey

And you will have seen that yesterday we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he was saddened to learn of the loss of life and damage to infrastructure due to floods and mudslides in northern Turkey following the recent devastating wildfires in the country.

He extends his deep condolences to the families affected.  The UN stands in solidarity with the people and the Government of the Republic of Turkey at this challenging time.

I will take some questions.  Michelle and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Just a follow-up on the comment by the Secretary-General about the UN adapting its presence in Afghanistan:  How many staff are still there?  Is it still 300 international and 3,000 national?  Have any left, planning to leave?  Where will they go?

Spokesman:  The numbers of staff in country have not changed since I last shared with you.  Obviously, to put this mildly, the security situation on the ground is complex and fluid.  I was talking to our security colleagues this morning.  They are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.  They’re in touch with the folks on the ground.

I think everybody’s trying to get their footing in terms of the situation as it is, and I think all of us, especially our humanitarian colleagues, are doing their utmost to ensure that humanitarian aid continues.

Question:  And what kind of communication is the UN having with the Taliban?

Spokesman:  We are having contacts on the ground through our political mission.

Mr. Bays.

Question:  So, could you just expand on that?  Who has the Special Representative, Deborah Lyons, who has she spoken to?  Has she met any Taliban representatives in Kabul at this stage?  Has she spoke to Mullah Baradar in Doha?  Who has she spoken to?

Spokesman:  I can’t give you any of those details at this point.  We’re having the contacts that we need to have to ensure, first and foremost, the safety of our staff, our national staff, their dependents, and our international staff.

Question:  And… if I can read my note here.  Different issue.

The Ambassador of Pakistan talked again about an inclusive government and the Taliban saying they would welcome an inclusive government.  What efforts are there currently under way to try to persuade the Taliban that they should go ahead with that idea and to speak to other political actors in order to try and broaden this, beyond just the Taliban ruling by themselves?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s clear to us that various members of the international community are having, are having contacts.  What the Secretary-General’s position is, and I think he just really outlined it to you, is the importance of the international community to speak with a single voice to the Taliban, to ensure the protection of human rights, especially of women and girls and all sorts of other issues as he outlined.  If ever there was a need for one unified voice on an issue, I think it is for this.

Betul.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  On Afghanistan, two questions.  The US is trying to relocate thousands of Afghans in Qatar, and I’m wondering if the UN or UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is involved in this deal?

And you talked about the internally displaced people, which is I believe 17,500.  Do you have an estimate of how many Afghans have left the country since the beginning of this year?

Spokesman:  Okay.  On your first question, no, I have no information on…  on what you mentioned I think with Qatar.  I will check with our UNHCR colleagues about how many have left.  What is clear is that a basic principle of international refugee law is that there should be no refoulement, that people should be given refuge when they are fleeing literally for their lives.

Madame, and then we’ll go to you.

Question:  Stéphane, could failure of America in Afghanistan have geopolitical consequences?

Spokesman:  I mean, does the situation in…  will the situation in Afghanistan, can it have impact beyond its borders?  Yes.

Yep.

Question:  [inaudible] Permanent Representative to the UN, what’s his status?  There was a question of his status will be given to accreditation committee in September, and has anybody, well…  Taliban, I guess.  I raise the question about the representation.

Spokesman:  So, on the Afghan Permanent Representative, you saw that he spoke, and was invited to speak, by the Security Council.

We, as far as I know and as of this morning, we had not received any communications regarding the Permanent Representative.

At the end of the day, the issue of credentials — who is recognized to sit behind a nameplate — is up for the Member States to decide.

As it’s publicly known, there will be a meeting of the Credentials Committee to discuss Myanmar.  Whether or not Afghanistan is brought up on that agenda, it’s something for you to check with…  the Permanent Mission of Cyprus chairs the Credentials Committee.

Abdelhamid.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  You know, under the rules of procedure in the…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, shut down your video and let’s see if I can hear you.  I know what you look like.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  The procedure of the Security Council…  [audio breaking up]  With the conflict…  supposed to be invited…  in 10 days, the issue of Afghanistan has been discussed in the Security Council and Pakistan was not invited to address the Council.  It is the most concerned country on Earth with what’s going on in Afghanistan.  Isn’t that some kind of violation of the rules of procedures of the Security Council?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, you know very well I will not answer that question.  That is up to the Council presidency, the Council members, to interpret the rules, to apply the rules, to decide on what rules of the provisional rules of the Council, which have been provisional for some time now.

Your second question?

Correspondent:  My second, my second question on Palestine…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I cannot…  I cannot hear you.  If you can try to disconnect and reconnect…

Question:  I can’t hear you, Stéph.  Can you hear me, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I can… Were you asking about the situation in Jenin?  Okay.  From what I did understand, Jenin, and I would refer you to what the Special Coordinator, Tor Wennesland, said.  He said he was alarmed by the incident in which four Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, who reportedly came under fire during an arrest operation in Jenin.  He called on authorities to swiftly investigate the incident.

Okay, any other questions?  Yes, James.

Question:  So, a few more questions and a follow-up, first with a follow-up.

You mentioned the national staff and local staff that you have in the country, and the numbers have not changed.  Can I ask you specifically about the local staff and their dependents?  I’m told that they number about 18,000 people.  What is the UN going to do about them?  What assurances is it getting from the Taliban?  Will it be facilitating?  I mean, I’m assuming some of those local staff maybe work on sensitive issues like human rights.  Will it be facilitating the departure of some of those?

Spokesman:  All this is, is extremely fluid to say the least.  We are obviously extremely concerned about the fate of the local staff and their dependents.  And as you pointed out, a lot of these staff have done very critical work on behalf of the United Nations, on humanitarian issues, on behalf of various committees of the Security Council.  The international community owes them a great debt.

And one, it is clear that the Taliban and any other authority have the responsibility to protect and ensure the safety of United Nations staff, whether they be national or international, and we are doing whatever we possibly can to ensure their safety, but I can’t go into any more detail at this point.

Question:  Okay, a related question, then.  The airport — the UN has its own terminal with its own entrance at the airport, it has its own aircraft.  Are you able to operate your aircraft currently, or is NATO/the US not letting you use the air if you wanted?

Spokesman:  We continue to be in touch with various authorities that control the ground and the air, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Okay, and one last one, just to clarify, I think I know the answer.  But is the UN doing any humanitarian work on the ground, any of its very good work it does across Afghanistan?  Or are basically all of those white trucks confined to base?

Spokesman:  It, it kind of depends on the location.  We have a humanitarian presence in places that have been under the Taliban control.  I think it’s on a case-by-case basis.

I don’t think…  so…  and I was trying, to be honest, I was trying to get a bit of that granularity for you, but I was not able to get what I wanted, and understandably so, given the situation.  I mean, I do know that WFP is, and the rest are assessing the situation on the ground, trying to figure out how we continue essential operations.  We’re in touch with the relevant authorities.  [There are] about 18 million people in Afghanistan who need our, our help, and we continue to be focused on them.

Question:  If you could get us an update on that, and also if you could try, I know how busy they are and how difficult it is right now, but try to get us a briefing on Kabul, either on the overall security situation or, specifically, the humanitarian situation.

Spokesman:  We may be, we’re in touch with one of the humanitarian agencies and we may be able to get somebody from them.

Question:  So, to ask the question a slightly different way:  When was the last time a UN plane took off?

Spokesman:  I don’t have those details.  Voilà.  Thank you, all.

For information media. Not an official record.