17 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.


I will start off with a statement on Haiti from the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General stands in solidarity with the people of Haiti at this difficult time.  The earthquake has destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, as well as hospitals and schools, churches, bridges and roads.

The Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed her support directly to Prime Minister [Ariel] Henry yesterday.  The UN team on the ground is working with the Government to help ensure humanitarian aid and personnel can reach people in need.

UN agencies and partners are mobilizing resources and personnel in support of the Government response.  Staff from the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams are on their way to support coordination and assessments.

As you know, we have allocated $8 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to provide essential health care, clean water, emergency shelter and sanitation for all impacted people.

Today relief convoys reached affected communities in Les Cayes, Jérémie and Nippes.  We will continue to scale up our responses to the hardest-hit areas even as Tropical Storm Grace approaches Haiti with a threat of heavy rainfall and flash floods.

As assessments reveal the level of suffering, the scale of humanitarian need in Haiti continues to grow.  The Secretary-General calls on all Member States to mobilize efforts to support the country in averting a humanitarian disaster.

His message to the people of Haiti is:  you are not alone.  We will stand by your side and support you every step of the way out of this crisis.

Just to give you a bit more details.  UN Humanitarian Air Service flights are supporting the delivery of supplies and medical staff.

Government and UN officials negotiated humanitarian access for two relief convoys to pass through the main road linking the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the country’s southern peninsula, which had been blocked by gangs for months.  Additional convoys will follow.

Of particular concern is the dire health situation, as several hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, while those still operating are completely overwhelmed, lacking sufficient personnel and medical supplies.

Despite the storm weakening into a depression, there is still a threat of getting more than 10 inches of rain over the areas worst hit by the earthquake.


And in a statement released today, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, stressed that the UN in the country reiterates its commitment to stay and deliver aid to millions of people in the country.

The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator said that while the situation is highly complex, humanitarian agencies are committed to supporting vulnerable people in Afghanistan who need us now more than ever.

Our colleagues note that humanitarians require safe and unimpeded access for inter-agency assessments in the field for new displacement, conflict, floods, gender issues and protection monitoring to determine needs and immediate response requirements.

Despite the complex situation, programmes in many areas are continuing, such as mobile health clinics, education, and we continue to implement our plan to reach 16 million people in need.

Also today, the UN Human Rights Office [OHCHR] called on the international community to extend all possible support to those who may be at imminent risk.  The [UN Human Rights Office] called on the Taliban to demonstrate — through their actions, not just their words — that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are being addressed.

And the UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] has released a non-return advisory for Afghanistan, calling for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.

I also want to flag that tomorrow we will have guests at noon:  the World Food Programme Country Director for Afghanistan, Mary Ellen McGroarty, and the UNHCR Head of Protection, Aurvasi Patel.  We will also hopefully have someone from UNICEF to speak to you on the humanitarian work being done on the ground.

**Security Council

And this morning, you would have seen the Security Council held a private meeting on Myanmar.

Briefing from our side was Christine Schraner Burgener, our Special Envoy, and [Ramesh] Rajasingham, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.

We expect the Deputy Permanent Representative of the UK, James Kariuki, to brief you at the Stakeout later on.


And the UN Migration Agency today said that it urgently needs $27 million to continue providing emergency shelter for internally displaced people in Tigray.

They said that more than 2.1 million people are internally displaced in the region.  While some have fled Ethiopia and sought refuge in neighbouring Sudan, many are sheltered in 116 sites for internally displaced persons in the region.

IOM [International Organization for Migration] has been heading a group of 33 national and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and two UN agencies to provide shelter and non-food items like blankets and cooking utensils.  In July, IOM appealed for $63.4 million to help those impacted by the crisis in Northern Ethiopia.  Only $28.7 million has been received.


And on Lebanon, our Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Najat Rochdi, said today that fuel shortages in the country threaten access to essential health and water services for thousands of families.

She stressed that a bad situation only stands to get worse unless a solution is found.

The deteriorating socioeconomic situation has led to the health system facing threats of limited liquidity and shortages in medicine.  Hundreds of health workers have left the country.

Lebanon is also facing another wave of COVID-19, with reports suggesting that [intensive care] units are already a quarter full and with most patients relying on ventilators.  An interruption of electricity would jeopardize their eventual recovery.

Ms. Rochdi said that the UN and our humanitarian partners stand ready to provide assistance to those impacted by the current crisis.


Moving to Mozambique, the Head of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino, is on a three-day visit to Mozambique.  He has visited the district of Metuge, which hosts 125,000 of the more than 732,000 men, women and children that have been displaced in Cabo Delgado since late 2017.

Mr. Vitorino urged the rapid expansion of humanitarian assistance to support the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the continuing insecurity in the region.  Between January and July 2021, IOM has provided assistance to more than 600,000 people in Cabo Delgado, including shelter construction and reconstruction support and non-food or household items.

He stressed that significant additional funding is required to cover life-saving humanitarian needs and work towards durable solutions, especially before the rainy and cyclone season start again.


And a couple of COVAX notes.  Guyana has received its third batch of vaccines through COVAX, with ourselves and our partners supporting the latest delivery of 57,000 doses.  Guyana has vaccinated nearly 60 per cent of the adult population, with 30 per cent of the people being fully vaccinated.

Our colleagues tell us that the majority of the beds in intensive care units are taken by people who are not yet vaccinated.  They encourage all, obviously, to get their shots.

And in Bolivia, the UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator Susana Sottoli, continues to be supportive of authorities’ efforts on the vaccination campaign.  Last Friday, Bolivia received its fifth delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX which were donated by Sweden.

This shipment will allow the national vaccine campaign to continue to protect priority groups.

And, in Egypt, our Resident Coordinator Elena Panova, continues to help mobilize resources to ensure there are adequate supplies and vaccines.  Egypt recently received an additional 1.7 million doses of vaccines through COVAX, bringing the total number of doses received through COVAX to 4.3 million.

And that’s actually it.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  In the last hour, the Taliban Spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, has given a news conference, saying the Taliban are offering an inclusive government.  He’s offering any political figures to have a part in that government, yet at the same time, he says that government will be formed and announced soon.

As you know, the Security Council, also in the last 24 hours, called for a united, inclusive and representative government, including with the full and equal meaningful participation of women.  So, perhaps there’s some hopeful signs there, a window, perhaps a narrow window…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …for diplomacy.  What is the UN doing about trying to urgently deal with this?

Spokesman:  We are, right now, on the ground, very much focussing on the humanitarian situation, ensuring that we have the humanitarian access that we need.  We have contacts with the Taliban representatives on that.

And, obviously, I mean, we… I’ve watched part of the press conference.  I think a lot of it will be, we will need to see what actually happens.  I think we will need to see acts on the ground in terms of promises kept.

Question:  Will the UN act as a mediator between the Taliban… are there contacts with the Taliban in Kabul, in Doha?  Are there contacts in Pakistan where there are some of the political leaders?

Spokesman:  We have…

Question:  What is the UN doing?

Spokesman:  We’ve had contacts with… again, more focused on the humanitarian access on, with the political commission in Doha and now, obviously, in Kabul, that, the large number of leadership has moved to Kabul.

Question:  And last one on the political situation in Afghanistan, again, in the last hour, the former Vice President of Afghanistan, Amrullah Saleh, has published various social media posts, saying that, according to the Afghan Constitution, he is now the acting President of Afghanistan.  Is this helpful?

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen the Tweet.  Whether it’s helpful or not, I’ll leave to others to decide.


Question:  So, the Secretary-General said yesterday, in the Security Council, that the UN is receiving chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights and violations in Afghanistan.  Can you brief us a bit about these reports that you’ve received on that?

Spokesman:  We’re continuing to… as I said, we have received reports.  At this point, I don’t really want to go into the details of what, the information we’re receiving.  Go ahead.

Question:  Also, the Secretary-General was asked by some Member States yesterday to provide a, maybe recommendations to the Security Council about UNAMA work and how to cope with the situation.  Is he working…

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re, obviously, in constant touch with the Security Council.  The Secretary-General remained there during consultations, had a very good exchange with them.  Obviously, the mandate of UNAMA remains as given by the Security Council.  They have to adapt… I mean… and our work is going to, obviously, be adapted by… given the situation and the realities on the ground.

Question:  [inaudible] can we expect you to brief us maybe tomorrow or to provide information about the violations that the SG talked about?

Spokesman:  As soon as I have something I can share publicly, I will.

Edie and then Célhia.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A follow-up on Afghanistan.  Are both Deborah Lyons and Jean Arnault in Kabul?  And have either or both of them had any contacts with the Taliban?

Spokesman:  The Mission leadership, I know, has had contact with the Taliban.  We had a conversation this morning.  As I mentioned to James, they’ve had contact with the Taliban, with the political Mission in Doha and, obviously, the leadership in Kabul, as that leadership is increasingly present in Tabul… in Kabul.  Sorry.

Question:  On, and on Myanmar, is it possible to get any kind of a readout on the briefings that were given to the Security Council?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I mean, it was, by choice of the Security Council, a private meeting.  I mean, our Special Envoy, Miss Schraner Burgener, called on Member States to support the COVID-19 and humanitarian response in Myanmar.  She also urged for support for dialogue to enable a return to a democratic transition in line with the will of the people of Myanmar, as expressed in the elections.  And the Special Envoy also called on parties to allow for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign to go forward through all available avenues in the country, and she emphasised her full support for the ASEAN Special Envoy, who was recently named and, as I think she told you herself that she would work in complementarity with him.

And, as for Mr. Rajasingham, I think, he, obviously, focused on the humanitarian situation, outlined what is basically a collapsing health-care system, resurging wave of the virus, increased hostilities and violence, significant displacement, as we’ve been saying, and all this on top of what was already a very fraught humanitarian situation.  And he also welcomed ASEAN’s involvement.


Question:  Stéphane, some UN agency in Pak… in Afghanistan have received orders to evacuate their stuff, but they did not receive any evacuation orders for the nationals.  Why is it so?  And is it true?  And is there some sort of common ground when it comes to evacuation of the nationals?

Spokesman:  I can tell you that, since we’ve been talking, I mean, since basically the change in situation in Kabul, there’s been no significant movement out of relocation of UN staff, national or international.  The safety of our national staff, as well as their dependents, and our international staff remains extremely important for us.

Yes, Gregor.

Question:  Hi.  Hello.  Thank you.  Taliban spokesperson called today for international forum on economic aid for Afghanistan.  How can you comment on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the well-being of the Afghan people, the humanitarian aid they need immediately, the development aid they will… critical aid they will need is, will be very much on the focus of our work.  That aid, from the UN standpoint, the humanitarian aid, will need to be funded.

I have no particular comment on the need for an international conference as it was mentioned, but what I can tell you is that our humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan needs to be fully funded.

Okay?  We’ll go to…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Oh, Michelle Nichols.  I didn’t even see you.

Question:  [inaudible] Just some more questions on Afghanistan.  Is the UN in any way restricted in its dealing… how it can deal with the Taliban, given that it’s listed by the Security Council as a terrorist organization?

Spokesman:  Look, I… as we do in many places, we deal with de facto authorities in the conduct of our work, especially on humanitarian issues.

Question:  And are there any concerns about once… the US currently controls the airport, once they leave, what happens, and how does the UN continue its…

Spokesman:  I mean, we very much, I mean, we have no control over what the US is doing, obviously, at the airport, what their timeline will be.  We very much hope that, moving forward, there will be an operating airport that people can use to move freely in and out of the country.  It goes without saying that a fully functional airport in Kabul, in our most narrow view, is critical to, for us to continue our humanitarian operations.

Okay, Mr. Klein.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  I have two questions.  The first question, again, involving Afghanistan, yesterday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that China, quote, respects the wishes and choices of the Afghan people.  Again, this is following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and the country.

Does the Secretary-General believe that the manner in which the Taliban took over Afghanistan represents the wishes and choices of the Afghan people?

Spokesman:  Look, I think you’d have to ask the Chinese Foreign Ministry what the spokeswoman exactly meant by that comment.  It is clear for us that the change in control over Kabul and the Government did not come through democratic means.

Question:  All right.  My second question is entirely unrelated to Afghanistan.  Last week, you said that, within 48 hours, the Secretary-General’s statement on dealing with the COVID virus and new medical [inaudible] at Headquarters would be issued.  Now, maybe I missed it, and I apologize if I did, but…

Spokesman:  So… I mean…

Question:  …can you tell us where that stands?

Spokesman:  There was a note to staff, basically an update on new rules and requirements given the spread of the… and the highly transmittable nature of the Delta variant and, obviously, the upcoming General Assembly meetings.  As I’ve said, the Secretary-General has always been very cautious on, and very careful to keep all of us who use this building safe.

So, the following additional measures have been mandated:  All staff are required to report their vaccination status.  All personnel are required to report positive results.  Certain staff and occupational groups within UN staff must receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  All new staff members performing tasks for which vaccination is required at Headquarters must receive a vaccination as a condition of their offer of employment.  All personnel must wear masks when indoors on premises to protect themselves and others.

And also, in order to align with what’s going on here in New York City, people who use vaccinate… who use the dining facilities on campus will also need to show proof of vaccination.

We will be in contact with UNCA [UN Correspondents Association] to see what, how some of these issues regarding vaccination will apply to resident correspondents.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Célhia, did I skip you?  Oh, no, you asked me a question.  Sorry.

Evelyn.  Sorry.  I’m… it’s not a good day today.

Correspondent:  You skipped me, though.

Question:  In addition…

Spokesman:  Who’s…

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Oh, Rick.  Okay.  Evelyn, and then Rick.  Yeah, sorry, Rick.

Question:  Okay, in addition to staff, are you concerned about normal Afghanis who have cooperated with the United Nations?

And secondly, can you update us on how many UN staff, international and national, are in Afghanistan now?

Spokesman:  The number of staff, national and international, has not changed over the last four or five days.

We’re, of course, concerned with the human rights of all Afghans, whether people have cooperated with the UN or not.  We’re very concerned.

Okay.  Rick, sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have two questions.  On Afghanistan, are you getting any indications via the contacts in Afghanistan, with UN people there, that the Taliban leadership wants a new diplomatic representative to take Afghanistan’s seat at the UN?  That’s the first question.

Second, on Haiti, you mentioned earlier that the UN had disbursed $8 million in emergency relief for the Haiti quake.  I had a question about the broader question of Haiti relief.  Does the UN consider itself playing a leading role in orchestrating the relief for the quake this time?  And can you just point to some lessons learned by the UN over the chaotic… initially chaotic rescue effort, rescue-and-aid effort after the 2010 quake in Haiti?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I mean, on Afghanistan, I have not, in all the conversations I’ve had on Afghanistan, I’ve, no one has mentioned that.  Doesn’t mean it’s not happening, I’m just saying I’ve not heard about it, and that’s not something that’s been mentioned in the conversations that I’ve had.

On Haiti, obviously, we are playing a leading role in support of the Government, right?  As is… as in any case, the Government has the primary responsibilities.  We are there to support the Government and their efforts.

The money that was disbursed was disbursed to UN agencies with… so they could get the immediate supplies that they need.  I think the… we’re not seeing, I mean, thank God we’re not seeing the same level of devastation as we’ve seen in the earthquake a few years ago.

I think the lesson learned is always for better and improved coordination so as not to see the chaotic scenes that we had, we sometimes see where countries are, with the best of intentions, sending aid that may not be needed; NGOs and even sometimes UN agencies are not coordinated enough.  So, I think the lesson learned is always better and more improved coordination to avoid waste and to avoid redundancies.

Célhia, and then James.

Question:  Stéphane, what can the UN in Afghanistan…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Somebody’s speaking on the mic.

Question:  Yeah, me but…

Spokesman:  Okay.  So, Iftikhar, I’ll come back to you.

Question:  What can the UN do while negotiating with the Taliban to make sure that the woman and the girls will not go back to the middle age?

Spokesman:  This is…

Question:  Can we fight that, because even Malala said that it was terrible to see that…

Spokesman:  It is constantly part of our discussions.

Question:  And?

Spokesman:  We’re talking about a situation that’s 48 hours.  Thank you.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I had asked much earlier.  Now many questions had been asked about Afghanistan, but I want you to address the declaration by Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid that he declaring amnesty and that all is forgiven.  Would you please give your reaction to this statement?

Spokesman:  We are, we, of course, support reconciliation in Afghanistan, but I think, like everything else, the proof will be in actions.

Mr. Bays.

Question:  Sorry, I’ve got quite a few loose ends.  But on that very point, on reconciliation, do you then think that comments from the Russian Special Envoy, Ambassador Kabulov, where he said that consideration should be given to putting Ashraf Ghani on trial are going to help things?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment.

Question:  Okay.  Staying with Afghanistan…

Spokesman:  Nice try, though.

Question:  Yeah.  Clearly, one of the main problems right now is the airport and the fact that it’s the US… very tense situation, the US in the airport and other NATO nations and the Taliban on the outside and a real problem, I think.  They have people they want to get out of Kabul safely between the two.  Could the UN play a role there?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re always willing to play a role if asked.  What we want to see is, as quickly as possible, a return to normal aviation operations so people who need to relocate can relocate, people who need to come back can come back, aid can flow in and out, and civilians who wish to leave may want to leave.

Question:  Well, there have been some reports in recent hours that the airport is beginning to…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …to get back to normal and that there are some non-military flights now.  Does the UN have any plans to get any staff out?

Spokesman:  There’s no movement of staff that has occurred to date.

Question:  Okay, I’m sorry I have more.  There’s been a letter, diplomatic note, from USUN about the General Assembly, which I’m sure the UN has a copy of.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  What is your view on… they are encouraging Member States to lower the presence this year.  They’re encouraging people to do video messages.  They’re encouraging delegations to stay small, and they’re urging that nothing happens apart from the General Assembly and everything else that normally happens in that week, including big COVID meetings, should all be virtual.

Spokesman:  Listen, we’ve, obviously, seen the note which was addressed to Member States.  A lot of that will be decisions that have to be taken by Member States, who are… for mandated meetings, meetings organized by the General Assembly.

We’re, obviously, looking at that note.  We’re having discussions with the Host Country.  They are… to state the obvious, a critical partner for us in organising the General Assembly, and I think things will become a little clearer as the days and weeks proceed.

Question:  And finally, on the new COVID rules, the UN is finally showing that it has the power to… in the restaurants in this building, at least, make people show their vaccination certificate.  So, why does the Secretary-General not go the further step and require every single person in this building to show their vaccination certificate, which… I can’t see… it’s eminently sensible.  It would be setting an example to everyone in the world.  I could even go further and ask why the UN is even considering employing people who are not vaccinated.

I mean, this is supposed to be an organization that leads the way to… hasn’t… and everyone I’ve met who works at UN Headquarters is eminently sensible and competent.  I don’t know why you are employing people who wouldn’t be vaccinated.

Spokesman:  Thank you, James.  Thank you.  You want… why don’t you come up here?

I think it is a… it’s a very important first step and, I think, in a way to keep as many of us safe as humanly possible.

I’m going to go to Dulcie, and then I will go back in the room.


All right.  I’ll…

Correspondent:  How’s that?  Hello?

Spokesman:  Oh, better.  Go ahead.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Mute, un-mute, mute.  So, you say no UN national or international staff have been evacuated from Afghanistan, but there have been references to them being relocated, but what does that mean?  And where are they being taken from and to?  Presumably, they’re still in Afghanistan.

Spokesman:  Currently, as I said, no staff… I mean, there’s been no major relocation or movement of staff leaving, national or international, from the UN leaving Kabul since the change of events in Kabul.

Question:  But… but…

Spokesman:  I have no, I have no details I can share with you at this point on anything that may happen in — that may happen in the hours and days to come.

Question:  But you say nobody has left via Kabul, but your… does that mean people are being… are leaving…

Spokesman:  No…

Question:  …other places?

Spokesman:  Let me be as clear as I can be in my second language.  There has been no movement of staff, national or international, leaving Kabul in numbers more than one, probably, or two… I mean, there’s been no group departure outside of Kabul in the… since this has been, since there’s been a change of circumstances in the capital.

Michelle and then Nabil.

Question:  Sorry, Afghanistan again.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  There’s a little concert here going on.

At least it’s a good tune.  Yeah.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Who’s playing?

Correspondent:  I don’t know.

Spokesman:  If you can’t tell me, then you know…

In baseball, they have walk-on music.  She has a walk-off tune.  All right.

Question:  Sorry, Afghanistan again.  What’s the actual, and apologies if I’ve missed this in the deluge of information.  What… what’s the…

Spokesman:  It’s a long piece.

Question:  Anyway…

Spokesman:  All right.

Question:  What is the security situation?  Are UN staff still sort of, like, confined to their homes, compounds, whatever?  Who is securing those compounds?

Spokesman:  There is no… there’s no movement of staff within Kabul, I mean, unless for urgent reasons.

Question:  And the security situation, you previously said local security?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the authorities in charge are responsible for the security.

Question:  That’s the Taliban now?

Spokesman:  Nabil.

Question:  So, yesterday, the Pakistani PR offered services that Pakistan is willing to help anyone who needs maybe to move out or to move — I don’t know — in or equipments or airplanes.  Have you received any help from Pakistan or any other…

Spokesman:  I saw the offer.  I will check what has actually been more officially offered.

Okay.  James.

Question:  Sorry, but this is just something I’ve just read, and it comes back, I think, to the question that I asked at the beginning that I’m going to ask it a different way.  You replied about what the UN was doing diplomatically and what initiatives it had that most of your work was currently on humanitarian, very important, but given a potential narrow window for diplomacy now to broaden the Afghan Government, The Elders just put out a statement calling on the United Nations to lead the international community’s efforts to encourage a peaceful transition.  And Mary Robinson, chair of The Elders, says the UN Secretary-General should personally lead the UN efforts.  Your response.

Spokesman:  Let me take a look at the statement.  I really have, unfortunately, nothing more to add than what I’ve said to you earlier.

Okay, thank you very much.

Correspondent:  Sorry, I have one more quick question.

Spokesman:  What?

Correspondent:  Too late?

Spokesman:  Go ahead, go ahead.

Question:  I just wanted to further clarify what Michelle was asking earlier.  On this… on the security for the UN staff in Afghanistan, the local security are now protecting UN staff in Afghanistan, and the local security are Taliban security?  So, if that’s what I understand you to say and if that’s true, we have a situation where the organization… this group that is considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council is protecting UN staff in Afghanistan?  Is that…

Spokesman:  No, what I was… I wasn’t talking about security of our premises.  What I’m saying is that… as in, what I was saying or what I should, what I meant to say is that, as in any… the authorities in charge have a responsibility to make sure that UN premises are safe, that UN premises are… remain inviolable and that we’re able to go by our… by our work.

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.