9 September 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.  Welcome back.

**Noon Briefing Guests Today

We will start off with our guests, Kanni Wignaraja, who is with me at the podium, UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) Asia-Pacific Director, and Abdallah Al Dardari, the UNDP’s Resident Representative in Afghanistan, who is joining us virtually from Istanbul.  They will brief you on the poverty projections for Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan — Security Council

Just we turn to them, a couple of Afghanistan related notes.  At 3 p.m., as you know, the Security Council will hold a meeting on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the country and its implications for international peace and security.  Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, will brief the Council on the situation in the country.

I understand that there will also be a civil society briefer, as well as Malala Yousafzai, who will brief virtually as well.

In the Secretary-General report, he notes that the world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead.  He added that scenes of chaos, unrest, uncertainty and fear have caused alarm, as well as trepidation for what lies in the balance in terms of hope, progress and the dreams of a generation of young Afghan women and girls, boys and men.

The full report is on the interweb.

**Afghanistan — Humanitarian Update

A humanitarian note.  The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it reached more than 43,800 people in Afghanistan yesterday.

WFP said that a UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight yesterday brought UNICEF and UNAMA (United Nations Mission) Afghanistan staff into Kandahar.

And on 6 September, a Humanitarian Air Service cargo flight brought 22,440 kg of emergency medicine to Mazar-e-Sharif for the World Health Organization (WHO).  And UNHAS flights from Herat are also operating.

[briefing by guests]

Alright, you heard what I had to say on Afghanistan.  A couple of travel related notes for senior UN officials.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Travels

Our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, travelled yesterday to East Africa, where she will hold meetings with senior Government officials, UN staff and senior leadership, and relevant stakeholders.  Her meetings will focus on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing women’s political participation and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  She will be back here in New York on Monday, 13 September.

**Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations — Travels

And after wrapping up his visit to Abyei, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, arrived in South Sudan today.  He will meet senior Government officials and officials from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, otherwise known as IGAD, who are monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement.  Among other issues, Mr. Lacroix will discuss the ongoing work of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to support the peace process and issues related to the UN Mission in Abyei (UNISFA).

In Juba, he will also meet with women's groups and civil society organizations as well as Mission personnel to thank them for their dedication, particularly as they continue to implement their mandate in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

Mr. Lacroix is expected to visit Malakal to interact with staff on the ground and meet with local authorities, and he will be back in New York on 12 September.

**Dag Hammarskjöld

Back here, in New York, the Secretary-General António Guterres laid a wreath today to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.  He said that the late Secretary-General’s legacy lives on today as a reference for compassionate, courageous leadership; as a benchmark for integrity and idealism; and as a standard for selfless service.

Mr. [António] Guterres said that as we look ahead to the new session of the General Assembly, let us build on his extraordinary legacy to address the challenges and seize the opportunities before us and, together, build a more peaceful and just world.

The Secretary-General also spoke at an informal event of the General Assembly, commemorating Mr. Hammarskjöld’s life.

**Anticipatory Action

And this morning, in a video message to the high-level event to advance anticipatory action, which was convened by the UN and the Governments of Germany and the United Kingdom, the Secretary-General said that by acting early, we can prevent humanitarian emergencies from turning into catastrophes.

He noted that last year, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) invested $140 million to scale-up anticipatory action in 12 countries and underscored that early investments not only protect lives but also prevent higher response costs down the road.

He called on Governments and donors to increase support for preparedness, anticipatory action, and rapid emergency response at all levels and stressed the need to better understand the risks that people face, so that we can tailor our action to their needs.

Those remarks are online.

**International Day to Protect Education from Attack

This morning, the SG also spoke at a virtual event to commemorate the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.  He stressed that attacks on schools must stop.

Mr. Guterres pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack collected over 13,000 reports of strikes on education or the military use of educational facilities worldwide.

Mr. Guterres urged Member States to go beyond their commitments under international law and put in place national policies and laws that protect schools and learners.  He emphasized that in every country and jurisdiction, we need to make attacks on schools unacceptable and punished.

He also called for increased global support for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and UNICEF, which work around the clock to protect education, students, teachers and schools in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

**11 September

And as you may know, the members of the Security Council today visited the September 11 Memorial and Museum here in New York City, to mark 20 years since the 2001 attacks.

The members of the Council, in a statement issued after that visit, said that they are as united today as they were 20 years ago in their commitment to prevent and counter terrorism, in all its forms and wherever it occurs, consistent with international law.

The members of the Council also re-committed to the words set forth in the Charter to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…and for these ends to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.”


Moving on to Ethiopia:  In the northern part of the country, months of fighting, insecurity and inadequate access to vital services have left at least 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions.

Although we have not yet been able to independently verify hunger-related deaths, we have received unconfirmed reports of deaths in displacement sites.

The spill-over of the conflict in Tigray into Amhara and Afar is dramatically increasing humanitarian needs across the three regions, at a moment where aid workers are already facing enormous challenges to sustain relief operations.

Since Sunday, more than 150 trucks of humanitarian assistance arrived in Tigray.  However, we need at least 100 trucks to arrive in Tigray every single day if we are to meet the scale of needs on the ground.  Some supplies, such as fuel, have not entered at all.

In Tigray, as a reminder, 3.4 million people received food assistance between May and August.  However, a new round of distributions must start soon to make sure they will have the food they need to survive.

While welcoming their recent support for the delivery of trucks over the last few days, we urgently call on the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the regional authorities in Afar to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to Tigray, so we can have relief items delivered in the region every day.


And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned that food insecurity in Somalia is set to increase until the end of the year due to the impacts of poor rainfall and continued insecurity.

FAO said that without sustained humanitarian food assistance, 3.5 million people across Somalia are expected to face what is known as the crisis stage of food insecurity.  Moreover, approximately 1.2 million children under the age of five are likely to be acutely malnourished during this period.

In addition, the desert locusts will continue to pose a serious risk to pasture availability and crop production across the country.

More information on FAO’s website.

**First Global Parliamentary Summit on Counter-Terrorism

Today, in Vienna, our colleagues from the Office of Counter-Terrorism and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have teamed up with the Inter-Parliamentary Union to hold the First Global Parliamentary Summit on Counter-Terrorism.

Parliamentarians play a crucial role in countering terrorism and violent extremism and legislators from around the world met today to look at ways they can enhance their work to prevent and counter terrorism.

In sessions throughout the day, they discussed ways that parliaments can support and protect the rights of victims of terrorism, prevent terrorist radicalization and address hate speech.  They also had a session on the Sahel.

**Questions and Answers

Maggie, and then Edie.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  On Ethiopia, first of all, on Afar and Amhara, since you say it's spilling over and the needs are increasing there, what information do you have on convoys and access to those two regions?  Do you have any?

And you say 40,000 in the north face famine-like conditions, but yet, you don't seem to have on-the-ground confirmation, so how do you work out the numbers? How do you get to 40,000?

Spokesman:  These are some reports that we have received, that we are trying to confirm.  Access in those other regions has been from what I understand slightly better, but I will try to get you more details. 


Question:  A couple of follow-ups, Steph.  First, on Tigray, also.  What specifically is the UN doing, what kind of context, to try and beef up the convoys to the region to get more in?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the security and safety is the responsibility of the local authorities in Tigray.  And that's why our plea is to the Federal Government, to the regional authorities.  We don't have…  I mean, it's not a peacekeeping situation, and even there, it's…  we don't force our way through.

Governments at the national level, at the local level, have a responsibility to keep their people safe, and that includes letting them have access to the humanitarian aid that they need.

Question:  A couple of…  two other follow-ups.  First, on the flights that have been held up in Mazar-i-Sharif.  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  Our flights have been…  I think, as I've mentioned, have been getting in, but I can only report on ours.

Question:  And my third and final query is:  The President of the General Assembly gave out some figures at his press conference, the number of Heads of Government, Heads of State, and Foreign Ministers who will be coming to the high-level week.  When are we going to see that list?  He obviously has it.

Spokesman:  Well, he's the President of the General Assembly and I am not, so clearly, he has information that I don't have.  We usually are…  I mean…  usually, in normal times, I would share a list with you closer to the date.  I understand also an updated list of speakers is being worked out, so as soon as I have information that I can share with you, I will.

I will…  I failed to report one happy note, and that we have a fresh full payment to the regular budget.  This comes from one African Member State whose border is situated on the breath-taking natural wonder.  The local name for this place is "Mosi-oa-Tunya".  Any clue where that country could be?

Question:  Can I have a follow-up on Tigray?

Spokesman:  Zambia.  All right.  But go ahead.  I'm…  my efforts to educate you again have failed.  Yes?

Question:  The Deputy Secretary-General left to East Africa.  Where is she going to stop in East Africa?  And as…  you mentioned she's going to discuss about the COVID-19.  What about other issues, such as Tigray crisis?  Is there any plans to include the AU [African Union] in her meetings while she's in the region?

Spokesman:  I will have more details of her travels as they unfold.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I wanted to ask you a question on Myanmar.  The other day, the National Unity Government said it's launching or urging people to rise up against the junta, calling it "the people's defensive war".  Do you have a UN reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, we've seen those calls, and I think our message is in line with what we've seen from ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and others, which is that everyone should exercise utmost restraint, seek a peaceful solution through constructive dialogue and practical reconciliation in the interests of people and their livelihoods.

In the immediate, we would like to see the release of the members of the government of Myanmar, including the president, Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and others, and I think that would be a critical step in de-escalating tensions and moving the situation in a positive direction.

And again, I think our special envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, called for an international response grounded on regional unity in support of the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed clearly in the last general elections in the country.

Question:  And then just…  sorry, one other question on Afghanistan.  Has the UN received any letters from the Taliban?  No letters?

Spokesman:  No.  No, we have not. 

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Okay.  We’re a little discombobulated today.  Any questions on the screen?  Rick Gladstone, I think you had a question.

Question:  Actually, I have two questions.  My first one, thank you very much, the Secretary-General's remarks today commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.  He didn't mention anything about the continuing efforts by the United Nations specially-appointed judge to investigate the cause of Mr. Hammarskjöld's death.  Is that…  has the Secretary-General given up on that investigation?  Has that…  has…

Spokesman:  I don't…  the fact that it was not mentioned doesn't mean that anyone thinks it has…  we should give up.  In fact, we should never give up on this issue.  I think as you've read from the number of reports that have been published on this, it is also incumbent on a number of Member States to help us find the truth into what happened to Dag Hammarskjöld and all of the colleagues that perished with him in…  when the plane crashed in what was then Northern Rhodesia. 

Your second question?

Question:  Second question, a follow-up to what Michelle was asking about, whether the Taliban had submitted a letter, I presume to seek representation at the General Assembly.  Was there some sort of deadline where such a letter had to be submitted before?  I'm hearing that it was 6 September, but I don't know that.

Spokesman:  I mean, there is…  you know, let me check before I…  I step on my feet here, but we do…  there is a process, I think how it relates to the General Assembly itself, but we do get changes…  you know, we get letters and communications from Governments all the time announcing a change in representation.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up to that.  Is it fair to assume that as long as they sent…  well, separate from high-level week, as long as they send a letter before this Credentials Committee decides to meet in October, November, they're probably fine?

Spokesman:  I mean, as in any situation here, unless a change is made, the status quo remains.  Lenka?

Question:  Follow-up on Myanmar.  Any updates on the role of the envoy?  And does she know and she in contact with the envoy of ASEAN?

Spokesman:  Yes, she is in contact with ASEAN and she continues her work.  Right now, I think she's still at her base in Bern, in Switzerland, but she's continuing her work.

Okay.  Any other questions?  Oh, yes.  Grigory?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Bloomberg reported that some United Nations network was breached earlier this year.  Do you have any comments on that?

Spokesman:  Yes.  You know, I have to circulate that to you a bit later because I don't have that with me.  [He later circulated a note concerning that issue.]


Question:  Sorry to hop on this, but when it does come to UNGA, if the Taliban wanted their leader to speak, how does that work?

Spokesman:  Any representatives who want to speak to the General Assembly have to have credentials that are approved or not objected to.

Correspondent:  But I think she means Head of State, like their interim Government, if the new guy wants to speak to you.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, that would have…

Correspondent:  He doesn't need a credential; he's the Head of a Government.

Spokesman:  That would be…  I mean, it's still credentials.  I mean, it's still part of being accredited to speak to the United Nations.

Correspondent:  The previous Government would have to change to the current interim Government…?

Spokesman:  At this point, there is no change in the representation of Afghanistan.

Question:  And could the Credentials Committee, after it's appointed next week, if…  like, could they meet before high-level?

Spokesman:  That's a question for that conclave.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Ibtisam.  Please don't ask me again about credentials.  I'm feeling…  the rope is tightening around my neck here. 

Yes.  I know.  A useful one.  Yeah.  Yes.  Ibtisam?

Question:  So my question is a follow-up on that, because there's something I don't understand.  I thought that there is a difference between the regular Credential Committee for the ambassador or the…  and the one for UNGA?

Spokesman:  Again, I will seek right to counsel and I will come back to you on this.

Go ahead.

Question:  Sorry, I'm just curious.  Has the Taliban leadership reached out to the UN about their, like, ambassador?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of.  We have had…  I think it's been clear from Martin Griffiths and all others that we've had contact on the ground with the authorities in Kabul.  There has been no contact, that I'm aware of, here at UN Headquarters.

As a reminder, tomorrow at 12:30, Mr Guterres will be here in this room for his pre-GA conference that follows his remarks to the General Assembly on the common agenda.  For those of you joining online, I would ask that if you are…  if you ask a question, that you please have video on for the sake of the Secretary-General.  It will help him hear you if he can actually see you, as well, so dress accordingly and fix your backgrounds.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.