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15 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.

Welcome to you all.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

As soon as we are done, we will hear from our guest, Richard Kozul-Wright, the Director of UNCTAD’s (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) Globalization and Development Strategies Division.  He will present UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report 2021.

I’ll start off with a few humanitarian updates, first one on Afghanistan.

**Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that we, along with our partners, continue to deliver aid to millions of people in need.

Yesterday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) resumed the distribution of relief items to internally displaced people in Jalalabad, who had fled conflict in Kunar Province.  Plans are in place for the distribution of relief items for 5,900 people displaced by conflict.

Also yesterday, a non-governmental organization (NGO) provided urgently needed fuel to Ghor Hospital in the west of the country, with more support planned by the United Nations.

In the south, some 98,000 people who were displaced by conflict reportedly returned to their areas of origin since the Taliban took control of Lashkargah city in Helmand Province.  According to provincial authorities, about 84,000 people who returned to their homes are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, particularly food and shelter.

Nearly 635,000 people have been displaced by conflict across Afghanistan this year alone.  In addition, some 5.5 million people remain in protracted displacement since 2012.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, our colleagues are telling us that the spillover of the conflict in Tigray into Amhara and Afar provinces continues to dramatically increase humanitarian needs.  More than 1.7 million people in both regions are reportedly food insecure.

According to regional authorities, more than 140,000 people were displaced in Afar and more than 233,000 people were recently displaced in Dessie and Kombolcha in Amhara.

Despite access constraints to some areas in both regions due to the ongoing hostilities and lack of funds, we, along with our partners, continue to scale up the response and support the authorities-led response efforts in both regions.

Our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that between 5 and 7 September, 147 trucks of humanitarian assistance arrived into Tigray from Afar.  Before that, no trucks had been able to go into Tigray since 22 August.

As a reminder, while this development is very much welcome, 100 trucks with food, non-food items and fuel must enter Tigray every single day to meet the scale of the needs on the ground.

In another welcome development, the first of the European Union’s Humanitarian Air Bridge flights arrived in Tigray on 11 September, carrying seven metric tons of nutritional supplies.

The UN’s Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) passenger flights in and out of Tigray continue to operate two flights per week as planned, with 12 flights having operated since July.

**Central African Republic

Today, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) announced the decision by the Secretariat to repatriate all Gabonese military units from the Central African Republic, effective immediately.

This decision follows credible reports received by the Mission of sexual abuse by the Gabonese military contingent deployed to the peacekeeping mission, and the history of pending allegations involving the Gabonese contingent in the country.  Gabon has been formally notified of the Secretariat’s decision.

The Mission also dispatched an immediate response team to the location to assess the situation, establish prevention measures and raise awareness among communities on how to report sexual exploitation and abuse.

The Mission has referred the victims to humanitarian partners for medical, psychosocial and protection assistance, in line with our policies on support to victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.

**Somalia

Moving on to Somalia, I can tell you that we strongly condemn the deadly terrorist attack that took place in Mogadishu yesterday.  We extend our deep condolences to the families of the victims and wish a swift recovery to those injured.

We will continue to stand with the people and Government of Somalia in their efforts against terrorism and violent extremism to strengthen peace and security in the country.

**Global Compact

Back here, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke virtually, but live, to the board of the UN Global Compact.  He said public and private actors must come together to drive a sustainable recovery to the pandemic and tackle climate change.

He stressed that we must make a just transition to a net-zero carbon world, leaving no one behind, and added that private finance for climate investments must increase significantly.  He told members of the Board that they can lead by transforming their own operations and industries; by shaping consumption; and by using their influence to promote green government action.

The Secretary-General noted that investing in inclusive, sustainable economies could yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion through 2030, and that transitioning to a circular economy that reduces, reuses and recycles materials could create 6 million jobs over the same time horizon.  The full remarks have been shared with you.

**Sustainable Development

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, met this morning with the chiefs of all UN entities working on sustainable development to review the progress made in the last year against sustainable development priorities on the COVID-19 recovery.

The UN Sustainable Development Group agreed to continue the UN reform implementation to meet the demand of the 2030 Agenda.  For the first time, the Group endorsed an accountability framework that brings together the UN system at all levels towards SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) implementation.  This is centred around the strengthened leadership of Resident Coordinators, in line with reforms of the UN development system.  The Group also discussed the way forward in advancing the “Our Common Agenda” report, which the Secretary-General launched on Friday.

**South Sudan

The Security Council held an open meeting on South Sudan.

Briefing Council members virtually was Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan.  He said that, on 12 September, South Sudan marked the three-year anniversary of the revitalized peace agreement.

He noted that there have been some positive developments registered in recent months, including the inauguration of the reconstituted Parliament and the appointments of women to senior positions.

Mr. Haysom noted that significant challenges for the peace process remain, including the establishment of impartial and unified security institutions, especially for the electoral process.

He also expressed concern over the increasingly restricted civic space.

**Syria

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, will be briefing the Security Council on Syria this afternoon, following his visit to the region at the end of last month.

He is expected to brief on the increasing needs facing Syrians after 10 years of conflict, recent developments in getting access to people in need following the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2585 in July, and the need for adequate funding to respond.  […]

Mr. Griffiths’ full remarks will be available to you.  […]

**COVAX

A COVAX update for you, today from Sri Lanka:

The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, has been working with authorities, as well as national and international partners, to tackle the pandemic, including through an accelerated vaccination drive.

More than 3.3 million doses of vaccines have arrived through the COVAX.  So far, 60 per cent of the population has received at least one dose, with nearly 50 per cent having received two doses.

The UN team has also provided technical expertise and provided medical machinery, test kits, personal protection equipment and beds for intensive care units.

The UN is also supporting distance learning for some 700,000 children, supporting more than 350,000 workers, and addressing food security for 200,000 people.

**International Day of Democracy

Today is the International Day of Democracy, which is a good thing.  In his message, the Secretary-General stressed that, as the world struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences, we must learn from the lessons of the past 18 months to strengthen democratic resilience in the face of future crises.

He pointed out that strengthening democracy also means embracing genuine participation in decision-making, including peaceful protests, giving a real voice to people and communities that have traditionally been excluded, and emphasized that democracy simply cannot survive, let alone flourish, in the absence of civic space.

**International Day of Peace Youth Observance

I want to flag that Friday, 17 September, at 10 a.m., the virtual International Day of Peace Youth Observance will take place, under the theme “Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world”.

Participants include the Secretary-General; Messengers of Peace Midori, Paulo Coelho and Jane Goodall; as well as students from more than 20 countries.  This is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and will be live streamed on UN WebTV, UN YouTube channel and the UN Twitter account.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, our guests will be the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Bruno Lemarquis, and IOM’s Chief of Mission in Haiti, Giuseppe Loprete.  They will brief us virtually on Haiti on the situation as we mark the one-month anniversary of the earthquake.

**Financial Contribution

We have now 128 Member States that have pain in full.  We thank our friends in a country that has two capitals — an executive and a legislative one, and that recently changed its name.

Correspondent:  Eswatini!  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Yes!  Eswatini!  Eswatini.  Exactly.  So, we thank our friends in Eswatini, and we give the floor to today’s winner, Michelle Nichols.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions for you.  First one, does the Secretary-General have any response to the firing of ballistic missiles by both North Korea… well, by North Korea overnight?

Spokesman:  Right.  And the second question?

Question:  Well, if you answer that, then I’ll go…

Spokesman:  Oh, all right.  You can be that way.  We’re very much aware of the media reports and are concerned by the latest developments that we’ve seen.

As we’ve said before, diplomatic engagement remains the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Question:  Thank you.  And then second question, our colleague Lenka has tweeted a letter from New York City to the UN PGA (President of the General Assembly).  I’m not sure if the SG received this letter, as well.  But it notes that UN city… New York City requirements mean that everyone in the GA Hall has to be vaccinated.  What’s the UN kind of response to that?  Will you be checking vaccination cards on the way in, next week?

Spokesman:  So, we have just seen the letter sent out by the President of the General Assembly.  We will, of course, work with the President’s Office and Member States on how to implement whatever decisions are taken by the Member States that regard delegates.

For the part of the Secretariat, as we’ve said, all staff members that are public-facing, diplomat-facing, journalist-facing are required to be vaccinated.

Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Further, on the repatriation of the peacekeepers, can you give us some more details on exactly how many?  Have they gone yet?  Who’s going to replace them?  And any more details on the allegations and the scope of the allegations?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I mean, the Gabonese contingent is about 450 personnel, and it’s Gabon’s only peacekeeping deployment.

We are working with the host Government and, obviously, contingents that are already in country to pick up… to fill the void that will be left by the Gabonese in the immediate [term] and, of course, then to figure out who will replace them in the long term.

The decision taken by the Secretary-General comes after what we feel is a failure to respond effectively to a history of allegations of sexual exploitation in the Central African Republic by the Gabonese, which include a failure to conduct timely and effective investigations and to report on sanctions for substantiated allegations.

The history of these allegations go back to 2015… of misconduct, right, for… not on these particular allegations but the… going back to the misconduct of Gabon since 2015, with new allegations, we’ve received a total of 32 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse concerning 81 alleged perpetrators from Gabon, all military contingent members deployed or formerly deployed in MINUSCA.  Of these 32 allegations, six have been substantiated through an investigation, according to the information we’ve received to date.

The allegations vary, but they are all violations of the rules and policies in place… put in place by the UN.

Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Just to clarify then, so there were new allegations…?

Spokesman:  Yes, there were new allegations.

Question:  And are those part of the six substantiated in total of 32?

Spokesman:  No.  So… no, the… since 2015, we have seen 32… since 2015, it’s 32 in total.  I don’t have the exact numbers specific for this case, but I think what… it’s important to put this in context.  There was a resolution passed in 2016 by the Security Council, which basically gave the Secretary-General the authority that, if there was evidence of credible, widespread and systemic sexual exploitation and abuse or failure to take action on these allegations or to hold perpetrators accountable, whole units could be replaced under the authority of the Secretary-General.

Ibtisam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As probably you showed, the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) until the end of the month only for further negotiation.  Do you have, first, any comments on that?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, we serve at the pleasure and with the mandate of the Security Council, so we look forward, obviously, to the continuing discussions.

Question:  And what does the Secretary-General would like to see in the renewal of the mandate?  I mean, he has his report.  He has recommendations.  Is there specific things from his report or recommendation that he thinks is…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, all of the recommendations that he’s put forward are important.  Right?  Ultimately, the Security Council will decide what they feel the UN should do on the ground.  We’ve been accompanying the Libyan people in this process now for quite some time, and we look forward to continuing doing so.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to follow up with a question Ibtisam asked you a few days ago about the status of the Palestinian… four prisoners who managed to escape, but they were recaptured.  The lawyer of the prisoners, Khaled Mahajneh, met one of them, and he gave a strong statement to the press about how much suffering they went through after they were captured.

One of them kept completely naked for seven hours.  They were denied food.  They were denied sleeping.  And Zakaria Zubeidi was beaten by a number of security people, and the beating shows on his face.

So, the statement of these lawyers, did it reach the ears of Mr. [Tor] Wennesland?

Spokesman:  Look, our principal position is that no prisoners anywhere should suffer inhumane treatment.  We are following this particular situation closely of those people who were re-arrested through their interlocutors on the ground who have access to the prisoners.

When I have more, I will share it with you.

Iftikhar and then Ali.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you… thank you, Steph.  I’d like to ask, since the situation in Afghanistan is… appears to be settling down, does SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), Miss [Deborah] Lyons and her staff plan to return to Kabul anytime soon?

Spokesman:  Miss Lyons is back in… is in Kabul.

Correspondent:  Oh, I see.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  The numbers, I don’t think… the overall footprint has not really changed substantially, but she is in Kabul.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Ali?

Question:  Steph, I have three questions.  One is on Michelle’s question… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on, Ali.  Ali, hold on.  Iftikhar, I think your mic is open.

Okay.  All right, Ali.  Let’s take them one at a time.

Question:  Okay.  So, first, the vaccination, did you mean now that no UN personnel is allowed to be in Headquarters without vaccination?  Just a clarification of that.

Spokesman:  No.  No, that’s not what I said.  What I said is that all public-facing personnel, right, so all the personnel, like myself, who interact with journalists, who interact with diplomats, all of them have… are mandated to be vaccinated in order to come to work.

All UN personnel are… have been asked to report their vaccination status, and I think that’s… that reporting is good.  So, that’s my clarification.

Question:  Why you’re saying it is good?  Based on numbers or based on… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think the reporting of the vaccination rates… I don’t have the exact numbers, but they are fairly good.

Question:  My follow-up question on this, it is a requirement wherever in New York City and State, if you want to enter anywhere, you have to prove you’re vaccinated.  I tried last week to enter a restaurant and another… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I know what… I live here.  I know what the rules are, Ali.  What is your question?

Question:  So, the question, what is barring the UN from putting this as a requirement?

And my other follow-up question on this, do you have any number of how many people get infected with COVID-19 inside the UN or because of the UN?

Spokesman:  The numbers of people that have been infected… the number of UN staff that have been infected in New York is fairly low, and as far as I know, there have been no cases of workplace transmission.

So, the number of staff in New York that have gotten COVID that have been reported to us, right, is 519.  But to date — and this is important — there have been no instances that we are aware of workplace transmission and this due, we feel, to the extensive measures that have been put in place.

Question:  Thank you.  My other question, since you talked about sexual abuse and… in conflict zones, today, there was a hearing at the Congress for sexual abuse against famous gymnasts in the US.  Do you have anything to say about those?

Spokesman:  First of all, our heart goes out to all the young women who were abused in this instance.  My comment, if you would ask me about sexual abuse anywhere, is that perpetrators have to face justice and that the fight against sexual abuse is an ongoing one, right, is one where systems continuously have to be tightened, where the issue of power has to be addressed, of the balance of power, of avoiding situation where there are only men in power.  And that’s one of the things that the Secretary-General has been addressing.

Okay.

Question:  My third and last question… my last question is about nominating Staffan de Mistura as the Special Representative for special… Personal Envoy for the Secretary-General to the Western Sahara.  There are reports that Morocco and [Frente] POLISARIO have agreed already to it.  Is this… can you confirm?  And when is the nominations… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No.  No.  Ali, you know I cannot confirm it.  I’ve seen those reports.  I think, as the Secretary-General said a number of times, I think we’re up to 13 names he’s put forward.  The process is ongoing.  No one more than him or myself would be happy to actually have an announcement here so we can stop fielding questions.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Back to the building and the vaccination:  so, the Secretary-General has the power and is using it to stop people going to dining facilities unless they’re vaccinated.  He’s got the power for people like you who have… public-facing not to be vaccinated.  Now he’s hearing that the City would like everyone coming to the GA to be vaccinated, and the President of the General Assembly strongly supports that move.

So, is he… is it under active consideration to have an overall vaccination mandate in this building?  Because there seems to be no reason not to do it.

Spokesman:  In terms of the delegates, we will work with the President of the General Assembly.  In terms of the staff, we’re continuously reviewing our policies in trying to make it… make this building as safe as possible.

Question:  And, clearly, this building would be as safe as possible if there was a vaccination mandate on every single person coming into the building.  That would make it safer than it currently is.

Spokesman:  That is a statement and not a question and one that I would not wholly disagree with.

Correspondent:  Okay.  [laughter]

Correspondent:  Quick follow-up?

Spokesman:  Michelle.

Question:  Sorry.  Just…

Spokesman:  And if I’m not here tomorrow, you’ll know why.  Yes?

Question:  Are there any plans to have, like, a vaccination station?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the City of New York has graciously offered to set up a vaccination tent in front of the UN during the General Assembly.  So, I would very much hope that, if any journalists are not yet vaccinated, they would avail themselves of that and, obviously, for staff and anyone who wants to use the vaccination station.

Question:  That’s on campus or… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, it will be just outside…

Question:  Like on First Avenue?

Spokesman:  Like on First Avenue.  Yeah, yeah.

Yes, Edie and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Steph, can you confirm that the issue of requiring vaccinations for delegates is the issue of diplomatic immunity?

Spokesman:  No.  It’s an issue of who has authority over the delegates.  I think we were joking before the start of the meeting about smoking.  I think some of us here will remember the tribulations of what happened when we… when the Secretary-General at the time, Kofi Annan, tried to impose non-smoking regulations throughout this building.

The point is this is a Member State-led organization.  The Secretary-General does not have the authority to force delegates into one way or another.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Stéphane, I know that the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) would be here in the building around the… around 1 October.  Kindly, we request that if we can meet with him in this room.

Spokesman:  That sounds like a plan.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Excellent.  James, and then we’ll go have to go to our guest.

Question:  Yeah, just one more question as a follow-up to what you said about Deborah Lyons.  What does the special… or Personal Envoy Jean Arnault… what is he doing?  What has he done in recent weeks?  What’s he up to now?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that he’s continuing his contacts, but I’ll try to get you something with a second sentence.

Sylviane, and then we will go to our guest.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  How are you?

Spokesman:  Great.  [laughter]

Question:  What?

Spokesman:  Great.  Go ahead.

Question:  There is a letter sent by 145 Lebanese and international rights groups, survivors and families of the victim of Beirut Port explosion of 4 August [2020].  They sent a letter, joint letter, asking the Member States and the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international independent and impartial investigative mission, such as a one-year Fact Finding Mission into the Beirut Port explosion of 4 August.

This letter follows a similar one sent by 115 rights groups, survivors, family of the victims; is there any reaction from the UN to put… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think that would be a question for the Human Rights Council.  We’ve always called for justice for the victims of the explosion in Beirut.

Question:  But the investigation… the official investigation.  Is it possible to put up this investigation?

Spokesman:  Again, that would be… it was addressed to the Human Rights Council.  That would be their… have to be their decision.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Elena, and then… I’m sorry, then we will go to you, Richard.  Thank you for your patience.

Question:  Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  Thank you for the patience.  Yesterday, a former Mozambican transport minister, Paulo Zucula, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption and this at the same time when there’s an ongoing trial for another minister in Mozambique in the case of the hidden deaths.

So, seeing that many high-level political figures, not only Mozambique but around the world, are being investigated and sued and sentenced for corruption, what is the reaction from the UN to these cases?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don’t have… let me get some lines for you on that a bit later today because I don’t have any language on that off the top of my head.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.

For information media. Not an official record.