4 October 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke in person at the opening ceremony of the fifteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 15), which took place in Bridgetown, in Barbados.  He pointed out that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at risk of failure and stressed that we need to turn this around with a bold, sustainable and inclusive global recovery.

He said that he sees four glaring challenges, which – if not addressed – make any notion of prosperity for all a distant dream.  These are debt distress, systems starved for investment, unfair trade, and a climate emergency that leaves small island developing States like Barbados perilously vulnerable.

The Secretary-General noted that small island developing States — like Barbados — are looking to the future with worry, and that they hear the words, but do not see the actions behind them.  He repeated his call to donors and multilateral development banks to allocate at least 50 per cent of their climate support towards adaptation and resilience.  His full remarks have been shared with you.

And, as you know, the Secretary‑General just spoke with the press about the conference.  And we have shared with you the transcript of his opening remarks, and we’ll share the Q&A once that’s done.

And yesterday, the Secretary-General saw first‑hand the impacts of climate change in Barbados.  Accompanied by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Mr. [António] Guterres visited an area impacted by sea level rise, coastal erosion and land slippage.  He learned about the enormous efforts being undertaken by the Government of Barbados to address these challenges.


On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the humanitarian crisis in Tigray remains dire, with 5.2 million people needing food aid, including 400,000 people living in famine‑like conditions.  The spread of conflict into the Amhara and Afar regions is pushing more people into desperate conditions.

As we have been telling you, the delivery of aid has been difficult.  Since 12 July, the UN has brought in 606 trucks of humanitarian supplies – but we need 100 trucks to carry aid into Tigray every day.  The UN has not been allowed to bring in fuel since the end of July, leading to some of our partners having had to severely reduce or suspend their activities.  Cash to run operations is also running out.  Medical supplies are depleted, with nearly 200,000 children having missed critical vaccinations.  The UN is engaging with the Government of Ethiopia for sustained and regular access for aid convoys.

Meanwhile, in Amhara, fighting along the Tigray regional boundary has led to hundreds of thousands of people being displaced.  People in some areas reportedly do not have access to aid or basic services including electricity, water and telecommunications.

In Afar, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are directly affected by the conflict, including several tens of thousands of people who have been displaced and are in need of urgent assistance.  Our humanitarian partners continue to scale up their response in both Amhara and Afar.

The UN urges all parties to the conflict to ensure that aid can reach all civilians in need.  Our colleagues say that, without a ceasefire, humanitarian needs will continue to grow and there will be no way to sustainably address the suffering in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.


At the Security Council this morning, Helen La Lime, the Head of the UN mission in Haiti (BINUH), said that the country is undergoing one of the most fraught periods in its recent history.  For most observers, she added, it is difficult to envision an end to the country’s seemingly never‑ending crises.  Despite this, the Special Representative said that Prime Minister Ariel Henry has adopted an inclusive approach and sought to create minimal conditions for the holding of legislative, local and presidential elections.

In a positive step, she said, actors from across the political spectrum and civil society organizations have adhered to an agreement, which includes the formation of a new Provisional Electoral Council, the inclusion of the diaspora, as well as the holding of elections no later than the second half of 2022.  One can only hope that Haitian political and civil society leaders will continue to work together to find common ground, Ms. La Lime added.

Moving on to response to the recent earthquake, Ms. La Lime said that we are in a race against time to ensure that children can return to school, that farmers do not miss the next planting season and that people currently living in spontaneous displacement camps return to their homes as quickly as possible.


And in a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary‑General strongly condemned the improvised explosive device attacks against a convoy of the UN Mission in Mali, MINUSMA.  The attack took place near Tessalit in the Kidal region.  A peacekeeper from Egypt was killed and four others were seriously injured.  The Secretary‑General expresses his deep condolences to the family of the victim, as well as to the Government and people of Egypt.  He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

This morning, the Mission is telling us that one peacekeeper was evacuated to Bamako, while the three others are receiving treatment at a MINUSMA facility in Kidal.  The Secretary‑General calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of these attacks so that they can be brought to justice swiftly.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that it is deeply concerned over clashes this weekend between armed groups in Kacuat, in Warrap State, in which some 35 people were killed, dozens more injured and hundreds were displaced from their homes.  There have been clashes in the region in recent months, linked to cattle raids and revenge attacks.  This is worsening an already dire humanitarian situation.

Despite logistical challenges due to heavy flooding, last month, the UN Mission set up a temporary base in Marial Lou, also in Warrap State, to help deter violence.  The Mission is also supporting reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts, including holding conferences to resolve border and land disputes, tensions over pastures and water points, and the proliferation of small arms among civilians.  The Mission is also helping to bolster legal institutions in the area, such as mobile courts, to hold those responsible for the violence accountable.

**High-Level Event on Preventing Famine

Earlier this morning, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), in collaboration with the Group of Friends on Action on Conflict and Hunger, convened a High‑level Event on Action in Support of Preventing and Ending Famine Now.

At the virtual event, participants took stock of recent efforts to stop the advance of famine and famine risk.  They also discussed urgent actions the international community must take to prevent a deterioration in the global severity and scale of acute food insecurity.  Member States and partners also heard about the efforts of the High‑level Task Force on Preventing Famine.  More information on the event is available on OCHA’s website.


On Myanmar, our colleagues there continue to be alarmed by the dire humanitarian situation due to the intense clashes and volatile security situation in many parts of the country.  Since the beginning of the year, nearly 240,000 people have been newly displaced and need humanitarian aid and protection services.

The UN, together with our partners, is responding to the growing displacement, food insecurity and overall increased vulnerability.  For example, the World Food Programme and its partners reached some 360,000 vulnerable and displaced people in Kachin, northern Shan, Rakhine and Chin in September with food and cash assistance.  We continue to deliver water, sanitation, health, protection and shelter support, among other services.

The UN team calls on all parties to facilitate safe and unhindered access for humanitarian responders to reach people in need.  It also appeals to donors for strengthened commitment to the humanitarian cause.  Just one third of the $385 million for the Humanitarian Response Plan and Interim Emergency Response Plan have been funded, and our colleagues appeal to donors for a strengthened commitment.


I have a COVAX update for you:  Nicaragua recently received nearly 140,000 vaccine doses through COVAX to boost its national vaccination campaign.  This brings the total number of doses Nicaragua has received from COVAX to more than 1.4 million.  The UN team calls for the continued use of masks, physical distancing and handwashing, among other measures, to prevent the spread of the virus.

**World Space Week

Today is the start of World Space Week.  This year’s theme is “Women in Space”, which aims to bring more awareness to the issue of gender diversity in the space sector and identify the obstacles that women are facing when entering space‑related careers.  According to reports, 20‑22 per cent of the entire space industry workforce consists of women.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) created the campaign Space4Women to promote women’s empowerment in space, being mindful that women from different backgrounds and from different regions face different issues.

**World Habitat Day

Today is also World Habitat Day, with the theme “Accelerating urban action for a carbon‑free world.”  The theme recognizes that cities are responsible for some 70 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions with transport, buildings, energy and waste management accounting for the bulk of urban greenhouse gas emissions.  Events and activities during World Habitat Day will explore how national, regional and local governments and organizations, communities and the private sector can work together towards carbon‑neutral, inclusive cities and towns.  More information is available online.

And now, before we turn to Monica Grayley, we’ll take your questions.  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, you mentioned Ethiopia, but can we have an update on the seven UN staff who the Government of Ethiopia declared persona non grata?

Spokesman:  You certainly can.  What I can confirm is that none of the seven UN staff named by the Ethiopian Government is in the country at present.  They have been moved from the country to ensure their safety.  I’d like to add that our position on the declaration of persona non grata status has not changed.  It is the long‑standing legal position of the Organization not to accept the application of this doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials.  And as we’ve said, this is a doctrine that applies to diplomatic agents accredited by one State to another State.

Question:  So, if you’re so sure of your legal position, why have you backed down and taken the people out of the country?

Spokesman:  Again, we want to be sure of their safety.  As you know, it… where our staff are deployed, it is depend… we depend upon the national authorities to ensure their safety.  If there’s something that calls into question that, we’d have to respond accordingly.

Question:  So, what happens…?

Spokesman:  Hold on.  Philippe has a question, a follow‑up, and then we’ll go back to you.  Yes, Philippe?

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Are you going to replace these seven people very soon?

Spokesman:  At this stage, we’re evaluating our steps.  We intend to continue to go about our work.  We do not, as I’ve said to James, recognize the applicability of persona non grata status, and we stand by the neutrality and the even‑handedness and professionalism of our staff.  But that said, we’ll have to see what needs to be done to make sure that we can carry on with our work.  We are carrying on, as I said at start of this briefing, with our work in Ethiopia, and we’ll continue to do so.  Yes, James?

Question:  Another follow-up.  So, is the plan now to try and persuade the Ethiopians to let these seven back, or is the plan now to replace them with other staff?

Spokesman:  At this stage, we believe that the staff that the Secretary‑General and the UN Secretariat have deployed are the people who are fit for the job, and we believe that they should be allowed to go about their work without hindrance.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Where did they go?  Are they in a neighbouring country?  Or…?

Spokesman:  Different places.  Some of them were already outside of the country prior to this declaration, but in any case, we believe that they need to be able to go about their work, including having access to the country as needed.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  So, did you… I mean, did you have any indication that their safety could be in danger and you couldn’t trust the local authorities to protect them?  Because this is a little bit different from what you said Friday.  Was it Friday?

Spokesman:  Well, on Friday, as well, I said if there was anything that had an impact on their safety and security, we would take that into account.  So, I believe I said that then, and that’s one of our main criteria.  We want to make sure that our staff are able to go about their work and to do so in safety and security.  Yes, please, in the back.

Question:  Two questions on Cyprus.  Does Secretary‑General plan to inform the Security Council regarding the latest Cyprus issue developments?  This is the first one.

Spokesman:  At this stage, there’s nothing to report back.  But of course, the Secretary‑General remains in regular contact with the members of the Security Council about Cyprus, and he and the other officials of the system will keep the Security Council posted as needed.

Question:  And the second one, there are reports from Cyprus that Secretary‑General is going to appoint a Canadian, Colin Stewart, for Special Envoy.  Can you confirm or comment on this?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any comment.  There’s no announcement to make at this stage.  Once there’s an announcement, we’ll make it from the floor.  Is that it for questions?  Oh.  Okay.  Oh.  One more from you?

Question:  Sorry.  It’s this… I’m still following up on the same issue.  Was there any specific threat or risk identified with regard to the seven staff?  Because you’re now invoking safety.  You said on Friday, if there was a safety issue, you would… it would be one of the things you’d take into consideration.  Did something come up over the weekend, a specific threat?

Spokesman:  I wouldn’t have any comment.  The basic point is, as I said, for us, our priority is to make sure that our staff can go about their work safely.  And if we cannot do that, then we have to take other steps.  Yes, please?

Question:  Okay.  Then a follow-up on that.  Does that mean that… what about the other staff that you have there, the regular staff that they need also to be provided security from the local authorities?  Are you afraid or having any doubts on their safety?

Spokesman:  No.  At this stage, we believe our staff is able… who are there on the ground are able to go about their work.  Of course, we’re evaluating conditions as they go day‑to‑day.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  I see two news from Libya as of right now, Libyan Parliament adopts law on legislative polls, says spokesperson, and the mercenary… that some mercenaries left the country and started their withdrawal.  I just want to ask if you know something about it and, if yes, if you want to comment.

Spokesman:  We’re certainly aware of the action… the reported steps taken towards mercenaries.  Obviously, we made clear the need for the Libyan authorities to have control, sovereign control, over their territory, and we’ll keep abreast.  But you’ve seen what the Secretary‑General and the members of the Security Council have had to say on this particular issue.  And regarding the question of the polls, obviously, we welcome anything that helps move along progress towards having, as we have intended, an election by the date of 24 December.

Question:  And just a follow-up.  So, you can’t confirm right now that mercenaries are actually leaving the country?

Spokesman:  We’re aware of what… of the reports of what the authorities have said.  As you know, we have been reporting back, including through our Panel of Experts, about what they know about the actual presence on the ground, and we’ll continue to do so.  And if that is it for questions, I’ll turn over to Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.