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18 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Hybrid Briefing Today

In a short while, obviously, we will have Monica [Grayley] to briefing you on behalf of the [President of the General Assembly], and then, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, that is Irene Khan, and she will be here in this room to brief you.

**Ethiopia

From Ethiopia, we have received alarming reports of aerial attacks this morning, and those took place apparently in the residential areas of Tigray’s capital Mekelle.  We are still trying to verify the details of the air strikes, but we are deeply concerned about the potential impact on civilians who reside or work in the affected areas.

The Secretary‑General is deeply concerned over the escalation of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, as illustrated by the air strikes in Mekelle today.  He underlines that all parties must avoid the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure.  The Secretary‑General reiterates his call for all hostilities to stop.  He urges the parties to prioritize the welfare of the people and to provide the necessary support for critical humanitarian assistance to flow, including facilitating the movement of fuel and medicines.

As we have been telling you, the lack of essential supplies, especially cash and fuel, is severely disrupting aid operations in Tigray, where at least 400,000 people are facing famine‑like conditions.

And we once again remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  This includes hundreds of humanitarian workers on the ground who are working tirelessly to provide assistance to millions of civilians caught up in the fighting.

And this fact that civilians are being caught up in the fighting and the fighting itself is forcing us to reduce life-saving operations when people need them most, including food distributions, water distribution and health services.

In neighbouring Amhara and Afar, our ability to reach people in dire need of assistance — including many people who have been displaced multiple times — has been hampered by the escalation of fighting.

We urgently call on all the parties to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of relief supplies and aid personnel to all areas with humanitarian needs, including those affected by the recent fighting.  These supplies include fuel and cash, without which humanitarians cannot do their work, and medicines, so our colleagues can reach people who desperately need assistance.

**Eswatini

I have a statement on the situation in Eswatini:

The Secretary‑General is following with concern the ongoing developments in Eswatini, including the recent deployment of armed security forces at various schools, reports of excessive use of force in response to student demonstrations, and the indefinite closure of schools.  This affects adversely children and young people.

The Secretary‑General reiterates the importance of enabling the people of Eswatini to exercise their civil and political rights peacefully.  He urges the Government to ensure that security forces act in conformity with relevant international human rights standards, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

He condemns all acts of violence and urges all parties and the media to refrain from disinformation, hate speech and incitement.

We remain committed to working with the Government and the people of Eswatini, and all partners, to achieve a peaceful resolution.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan:  the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today announced the resumption of house‑to‑house polio vaccinations across the country, and that’s for the first time in three years.

The campaign, which will resume on 8 November, targets more than 3.3 million children who have previously remained inaccessible to a vaccination campaign.  A second nationwide polio vaccination campaign will be synchronized with Pakistan’s polio campaign in December.

Meanwhile, ahead of winter, the humanitarian community is scaling up to help thousands of families with cash aid, warm clothes, blankets, cash for rent and shelter repair.  Needs assessments are ongoing countrywide.

Our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that aid distributions continue.  Last week, more than 56,000 people in the east of the country received urgent humanitarian assistance.  These includes 54,000 food insecure people who received food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP), along with 2,100 internally displaced persons and 259 returnees.

Almost 39,000 people are in need of food aid in Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces.

The Flash Appeal for Afghanistan, which is seeking just over $606 million to help 11 million people until the end of this year, is 45 per cent funded.  That number is going up, but we still need more transformation of pledges into cash.

**Haiti

On Haiti, our colleagues on the ground are telling us that the recent upsurge in gang violence, including kidnappings, is impacting relief operations.

The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Resident Representative — who is currently acting as the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Fernando Hiraldo — says that violence, looting, road blockades and the persistent presence of armed gangs all pose obstacles to humanitarian access.  The situation is further complicated by very serious fuel shortages and the reduced supply of goods.

Mr. Hiraldo added that the growing insecurity is not only hampering the humanitarian response, but is creating new humanitarian needs.  Since June, gang violence in Port‑au‑Prince has displaced at least 19,000 people and impacted more than 1.5 [million] women, men and children.

Haiti, as you know, is experiencing multiple crises, including the aftermath of the earthquake in August.  Across the country, 4.3 million people are experiencing a high level of food insecurity — that’s up from 4 million in August of last year.

**Colin Powell

In answer to questions that I received this morning, I can tell you that the Secretary‑General is saddened by the passing of Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State.

Mr. Powell, who was the first African‑American Secretary of State, had a distinguished career, both in defence and foreign policy.

The Secretary‑General extends his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family, the Government and the people of the United States.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

A couple of travel announcements to make:  the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, will travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo tomorrow.  He will [be there until Sunday, 24 October].  The visit will be an opportunity to assess recent developments related to the political and security situation, as well as key challenges associated with the implementation of the UN Mission’s mandate.

During his visit, Mr. Lacroix will meet with national and provincial authorities, key political and civil society representatives, including women and youth associations, as well as religious leaders.  In Tanganyika province, Mr. Lacroix will have a special focus on the United Nation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) transition.  In North Kivu, he will take stock of the Mission’s efforts to address the continuing political and security challenges and exchange on ways the UN can best address these challenges.

He will also, of course, express his support and appreciation for the work that our colleagues are doing there on the ground.

**Libya

The Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, has arrived in Libya for the start of a five‑day visit that will see her discuss UN support to the political process and other issues, including the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries and the forthcoming elections.  In Tripoli today, she was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Debeibah, as well as the Minister of Interior, Khaled Mazen, and the Deputies of the President of the Presidency Council.

On Friday, 22 October, Ms. DiCarlo is scheduled to travel to Tunisia before heading back to New York.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, you will have seen over the weekend that the Secretary‑General welcomed the unilateral declaration of a ceasefire announced by President Faustin Archange Touadéra.

The Secretary‑General commended this critical step, in line with the Joint Roadmap for Peace in the Central African Republic, adopted by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and he called on all the other parties to immediately respect this ceasefire and to renew their efforts to implement the 2019 Peace agreement.

That statement was shared with you.

**Security Council

And here in the Security Council, the Central African Republic was also on the agenda.

The head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Mankeur Ndiaye, also congratulated the President and his Government for the ceasefire declaration, describing it as a great opening for dialogue.  He also called on all armed groups and their leaders to sincerely subscribe to the peace process. 

The UN mission, he added, intends to make optimal use of its good offices and its Force to increase the contribution of international partners to the peace process.

Mr. Ndiaye concluded his remarks by calling for the support of all Council members to engage, both separately and collectively, with all the Central African actors and the region to make the immediate cessation of hostilities and the ceasefire a reality.

**Syria

You will have seen that the Sixth Session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee Small Body began its work today in Geneva.  This convening followed a series of meetings on Sunday when United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, met together with the Co‑Chairs nominated by the parties.

Mr. Pedersen announced that the parties had reached consensus on how to move forward, and the two Co‑Chairs had agreed to start a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.  The Envoy also stressed that the constitutional process is important but on its own cannot resolve the conflict.

**COVAX

A quick COVAX update from Colombia:  they received 2.6 million doses through COVAX today.  This brings the total number of doses they have received though COVAX to more than 10.8 million, helping authorities continue the rollout out of the [vaccination campaign].

Over the weekend, Guatemala received more than 155,000 doses donated by Spain through COVAX, and we thank them.  Guatemala has now received more than 2.2 million doses [through COVAX].

As you know, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is providing logistical support on vaccines in the region.

**Financial Contribution

And, lastly, I want to thank Belarus for its full payment to the regular budget.  We are now up to 131 [fully paid‑up nations].

**Questions and Answers

Benno?

Question:  Follow‑up to Colin Powell.  There was his famous speech in 2003 in the Security Council.  Does that have any influence how the United Nations remembers him?

Spokesman:  I mean, a man who held leadership positions throughout the years in the United States and Host Country passed away, and we are extending our thoughts and condolences to him and to his family.

Edie and then James.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A follow‑up first on Ethiopia.  What kind of a presence does the UN have in Mekelle, where these aerial attacks hitting civilians took place?

Spokesman:  We have…  I'm not going to go into exact numbers, but we have a few hundred on the ground.  But in light of the operational constraints and the fragile security situation in northern Ethiopia, our humanitarian partners have been constantly reviewing their presence to ensure they're able to sustain operations and maintain their duty of care to their staff on the ground.

In the past week, several humanitarian organizations have reduced their presence in Tigray, including due to the absence of essential supplies, notably fuel.  Overall, there are about 1,300 humanitarian workers in Tigray.

Question:  And that includes the…  just the UN or the UN and humanitarian partners?

Spokesman:  These are us and our humanitarian partners.

Question:  And another question, on the Central African Republic, the United Nations was criticised by at least one Security Council member for doing a report that referred to bilateral partners of the Government without naming them.  Can you tell us why those partners were not named?

Spokesman:  No, I…  the report was issued, made public.  I have nothing to add to it. 

James?

Question:  So, you say that there are several hundred UN staff in Mekelle.  The government…  the Ethiopian Government spokesperson says the…  that “the air strikes didn't happen; it's an absolute lie.  Why would the Ethiopian Government attack its own city? Mekelle is an Ethiopian city.”  So, can you confirm that those air strikes definitely took place from your people on ground?

Spokesman:  Okay.  First of all, I meant to say a few hundred…  UN staff in Tigray.  Okay.

Question:  Not in Mekelle…?  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  Exactly.  We do have a number in Mekelle.  I'm not able to concern that these air strikes took place.  We're seeing these reports.  We're looking into them.

Question:  Will you please try to get back to us later in the day?  Because if you have staff there, it's pretty important that we find out.  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Of course.

Question:  If they are air strikes that have taken place, are these something, given this is a city of about a half million people, that could amount to war crimes?

Spokesman:  What is clear is that civilians should never be targeted.  Civilian infrastructure should never be targeted.  Those are basic humanitarian principles.  As to exactly what happened, we don't have enough details at this point.

Question:  And could I have one on Myanmar, where prisoners are being released…  I think 5,600 are supposed to be released.  What is the UN's reaction to political prisoners being released in Myanmar?

Spokesman:  I mean, we've seen these…  we're aware of these reports.  We're trying to get more details on that as we speak from our country office.

I mean, as you know, the Secretary‑General has repeatedly called for prisoners to be freed, for an end to the violence, an end to the repression that we've seen, and for everyone to…  all the political prisoners to be freed, including, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Okay.  Madame?

Question:  Steph, to go back to what Benno said earlier, here is a man, Colin Powell, who lied to the Security Council members and, thanks to him, we went to a war.  So, do we have to treat him as if he was a hero?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to relitigate what happened in the Security Council or what happened in Iraq.  I think the UN's position at the time was very clear.  A man has died, and we're extending our condolences to him and to his family.

Correspondent:  But at the time, the UN was against that war, and Kofi Annan made it clear.

Spokesman:  I was there.  I was there.  Thank you.

Okay.  Hold on.  Rick, you have a question on Haiti, and then we will go back to the room.

Question:  Yes, Steph.  I do have a question about Haiti built around the mass kidnapping of the missionaries and children that happened over the weekend.  Does the Secretary‑General believe it's time to…  for the United Nations to strengthen its United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) to…  and specifically to redeploy peacekeeping forces in Haiti?  What is his view on this subject?

Spokesman:  The Security Council just took a decision on what the UN's presence in Haiti should be.  They took that decision to a long debate on Friday.  We will continue along that mandate to work with Haitian authorities to strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions and public order.

I mean, for the Secretary‑General, he's very concerned about what we're seeing, about the dramatic deterioration of the security situation, which includes these rampant kidnappings.  I mean, some grab the headlines and others don't, but we know that kidnappings have been rampant.

It's incumbent on the Government of Haiti to focus on the security challenges, including redoubling the efforts to reform and strengthen the national police capacity to address public safety, and all these crimes must be investigated.

Iftikhar, and then I will go back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In a letter to Taliban, Malala Yousafzai made a powerful appeal for girls to return to secondary school.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  We've always believed very strongly that girls should have the same academic opportunities as boys in Afghanistan.  I think we had here the deputy director of UNICEF on Thursday or Friday who made that very clear as well, and that is the message we've been passing on to our interlocutors in Afghanistan.

Benno?

Question:  Thank you.  There are reports about a new hypersonic weapon from China.  China didn't really make clear what it was.  Is there something you know about it?  And also, is there that something to be concerned about?

Spokesman:  I personally…  we have no information besides what's going on in the press.  So, I have no comment on a particular case, but we are very concerned about the lack of progress we've seen globally on issues of disarmament.

Okay.  Let me see if there are any questions in the chat.  Otherwise, we will now turn it over to Monica, and then please don't for…  oh, James and then the guest after that.  Yeah?

Question:  Yeah.  Just I had another one on Myanmar.  The UN Special Envoy, Christina Schraner Burgener, is stepping down very soon.  We've known that for some considerable time.  Do we have a new…

Spokesman:  We hope to have someone announced…

Correspondent:  Before her time is up.  I mean, it…  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  I don't mean…  No, it is clearly…  we've known…  as you said, we've known about this for quite some time and un départ annoncé, as we say, so we do hope to have somebody announced soon.

Question:  Okay.  And last thing, with regard to COVID in this building and journalists now having to show their vaccination status, I wanted to check because the UN has said that forward‑facing UN staff are supposed to be vaccinated.  How is compliance on that going?  Are people obeying it?  Are you…  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  We're…  I mean, we have no issue with compliance as far as I know on that side.

Okay.  Benno?

Question:  I'm sorry.  Just a follow‑up.  So, this rule is already in place, right, since…  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  That's correct, for the General…  it was in place…  started to be in place for the General Assembly.

Correspondent:  Because I had to send my COVID vaccination…

Spokesman:  No, no, no.  I'm sorry.  We're talking about staff.

About journalists, this is something we'd asked for, I think, a 15 October deadline; we've extended it by a few days.  But we're…  I'm personally very adamant that people in this room be fully vaccinated.

Question:  Do you have any number of…

Spokesman:  For journalists?

Question:  Maybe for journalists and all together for people who just refused and said no, then I don't come back?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have any numbers for staff on that.  And journalists, I think, the proof will be in the pudding as to who you see in this room and who you don't see in this room.  [Laughter]

Edie Lederer?

Question:  Just a final question on that.  Is UN Security going to be getting a list of people who did not submit vaccination information?  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  I mean, the aim is to make people who have not…  journalists who have not submitted the vaccination information not to have access to this building in a short time.  The vaccination rate for UN staff, I'm told, by my trusty staff is about 87.08 per cent that are fully vaccinated, staff in total.

Question:  [Off mic, inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, the forward‑facing staff, I think everybody who was supposed to be vaccinated because they're forward‑facing has been vaccinated, but that's reported, self‑reporting. 

Okay.  Monica, and then please don't forget the Special Rapporteur after.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.