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21 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.

**Women, Peace and Security

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to Council members at the open debate on women, peace and security.  He said that women are peacebuilders, change‑makers, leaders and activists, and yet, too often, they remain on the periphery of formal peace processes and are excluded from rooms where decisions are made.  Women’s leadership must be the norm, he said.  He also noted how women have been impacted by conflict and violence all over the world, and he called on Council members to support the UN’s work to strengthen partnerships with local women leaders, help protect women human rights defenders and activists, and promote women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in peace processes.  And earlier today, the Secretary-General visited the “In their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace”.  The exhibit features work by women photographers and showcases women’s work around the world.  It’s at the Delegates Entrance and for those of you who live in the outer boroughs, it is still being shown in Brooklyn at the Photoville festival until 1 December.

**Afghanistan

Moving on to Afghanistan: The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today launched a crisis response initiative that will contribute to preventing a humanitarian catastrophe and the breakdown of Afghanistan’s economy.  This is part of the UN’s overall response to the situation in the country.  The initiative is called “ABADEI”, which denotes hope for a better future in local languages.  It will channel funding into community activities, including grants to support small and microbusinesses, especially those owned by women, and cash-for-work projects offering short-term income for the unemployed, and restore local and small infrastructure.  It will also support people with disabilities, the elderly and the most vulnerable, through temporary basic income.  All assistance will be provided and delivered to the beneficiaries directly, based on impartial assessments carried out in conjunction with local community leaders, and independently of authorities.  The activities will be funded from contributions to UNDP, as well as through the newly created “Special Trust Fund for Afghanistan”, which is a UN interagency and multi‑partner funding mechanism to enable UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to coordinate their support for community-level initiatives.

On the humanitarian side, our colleagues tell us that a COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Afghanistan began this week in Kandahar, targeting people in at-risk areas across the province.  On 8 November, a Polio vaccination campaign will also be carried out alongside the provision of vitamin A in Kandahar.  The World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are coordinating those efforts.  We, along with our partners, continue joint needs assessments throughout Afghanistan to identify humanitarian needs and prioritize immediate assistance.  Our humanitarian colleagues also noted that civilians continue to be injured by explosive devices in the country, with incidents reported in Nangahar and Laghman areas.  The flash appeal for Afghanistan, which is over a $606 million ask, is now 45 per cent funded.

**Ethiopia

Turning to another humanitarian crisis, this one in Ethiopia, where the situation in the northern part of the country remains unpredictable and volatile.  Our humanitarian colleagues are alarmed by the intensification of conflict, including the air strikes on Mekelle this week, and reports of growing numbers of people being displaced by recent fighting in Amhara.  We once again remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  In Tigray, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate because of the restrictions on the delivery of aid into the region through the only available route from Afar.

Between 13 and 19 October, we did get 215 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies into Tigray, a slight increase from the previous week.  Some 1,111 trucks have entered Tigray since 12 July, which is just 15 per cent of the number of trucks that are needed to enter the area.  As you know, we need 100 trucks a day to enter Tigray every day.  Fuel has still not been allowed into the province.  Fourteen fuel tankers are currently sitting in Semera in Afar Province.  Several of our organizations and NGOs have been forced to reduce or shut down programmes due to the depletion or shortages of fuel, cash and other supplies.  Last week, about 52,000 people were reached with food aid, with half of them receiving only one or two food items.  At least 870,000 people on average per week need food assistance.  Since early August, our partners have provided food to more than 807,000 people in Amhara and more than 76,000 internally displaced people in Afar.  We urgently call on all parties to allow for the unimpeded and sustained access to people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.

**Libya

Moving north to Libya:  Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, as you know, is continuing her travels in Libya.  She spoke today at Libya International Stabilization Conference, which is taking place in Tripoli.  She urged all Libyan parties to exert every effort to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December, as called for by the Roadmap and Security Council resolutions 2570 (2021) and 2571 (2021).  She urged all Member States and regional organizations to consider sending observation teams, in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities and institutions, to help ensure the credibility of the electoral process and acceptability of the results after the vote.  The UN will continue providing technical assistance for the holding of elections in accordance with its mandate.  She also reported that, in line with the request by the Libyan authorities and the mandate from the Security Council, the first group of UN monitors to support the Libyan-led ceasefire monitoring mechanism are arriving today.

**Sahel

The UN Security Council will be embarking on a scheduled trip to Mali and Niger from 22 to 26 October, that is starting tomorrow.  During the trip, Council members will meet various leaders from the two countries, as well as civil society.  The key objectives are ensuring that the transition in Mali carries on as planned, continuing the conversation on terrorism and climate change effects in the Sahel as well as seeing how best the Council can support the region.

**Marine Litter

Two quick notes:  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released a report which says that we need to see a drastic reduction in plastic to address the global pollution crisis.  The authors are not optimistic about the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis.  They warn against damaging alternatives to single-use and other plastic products, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a chemical threat similar to conventional plastics.  The report calls for the immediate reduction of plastics and encourages a transformation across the whole plastic value chain.

**UNEP Report

Staying on the topic of the environment, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, will be in this room on Tuesday at 9:15 a.m. to launch the UNEP Emissions Gap Report.  He will be joined virtually by the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen.  Now in its twelfth year, the report provides a yearly review of the difference between where greenhouse‑gas emissions are predicted to be in 2030 — and where they should be — to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

**UN Day Concert

There will be a concert at 7 p.m.  The UN Day concert will take place in a hybrid format and under the theme “Building Back Together for Peace and Prosperity”.  The Secretary-General will deliver remarks and will reiterate the importance of solidarity to overcome the pandemic, conflict, the climate crisis and other challenges the world is confronted with.  The concert today is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea and will feature classical music and performances by K-pop stars.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, we thank the 132nd Member State to have paid its dues, and that State was the first country to ever host the football World Cup, and they won that World Cup in 1930.  [Uruguay.]  Yes, very good.  Very good.  Very good.  If you have a question, the floor is yours.  Otherwise, we'll go to… yes, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph, I have a question regarding the UN Security Council trip to Sahel region.  Is there any more details about this trip, names or…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, the Kenyan Mission, I think, can provide you with the trips or we'll… with more details.  We should be able to get you more, as well.  Okay.  Madame?  Somebody has a microphone open on the far side, if you could please mute it.  Thank you.

Question:  It's regarding the Security Council trip to Mali and Niger.  Do you think four days — and you have to take off the long trip — is enough to solve the problems or to defuse the tensions?

Spokesman:  Well, I don't… is any time on the ground ever enough?  But, it… to me, the way the trip is being framed is not so much about immediately finding a solution, but seeing how the Security Council can better support the region.  And I think it's very important that Council members have a chance to go on the ground.  Edie and then James.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  First, how many observers actually arrived in Libya today?

Spokesman:  Small group, but I will get you a digit to go with that answer.

Question:  Thank you.  And on… local groups in Haiti have reported that there have been nearly 800 kidnappings reported so far this year.  Obviously, this is an issue of concern… growing concern to the outside world also.  Has the UN been asked, either the Secretariat or perhaps even Security Council members, to consider sending in any kind of police or other help to try and deal with this growing crisis?

Spokesman:  No, short answer.  I've not heard any of those reports.  We continue to operate under the mandate to support the Government, civil society, and also call again on the national authorities to investigate and prosecute the serious crimes.  The people most impacted are, obviously, the people of Haiti, and we know that this rising crime has an impact on the humanitarian situation.  Thousands have been displaced.  It makes it more difficult for humanitarian organizations, whether the UN or the local NGOs, to operate in such a climate.  James?

Question:  I have a couple questions, one on Libya, one on Sudan, and one on Ethiopia.  On Libya, Rosemary DiCarlo visited the region, most important, but the key aim must have been to unlock the problem of the election, to get the election agreed and on path.  How has she fared with that central task?

Spokesman:  She, in all her meetings with various interlocutors, has pushed them to continue on that calendar, which was agreed by the Libyan parties, entrenched in Security Council resolutions.  She will continue to press that message.  It is up to the Libyan leaders, the Libyan political leaders, to put, first and foremost, the interests of the Libyan people and ensure the elections do take place on time.

Question:  Sudan:  Khartoum, there have been two rival demonstrations taking place, one supporting the civilian government; one seems to be supporting the military, pretty tense atmosphere.  What's the UN's reaction?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, people have a right to demonstrate freely and peacefully.  The UN is committed to supporting the Sudanese transitional authorities in their very important transition to democracy.

Question:  Finally, just a quick update from you on Ethiopia.  Can you tell us anything more that you've gleaned about the casualties on the ground from the air strikes this week from your teams on the ground in Tigray?  And also, have you had any of the evidence that was offered by the Ethiopian Permanent Representative to the Secretary‑General in terms of written evidence about the expulsion?

Spokesman:  No.  We have not received any such information from the Ethiopian authorities.  I'm sharing with you all the information I have that I get from a kit.  Señora?

Question:  Steph, I have two questions.  The first is, El Salvador, yesterday, approved a decree that will stop congregations in public or private until 8 December, but excludes sports events or concerts, which has put in question the actions by the Congress, motivated by the President's mentions about protests during the past few days in El Salvador.  Is there any concern that the pandemic has been used in some occasions to try to control these congregations?

Spokesman:  I will get you some detailed language on El Salvador, but I think we've been saying, for more than a year now, that we are concerned that we've seen, in various places around the world, the pandemic and health regulations being used as an example to… as a pretext to clamp down on people's rights to express themselves freely and to meet… to express those opinions.

Question:  And a question on Haiti is, yesterday, Secretary [Antony] Blinken met with different ministers in Bogota, Colombia, to talk about migration, and the focus of the conversation was Haiti and the massive amount of migrants coming to the United States and Mexico.  Haiti has complained about the fact that they were not included on these conversations.  Does the Secretary‑General think it is… there is a call needed to the region to try to have a regional strategy, the same way that Venezuela has done?

Spokesman:  Well, it seems difficult to me to understand how you can have a migration policy without involving, as we've been saying for a long time, the countries of origin, the countries of transit and the countries of destination.  James Reinl and then Rick Gladstone.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks so much.  I've got two questions, a little bit complicated, but there's this report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies about UN aid operations in Syria.  The report says that the [Bashar al‑]Assad regime is able to manipulate currency exchange rates, so when you're bringing money into the country for aid work, his regime is able to pocket… last year, it was $60 million apparently.  I understand what the UN Spokesman said in The Guardian article about your guys essentially having your hands tied and needing to get aid to people.  I get that position.  I'm just wondering, is the methodology of the report right?  Is the number $60 million last year… dollars, is that correct?

Spokesman:  We have not seen and our colleagues in Damascus have not seen the copy of the report.  We, of course, welcome any sort of independent scrutiny of our operations in any country that we serve, including Syria.  As you said, our first and foremost goal is to assist the people in need, no matter where they are and who they are.  Our work in Syria, as it is in Ethiopia or anywhere else, is guided by the basic humanitarian principles of accountability, of transparency, efficiency, effectiveness and impartiality.  As for the issue of the currency, most of the UN's procurement for our humanitarian response in Syria is made in international and regional markets and, therefore, not impacted by the Syrian exchange rates.  Otherwise, what we do procure locally, we have to… we're required to use the official exchange rate, which is the rule in any country in which we operate.  Mr. Gladstone?

Question:  Actually, Steph, appreciate that very much, and I did have a second question, as well.  I hope you don't mind if I go to it, but the BBC has had quite a nice scoop in the run‑up to COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change].  They've uncovered documents that they say shows that three countries — Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia — have been lobbying hard to scale back the ambitions in Glasgow.  Does the SG believe this is true?  Are Australia, Saudi Arabia and Japan doing that?

Spokesman:  Look, from my reading of the story, my understanding of the story is that this has to do with certain Member States trying to make suggestions to the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], to scientists.  Member States are free to express their opinion, as it is their sovereign right to do so.  What is important is that the science remains independent and is based on fact and not politics.  Mr. Gladstone?

Question:  Thank you very much.  Sorry.  This is a question a little bit out of left field, and forgive me if it's been addressed recently, but when Colin Powell died a few days ago, I was reminded that the Guernica tapestry that used to hang outside the Security Council had been covered up when he spoke there in 2003, and I've been meaning to ask you, what's going on with that?  Is it still… is the… the wall still seems to be bare.  Is there some hope that the tapestry can come back?

Spokesman:  It's a good observation, Rick.  The tapes… the wall remains bare, which reminds… it's a reminder of me to check of where we are.  And the cover‑up of the tapestry was not at the request of any Member State.  It was an idiotic move by a person who's standing at the podium right now.  We can talk about that in my book.  Benno?

Question:  A follow‑up to Libya.  Can you tell me about the foreign fighters?  As of now, how many of the 20,000 still remain in the country?

Spokesman:  I think, as we've been reporting, we have seen very much a lack of movement on the exits of those people.

Question:  So, three weeks ago, the Foreign Minister of Libya said there was a very modest start.  Can you confirm that actually a few left?  Like, are we talking about…?

Spokesman:  I will try… I don't have those numbers with me, and I'm not sure we're able to report that, but I will check.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  President [Vladimir] Putin, today, proposed to form a list of international threats and the challenges on the level of the UN.  He proposes to form it on the level of the UN.  Do you have any comments?

Spokesman:  Sorry, a list of what?

Correspondent:  Of international challenges and threats.

Spokesman:  Let me look.  I had not seen it, but I will look.  Grigory, did you have a question, as well or?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  As long as you have somebody speaking for you.  Ray?

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, there was a meeting in Russia about Afghanistan.  Mr. Lavrov said:  "We will not recognize [the] Taliban."  Will that affect the meeting of next month in November for credential…?

Spokesman:  Well, that's… I mean, that's a question to ask Member States.  They will… the Credentials Committee will meet at some point, will make a decision.  Russia is present on that committee, but from our standpoint, we just have to wait and see.  James, and then we'll go to Monica.

Question:  Staying with Afghanistan, reportedly, the Taliban mayor of Kabul has said that women and women who were still working in the municipality of Kabul are not to report to work from Saturday onwards.  Given the backdrop of the women, peace and security meeting of the Security Council meeting today, all your efforts on women in Afghanistan seem to be going nowhere, in fact, possibly backwards.

Spokesman:  We will continue to push for the rights of women to go to work freely, for the rights of girls to be educated, for the rights of young women to be educated.  We will continue to do that, and we hope to see movement in the right direction, but we clearly don't control the levers that will make things… make those things happen.  Sorry, Iftikhar, you have a question, and then I will go to you, Monica, I promise.  Iftikhar?  You're muted.  Iftikhar, I still can't hear you.  Okay.  Iftikhar, I'm sorry.  I don't…

Question:  Hello?

Spokesman:  Oh, perfect.  Go ahead.

Question:  Hello.  Sorry.  Sorry, Steph.  Just need a clarification.  This UNDP initiative for Afghan people, is it separate from the UN funding appeal, the United Nations funding appeal?

Spokesman:  It's a different… we're appealing for cash.  What UNDP announced is a way for us to spend the cash, to put it simply.  Okay.

Correspondent:  I see.  Okay.

Question:  Is it the same thing as the global fund thing, or is this a different trust fund?

Spokesman:  That's a different trust fund.

Question:  There are two now?

Spokesman:  Welcome to the UN.  Thank you.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.