27 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.


Just to stay on Afghanistan:  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke by video message to the meeting on Afghanistan, which was organized by the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He warned that Afghanistan is confronting an epic humanitarian crisis, as we just heard, and it is on the verge of a development catastrophe, as we also heard.

The Secretary-General highlighted four points of action.  First is humanitarian relief, stressing that international support to hosting countries must match the scale of their needs.  

Second, he said we must find ways to avoid a total meltdown of the Afghan economy.  And thirdly, he highlighted that the people of Afghanistan need an inclusive and representative Government, that respects international humanitarian law and upholds human rights and fundamental freedoms.

And last, fourthly, he emphasized that Afghans and the region also need a country that is secure, that is not a haven for terrorism or a centre for drug trafficking, stressing that these are all issues on which the region has a shared interest and on which all of us must speak with one voice. 

**Security Council

This morning, you heard the Security Council met on the situation between Sudan and South Sudan.  They were briefed by Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, and he said that the recent coup in Sudan reflects the shaky transitions that many countries are going through. 

Given the unfolding situation, he added his hope is that the recent positive trend between Sudan and South Sudan will not be derailed.  Encouragingly, he said, Sudan and South Sudan have been so far deepening their relationship, epitomized by several high-level visits and initiatives.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, also briefed, telling members of the Council that it is encouraging that both South Sudan and Sudan have now established national committees on the question of Abyei, and the warming of their relations was visible in Abyei.  He said that it is too early to know what the impact of this week’s developments in Khartoum will mean for the Peacekeeping Mission in Abyei (UNISFA) on a day-to-day basis, but he added that all parties in Sudan are, and have been, strong supporters of the Mission. 


Turning to Ethiopia, nearly one year since the start of the conflict in the north, the situation remains unpredictable, volatile, and highly tense.  The fighting has been reported in multiple locations, as well as in Amhara and Afar.  Hostilities in both regions are blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in need.

As mentioned yesterday, fuel for the humanitarian response has not entered Tigray since early August, forcing many humanitarian operations to significantly reduce or suspend their activities.  Between 14 and 20 October, only about 38,000 people in Zata, in the Southern Zone, received food assistance due to lack of fuel.  That’s only 4.4 per cent of the estimated 870,000 people requiring assistance every week.  No food distribution was reported in other areas during the period due to fuel shortages, a communications blackout and the fluid security context in the region.

Provision of food, water trucking operations, and health services have also been significantly reduced. 

We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to urgently and immediately facilitate free, sustained and safe movement of humanitarian workers and supplies in Tigray, Afar and Amhara.  

**Safety and Security

The latest report of the Secretary-General on the “Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of United Nations Personnel” is out today. 

It analyses global security and security incidents involving UN personnel in 2020 and the first half of 2021.  During that period, a total of 28 UN civilian personnel lost their lives owing to acts of violence and safety-related incidents.  

The Secretary-General says that heightened volatility pervades the global security environment with no sign of improvement likely for years to come.  COVID has worsened existing global security challenges, the report highlights. 

The UN also saw a drastic increase in the number of abductions of its personnel, with 17 abducted in 2020 compared to six in 2019, a deeply worrying development.


And in yesterday’s craziness, I failed to say for the record, that on Monday afternoon, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore as his new Special Envoy on Myanmar.  She succeeds Christine Schraner Burgener, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedicated service for the support of the people of Myanmar. 

And we are thankful also for her making herself available so often to all of you. 

**World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

And a quick note.  Today is World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.  The theme this year is "Your Window to the World".

Audiovisual archives tell us stories about people’s lives and cultures from all over the world.  And in decades to come, people can look back on the audiovisual archives of the briefing and hopefully be entertained by all of you.

**Questions and Answers

Edie.  Sorry. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A few questions on Sudan.  What meetings, what actions has the Secretary‑General been taking regarding the military coup in Sudan?

And also, does he have any reaction to the arrest overnight of three prominent anti‑Government, pro‑democracy figures?

Spokesman:  Look, what's very important for all of us is to have…  see the…  [he is handed a piece of paper] This just in, as they say.

I'm sorry.  What's important for the Secretary‑General and for all of us is to see the immediate and unconditional release of all other Government officials who continue to be unlawfully detained, as well as activists, anyone else who has been detained arbitrarily by the authorities; and everyone's human rights, of course, must be respected. 

The Secretary‑General has been on the phone, and his advisers have been in touch with relevant people.  What I can tell you is that Mr. Volker Perthes, the Secretary‑General's Special [Representative], met with General [Adelfattah al] Burhan to discuss the recent developments — this was earlier today — and reiterated the points that we've been making, which is to see a return to the transition process as outlined in the constitutional document and, of course, the immediate release of all who have been arbitrarily detained. 

Mr. Volker Perthes also had an opportunity, not too long ago, of meeting with Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok in his residence, where he remains under guard, but Mr. Perthes was able to meet with him.

Question:  And is there any statement from Mr. Perthes on the condition of the for…  Prime Minister Hamdok and what he was saying about the coup?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, what we want to see, first of all, is the complete release of Prime Minister Hamdok.  He remains under some sort of house arrest.  He is not free of his movements, and he should be free of his movements. 

Mr. Abbadi, and then we'll go to Ibtisam.

I think it will turn on, Mr. Abbadi.  All right.  We'll go to Ibtisam, and then I'll come back to you.  Oh, it's on.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Some climate change scientists believe that if urgent matter…  issues…  if urgent actions and measures are not taken, the world will witness massive migration from one continent to another, disrupting life and order in those countries.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that climate change is a national and global security issue?

Spokesman:  Of course; it's an issue that impacts every aspect of our lives, every aspect of countries' policies, whether it's national security, whether it's energy, whether it's migration policy.  Nothing is untouched, and we…  I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has made that very clear in the number of remarks he's been delivering on climate change over the last few months.

Question:  And has the Security Council then decided that its national and global security…

Spokesman:  I think there've been some discussions among Council members that will be up to them to decide how deeply they want to delve into the matter. 


Question:  Just first a follow‑up on the meeting with the…  Mr. Burhan.  Could you…  could you have more information on that?  And… yeah?

Spokesman:  No, I…  nothing more than I shared with you.  I mean, I think it was important for Mr. Perthes to meet with the general, and as I said, I mean, we passed on the messages we've been passing on publicly.

Question:  And did the meeting happen today or…

Spokesman:  I believe it happened today — yes, earlier today.  And I think…  from what I was told, there may have been some sort of press encounter in Khartoum afterwards, but the communications with Khartoum were a little challenging.

Question:  Okay.  And I have my…  two questions.  The first one is on…  something we talked about on Monday.  I asked you about the Israeli designation of six Palestinian civil soci…  civil rights societies as terrorist organizations.  And you said on Monday that…  you described this as a concern about shrinking space of civil society.  And my question is…  my follow‑up on that is, actually, we're talking about more than just shrinking space for civil society because these civil societies, Palestinian civil society organizations had already a shrinking space…  were living under occupation, and designating them as terrorist organizations puts the lives of many of the members of these organizations in danger and probably put some of them in prison and stopped their work. 

So, my question is whether you have more to say on that, especially on the issue of terror…  designating them as terror organizations.

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think I would refer you, A, to what I said and what Lynn Hastings also said very explicitly in her statement, and I know our colleagues in Jerusalem are also in touch with the Israeli authorities on this very issue.

Question:  Yeah, but…  but I read her statement, and in her statement, she doesn't really say much than you said.  And what does mean…  what does it mean that you are in touch with Israeli authorities?  Like…

Spokesman:  Well, A, to express our concern and to get more information on what they announced.

Question:  And are you meeting also with the representatives of the organizations themselves?  Because…

Spokesman:  I will…  listen, I will check to get a bit more granularity about what our colleagues are doing.  [He later added that Lynn Hastings had met on Tuesday with the organizations and issued a tweet afterward:]

Question:  Okay.  I have another question about the house here and the fact that civil society groups are not…  still not allowed to enter the UN building, and recently 61 countries told the Third Committee that COVID shouldn't be used as a false pretext to keep civil society out of the UN.  So, do you have… 

Spokesman:  I don't think it's a false pretext.  I know there are meetings going on, I think, this week about what the next steps are in re‑opening, and we would hope that that would move along quickly with a greater access for all.  We don't…  I would like to see civil society back in this building as quickly as possible. 

Mr. Vaccara and then Dulcie.

Question:  Yes.  Just on that Sudan, what is the situation here with the Mission, the Sudan…  Sudanese Mission?

Spokesman:  No change as far as I'm aware.

Question:  So, it's still…

Spokesman:  As I said, we've not been informed of any change.  You should reach… 

Question:  But you did talk… 

Spokesman:  Sorry?  You should…  I mean, we've had contacts with the Mission, but you should…  you can also have…  they can speak for themselves.

Question:  When does Noeleen Heyzer begin her job?

Spokesman:  She begins, if I'm not mistaken, 1 November.

Question:  Oh, okay.

Spokesman:  I mean her…

Question:  Okay, because The Straits Times said 15 December or so.  That's right?

Spokesman:  Not for me to doubt The Straits Times.  It is for me to doubt myself, so I will check. 

Question:  And will she be based in Singapore or where… 

Spokesman:  I assume she will be based in…  it's not a New York‑based post.  It's based wherever she will be.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  I don't think there's anything in the chat, and I know…  we will now leave it to Monica [Grayley].  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.