24 November 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.


In Colombia this morning, the Secretary‑General held a meeting with the heads of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non‑Repetition.  He also attended an event in commemoration of the Fifth Anniversary of the signing of the Final Peace Agreement.  The Secretary‑General stressed that after more than five decades of conflict, and awareness of the suffering it caused, we have a moral obligation to ensure that this peace process is successful.  He noted that this anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Final Peace Agreement, acknowledge the challenges it faces, and renew our collective commitment to fulfil its promise to build a stable and lasting peace.

Following the event, the Secretary‑General had a bilateral meeting with leaders of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC‑EP) guerrilla movement.  And this afternoon, he will meet with representatives of civil society; he’ll visit the “La Paz es Productiva” fair in Bogota and will also hold a meeting with President Iván Duque Márquez and officials of his government, as well as with victims of the armed conflict.  This will be followed by a joint press conference with President Duque Márquez.  And yesterday, as you know, he visited a former Training and Reintegration area in Llano Grande, in the town of Dabeiba.  He said that he appreciated having the opportunity to listen to community members, indigenous and Government authorities.

The Secretary-General pointed out that they know better than anyone that peace does not occur overnight.  It is hard to build, take care of, and sustain, he emphasized.  In the afternoon, during an event in commemoration of the peace process in Apartadó, the Secretary‑General noted that the Final Peace Agreement had the success of conceiving peace in Colombia not as a process imposed from above but as a great construction effort.  He stressed that we must follow the path shown by the negotiations on the Agreement and ensure that women have their central place in the design and implementation of development programmes.  Mr. [António] Guterres is expected back in New York tonight.


Jan Kubiš, the Special Envoy for Libya, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference from Tripoli on the process leading up to the 24 December elections.  He said that a preliminary list of presidential candidates is expected to be announced later today.  He warned that the political climate in Libya remains heavily polarized.  He noted that vocal opposition to the holding of elections on the basis of the existing legal framework persists, as some leaders and constituencies continue questioning the legality of the electoral laws, while tensions are rising on the eligibility of some high‑profile candidates.  Mr. Kubiš called on all those that challenge the process or the candidates to channel them through the existing judicial mechanisms and to fully respect the verdict of the judicial authority.  He said that the presence of foreign fighters and mercenaries continues to be of concern, although the ceasefire has continued to hold.  Mr. Kubiš told the Council that he believes it is necessary to urgently relocate the Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), to Tripoli, and he noted that he has previously expressed support for splitting the positions of the Special Envoy and the Head of Mission, and for locating the Head of UNSMIL in Tripoli.  In order to create conditions for this, he added, on 17 November 2021, he tendered his resignation.  The Secretary-General yesterday accepted his resignation, effective as of 10 December.


Turning to northern Ethiopia, we can report that almost 40 trucks with humanitarian supplies, including food, departed Semera yesterday for Tigray.  This is the first convoy since 18 October.  Trucks containing fuel and medical supplies are still waiting in Semera pending clearance from the authorities.  With the humanitarian situation in Tigray continuing to deteriorate, it is critical that a regular flow of humanitarian aid into the region is established.  As we have noted previously, 500 trucks of humanitarian supplies are required per week.  Meanwhile, UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights to Mekelle resumed today, following their suspension on 22 October.  As a result, UN and humanitarian partners were able to rotate staff in and out of Tigray and transfer a limited amount of operational cash.  However, humanitarian partners on the ground continue to report significant challenges due to cash shortages for operations.  Humanitarian partners continue to respond to urgent and growing needs across northern Ethiopia, including in Amhara and Afar despite what continues to be an extremely challenging operating environment.  In Amhara, a major food assistance operation has started in Kombolcha and Dessie towns, targeting more than 450,000 people over the next two weeks.


Hans Grundberg, the Special Envoy for Yemen, has concluded his visit to Egypt, which we had mentioned yesterday.  He told his interlocutors, including the Egyptian Foreign Minister, the head of the League of Arab States and a diverse group of Yemeni men and women who are in Egypt, that piecemeal approaches will not result in a sustainable solution.  There needs to be equal focus on immediate priorities that mitigate the impact of the war on civilians, and on the longer‑term questions needed to reach a durable and just solution to conflict.  Discussions in Cairo also included recent military developments in Yemen, including in Hudaydah, and the worsening humanitarian situation.  Mr. Grundberg highlighted that the sustained offensive on Ma’rib has already resulted in ripple effects across Yemen, and it continues to undermine the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  A full press release on his visit is online.


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) commented on Wednesday on media allegations speculating on the activities of the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force in the context of the Beirut Port explosion.  The Maritime Task Force has been deployed at the request of the Government of Lebanon for very specific tasks in support of the Lebanese authorities.  Lebanese authorities retain the sovereign prerogative and related responsibility to secure their maritime borders.  UNIFIL also cannot board and conduct physical inspection of any vessel in Lebanese territorial waters unless specifically requested by the Lebanese authorities.  It is not responsible for authorizing entry into Lebanese ports, which again is the sovereign prerogative of the Lebanese authorities.  UNIFIL has been fully cooperating with the Lebanese judicial authorities and has provided them with all requested assistance within the scope of its mandate.


Moving to Afghanistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that aid distributions and needs assessments are continuing across the country with a focus on food and cash assistance, non‑food items, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies.  Through its countrywide seasonal support programme, the World Food Programme (WFP) recently distributed food to close to 45,000 people in Kunduz, Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan Provinces.  So far this year, WFP and partners have provided food and nutrition assistance to 13.7 million people.  That is over four million more people than in all of 2020.  This includes 5.5 million people in October and 4 million in September.  In August, WFP had reached 1.3 million people.  In the coming days, some 26,000 people, including internally displaced people in Daykundi and Kabul provinces, will receive fuel, blankets, warm clothing, and cash for transportation.  This follows an assessment by the International Organization for Migration.

For its part, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has also provided essential winter assistance to more than 62,000 internally displaced people in the past two weeks.  UNHCR also reports that about 25 per cent of the 668,000 people displaced by conflict this year have returned to their places of origin since September.  They say this is due to improvements in security conditions on the ground.  And finally, as of today, the 2021 Afghanistan Flash Appeal, seeking just over $600 million, is 104 per cent funded.  The Humanitarian Response Plan has received $671 million of the required $869 million.


We have an update on the work of our United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) colleagues in Myanmar, as they continue to deliver assistance to tens of thousands of children in need in the country.  To ensure the continuity of health services, UNICEF has supplied medication to cover around 30,000 children under the age of 5 in the States of Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Chin.  This includes medication to treat pneumonia and diarrhoea.  UNICEF also continues to provide emergency health services, including tele‑consultations and referrals for pregnant women and children.  More than 9,000 women and children have already received this type of support.  Finally, UNICEF has begun providing humanitarian cash assistance to families with children aged from 2 to 5, as well as children with disabilities.  These subsidies help families pay for key services.  More than 5,300 pregnant women and children in Yangon have already received this support and UNICEF is working to increase the number of people who receive this type of assistance.

**West Africa/Sahel

In Guinea‑Bissau yesterday, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamet Saleh Annadif, together with the President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, chaired the Regional Open Day on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security.  The Open Day brought together nearly a hundred women and young leaders from West Africa and the Sahel, as well as government representatives from the region.  They spoke about new initiatives to be put in place to prevent conflicts and consolidate peace, and ways to accelerate the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda in West Africa and the Sahel.

**International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  The theme this year is “Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now,” and as in previous years, this international day will also launch 16 days of activism.  In his video message to mark the Day — aired at an event held today — the Secretary-General recalls that violence against women and girls continues to be the most pervasive and pressing human rights issue in the world today.  But violence against women is not inevitable, he says.  The right policies and programmes bring results.  The Secretary‑General adds that this means comprehensive, long‑term strategies that tackle the root causes of violence, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote strong and autonomous women’s rights movements.

**Noon Briefing Guests

After I’m finished here, we are pleased to be joined by two guests from UN Women to present a new report entitled “Measuring the shadow pandemic: Violence against women during COVID‑19”.  Kalliopi Mingeirou, Chief of the Ending Violence Against Women section of UN Women, and Papa Seck, Chief of the Research and Data section, will be here in the room to brief you on that report.  Just a reminder that due to the Thanksgiving Holiday, there will be no noon briefing tomorrow or Friday.  We will be back on Monday when we will have a guest, Dr. César Núñez, Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) New York Office.  He will brief on World AIDS Day, which is on 1 December.  And before we go to our guests for today, James, I see you have a question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Sorry.  I put my hand up before because you said "finally" several times.  Anyway, question on Mr. Kubiš.  In the Security Council meeting, Mr. Kubiš confirmed that he was prepared to stay in post until after the election for a transitional period.  Why did the Secretary-General not accept that offer? He's now going to be leaving on 10 December, leaving a vacuum just two weeks before this vital election.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, from our side, what we're trying to do is that we, of course, do intend to announce a successor, and we aim to ensure the continuity of leadership and a smooth transition at this critical time.  Mr. Kubiš is continuing performing his functions, and he is the one, of course, who briefed the Security Council.  And we will continue to work with him as… while we're seeking a successor.

Question:  Couple of follow-ups.  You really think you'll have a successor, given how long it's taken to fill this post in the past, by 10 December?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're aware of the policies and, of course, as you have seen, Mr. Kubiš also confirmed his readiness, as he said to the Council, to continue as Special Envoy for a transitional period to ensure business continuity provided that it is a feasible option.  So we'll have to see how it goes.

Question:  One last follow‑up if I can.  Did the Secretary‑General have full confidence in Mr. Kubiš' preparations for the elections in Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has full confidence in the work that his Special Envoy and, indeed, the full UN Support Mission in Libya is doing, and we are continuing to move ahead.  And we believe that we can continue to move ahead with elections for 24 December.  Yes, Philippe?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Same subject.  Why… I don't understand.  Why Secretary‑General needs one week to decide to accept or refuse a demand of a resignation? Because he needs one week; it was on the 17th, the letter.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there are many things to consider, including the situation on the ground and the ability to maintain both the work of the Mission and to ensure a smooth transition.  And so, there's a lot of things that he has to consider, and we are moving as quickly as we can to make sure that that we will have a smooth and effective transition in place.  Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah.  Over to Afghanistan, so you sort of summarized some progress in delivering aid.  Does that mean that the UN is working at a fully functioning level delivering aid? Are there still hindrances?  And if so, what are they?  And what about the liquidity problem? Is that getting in the way of delivering aid, as well?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we are working as well as we can to make sure that we are able to conduct our operations in Afghanistan, where we have been working with the de facto authorities, and we certainly appreciate, in particular, the generosity of donors who have done a very good job to give us the resources we need in a timely fashion.  Regarding the liquidity issue, currently, aid agencies are using a combination of hawalas and national banks in the country to pay their own staff salaries and other smaller‑scale procurement requirements.  However, these modalities are not sufficient for the large‑scale operations requiring cash payments or cash assistance in‑country, and we are engaging with international financial institutions to find a solution with humanitarian actors so that the response can continue to scale up.

Question:  If I may, so, who in the UN is responsible for making sure that the financial situation improves as soon as possible?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, there are officials in the UN who are specifically in charge of making sure that all of our operations are funded and can proceed.  And they're the same groups and the same offices, including the Department of Operational Support (DOS), the comptroller's office, and we'll work with the relevant authorities to make sure that we can continue to fund our operations.

Question:  Okay.  But who leads this effort? I mean, which agency?  There are a lot of agencies.  So, is there one agency that's leading it, or is it sort of fragmented?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not fragmented.  You're aware that we have a country team on the ground, and the country team works with the officials in headquarters to make sure that the financing can continue to work.  So far, we're continuing to function and respond to the challenging situation on the ground.

Question:  Okay.  If I may, again, is it the [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] that's responsible, or is it UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], because I get conflicting messages from both agencies?

Deputy Spokesman:  They both work together on making sure that this can be… that this can proceed.  Yes, Celia?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any concerns by the Secretary‑General over the elections in Honduras? We know that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her deep concern about the violence that has been apparent since September 2020 when the election processes started.  Any concerns especially in terms of the possibility of people to be able to have free access?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we certainly share the concerns that were expressed by the High Commissioner, and we would urge all of those involved in the electoral process in Honduras to ensure that the voting process can occur peacefully.  And we're… and we, again, fully support what Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet is saying.  And there's nothing in the chat, so back to you.

Question:  Sorry.  I've got a couple more on different issues, if I can, Farhan.  First, the Government in Ethiopia is expelling four of the six Irish diplomats that are based in Addis Ababa.  Normally, this would be a bilateral issue, but as you know, Ireland serves on the Security Council.  It's also been sort of serving as the unofficial penholder, and some might see this as retribution.  What is the UN's reaction?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I will leave it to the two countries concerned to deal with this bilaterally, but I certainly believe that the Government of Ethiopia needs to make sure that all of the regular rights of diplomatic personnel are adhered to.

Question:  And one on Iran.  You're not briefing tomorrow, and on Monday, we have the nuclear talks which are taking place.  As you know, the Director‑General of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has been to Tehran trying to get an agreement on monitoring and failed to reach an agreement.  How worried is the Secretary‑General that this could impact those important talks on Monday?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, from our standpoint… I don't want to speculate on how the talks will be affected, but from our standpoint, we, again, reiterate that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is one of the significant diplomatic achievements of recent years.  We encourage full support for that agreement, and along with that, we encourage Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.  And with that, let me go to our guests.  One second, please.

For information media. Not an official record.