Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
13 September 2021
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Senior Personnel Appointments
All right. Good afternoon. I think I'm still within the parameters of acceptable tardiness.
Let me start off with two senior personnel appointments for today. First, the Secretary-General has appointed Sima Sami Bahous of Jordan as the new Executive Director of UN-Women. This follows consultations with Member States and the Executive Board UN-Women.
She succeeds Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for her commitment and dedicated service in leading UN-Women. The Secretary-General also wishes to extend his appreciation to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, who will continue to serve as Acting Executive Director until Ms. Bahous assumes this position. You will recall that Ms. Bahous most recently served as Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations in New York.
And a second announcement, the Secretary-General is appointing Ms. Sawako Shirahase of Japan as Senior Vice-Rector of the United Nations University.
She succeeds Taikan Oki of Japan, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his contributions to the University's work on water issues in connection to climate change and his initiative to engage the private sector in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ms. Shirahase is a sociologist whose research interests include social stratification and inequality, social demography, and generation and gender studies.
She currently serves at the University of Tokyo as Professor of Sociology in the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology.
More information on these appointments on our website.
Turning to Afghanistan, as you know, earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening session of the High-Level Event on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan. He stressed that the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline, and that now is the time for the international community to stand with them.
The Secretary-General said that, to continue our life-saving efforts in Afghanistan, we need four things right away.
First, funding, urging support to the Flash Appeal for $606 million. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $20 million to support the humanitarian operations in the country.
Second, he said we need help to boost humanitarian access, including the airbridge with Kabul and other hubs in Afghanistan, while, third, we need to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Finally, we need to ensure that our humanitarian response saves lives but also saves livelihoods.
The Secretary-General also expressed admiration and gratitude to UN staff and the entire aid community in Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom are Afghan nationals.
Those remarks have been shared with you.
And a few moments ago, as you may have seen the Secretary-General spoke to the press in Geneva. He said that the conference exceeded his expectations. There are 156 participants, including more than 90 States, some in person and some virtual.
He stressed that this shows how crucial Afghanistan is for the international community, adding that more than $1 billion has been pledged for the overall situation. We will shortly share with you the transcript. And our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) are working on adding up the numbers as they come in, and of course, pledges are important but cash is the best, so we hope that those pledges are converted to cash soon.
I also want to flag that the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the first UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNAS) flight to Kabul since the Taliban took over the capital took off yesterday. The plan is for the UN Humanitarian Air Service to have flights five days a week — from Sunday to Thursday — from Islamabad into Afghanistan. The connection is Islamabad to Kabul, then onwards to Kandahar, Mazar and Herat, with a return to Islamabad via Kabul.
As most of you are aware, the UN Humanitarian Air Service resumed its flights to Afghanistan on 29 August, linking Islamabad to Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat. WFP, which operated the flights on behalf of the UN, said that adding Kabul to the destinations is a milestone.
**Deputy Secretary-General's Travels
Turning to the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, she has concluded a three-day visit to Kenya, [United Republic of] Tanzania and Somalia.
In her meetings in Somalia, which included the President and Prime Minister, as well as women leaders, the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted how the forthcoming parliamentary elections can be an opportunity to build on the country's progress in women's political participation. She emphasized that women's full inclusion in all sectors of society will contribute to greater resilience, peace and stability in the country.
Ms. Mohammed also called on Somalia's leadership to de-escalate tensions and avoid actions that could lead to violence and further delay the elections. She reiterated the support of the international community for timely, inclusive, peaceful and credible elections.
In Kenya and Tanzania, Ms. Mohammed met with the Heads of State and Ministers of Foreign Affairs to discuss issues ranging from peace and security, pandemic recovery, and development.
Our Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, wrapped up a four-day visit to South Sudan yesterday to encourage the implementation of the peace agreement. He reiterated the support of UN peacekeepers and aid workers as South Sudan makes the difficult journey from war to peace. Mr. Lacroix stressed the need for parties to work together to increase momentum in the peace process to secure a durable peace.
Also on South Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) today said it will suspend food assistance for more than 100,000 displaced people in parts of the country for three months, starting October, due to funding shortages.
WFP said that further cuts may be inevitable if funding levels continue to drop, calling for an additional $154 million to provide food assistance in the next four months. Mr. Lacroix is back in New York and we hope to have him here, in the flesh, I think on Friday.
Moving to Ethiopia: The World Health Organization (WHO) Logistics Hub in Dubai has now delivered 85 metric tons of life-saving medical supplies to Ethiopia. This was the largest single shipment of humanitarian cargo to date airlifted by our WHO colleagues and the Hub.
The supplies, including medicines, trauma and emergency surgery kits, consumables, equipment, and cholera kits, were flown by a charter flight donated by the United Arab Emirates, to whom we're grateful, and that landed in Addis Ababa a few days ago and will address the urgent needs of more than 150,000 people.
The shipment to Ethiopia wrapped up a historic week for the WHO Dubai Logistics Hub. Dispatching over four times the weekly average, the operation shipped more than 450 metric tons of medical supplies valued at more than $4.3 million in support of the cholera outbreak response in Nigeria. The operation also shipped critical medicines to Afghanistan, and trauma and surgical supplies to Syria and Yemen.
Quick COVAX update for you: Peru has received over 360,000 doses of vaccines, AstraZeneca, through the COVAX mechanism. With this shipment, the country has now received over 2 million doses through COVAX since March. Our team on the ground, led by Resident Coordinator Igor Garafulic, continues to support authorities to tackle the profound impacts of the pandemic, on the social, economic and health fronts in Peru.
Tomorrow, we will have another guest to talk to you about the UN's work in Afghanistan, and that will be Rein Paulsen, the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Director of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience. He will brief you on work that FAO is doing with farmers in Afghanistan.
I've done my job.
**Questions and Answers
Edie, over to you.
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on North Korea's announcement today that it tested a new long-range cruise missile?
Spokesman: Well, we've, obviously… we've seen these reports, and I think it's yet another reminder that diplomatic engagement is the only way to reach sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearisation on the [Korean] Peninsula.
Question: And a second question, for the last several days, Israel's been trading… well, they've been targeting… hitting targets in Gaza, and Israel's been rocketed from Gaza. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this escalating…
Spokesman: I mean, we're obviously concerned about these reports that we've seen, and I think it is important that all the parties involved move towards a de-escalation and avoid any further actions that could make the situation worse, especially for civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.
Question: I guess I'll just follow up. I wanted to ask about North Korea, as well, but there are some experts who are saying that the description of it as a strategic missile is really a euphemism for nuclear missile. And given that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) said in its last report that it had restarted nuclear… a nuclear reactor at its main site, does that give added concern to the situation?
Spokesman: I mean, I think these sorts of tests do just add a concern to the overall situation. We would rather not see them, but I think there also… as I said to Edie, it's a reminder that we need diplomatic engagement to find a solution to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Question: Let me try to ask an innocent question.
Spokesman: There is no such thing as an innocent question, especially when it's billed as an innocent question.
Question: The Secretary-General… this morning in Geneva, he spoke and he made a statement afterwards that he's happy with the outcome and the participation, etc, and what we have seen, at least in my experience in the past ten years here at this organization, when it… there is an urgent appeal for funding for emergencies, countries come forward, and they make pledges. What is the mechanism to have it more transparent between… for each project, between the amounts pledged by Member States and the amount actually received? Since…
Spokesman: No, no, I understand… This is why I made this comment at the end, that pledges are fantastic, but the conversion of pledges to cash is critical. I think the process is, in fact, extremely transparent. And if you looked at OCHA's website for all the different appeals, you will see exactly where we are on each appeal. And what you will also see is, sadly, a lot of appeals are completely underfunded. Right?
So, whether it's Madagascar, whether it's Yemen, I mean, they're all… I don't think any of them — and I may be corrected — are fully funded. But there are very… the point I'm making is that they're extremely… it's an extremely transparent process.
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. May I please ask you to update us on the mitigation… on COVID-19 mitigation measures which will be adopted during the high-level week? Will the delegates be required to provide the proof of vaccination, and are they required now to provide the proof of… that they've been vaccinated? Thank you.
Spokesman: We're taking efforts to reduce the on-site footprint from the Secretariat staff. Member States have agreed to limit their number of delegates that will enter the General Assembly Hall. All persons will be required to attest as a condition of entry that they have not had symptoms or been diagnosed with COVID or close contact with anyone.
It's also important that visiting delegates will be subjected to the Host Country's travelling and entry requirements, and everyone… I mean, all the delegates that are coming in have also been reminded that basically, to do anything in New York City, you need to be vaccinated, right, whether it's to take public transportation, though I'm not… don't want to prejudge anything; not sure they would take public transportation, but to enter into restaurants, into stores, any sort of activity in any… you need to show a vaccination.
In addition, as we've said, the staff that will be in the building, that needs to be in the building during the General Assembly high-level week, is mandated to be vaccinated. Right? So, that's where we are.
Question: But no mandatory vaccination certificate or passport for the delegates coming?
Spokesman: You know… I mean, Alan, as you know, the Secretary-General's… [Siri device goes off] Siri's clearly listening in on us.
As you know, the Secretary-General's authority over delegates is one that is limited at best. But you can… I'm sure Amy [Quantrill] will be delighted to answer those questions, as well.
Question: Thank you. Last week, the General Assembly had an event to remember the life of the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. I believe in three days will be 60 years from his death.
Secretary-General [António] Guterres did a speech, and if I remember, he emphasised how… about the… how much there is to learn about this diplomat, this diplomat and the way he worked and especially on his style on the way he interpreted the job of a UN Secretary-General.
So, my question is, as the Secretary-General is in his second mandate and we can say that Hammarskjöld had a very assertive way to interpret the job of Secretary-General, maybe a way that took his life, on the hand, because there is still an investigation on, I believe.
And, so, my question is, does the Secretary-General Guterres… is inspired by the way Hammarskjöld interpreted his job, and what he wants to do to, in a way, imitate his style in the next three years, four years?
Spokesman: I would say a few things. First, it is worth reminding that we have Judge [Mohammed Chande] Othman, who is continuing his work to try to shed light on exactly what happened to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and the party and the colleagues that were killed with him in that plane crash and who was responsible, and we still have a ways to go to shed light in all corners of this story.
The Secretary-General is inspired by the work of his predecessors, and he's learned from them. And I think every Secretary-General has learned from the work of their predecessors, but each of them is his own person, as well, and lives in his own time in a world that changes and that's different from 1960 to 2021. So, I don't really… I don't know if there's a yes-or-no answer to your question, but I think you've been in this room a number of times when the Secretary-General has spoken and, I think, even the last press conference, I think he was, frankly, pretty direct and did not use what, in French, we would call la langue de bois. And I think that's who António Guterres is.
Okay. Back to earth. Ibtisam, please?
Question: Two questions. First, a follow-up on Palestine and Israel. As you know, six Palestinian political prisoners escaped last week, and four of them were re-arrested. There are some media… local media reports that the four who were arrested or some of them are facing torture, and family members were also arrested. So, do you have any comments on that? Are you following…?
Spokesman: We're, obviously, following the situation. It is important that prisoners everywhere be afforded the rights that international human rights standards afford them and everybody.
Question: And do you have, like, somebody who is in contact with Israelis…?
Spokesman: I will check on that, but I know our… the Office of the Special Coordinator is, in fact, following.
Question: Another question, climate question. I don't know if you saw the media reports that the UK… according to UK media reports, that the UK secretly dropped the climate promise for a trade deal with Australia, and they dropped mentioning the Paris Agreement. Any comments on that?
Spokesman: I didn't see that particular report, but what I can tell you or echo or paraphrase what the Secretary-General said is that we're on the verge of the abyss, right, and that I think every decision taken by Governments in the months and years… few years ahead need to be taken with climate change in mind, with how to mitigate, how to stop the temperatures rising.
Okay. Let's go to the screen. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Thank you. I have questions relating to the Secretary-General's press conference, three points of clarification, if I may. The first is that he used the expression "multilateralism with teeth". And, of course, he referred frequently, mainly in the Common Agenda Report itself, to international law, respecting international law, but that's nothing new.
Does he have, in that connection, any specific ideas about mechanisms or adjudication and enforcement on a global level and a new court or not? That's the first question, first point of clarification.
Second is he referred to UN 2.0 — a revitalized UN that would help to implement the Common Agenda. But I looked at the section in the Common Agenda Report, and I didn't see anything referring to suggestions for reform within the UN itself, addressing issues like internal corruption, alleged lack of transparency, et cetera. So, I wondered if he's going to flesh those points out as part of his design for UN 2.0.
And thirdly, he referred a couple of times in the press conference to conspiracy theories. I wonder if you could elaborate on what he had in mind when he talked about science? Science is always about questioning conventional wisdom; today's conventional wisdom disproved by further evidence in the future such as, for example, the theory that the coronavirus might have originated from a lab. That was originally called a conspiracy theory in various media and now given serious consideration. So, could you just flesh out these three areas for me? Thank you.
Spokesman: Thank you, Joe. On… I'm not aware of the Secretary-General's suggesting a new court. What he was talking about is multilat… I mean, he's been responding, I think, to in interviews for a while now and in press comments, when people talk about WHO and a lot of institutions here, is that it's true, that we have multilateralism, but there's very little teeth unless Member States wish to give that multilateralism some teeth.
On UN 2.0, I mean, he talks about changing the nature of the Trusteeship Council. In terms of reform of the organization, the reform of the organization is a constant process. I've been here for 20 years. It's… every year, there is a reform of… maybe it's better to use the word adaptation, but there is more… for example, there is much more transparency in the organization now than there was 20 years ago, just on the financial side, when I'm talking to Fathi about how money is tracked for programmes, whether it's OCHA, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). There's now a huge amount of transparency.
On issues on how we deal with sexual exploitation and abuse, that has changed… the transparency that we have today is 180 degrees different to what… the lack of transparency or the obscurantism we had 20 years ago on it, and I could go on. So, there is a constant adaptation of the UN… of the Secretariat and the bureaucracy to make this place more efficient and adapted to the world we live in.
Your third question was… oh, conspiracy theories. I think he was talking about the vaccine and some of the conspiracy theories that are peddled on social media about why people shouldn't get the vaccine. You're correct that sometimes outlying theories become more serious. I doubt that the theory that Bill Gates is trying to implant a microchip in us through the vaccine is ever going to become a fact. So, that's the kind of conspiracy theories he was referring to.
James Reinl, and then we'll go to Abdelhamid.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. It's a question about the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) speakers list, and I do apologize, but I've been away. I'm seeing them shared on Twitter, but I don't see them in my email. Is it something that you guys are sharing with correspondents en masse? And if so, can I get on that list?
Spokesman: We will check, but I always believe what I see on Twitter.
Abdelhamid and then Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. First, I want to thank Ibtisam for asking question. I prepared it almost word for word. My two questions about Afghanistan. First about the money, where it will go. I mean, most of the speakers spoke about flexibility of the funds. I didn't know what do they mean by flexibility. Is there one central mechanism that will receive the money? And this central mechanism will disburse the money among the UN agencies like UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), WFP, OCHA, et cetera, or it will go directly to different UN agencies? How this mechanism going to work?
Spokesman: No, I would… it's a rather complex system. If I were you, I would look on the OCHA web page, on the website, and I think it would… the appeal goes into detail as to where the money needs to go within the UN system.
Question: Sorry, would not go to one singular fund toward…
Spokesman: You had a second question? I think if I were you, I would look at the website to get more clarity because that's what I will do, as well, so I can answer your question better.
Question: Definitely. Thank you. My second question about also the speakers who spoke about progress in the last 20 years, I mean, the SG mentioned that word, "progress". Mr. Martin Griffiths, Henrietta Fore, they all spoke about progress in the last 20 years. I wonder what kind of progress under foreign occupation, leaving 18 million without secure food or… as Henrietta Fore said, 4.2 million children don't go to school; 30 per cent have never been to school. Where's this progress they keep talking about? Why none of the speaker, none, spoke about 20 years of foreign domination and foreign occupation?
Spokesman: Listen, why speakers didn't speak about something, that's for you to address to the speakers. Afghanistan is a country that, since the UN has been there, which has been the late '40s, has always suffered through many challenges, natural challenges and not so natural challenges.
We can have a debate about the last 20 years and conflict, and I think the UN has been extremely forward leaning in reporting on human rights violations, on extrajudicial killings by the Taliban but also by the Afghan Government and the Afghan… and other international forces.
That being said, if you were a journalist in Afghanistan 20 years ago and you compare the situation to what it was up till last month, I think you would think it was progress. I can't speak to it personally, but my sense, if you were a mother wanting to educate her girls, you will have seen that is progress.
It doesn't negate all the other things that have happened in Afghanistan that we have spoken about, but to speak of just those two examples, I think that clearly is progress.
Question: Thank you, Steph. In your opening remarks, you spoke about the airbridge set up by WFP between Islamabad and cities in Afghanistan, but WFP had also said that they will start using land routes to deliver humanitarian supplies. When is that going to happen?
Spokesman: That is going… it's two different things. WFP operates the UN humanitarian service on behalf of all the UN system. They're sort of the UN's airline. So, this is a very important airbridge that has been established not only to move cargo but especially to move people as we relocate people, as we rotate people. That is a very important way to get things in. It does not replace in any way, shape or form the land routes where you're able to truck in hundreds, if not larger amounts, tons of food or other supplies on a regular basis. So, it's two very separate things.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Any other questions, comments, anything anybody wants to talk about? Great baseball this weekend. We're happy the Mets came out on top. All right.
Spokesman: Your microphone, please.
Question: Just quick addition. The 4th Floor restaurant is now, to get to sit in, you have to show proof of vaccination.
Spokesman: Yes, like in any other restaurant in New York City.
Question: They started already.
Spokesman: Yeah. Bon appetit.
A, I have to apologize because I did not announce Amy. And, B, I have to apologize because I failed to say to Amy that she did an amazing job. You were thrown in the pool in the deepest end, and you did an Olympic swim, so congratulations and a big thank-you to Brenden [Varma], as well, for his service in the previous months.
Amy, I could say we hardly knew ya, but we're sorry to see you go, and congratulations again on a great year.
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