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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

28 September 2021

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Jobs and Social Protection

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-level Meeting on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond:  Jobs and Social Protection for Poverty Eradication.  He said that, almost two years into the COVID-19 crisis, a huge divergence in the recovery is undermining global trust and solidarity as the pandemic has not only confirmed but deepened existing inequalities.

In developed countries, access to vaccines has allowed economies to reopen, while stimulus payments and investments herald projected growth of 5 or 6 per cent this year.  However, across the developing world, the pandemic has caused lasting damage, while debt burdens prevent Governments from investing in recovery.  The Secretary-General said that global solidarity is needed to build a recovery that benefits all.  He also announced the creation of a new Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for a Just Transition, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO).  This Global Accelerator will aim to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies, and extend social protection floors by 2025 to 50 per cent of people currently not covered.

His remarks, as well as his Policy Brief, have been shared with you.

And, in a short while, Guy Ryder, the Director General of the International Labour Organization and Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), will be joining us virtually to provide more details on the High-level Meeting.

**Secretary-General/Nuclear Weapons

At the General Assembly High-level event to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the Secretary-General called on the international community to reject the poisonous and flawed logic of endless nuclear competition, adding that the nuclear threat has reached its highest level in close to 40 years.

But, he added, we must seize every opportunity to move closer to our goal of eliminating these weapons.  He welcomed the decision by the Russian Federation and the United States to extend the New START Treaty and to begin a strategic dialogue.  He also urged States to support the goals of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to recognize its place in the global disarmament architecture.

Turning to the long-delayed Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Secretary-General said that we are at a critical moment to reaffirm and build on past commitments.

**Somalia

This afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will brief the Security Council on her visit to Somalia.  She is expected to say that there is real concern that in the current elections to the House of the People, the levels of women's representation will decrease, despite promises and stipulations in electoral agreements.

The Deputy Secretary-General is expected to stress that women's participation and representation in political life is a precondition for lasting peace in Somalia.  She is also expected to emphasize that the 30 per cent quota is a crucial first step towards the equal representation of women in all sectors of life, from business to public service, elections to appointments.

She is also expected to say that during her meetings with the President and Prime Minister, she reinforced the message of the international community that Somalia must not return to the divisions and conflicts of the past.

And we will share her remarks with you later this afternoon.

**Syria

As you have seen, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He recalled that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that more than 350,000 people can be confirmed, individually - by name, date and location - as having been killed in the first decade of the conflict.  Given the vast numbers still unaccounted for, the actual figure is likely much, much higher, Mr. Pedersen warned.

He said that with military front lines largely frozen for 18 months, and concerns from parties regarding the status quo, the time to push for a political process is now.  Today, he said, there is some good news to report.  Following eight months of intensive facilitation with the Co-Chairs, Mr. Pedersen announced that agreement is in place on methodology, and invitations have been issued for a sixth session of the Constitutional Committee.  While we are still in the process of confirming logistics, the Small Drafting Body will convene in Geneva as of 18 October, he added.

And he just spoke with you at the stakeout a few minutes ago.

**Guinea

The Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, is calling on authorities in Guinea to abide by their commitment towards impartial and independent justice.  This, she added, must include justice for the massacre of 28 September 2009, in which at least 156 people were killed or disappeared and at least 109 women and girls were subjected to sexual violence.  Today marks the twelfth anniversary of this massacre.

The Special Representative said that the political transition offers a unique opportunity to place justice and the rule of law at the centre of Guinea's new chapter in history, and she reiterated her office's commitment to support efforts towards justice and accountability for the victims of the 2009 massacre.

**Mali

Now, turning to Mali.  To strengthen security in the country's central region, UN peacekeepers are working in close coordination with the Malian defence forces – as part of Operation "BUFFALO".  In addition to improving security, this operation aims to restore free movement on Route Nationale 15 (RN15), which crosses central Mali east to west.

Since the beginning of the month, peacekeepers based in Sévaré have been conducting regular patrols and have also set up checkpoints to help secure bridges and improve the safety of people who use this important road.  Land operations are periodically reinforced by overflights of helicopters and surveillance drones.

In addition to this, military engineers from the Mission have conducted assessments of bridges damaged in previous attacks.  This was done with a view to repairing these vital infrastructures.

**COVAX

Some COVAX updates for you:  earlier this week, Nicaragua received nearly 500,000 doses of vaccines through COVAX, donated by Spain.  This was the fourth batch the country has received this year, bringing the total from COVAX this year to more than 1.1 million.

A bit further south, Argentina received a shipment of more than 500,000 doses through COVAX from Canada.  With more than 68 million vaccines received, Argentina aims to fully vaccinate 50 per cent of its population by early October.

**General Assembly

And I have some fun facts for the General Assembly session that just ended.  Of the 193 Member States, 191 Member States participated in the high-level plenary this year.  That included 99 Heads of State, three Vice-Presidents, 51 Heads of Government and one Deputy Prime Minister.  In addition, 34 Member States were represented at the ministerial level and three at the chief of delegation level.  Eighteen women were among the high-level participants.

And 81 of the statements that were delivered were pre-recorded, including those of 42 Heads of State, 30 Heads of Government, one Vice-President and five ministers.

And as for bilateral meetings, this year, the Secretary-General had 113 meetings from the weekend before the plenary until yesterday.  That is only so far.  He might still have a couple more before the week is done.  By contrast, he had totals of 135, 130 and 139 bilateral meetings during his first three years as Secretary-General, from 2017 to 2019.

**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow our guest will be Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  She will brief reporters on the forthcoming UNCTAD-15 conference.

**Financial Contribution

And I am delighted to report that we have another full payment to this year's regular budget dues.

This Member State is where the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace prize was born.  Who is the person and from which country, please?  Any guesses?  [Response from the correspondents.]  Liberia?  No.  No, that would be Wangari Maathai, who was born in Kenya, and we thank our friends in Nairobi.  No winners today.  We'll go to the first hand raised.  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan. I have a question on Cyprus.  There's always no common ground with one side, the Turkish side, calling for a two-State solution and the other side, the Greek Cypriot side, strongly opposing it.  And both leaders said that following their meeting with the Secretary-General yesterday.  We haven't seen any statement from the Secretary-General.  What will be the Secretary-General's next step?  When does he plan to issue a statement on that meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do expect a statement later today.  We have been considering the discussions that took place yesterday, and a statement is in the works, and I expect that we'll have it out for you this afternoon.  Yes, James?

Question:  First, does the Secretary-General have any response to the WHO (World Health Organization) report which… about sexual abuse and exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, showing that there was clear structural failures and individual negligence in the WHO?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, we do.  First of all, we would like to apologize unreservedly to the women and girls who suffered this abuse, including rape, and thank them for their courage in coming forward.  WHO has also done so, and we do so from the Secretary-General's side.  We're aware that the World Health Organization intends to take every measure to bring perpetrators to account, including referring to and collaborating with relevant national authorities on any criminal proceedings.  And similarly, WHO says it intends to ensure that victims and survivors will have appropriate support and is currently liaising closely with local institutions, including NGOs (non-governmental organizations), to this end.  And we intend to follow and see what they do.  But it's important that they come to grips with this.  It's important that all UN agencies, funds and programmes, all UN operations, thoroughly go over any sorts of allegations of this.  We want people to come forward if they've been mistreated by anyone in the vast network of UN operations, and we want to make sure this never recurs.  Yes?

Question:  I've also got a couple of questions on Afghanistan, if I can.  So, number one, the Taliban say they're going to adopt an old Constitution from 1956 from the time of the King Zahir Shah.  Do you have reaction to that?  Because it's not the current Constitution, which is a democratic Constitution allowing elections.  And secondly, the Taliban appointed Chancellor of Kabul University.  Seems now to permanently signal that female students are not welcome.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on your second question first, one of our main concerns - and we've made this repeatedly clear with the Taliban in the last months - is that the rights of all and particularly of women and girls are respected.  So, we would have tremendous concerns at any efforts to roll back on the gains that they have made over the last 20 years, including their ability to be included at all levels of society, including educational institutions.  So, we have made that clear, and we'll continue to make that clear with them.  Regarding the country, we'll continue to be in discussions, but, obviously, we would have any concerns at anything that signals a retreat from the democratic structures that have been placed in Afghanistan.  As you know, we've supported the democratic transition in Afghanistan, including the elections that have taken place.  The UN invested a lot of effort and a lot of energy into those, and we want to see that course upheld.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The many countries calling now for western countries to release the frozen assets of Afghanistan, about 9 to 10 billion, and they are warning of catastrophic consequences if they don't.  The economy could completely collapse within probably few months.  So, what is the UN doing about that issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have made it clear to the Taliban that we're willing to work to see what can be done to improve the conditions in the country, including the socioeconomic conditions and the humanitarian situation.  Obviously, that depends on ensuring that there is full faith and confidence in the authorities on the ground, and we have made clear, as part of that, what our concerns have been regarding the nature of this society in Afghanistan that we are supporting.  We have supported, as you know, for these years, an inclusive society where rights are protected, and we want to see that upheld.

Question:  My second question is about if you can [inaudible] on the Egyptian crisis.  The SG had a chance to meet with all parties during the high-level meetings.  I know he urged both parties; especially I read his readout of his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, encouraging them to go back to negotiate under the African Union auspices.  But what the UN can do a little… can't the UN do something a little bit more than urging them to go back to the negotiating table under the African Union auspices?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, at this stage, it is the African Union that is conducting these negotiations, I believe, under the… that had been happening under the auspices of Mr. [Felix] Tshisekedi, and we want to see those… that effort to be fully supported.  And the United Nations will provide whatever support we can.  And, as you're aware, the Secretary-General did meet with the key officials from the various countries during this week of bilaterals, and he's made his message clear about the need to keep this process on track.  All right.  Let me see whether there's any questions in the chat.  I don't see anyone listed.  Do any of you… are any of you in the chat wanting to ask any more questions?  Any questions from the floor?  Yes, James.

Question:  Yeah.  I wondered if there was any update from the eight days of the high-level sessions here in New York on COVID cases.  We know that the Brazilian Health Minister got COVID.  We know the State Department spokesman got COVID, probably while he was in New York.  Can you tell us whether other missions have reported COVID cases and what sort of contact tracing is under way?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on your question regarding the Brazilians, we were informed on 22 September by the Permanent Mission that a delegate who was in the General Assembly Hall had tested positive for COVID-19, and then we worked closely with the Permanent Mission on necessary follow-up actions, including informing staff who had been in contact.  We have not seen any signs of any further cases from that, nor have we seen reports from other missions of any cases involving the building.

Question:  So, the Host Country, the US Mission has not informed you about the case involving the spokesperson, Ned Price?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've not received any information about any case involving other countries.  Once we get information from the relevant Member States, we'll follow up, but we'll be in contact with them to see whether we get anything further.

Question:  And I'm going to bring up an old issue, but it's sort of getting so old, it's becoming a story.  What is going on about the investigation into Fabrizio Hochschild?  We've heard absolutely nothing, and we were told at the beginning that the Secretary-General wanted this to be dealt with as quickly as possible.  I don't understand why this investigation is dragging on and on.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, with many of our investigations, we urge them to do it as quickly as they can.  Of course, there are the rights of the people involved in the process that need to be taken into consideration, so we're patiently awaiting the results of that.  There's no real update to give until it's concluded.  Hold on.  We'll get a question from Michail Ignatiou and then back to you, Abdelhamid.  Michail, are you online?

Question:  Yes, sir.  I have a question on Cyprus.  Do you have any readout on the meeting between the Secretary-General and the President of Cyprus and Mr. [Ersin] Tatar?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we put out a readout of last week's meeting a week ago.  But if you're thinking of the luncheon that happened yesterday, we expect to have a statement on that issued later this afternoon so…

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  But if you look back on our website, you'll see the readout.  Okay. Abdelhamid, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  I want to ask you kindly to repeat the numbers.  I missed some of them, starting with the number… if you don't mind or I could come to your office…?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll give the numbers to you and to all who ask.  Yeah, I know.  It's hard, but I'll give you the piece of paper after that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Thanks.  And with that, I am going to turn the floor over to our guests.



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