12/02/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/02/2021 15:27
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**United Nations Security
I just want to start off with an update about what's going on outside the walls and on the security situation concerning this building. At about 10:45 a.m., a UN staff member who was entering the building at the 43rd Street gate alerted the UN guards at the gate that there was a man with what appears to be a shotgun on First Avenue. The New York Police Department was immediately alerted by UN Security and our security services took the decision to lock down the compound. As of now, the situation is currently ongoing just outside the 43rd Street gate, but the building is reopened for pedestrian exit and entrance at the 46th Street gate and vehicular access at 42nd Street. We will keep you updated with any updates.
**Global Humanitarian Overview
In other news, this morning, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched its annual Global Humanitarian Overview, which is an assessment of global humanitarian needs for next year, how we plan to respond, and what it will cost. Our colleagues say that 274 million people worldwide will need emergency assistance and protection next year. This is a 17 per cent increase compared to this year. The Global Humanitarian Overview estimates that $41 billion will be required to provide relief and protection to the 183 million people most in need around the world. The report includes 37 response plans, covering 63 countries. As a comparison, so far this year, 107 million people have been reached and donors have provided more than $17 billion for projects included in the Global Humanitarian Overview. Funding remains less than half of what the UN and partner organizations had requested. The full report is on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Internet site.
Moving to Afghanistan and the humanitarian situation there, we are told that aid distributions and needs assessments are continuing across Afghanistan, with a focus on food and cash assistance, non-food items, and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. Since 25 November, along with our partners, we have provided food assistance to approximately 280,000 people in Baghlan, Takhar, Badakshan and Parwan Provinces. This week, distributions of cash and winter assistance, household items and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies were also completed for an estimated 20,000 people in Kabul, Parwan and Ghor Provinces. In the coming days, some 15,000 people in Baghlan, Kunduz, Badakshan and Balkh Provinces will also receive humanitarian assistance.
The Afghanistan Flash Appeal, which identified prioritized needs between September and December of this year, requires $606 million and is 113 per cent funded. The Afghanistan Humanitarian Response, which was launched at the beginning of 2021, requires $869 million, and is currently 84 per cent funded. Our humanitarian colleagues note that the two appeals complement one another, identifying 18.4 million people in need and targeting 17.7 million people - a goal that is expected to be achieved by the end of year. As part of the 2022 Global Humanitarian Overview launched today, Afghanistan is one of the largest emergencies in the world. Next year, 24.4 million people will need humanitarian assistance. Of these, humanitarian partners have planned to reach 22.1 million [people] with urgent humanitarian support, requiring $4.4 billion.
A quick note on Libya, where the Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, yesterday met with the Chairman of Libya's High National Elections Commission, Imad al-Sayeh, in Tripoli. The Special Envoy was briefed about the progress made so far by the Elections Commission in the preparation for holding parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 December of this year. He praised the High National Elections Commission's extraordinary efforts to implement the election, despite technical challenges in a short timeframe, amid a heavily polarized political climate. He noted that more than 2.4 million voters had collected their cards, demonstrating their yearning for an opportunity to elect their representatives and renew the democratic legitimacy of their institutions. Mr. Kubiš echoed the Security Council's call on all stakeholders and candidates to respect their commitments towards the holding of elections on 24 December, and of course, to accept the results.
**Central African Republic
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) says that, on Monday, combatants presumably belonging to the armed group 3R [Retour, Reclamation et Rehabilitation] attacked four villages southwest of Bocaranga, in the Ouham-Pende Prefecture. At least 29 civilians and 2 Central African soldiers were reportedly killed. UN peacekeepers were deployed to the area to help ensure the protection of civilians. They also are investigating the incident.
Back here, Christian Ritscher, the Special Adviser to the UN Investigative Team to promote accountability for crimes committed by Da'esh/ISIL, otherwise known as UNITAD, briefed the Security Council for the first time this morning. He said that a potential turning point was being reached in efforts to deliver justice for the victims of Da'esh crimes. He discussed the progress made by the Investigative Team in the last six months, in cooperation with Iraqi authorities. Mr. Ritscher announced that conclusions had been reached in a key line of investigation into the mass killing of prisoners at Badush Central Prison. The Team also found that these attacks constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We have a COVID-19 update from Mozambique, where authorities two days ago confirmed two suspected cases of the Omicron variant. The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Myrta Kaulard, is increasing its support on the health and socioeconomic fronts, working with authorities, the private sector and civil society. To tackle the wider impacts of the pandemic, 13 per cent of the UN team's sustainable development programme funding has been redirected to the COVID‑19 response. Nearly 3 million people have received services, including food assistance, water and sanitation supplies, emergency cash transfers and psychosocial support. Mozambique has received over 5 million doses through COVAX, and the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are supporting the ongoing national [vaccination] campaign.
**Food Price Index
Our colleagues in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that food commodity prices in the international market rose for the fourth consecutive month in November. This was led by strong demand for wheat and dairy products. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 134.4 points in the month, the highest level since June 2011 and 1.2 per cent higher than during October. The index was 27.3 per cent higher than its level in November 2020. FAO also published the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report, which shows that conflicts and drought are worsening food insecurity conditions in several parts of the world, particularly in East and West Africa. According to the report, 44 countries, including 33 in Africa, 9 in Asia and 2 in Latin America and the Caribbean, are in need of external food assistance.
A quick note from our colleagues at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which today launched the bodyright campaign in a bid to end rising online violence. The campaign highlights that corporate logos and copyrighted Intellectual Property are more highly valued and better protected than images of people's bodies are online. It drives the message that women, girls, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups are undervalued, exploited, and violated online. The heart of the bodyright movement is a unique "b" symbol […], which is a new "copyright" for human bodies. The symbol can be added to any image directly via Instagram stories using stickers, or by going to the bodyright webpage to use the automatic "bodyright tool"or to download the symbol directly. The ambition is for everyone to join the movement to hold policymakers, companies, and individuals to account. More information on UNFPA's website.
**International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. In his message, the Secretary-General stresses that we must never forget the immeasurable suffering of millions of African men, women and children under the evil of the transatlantic slave trade. The Secretary-General says that, while some may believe slavery to be a thing of the past, this evil continues to blight our modern world and that modern slavery often hides in plain sight. He says that the [COVID-19] pandemic has highlighted the urgency for greater vigilance.
And, if we had not had the security situation today, you may have noticed that, since yesterday, a limited number of guided tours are being offered. There is a limit of 10 people per tour, and they will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. We are following all local COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Visitors must wear a mask throughout the visit. Anyone aged 12 and above must show proof of vaccination. Tickets are available online for now. Also, good news: The UN Bookshop and the UN Stamp counter are now open for all of us, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
And I just want to say a big online hello to the participants of the 2021 UN Virtual Training Programme for Palestinian journalists, who are listening in. And I don't have… if my colleagues could bring in my phone so I can monitor the chat, that would be great. In the meantime, Mr. Bays.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I've got two questions, but I'm reluctantly going to ask one about the security situation just to make sure it's not a story. Is there no evidence of any criminal or… is there any evidence of any criminal or terrorist motive?
Spokesman: At this point, we have no such evidence. The…
Question: Looking through, as I have done, a viewfinder, a close‑up, it's a man with a shotgun. It sounds like a tragic sad story…
Spokesman: That's the perception that we have, but I cannot stress enough that the NYPD is on the ground. They are trying to talk to the man. They are defusing the situation, but we're not aware of any sort of political or other…
Correspondent: No, I just wanted to dismiss it as a story…
Spokesman: No, no, I appreciate it.
Question: Okay. Understand. So, to proper questions. First, in this room yesterday, the new President of the Security Council, the ambassador of Niger, made some strong comments about Libya, clearly important because he's a member of the Security Council, also important because Niger is a neighbouring country to Libya. I'll quote: "I can tell you the conditions for free, credible, democratic, consensual elections have not for the moment been met. The situation is not mature enough to allow this type of election." And I'm told he's not the only member of the Security Council that shares concerns about the elections. Actually, rather than being, as Mr. Kubiš said, this wonderful moment, that there could be a moment that causes further destabilization. Does the Secretary‑General share that worry?
Spokesman: I think… listen, I think, as the Secretary‑General himself said yesterday, he is neither a witch nor a seer and cannot predict what is going on.
Correspondent: But lots of people are predicting it would be very bad.
Spokesman: No, I understand. That is not his… that is not the role that he will take. He's, of course… I mean, I think, as we've been reporting publicly, there are a lot of issues to be concerned about, but this is a Libyan‑owned process. There are agreements that the Libyan political leadership have agreed to. There is a system in place, and we very much hope that these elections… that the… by the election time, there will be the - let me start that again - that by election… by 24 December, there will be the conditions in which the Libyan people can freely express themselves as… frankly, as they've been waiting to do for quite some time.
Question: Question on Yemen. More than 60 civil society organizations have come together. As you know, the Group of Experts was not renewed in Geneva by the Human Rights Council to say there should be a new mechanism and that the General Assembly is the forum for that. Now, I entirely understand that you are going to say that's a matter for Member States, but what… does the Secretary‑General share these organizations' desire that a new accountability mechanism is set up for Yemen?
Spokesman: I mean, we hope that wherever in the world there may have been crimes against humanity, war crimes or just horrendous attacks on civilians where civilians have been on the forefront and have been stuck in the middle of what is more than, I mean, multiple sides attacking them. We hope that there will be accountability, and we hope that Member States will agree on some format for that accountability.
Question: And places like that include Yemen?
Spokesman: I mean, we've been very clear on what's going on in Yemen. Okay. Yes, Edie. Sorry.
Question: That's all right, Steph. Just a follow‑up… well, let me ask first, on Ethiopia, is there any update on what's happening there in terms of access, UN convoys getting in?
Spokesman: No. I mean, I think nothing more than what the Secretary‑General shared with you yesterday. But, obviously, we're in constant touch with our colleagues, and as soon as we feel there is information to share of goods having arrived safely, we will do so as quickly as possible.
Question: I was asking because he said that another convoy was moving?
Spokesman: Yes. Exactly. And I have nothing more to add.
Question: And a second question. There was supposed to be a demonstration actually late this morning by people wanting to try to get the Secretary‑General to ensure that the United Nations International School in Queens remains open. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: I think any questions… I mean, I don't know if there was anything going on today besides what is actually going on, but any questions having to do with the running of the school should be addressed to the school and the decisions they make.
Correspondent: But, this was a demonstration specifically talking about the Secretary‑General.
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we are always supporting of people expressing their right to demonstrate freely and peacefully, but I can tell you that anything having to do with the school should be addressed to the school itself and its leadership. Madame?
Question: Monsieur, going back to Libya, the President of the Security Council said yesterday that one of the big problems right now is the foreign fighters being, like, absolutely there… a lot of them, and especially because their country don't really want them. So, how do you expect the election goes well with all those foreign fighters there?
Spokesman: We very much hope that we will see all non‑national… all foreign fighters leave. I mean, no one is saying that there's… it's not without its challenges. I mean, our eyes are wide open, but we have to do whatever we can to support the Libyan people trying to express themselves. Yes, Stefano?
Question: Yes. Follow‑up on Libya. Just, we… this was my impression. Yesterday, the ambassador from Niger was giving us the impression that going ahead with election was going to be dangerous. I mean the situation was going to get worse, not better. So, I understand that we… all the world is hoping that something is coming out well, but if he's right, then, you know, is maybe a thought to prevent that the situation gets worse and maybe the election should be postponed or something?
Spokesman: As I said, we are following the situation with our eyes wide open. I think Mr. Kubiš gave a very detailed briefing to the [Security] Council not that long ago. I don't think the situation has changed dramatically since then. He is in Tripoli, and no doubt he will report back to the Security Council.
Correspondent: Yeah, but the… sorry. But, the fact that he quit doesn't show a lot of confidence…
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I don't think… I would not hinge the situation on just one human being. The… Mr. Kubiš has been extremely active. He was in Geneva to this… right now, he's in Tripoli. And as we said earlier, we are in the… deep in the process of finding somebody to succeed him. And he has made it clear that he will not leave the post and abandon the Mission. I wanted to… let me just read something which I had meant to read because I had been asked a bit more about the situation in Sudan, and I just wanted to say that the agreement of 21 November was an initial step forward towards fully restoring constitutional order and civilian democratic rule. More work needs to be done. Urgent and serious steps by the authorities are needed to reaffirm the commitment of the Constitutional Declaration and pave the way towards free and fair elections leading to a civilian democratic order. To begin to gain domestic and international acceptance, the authorities must urgently release all those who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained since 25 October. Full accountability for human rights violations, including the killing and injuring of protesters and demonstrators during recent protests, must also be ensured. The path of the transition cannot be decided without the engagement of all partners involved in Sudan's revolution. We will… we support Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok's efforts to engage with the Forces for Freedom and Change, resistance committees and other voices among the Sudanese public. The UN stands by the people of Sudan in this endeavour. Ibtisam? Sorry. And then we'll go to Maggie online.
Question: So, I have… first, a follow‑up on Sudan. To which extent was the UN actually involved or in the picture regarding the agreement between Mr. Hamdok and the military? And could we also have Mr. [Volker] Perthes brief us again?
Spokesman: My… I believe he's on the Council schedule for next week, and I think he will be here in person. And I know he was happy to talk to you last time, and I'm sure he'll talk to you again. This is not… this was not our agreement and… but as we've said, we had been in touch with all the parties.
Question: I have another question. On Palestine and the issue… the statement or the Q&A that Mr. [Tor] Wennesland had, I think, the day before yesterday, so, I have a follow‑up on something he said. When he was asked about the normalization agreement between some Arab states and Israel, he - and I'm paraphrasing here - he kind of said that some of these agreements helped to stop the annexation that the Israeli Government was intending to go forward with. So, my question is, first, does the Secretary‑General share this sentiment or this opinion? And this actually contradicts the reports of Mr. Wennesland himself that he constantly, every month, talks about de facto annexation that's happening on the ground. So, do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: Yeah, I don't think it contradicts… I think he was speaking about one specific area. I don't think it contradicts his analysis, and frankly, I have nothing to add to what he said.
Question: But, do you see that the same areas that were supposed to be annexed are… that's what's happening on the ground with continuous settlements building, with… this is what's happening, so why is he…?
Spokesman: I'm not debating that. I think he was asked a kind of broad analysis question, which he answered, and I think we've been very clear on reporting on the ongoing settlement‑building, which we have decried repeatedly and will continue to do so.
Question: Okay. I have another question on something else. The issue of accreditation and the committee, I just… household question. Does the Secretary‑General get actually copies of the letters of countries that want to have their diplomats or ambassadors accredited here, or does it go directly to the Committee? Because we have not been able to get enough information about the subject and the two sentences or one and a half sentences that we heard yesterday from the Swedish ambassador was not really… it was good to hear something but…
Spokesman: I know. That I can't… that's beyond my remit. What I can tell you is that the letters that the Credentials Committee received was sent to them by the Secretariat because the Secretary‑General, in his role, is also… through his staff, provides the secretariat for all of the committees of the General Assembly.
Question: So, these letters supposed to be public?
Spokesman: I mean, some letters are meant to be public. Others… as far as I know, the Committee has… it would be the Committee's decision to make it a public document. It is not the Secretariat's decision. Margaret Besheer, if you're still here.
Question: I'm still here. I'm glad you're all safe and sound inside, Steph. Regarding the individual outside… of the situation outside, there's been a lot of videos, so I'm sure you've been able to see who the person is. Is this someone that's known to the UN as a staff or contract… contractor?
Spokesman: No. No, I mean, I was down there a couple of times talking to our security chiefs, asking exactly the same question. We have absolutely zero indication that this person is a staff member or a former staff member or in any way linked to the UN. That's the information… that's what I can tell you right now, because that was a question that was on my mind, as well.
Question: If I could also ask a follow‑up to yesterday's press conference with the Secretary‑General and the African Union Chairperson, there was a lot of discussion about Omicron and the travel restrictions and such. And I was just wondering if the Secretary‑General has decided to get his booster or if he's done it already, what his thinking is on this, because he has many thoughts on the subject.
Spokesman: He does have many thoughts on the subject. I think, as you heard yesterday, he got his booster on Friday. And I can tell you that this has been a very difficult decision for him. There was a lot of back‑and‑forth within his own mind as to whether or not he should get it. I spoke to him at length about it this morning. As you know, he's 72. He has some underlying conditions related to blood pressure. So, according to the guidelines, he fully… he's been qualified for some time. He's also fully aware of the symbolism of the Secretary‑General getting a third shot while the global vaccine situation is as horrendous as it is. And as he himself and Moussa Faki were talking about yesterday, even… and it's clearly symbolic in the sense that he… taking a shot doesn't take a shot away from someone else. Before the General Assembly, he was advised by his doctors and his family and - his daughter's, in fact, a doctor and has been pushing him to get the booster - he decided not to do it in the GA, trusting the measures we put in place here and trusting the measures put in place by the City of New York. Again, before Glasgow, his family and his doctors put a lot of pressure on him to do it. Again, he decided not to, and he went to Glasgow and Rome, as you recall, for the G20. He felt that the measures were safe enough. He did return on Thursday, early Thursday morning, from his first real field visit since the COVID outbreak. He visited many remote areas. He also… in Bogota, he was in crowded markets and very crowded places with a lot of people. And so, given the fact that he will also be doing more field visits in the weeks ahead, he decided that… given his age and given his function and his responsibilities as Secretary‑General, he decided getting the booster would be the responsible thing to do. But, again, I… literally, he called me up to his office twice today to talk about this, and I can tell you that he really… he agonized over making that decision. James?
Question: Can I just ask you one more? But, he is such a public‑facing person, and as you detail his itinerary, his schedules lately, I mean, wouldn't he feel, in a way, he had an obligation to get it so that he himself didn't become some sort of a spreader and particularly since he also always advocates about vaccination when it's available?
Spokesman: Well, I… but I think there… in his mind, there were two sides. Right? There was the side that you just said about being a public figure, being the head of the UN, being respons… you know, taking all the possible precautions. And I would add that he's been taking since the beginning a huge amount of personal precautions. I mean, everybody around him is vaccinated, his mask. We're all very, very careful with him, and he's very careful with himself. But, there was also the symbolism of him getting a third shot when many people have not had the first one, and this was something that he churned over in his mind for a long, long time, I can assure you. James and then Edie.
Correspondent: Back to the press conference yesterday of the President of the General Assembly, I know you never talk about staffing issues, but he did. He told us that…
Spokesman: Security Council or General Assembly?
Question: Sorry, Security Council President. So sorry. He told us that Nicholas Kay had been proposed by the Secretariat to replace Mr. Kubiš. We're now told and reliable sources that the Russians have blocked Mr. Kay's candidature. Given Mr. Kubiš offered to stay on for the election, is that something the Secretary‑General is currently considering beyond 10 December? I also hear reports that possibly Stephanie Williams might be asked to come back in a temperate capacity.
Spokesman: As you know, trying to… especially recently, trying to get a person confirmed, which I know is not the right word, by the Security Council can often seem like… like we would say in French, parcours du combattant. It's kind of like, it's challenging. I don't know what the English expression would be. But… so, we're in discussions with the Council. The Secretary‑General wants to make sure that we have the leadership in place by 24 December. So, of course, options, names and things are being discussed, which I…
Question: And Mr. Kubiš' offer to stay on, which he made in the Security Council chamber is one option. Right?
Spokesman: We're looking at all different sorts of options. Edie?
Question: Maybe I missed something, but has the Secretary‑General actually had his booster vaccination today?
Spokesman: No, Friday. That's what I was just talking to Maggie about.
Correspondent: It was Friday.
Spokesman: It was Friday. Sorry. If I wasn't clear… I mean, I spoke for a long time, but the first 'graph in an AP story was that he got it on Friday. There are a lot of further 'graphs to that story. All right. Unless there's a que… Pam, do you have a question? Pam Falk?
Question: Yes. Thanks… thanks, Steph. You said it at the beginning, but we didn't get an official email. The secure… the lockdown's been lifted. Correct?
Spokesman: What has happened is… I mean, this was as of… I was on time today, so as of 30 minutes ago, the police activity was continuing in front of the UN. We… the security service… our security services in discussions with NYPD have re‑opened the 46th Street entrance for anyone in the building, which we feel is safe to use. And for vehicles, the… the entrance on 42nd Street and the FDR Drive.
Question: And do you not have the information that I… that some have gotten from the NYPD that the suspect has been taken into custody?
Spokesman: Again, I have the information… I don't have an earpiece, so I have the information that is… was given to me about 30 minutes ago. And so, I… I will go back to my desk and see if there's anything new, and we're share that with you.
Question: Okay. I'm also told… I'm sorry. I'm told that the… He may still be outside. So, you don't have any update?
Spokesman: And again, information as to what happens outside the gates should be asked to the New York City Police Department. [He later informed the press that the police activity ended calmly at 1:40 p.m. The person was taken into custody by the NYPD.]
Question: Okay. Within the gates…?
Spokesman: I speak for what's happening within this kingdom. Yeah.
Question: Thank you. Within the kingdom, I have a follow‑up. UN announced… your office announced UN tours are open. Can you elaborate on how much that will be? Will it be all the third‑graders? What does that mean?
Spokesman: I don't know if every third‑grader in New York will come, but it will be a limited presence. There will be 10 people per tour. The tours will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People will have to abide by all the COVID health requirements that are in place in New York City - if you're going to Broadway or a concert or whatever else you want to do in your spare time. Tickets are only available online. And also, the Bookshop, the gift shop and the post office are re‑opened in the basement. On that postal note, I will hand it over to Paulina [Kubiak].