The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon to all of you.
**General Assembly President
As we were just discussing and as you will have seen that, a short while ago, Mr. Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives was elected as the President of the seventy-sixth session of the General Assembly.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General congratulated Mr. Shahid and said that he looks forward to working with the new President of the General Assembly.
The Secretary-General added that, as our most representative organ, the General Assembly is the foundation of all our work at the United Nations and is essential to our effectiveness as an Organization.
In 2021, the world needs that effectiveness more than ever, he said, adding that the seventy-sixth session of the General Assembly will grapple with the impact of the pandemic across the three pillars of our work: peace and security, development, and, of course, human rights.
The Secretary-General concluded by saying that Mr. Shahid’s experience, including his current role as Foreign Minister, has given him a deep understanding of the importance of multilateralism.
Turning to Syria, I can tell you we remain very concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation for 13.4 million people in need throughout the country.
Some of the most vulnerable Syrians are those who are in the north-west of the country, where there are now 3.4 million people in need. More than 90 per cent of those [people] are assessed by the UN to be in extreme or catastrophic need, particularly the 2.7 million internally displaced men, women and children. Most of the displaced are living in over 1,000 camps and informal settlements on the Syrian-Turkish border.
The only access for the UN to these millions of people is through the UN Security Council-authorized cross-border operation. The Bab al-Hawa crossing is the UN’s last remaining entry point for transporting assistance to north-west Syria.
The assistance that is being sent by the UN team from Turkey cross-border into the north-west of Syria is reaching [2.4] million Syrians on a monthly basis — with around 1,000 trucks of aid crossing the border each month. A total of 979 trucks crossed in May alone.
Bab al-Hawa is the last lifeline preventing a humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people in Syria. Despite ongoing efforts to deliver a small number of trucks cross-line from Damascus, there remains no alternative to delivering aid at this scale and with this scope.
This is why the Secretary-General has said a large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to save lives.
Turning to Burkina Faso, you will have seen that, over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General expressed his outrage at the killing of over a hundred civilians, including seven children, in an attack by unidentified assailants on a village in the Sahel region. He strongly condemned the heinous attack and underscored the urgent need for the international community to redouble support to Member States in the fight against violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll.
The Head of the [UN] Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, also condemned the attack and called on the Government to do its utmost to apprehend and bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.
Mr. Annadif reaffirmed the UN’s support to the Government and people of Burkina Faso in their efforts to fight terrorism and consolidate peace and development.
And on the humanitarian side of the situation there, the regional health authorities, after the attack in Burkina Faso, rushed to provide care for the wounded. Partners with medical capacity operating in the area are also mobilizing support.
At least 3,300 people — most of whom were women and children — have been displaced from the area where the attack took place and fled to other communities. Others are taking refuge in Dori, the regional capital in that area.
Today in Dori, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is convening an emergency meeting on the humanitarian response.
As we have mentioned, Burkina Faso is experiencing one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in the world, forcing more than 1 million people to flee their homes. The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan for Burkina Faso requests $608 million and targets 2.9 million people and is currently funded at only 16 per cent.
Also, to note, our OCHA colleagues are organizing a Member State briefing on the humanitarian situation in the Sahel this Friday, 11 June. The briefing will be moderated by Ramesh Rajasingham, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
At the Security Council, the Member States this morning heard from the Head of our office for the Central Africa region (UNOCA), François Louncény Fall. He told Council members that the current situation in Chad has underlined the challenges facing the subregion to address the consequences of unexpected changes in the Government. He reiterated that the priority for the United Nations will be to support the efforts of the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to accompany the transition in Chad.
His office, Mr. Fall said, will mobilize the UN system and work with relevant partners to support inclusive dialogue aimed at ensuring a rapid transition to democratic and constitutional rule in the country. But he also warned that the security dynamics in countries bordering Chad could negatively affect its internal dynamics. We and the international community, he said, should continue to engage these neighbouring countries, in close consultation with national authorities.
Turning to Sri Lanka, a quick update: our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that the latest information received from the country indicates that more than 271,000 people have been impacted and more than 26,000 displaced due to flash floods and landslides in the south-western parts of Sri Lanka.
While no formal request for international assistance has been made, the World Food Programme (WFP) in Sri Lanka has provided personal protective equipment and health safety equipment for national first responders.
The impacts of the south-west monsoon come at a time when Sri Lanka, with the support from UN agencies, are working to mitigate the environmental impact of a sinking cargo ship that occurred on 20 May off the west coast, near Colombo.
**COVID-19 — Namibia
A couple of COVID-19 notes: From Namibia, the UN team there says the country is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
At the end of last week, there were nearly 720 new cases, the highest number of confirmed cases reported in a 24-hour period since the outbreak began.
Among those reported cases were students and teachers. Authorities are shutting down schools for a short period to contain the spread.
In hospitals, intensive care units are at full capacity, and we are delivering oxygen concentrators. The UN team is also supporting the national vaccine roll-out.
We are also working to debunk myths surrounding COVID-19 by promoting science-backed facts around the vaccine and highlighting the importance of vaccination.
Peru received more than over 710,000 doses through the COVAX last week. This brings the total the country has received from COVAX to 1.6 million since March.
The Resident Coordinator, Igor Garafulic, said that COVAX demonstrates how an equitable global response is possible with global solidarity, stressing the UN team’s full support for the national vaccine campaign.
For its part, Albania received an AstraZeneca shipment from COVAX last week. The country is set to receive 120,000 doses from COVAX in total with the goal of reaching 20 per cent of the population.
As of yesterday, 800,000 doses have been administered.
The UN team continues to support the health response, providing help to vulnerable groups. It is also fighting misinformation.
We are helping Albania set up a new lab and helping to train health workers on infection prevention and control protocols.
Our team there is helping asylum seekers and migrants who have residency permits to be vaccinated. We are also working to have asylum seekers who have not yet received residency permits to be included in the vaccination plan. It’s important that anyone, in any country, receive the vaccine.
Today, a new report by the United Nations and other international organizations was released that tracks progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on energy.
The latest data shows that, while progress has been made, there are still 759 million people who lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion who lack access to clean cooking.
The report calls for the inequalities to be addressed, noting over the last decade, the number of people without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa actually increased.
The report is online.
**World Food Safety Day
Today is World Food Safety Day and the theme this year is “Food safety, everyone’s business”.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) stress that food safety is not only a crucial component to food security, but it also plays a vital role in reducing foodborne diseases. Every year, 600 million people fall sick as a result of around 200 different types of foodborne illnesses. The burden of such illnesses falls most heavily on the poor and on the young.
**Press Briefing Tomorrow
Tomorrow, we have quite a few guests. Tomorrow, I will be joined by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, along with co-facilitators of the High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS — that’s the Permanent Representative of Australia, Mitch Fifield, and the Permanent Representative of Namibia, Neville Gertze. They will be here to speak to you about the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which starts tomorrow.
Edie and then Célhia.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The coup leader [in Mali] was sworn in today as President of the Transitional Government. Does the Secretary-General have any comment? Then I have two follow-ups on Yemen.
Spokesman: Okay, I mean, on Mali we have taken note of the swearing in. We very much hope that the transition will get back on track and that the timeline that was agreed to will be honoured.
Question: On Yemen, Mark Lowcock, the OCHA head, on Friday — or on Thursday and Friday — warned that people are already dying of famine in Yemen and was urging countries everywhere to step up. Has the UN had any reaction? And has there been any reaction to the Security Council meeting on the Safer tanker and the threats it poses from the Houthis?
Spokesman: No. I mean, the threat, I mean, the reactions from the Houthis?
Spokesman: No. No reaction that I’m aware of on the Houthis/Ansar Allah front regarding us getting the right permissions and green lights to access the tanker. Every day that goes by just increases the risk of an environmental and economic and humanitarian catastrophe. On the broader humanitarian appeal no money, no new monies that I’m… has come in, as far as I’m aware. We very much hope that all Member States who have the capacity to do so will heed Mr. Lowcock’s call and donate and give to the humanitarian appeal for Yemen. Célhia?
Question: Stéphane, after the attack in the village of Solhan where 160 civilians died, I have a question which might be a little naïve. Why do we have lately so many attacks on villages and people being killed? Is it because the international community lack of politics or there is, I don’t know, a lack of willingness to fight the jihadists? What is the reason?
Spokesman: Listen, it’s not a naïve question. It’s a very valid one. I mean, the answer really is multifaceted, and one could have a very interesting conversation about it. There is the issue of security, right, the need to fight insecurity through — I mean, there are a number of bilateral forces that operate in the Sahel. There is the G5 Sahel, for which the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for greater support, for greater predicted financial support, for those countries because it is their country, those people who are fighting for their people to be supported in a way that’s adequate. There are also causes that need longer-term and deeper causes that need to be addressed. Climate change is one, obviously. We talked about the clashes between the herders and the farmers. We’ve talked about the fight for diminishing resources. We’ve talked about issues of State… the presence of the State or the lack of presence of State institutions in a lot of these places. We have pushed for a coordinated approach, whether it’s our special envoys for the Sahel, for countries to look at, for dealing with this in a coordinated approach. But it demands, as you say, greater support from the international community on all fronts. Tobias and then Saloomey.
Correspondent: Thanks, Steph, kind of an abstract question.
Spokesman: Naïve, abstract, this is the day, yeah. [laughter] Kristin, you better prepare yours.
Question: It’s on the SDG energy goals, and actually ties into food safety as well. But is there general guidance from an UN body on global economic supply chains? Both for energy, food, different industries? But, you know, just economic reform toward addressing the climate crisis through the lens of how economic supply chains works. Where would we find UN guidance for that?
Spokesman: Not on the top of my head, that is for sure. We can find you through…I mean, we have a number, you know, there are a number of UN entities and agencies that deal with. One is the Sustainable Energy for All alliance or colleagues in DESA (Department of Economic and Social Affairs), as well, but we will find you an answer to your abstract question. Kristin?
Question: A little more concrete, I think. Stéphane, an Al Jazeera journalist was arrested over the weekend covering protests in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Other journalists have been arrested there. In this case, she was accused of not having proper credentials and assaulting a police officer, all of which the network and she strongly denies. I’m just wondering if you are concerned about this trend, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah, but also, we saw what happened in Gaza with AP and Al Jazeera and so on. Do you have any reaction?
Spokesman: We are concerned. We saw those reports. We are concerned about the trend globally. I mean, we are seeing it in so many either in conflict zones or in places where there are demonstrations with the authorities or blocking journalists from doing their work, which is reporting. Journalists need to be protected everywhere. Abdelhamid?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. And thank you, Saloomey, for taking the questions about Jarrah and Givara Budeiri. And I want to add that her camera was broken. She was roughed up by the police and there was an outcry for her release, and she was released. However, we didn’t hear from any of the UN officials, or I don’t know about. So, you can correct me if there was any statement, too.
Spokesman: I was asked the question Abdelhamid, and I reacted. Did you have another question?
Question: Yes. I do have two questions, in fact. Also, Mona el-Kurd and her brother, Mohammed, who became very well-known for their steadfastness and their [inaudible], both arrested and they were released also a day after when their father was sitting in front of Israeli Court. Also, I was expecting something to come from the UN about their arrest and I was disappointed again that the UN did not say anything, unless I don’t know about it, and I will apologize if there was any statement.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think on the issue of Sheikh Jarrah, I think various UN entities, notably UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), has been very vocal. Mr. [Philippe] Lazzarini visited the area not too long ago and we continue to follow the situation very closely.
Question: Okay, and I have a question. You said about the PGA (President of the General Assembly) elect, Shahid (sha-HEED), and the woman who introduced him said Shahid (SHA-hid). And there are two, Shahid (SHA-hid) means witness and Shahid (Sha-HEED) means martyr. So, I want to be sure how do you pronounce the last name of the new elected President of the GA, SHA-hid or Sha-HEED?
Spokesman: As always on these issues, you are correct, Abdelhamid. I mispronounced it. And it should be SHA-hid from what Farhan [Haq], in fact, told me just before walking to this room; but I had forgotten in the few yards between this, my office and the podium. So, thank you.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay, Mr. Gladstone?
Question: Hi, Steph. Thank you. Forgive me if I missed this but has been there any update on the dues dispute between Iran and the UN? Steph, we left it last week that you were pretty close to or working on a solution?
Spokesman: I don’t want to go into details, but my understanding is that we do remain close. Every side in this, involved in this is trying to resolve it. And, as I mentioned earlier, there is no lack of goodwill on either the UN side or the Iranian side to try to get this in. And the Iranians clearly want to pay, and we clearly want to get their money. So, we are all working towards the same goal.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay, Mr. Bulkaty.
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. I have just a little follow-up on this question on the Iran’s payment. As far as…if I’m wrong please correct me. If I understand it correctly, Iran made a payment to South Korean branch of some UN bank, body, or something. And can you explain what’s the problem? Why the money cannot reach?
Spokesman: I don’t…we are dealing with a fairly complex financial transaction. I don’t want to get into it at this point from here. We are trying to get the money, working with different entities and parties involved in this. Okay, hasta mañana, why not. Yeah.