The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Following this briefing, we’ll also have a briefing with the Under-Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov. He will brief you on this week’s High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism.
Because he is in a meeting on counter-terrorism right now, he may run a little bit late, so whenever this part of the briefing is done, we might suspend, but keep this room open because he will come a little bit later, whenever his meeting finishes.
Today in Paris, the Secretary-General spoke at the Generation Equality Forum. He said that gender parity is essentially a question of power and that this power is rarely given, but needs to be taken. In that regard, the Forum is a big part of this grass-roots movement to obtain power by creating coalitions and to rebalance power globally.
He identified five main areas for urgent action: defending equal rights for women and repealing discriminatory laws; ensuring equal representation; advancing the economic inclusion of women through equal pay and job protection; making each country adopt a national emergency plan to combat violence against women and girls; and giving the necessary space for the intergenerational transition underway and for young people.
He also mentioned the UN’s own effort to achieve gender parity at its senior levels. He added that, since achieving this parity, he’s seen a difference in the quality of decisions made, in the atmosphere in the Organization and in the capacity to include a gender perspective in every area of the UN’s work.
The Secretary-General noted that the Forum marks the start of a new dynamic bringing together activists and leaders of all ages, aiming to transform our world.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with President Emmanuel Macron and took part in a lunch hosted by the President with the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and members of civil society, whom he thanked for their participation in the Forum. He assured them that they can count on the UN’s support and partnership going forward to turn shared goals into concrete actions.
He will be in Valencia tomorrow to visit the UN logistics hub and mark its tenth anniversary.
Our humanitarian colleagues on the ground in Ethiopia say that the situation in Tigray remains extremely fluid and unpredictable. Since the Ethiopia National Defence Force (ENDF) withdrew from Mekelle, the town remains under the full control of the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF). That is also the case in Adigrat, Adwa, Axum and Shire.
The situation is largely calm in Mekelle and Shire, but there are reports of ongoing fighting in certain pockets throughout the region. Electricity and telecommunications remain cut off throughout Tigray, with communications only possible via intermittent satellite phone connection and VSAT Internet connections in two UN compounds in Mekelle and one in Shire.
All parties to the conflict must protect civilians and refrain from obstructing the free movement of humanitarian workers and supplies, both within the region and to re-establish access to the region by air and roads. It is urgent to get additional staff and supplies into Tigray, restore electricity and telecoms, and ensure that cash and fuel are available throughout the region for the continuity of humanitarian operations.
We continue to closely monitor the situation and reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate end to the fighting and for urgent steps to peacefully resolve the conflict.
Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, on the Iranian nuclear issue.
She said that the context for the implementation of the JCPOA and resolution 2231 (2015) has improved considerably since last year. The continued diplomatic efforts in Vienna, she said, offer a critical opportunity for both the United States and Iran to return to the full and effective implementation of the Plan and of the resolution. This would be a welcome and crucial development.
Ms. DiCarlo said it is essential that all Member States promote a conducive environment and avoid any action that may have a negative impact on these ongoing diplomatic efforts, as well as on regional stability. She echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal to the United States to lift or waive its sanctions outlined in the Plan, extend the waivers with regard to the trade in oil with Iran and to once again facilitate nuclear-related activities consistent with the Plan and the resolution.
And she called on Iran to resume the temporary technical understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) without delay, to refrain from taking further steps to reduce its commitments, and to return to full implementation of the Plan.
**Botswana – COVID-19
From Botswana, which is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, our UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Zia Choudhury, says it is ramping up its response efforts. More than 1,200 new cases were reported on 28 June alone.
The Resident Coordinator reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to help the country cope with the pandemic by boosting health systems and addressing the wider social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
Of the total population of 2.3 million people, nearly 160,000 people had received the first dose of vaccine, while more than 84,000 people were fully vaccinated, as of last week.
UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] is working with national health authorities on vaccines, health systems and risk communications, and has also partnered with the national Red Cross to protect children.
For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is bringing in a team to support the national COVID-19 response and is conducting biosafety security training for healthcare workers. WHO is also helping authorities with data analysis, interpretation and dissemination.
A new UN report released today says that the crash in international tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic could cause a loss of more than $4 trillion to the global gross domestic product (GDP) last year and this year. The estimated loss is due to the pandemic’s direct impact on tourism and the ripple effect on other closely-linked sectors. The report, published jointly by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), says the tourism sector’s recovery will largely depend on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines globally.
**Press Briefings Tomorrow
And, like I had said just now, we do expect Mr. Voronkov a little bit later. We’ll squawk once he’s ready to come to this room.
Then, tomorrow, the guest will be the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram, who will brief on the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, taking place from 6 to 15 July.
Then, at 3 p.m., there will be an in-person briefing by Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, President of the Security Council for the month of July and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations.
And that is it for me. I’m ready to take any questions. Are there any questions from the room? If not, I will go to the chat. Oh, here. Yes. Go right ahead, Toby?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi. Thanks very much, Farhan. So, sorry that we came in late to the briefing, by the way. Apologies for that. But just wanted to make sure I understood the Ethiopia update. We have no sign of an actual ceasefire despite a unilateral declaration of one. Is that right?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, obviously, there’s been a declaration of a ceasefire. You’ll have seen the statement that the Secretary‑General put out on Monday concerning that. We welcome any adherence to that. At the same time, like I said, right now, on the ground, the situation does remain extremely fluid and unpredictable. In the main areas where there had been fighting a few days ago, Mekelle and Shire, the situation is largely reported as calm, but there is still some ongoing fighting in certain pockets.
Question: Sorry. One more, on North Korea, is… do… is there any sign that there’s a serious humanitarian situation occurring there? There was some powerful statements reported yesterday.
Deputy Spokesman: We’ve been in touch with our office, our country team, there. There’s nothing… no information that the Resident Coordinator or the country team have about any such situation at this point. Of course, we’ll continue to monitor.
Question: So, is the pandemic having an effect there?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have an update on the COVID‑19 numbers. Obviously, the pandemic has had an effect everywhere, and we’re trying to support each and every country with their efforts, but there’s been no particular information on this to provide regarding any severity of outbreak. Okay. Abdelhamid, you have a question?
Question: Yes, Farhan. Thank you. Yesterday and today, Israel is demolishing 17 homes in the neighbourhood of Silwan, and I asked the question yesterday, and I thought that such an incident with that magnitude deserves more than just answering a question. There was no statement, no official statement, about this demolishing leaving hundreds of Palestinians homeless. What do you say to that?
Deputy Spokesman: What do I say to your opinion, or do you have an actual question?
Question: Why there is no statement by any UN senior official about demolishing 17 houses in Silwan?
Deputy Spokesman: Not to contradict you, but Stéphane [Dujarric] was speaking as the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General and responded to your question yesterday. Our position is what he articulated then.
Question: Haven’t I asked the question there will be no readout? I mean, at the end of it, this is a big incident. This is a major development. This is expulsion. This is a war crime, the very definition of the war crime in the UN system, and there was no statement unless I ask a question, then there was an answer.
Deputy Spokesman: I think you’re complaining about the format in which something is delivered. What I can do is repeat what Stéphane said, which is that the Secretary‑General reiterates his call on the Israeli authorities to cease demolitions and evictions in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Yes, please, Mr. Fathi? Welcome back to the briefing.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. It’s great to be back to the UN after 15 months. So, let me go back to Ethiopia, where the developments are happening. Yesterday, Stéphane was asked about Tigray, and he said that there is a track or a file regarding Tigrayan humanitarian and military situation, as well as there is another file regarding the GERD, the [Grand Ethiopian] Renaissance Dam, which is promised to be a time bomb with the Egyptians and the Sudanese on the other side, the perceived dam as an existential threat.
The Secretary‑General is involved with both tracks in the Ethiopian dilemma that we are facing. What is the Secretary‑General’s assessment exactly? Since the water resources and lack of it, we have seen, in many parts, is an ignition point for military escalation. Is the Secretary‑General… First, I’m interested to know the Secretary‑General assessment on the situation in Ethiopia, both… for both crises, the Tigray part and the GERD part.
The second part, does the Secretary‑General foresee that this escalation can result in military action, and if so, what is the current pre-emptive measures he’s taking? Thank you. And I’m sorry for the prolonged questioning.
Deputy Spokesman: It’s okay. The Secretary‑General has been in touch with a number of leaders about this issue, and he continues to closely follow developments related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. He reiterates his position that the issue can only be resolved through dialogue and compromise. The Secretary‑General calls on all parties to resume meaningful dialogue as a matter of urgency, and he once again expresses the full support of the UN to the African Union’s mediation efforts. And in that regard, he has been in touch, not just with the leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, but also with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has been acting as the AU mediator in this.
Question: Follow‑up, please. That’s admirable, I know what the Secretary‑General action is doing. I’m asking about what is the Secretary‑General’s assessment, and does he see that the GERD file or crisis can lead to military confrontation, as it’s been building up on the Sudanese border?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t want to speculate on that. Obviously, his assessment is, as I’ve just mentioned, he is concerned about these developments, and he’s been closely monitoring this. We need to bear in mind that, for millennia, there have been tens of thousands of people, really entire communities, who have been dependent on the Nile, and we need to bear in mind the vital importance of the Nile River to the overall well‑being of the nations of Egypt and Sudan and Ethiopia.
And with that, I believe our guest is coming here, so I’m going to turn over to our guest, who will be coming right now, Mr. Vladimir Voronkov. One second, let me just see whether he’s in the back or not.