The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon to all of you.
Today we’re very fortunate to be joined by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator [Martin Griffiths]. He’ll be briefing us from Doha on the situation in Afghanistan. Just before we get to him, I wanted to remind you that, as we advised in a statement issued on Sunday, at the request of the Secretary-General, Mr. Griffiths was in Kabul, where he met with Mullah Baradar and the leadership of the Taliban to engage with the authorities on humanitarian issues. I also want to remind you that, on Friday, the Secretary‑General announced that he will travel to Geneva to convene a high‑level ministerial humanitarian meeting on 13 September to address the growing needs in the country.
Over the weekend, on Sunday, the Secretary-General spoke to the Vice-Premier of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. The Secretary-General expressed his deep appreciation to Qatar for their support of the UN’s various operational needs of our Afghan operations. He also thanked the Vice-Premier for Qatar’s overall engagement on the situation in Afghanistan. Having said that, I want to turn the floor to Martin Griffiths.
We will now turn to the other part of our briefing. First, turning to Guinea. The Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamet Saleh Annadif, is coordinating with the UN system and is in touch with national actors in Guinea and immediate neighbors. Mr. Annadif has been interacting with the President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Foreign Minister of Ghana, the current ECOWAS Chair and the President of the African Union Commission, in order to ensure a coordinated UN-ECOWAS-African Union response. The Special Representative will participate in the ECOWAS extraordinary summit on 8 September and will hold further meetings at ECOWAS headquarters on 9 September. On Saturday, in a tweet, the Secretary‑General said that he is personally following the situation in Guinea very closely. He strongly condemned any takeover of the government by force of the gun and called for the immediate release of President Alpha Conde.
In South Sudan, following fresh fighting, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is appealing to national and local leaders to resolve tensions in the town of Tambura and in the wider Western Equatorian region. Yesterday, there were reports of sporadic shooting between groups in Tambura, endangering the lives of civilians, creating the risk of further displacement, and increasing humanitarian needs. This incident follows rising tension and violence over the past few months. Over 40,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. The Mission has extended the duration of the temporary base established in Tambura several weeks ago when fighting first broke out. This base allows peacekeepers to carry out day and night patrols and helps provide a protective presence for civilians, including displaced families. On the justice front, our colleagues are providing technical support and capacity building for rule of law institutions. To reduce incidents of hate speech, transmission of UN-operated Radio Miraya has also been established in the area.
Moving to Ethiopia: The World Food Programme (WFP) said that, this month, it started delivering emergency relief food assistance to communities in regions bordering war-torn Tigray. In coordination with Ethiopia’s Federal and Regional Government authorities, WFP plans to immediately reach 530,000 people in Afar and 250,000 people in Amhara, but will scale up as needs increase and if funding is received. Meanwhile in Tigray, food security continues to worsen as WFP and its partners struggle to scale up and meet the urgent food needs of 5.2 million people across the region.
Food stocks held by WFP and partners had been almost entirely depleted until yesterday, when the first convoy for over two weeks entered the region. The WFP‑led convoy of more than 100 trucks carried 3,500 metric tons of food and other life-saving cargo — including fuel, health and shelter items. According to WFP, across Ethiopia, more than 13.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure due to the prolonged combined effects of drought, flooding, desert locust invasions, market disruptions, high food prices and the COVID-19 pandemic — all aggravated by the recent conflict spreading across northern parts of the country. WFP is calling for an additional $426 million to expand its emergency food assistance response over the next six months, as well as provide long-term food security solutions for people as they enter the annual hunger season.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has noted the release, on 5 September, of Al-Saadi Qadhafi, along with Ahmed Ramadan and six other officials of the former regime who were detained for seven or more years. Mr. Qadhafi’s release is in compliance with a legal order following his acquittal by a Libyan court in 2019. These releases represent a significant step towards respect for the rule of law and human rights and a positive development that can contribute to a rights-based national reconciliation process and further foster national unity. In this regard, UNSMIL commends the efforts of the Government of National Unity, the Presidency Council and judicial authorities. UNSMIL reiterates its calls on Libyan authorities to promptly release thousands of persons who remain arbitrarily detained in facilities across Libya.
We have been asked about the decision of El Salvador’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to allow the President’s immediate re-election. We note that this decision comes on the heels of the replacement of the Constitutional Chamber’s magistrates on 1 May, which already raised concern regarding the impact on the independence of the judiciary and the exercise of effective checks and balances. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the respect of constitutional provisions, the rule of law and the separation of powers in order to preserve the democratic progress achieved by the Salvadoran people since the signing of the 1992 peace agreements.
I have a couple of COVAX updates for you. Costa Rica has received nearly half a million doses of COVAX-backed vaccines. Meanwhile, Guatemala received nearly 170,000 doses of vaccines last week. This brings the total number of doses received in Guatemala via COVAX to over half a million. While more than 36 million doses of vaccines have been delivered to 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean through COVAX, our colleagues at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) warn that 75 per cent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean has yet to be fully vaccinated and more than a third of the countries in the region have yet to vaccinate 20 per cent of their populations. PAHO is accelerating its drive to expand vaccine access throughout the region, as are our UN teams on the ground working alongside authorities.
**COVID-19 — Jordan
Our team in Jordan continues to work with authorities to tackle the pandemic and address misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. To address the needs of the vulnerable population – including refugees, migrants and women in rural areas – the UN team, led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO), trained 200 colleagues from various agencies and provided them with technical information about the vaccine, behavioural change and communication skills. They will complement efforts under the Secretary-General’s Verified initiative, alongside national campaigns to engage in community-level conversations to boost vaccination. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also supported the appointment of six refugee medical specialists in hospitals across the country, and the country team recruited 10 UN Volunteers to boost the national COVID-19 hotline.
**Clean Air for Blue Skies
Today is the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. Today, as many as 9 out of 10 people breathe polluted air, leading to some 7 million premature deaths each year, of whom 600,000 are children. In his message, the Secretary‑General says that, unless we act decisively, this number could double by 2050. He calls on countries to do more to improve air quality through better monitoring, stronger emissions standards on vehicles, power plants, construction and other industries. He also calls to accelerate access to clean cooking and clean heating and to increase investment in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. His full message is online.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
I have a personnel appointment for you. The Secretary-General is appointing Mr. Christian Ritscher of the Federal Republic of Germany as the Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). You will recall that this post was established by Security Council resolution 2379 (2017) to support domestic efforts to hold Da’esh accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Mr. Ritscher will succeed Karim Asad Ahmad Khan of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who was the first Special Adviser of UNITAD and held the position from July 2018 until his resignation, effective 15 June 2021. The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to Mr. Khan for his contributions towards the pursuit of accountability for crimes committed by Da’esh and his efforts with regard to the speedy establishment and full functioning of UNITAD. Mr. Ritscher previously served as a Federal Public Prosecutor at the German Federal Court of Justice, and he has more than 30 years of professional experience in international and domestic criminal law prosecutions and investigations.
And last, tomorrow, Alison Davidian, the Deputy Country Representative of UN‑Women in Afghanistan, will join us virtually from Kabul to brief on the situation on the ground. So that is it. Are there any questions for me? Yes, Philippe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Today, several NGOs [non-governmental organizations] asked to postpone the COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties]. What is your reaction?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, on that what I can say is that we understand and respect the concerns expressed by various groups. However, the global scientific community has made clear that climate change is now a global emergency and only an urgent and major step up in climate action can keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach and protect the most vulnerable countries and communities from worsening climate impacts. In light of this scientifically established urgency, further delay or second postponement of COP26 is no longer feasible. For now, no changes are planned, but we understand that the concerns. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, is working with the UK Government to make the COP as safe and as inclusive as possible, including offering vaccines to all participants and paying for hotel quarantine costs where quarantine is required. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, I didn’t get a sense from Mr. Griffiths whether humanitarian aid is actually being delivered in Afghanistan and if so, where? And who flew him in and out of the Kabul airport? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as he pointed out, yeah, there were arrangements. It was negotiated so that he could go through Kabul airport. And as we have made clear, we’ve also have been very thankful to the Government of Qatar for its help in our efforts regarding this. Beyond that, he made clear to you that he is negotiating how humanitarian aid can be provided and is working with the relevant officials, including at the technical level, to make sure that we can get a resumption of that. And of course, we are doing as much as we can to distribute humanitarian aid with our current capacities on the ground. UNAMA continues to be present. And we do continue with humanitarian work. And we will provide updates as we get more deliveries in. Yes, please. Yes, yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Today, as you know, the Taliban announced a Government. Can you please say, do you find it inclusive — this Government? And am I right in understanding that the UN will recognize and will continue to interact with this Government?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think Mr. Griffiths spelled out the level of what our interactions are. As you know, the UN Secretariat and the UN doesn’t engage in acts of recognition of Governments. That is a matter that’s done by Member States, not by us. From our standpoint, regarding today’s announcement, only a negotiated and inclusive settlement will bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan. The United Nations remains committed to contribute to a peaceful solution, promote the human rights of all Afghans, notably women and girls, promote sustainable development in line with Agenda 2030, and provide life‑saving humanitarian assistance and critical support to civilians in need. Yes, Ibtisam?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. One is on the General Assembly and COVID. As you know, usually when you arrive to the US, after you arrive, you…there is…you’re not required to take a test, COVID test, et cetera. So, my question is: are you going to take additional measures to ensure the security, given the fact that in the US, the number of cases are actually going up? And then the other question is on Syria and whether you have any updates or anything regarding the fights there in the south and… yeah, thank you?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding the issues in the General Assembly, I think for us, the crucial thing is that all of the incoming delegates have to abide by the relevant health protocols of the US Government and including of the authorities in New York State and New York City. We don’t have additional requirements of them. But, I believe you’ve been to briefings about how we will try to keep this building safe in terms of the numbers being allowed in and the procedures for masking. Bu,t we don’t have additional requirements over and above what the US authorities have. Oh, and one second here. And so, regarding your second question on Syria, I just want to say that we continue to follow the situation in Daraa al-Balad with concern. And we have called for an immediate de-escalation, protection of civilians, and full humanitarian access to reach all those affected. And we are not a party to the reported ceasefire agreements, but we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.
Question: Is there somebody from the…on the ground there? Are you able to bring any humanitarian assistance or…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, so we have been providing humanitarian assistance to the area. And we are going to continue to try to provide humanitarian assistance throughout the parts of Syria that need it, including to Daraa al-Balad. Yes, please? Yes.
Question: Susan from WEON News India. Just a follow‑up on the Taliban… excuse me, on this new Government that was formed. Some of these members are on the UN sanctions list, so I was wondering will the UN ultimately recognize this Taliban Government and how will that work when some of them are on the UN list and then some of them aren’t?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, again, as I explained to your colleague, the UN doesn’t engage in recognition of Governments. That’s an issue for member Governments to do. Regarding the sanctions list, as you know, under resolution 1267 (1999), there is a sanctions list. And it’s up to the members of the Security Council and the relevant 1267 Sanctions Committee to see whether names are added or omitted or dropped from those lists. The list has changed over the years and names have been dropped, but that has to follow a procedure in the Security Council itself. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, I had wanted to ask Mr. Griffiths if Mullah Baradar had said he wanted to send his own, his Government’s own representative to the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that’s really a question for the Taliban authorities to answer. It’s nothing for us to be able to evaluate from here.
Question: But, my question was: Did he talk to Martin Griffiths about this?
Deputy Spokesman: I think Mr. Griffiths gave you a fairly lengthy rundown of the topics that they discussed. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On 16 July, the United States and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] signed a memorandum of understanding. In this memorandum, the US dictates to UNRWA how to behave, how to recruit, how to scrutinize the staff, how not to express their affiliation or their ideologies. And how to even change the curriculum for schools. I think this is a kind of interference, direct interference. It’s a precedent that a Member State dictates to an UN agency what to do and how to behave. If you cannot answer me, why they did that, I really request someone from UNRWA to come and answer all these questions. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: From our standpoint, UNRWA interacts with a variety of Member States to address their concerns. And we trust that UNRWA does a professional job and its staff do professional jobs. But, we are aware that different Member States, including donor Governments and others with whom UNRWA interacts, have had concerns about its practices. And it’s in dialogue with them to address that. And that’s part of its own responsibilities.
Correspondent: This is a written agreement. This is something not only just expressing hope that UNRWA will do this and do that. This is more than that. It goes beyond.
Deputy Spokesman: Again, this is part of the regular interactions that UNRWA has with countries to address their own concerns and make sure that the work that we do is objective and is… and the professionalism of our staff is respected by all.
Question: So you say that donations, it’s okay to be granted under conditions?
Deputy Spokesman: No. What I’m saying is that this is part of a normal dialogue. And, indeed, other UN agencies also engage in dialogues with donors and others to address whatever concerns they have about our practices. So, that is a standard part of the work that UN agencies do.
Question: Can you please arrange for the Commissioner General, Mr. [Philippe] Lazzarini, to brief us on that or any other issue?
Deputy Spokesman: We will see whether UNRWA is interested in a briefing along those lines. All right. Have a good afternoon, everyone.