The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Food Systems Summit
This morning, at the opening of the UN Food Systems Summit, the Secretary‑General stressed that we must build a world where healthy and nutritious food is available and affordable for everyone, everywhere. He noted that the COVID‑19 pandemic has plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the spectre of famine in a growing number of countries. At the same time, he added, we are waging a war against nature and reaping the bitter harvest of ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems. The Secretary‑General stressed that food systems can and must play a leading role in addressing all of the challenges [to realize] the Sustainable Development Goals. Those remarks have been shared with you.
At 12.30 p.m., Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary‑General, will be here to brief you on the Food Systems Summit. She will be joined virtually by Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture; Ibrahim Mayaki, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Union Development Agency’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development; and Ville Skinnari, the Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland.
This morning, the Secretary‑General also spoke at an early Security Council meeting entitled, “The High‑level Open Debate on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Climate and Security”. He said that our window of opportunity to prevent the worst climate impacts is rapidly closing and that much bolder climate action is needed ahead of COP26 (twenty‑sixth session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to maintain international peace and security.
The Secretary‑General said that climate adaptation and peacebuilding can and should reinforce each other and that dialogue to better share and manage resources is essential to achieve our climate goals and ensure that people have access to sustainable livelihoods. He also said that we are developing new solutions as an Organization to reduce our carbon footprint and shift energy supply to renewable energy producers, with the intention of supporting renewable energy capacities in all our peacekeeping missions. His remarks are online.
Moving on to Afghanistan: our colleagues there tell us that humanitarian operations continue across Afghanistan. The UN Humanitarian Air Service is operating flights, almost daily, to different provinces and including to Kabul. UN cross‑country road movements have been re‑established for the first time in several years. Ahead of the September‑October winter wheat planting season, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is procuring more than 8,500 metric tons of wheat seeds to help more than 170,000 vulnerable families. For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is supporting the construction of causeways and other disaster risk mitigation infrastructure in Nangarhar Province.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is improving access to its basic services for communities impacted by conflict and displacement, including road construction in Khost Province to boost access to services, markets and employment. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is also supporting a hospital in Herat Province with emergency reproductive health supplies covering the treatment of around 1,500 medical and surgical cases.
For its part, our friends at the [World Food Programme] warned that a survey conducted by the Agency showed that only 5 per cent of households in Afghanistan have enough to eat every day. WFP said that job losses, lack of cash and soaring prices of food are creating a new class of hungry people in Afghanistan.
On 13 September, which was last week, as you will recall — two weeks ago — donors pledged more than $1.2 billion for humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan. To date, more than $121 million, 20 per cent of the $606 million required through the end of the year, has been received. We urge donors to disburse pledges as quickly as possible. We can only work with cash. We cannot work with pledges. This is important so we can keep getting life‑saving assistance, including food, medicines, health care and protection to those Afghans who need it the most.
Turning to Yemen, our colleagues say that the humanitarian crisis in the country is continuing to worsen. Fighting in various parts of the country – including in Shabwa and Ma’rib – is increasing displacement and civilian casualties. A third wave of COVID‑19 threatens to crash the country’s health‑care system. And the Yemeni currency is at record lows, wiping out people’s incomes and pushing food prices beyond their reach.
With the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan just over 50 per cent funded, aid agencies warn that critical life‑saving programmes, including food assistance, water and sanitation, will be drastically reduced without additional funding. Yesterday, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union co‑hosted a high‑level side event on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Yesterday’s event represented a strong demonstration of solidarity with the people of Yemen.
I have a COVAX update for you from Latin America and the Caribbean. Our UN teams there, in that region, tell us that they continue to support authorities in the region to address the multiple impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic. They are also supporting vaccine campaigns. Hundreds of thousands of COVAX‑backed vaccine doses arrived recently in Argentina, Bolivia and Honduras.
And lastly, I just have a statement to read out on the passing of a former colleague of ours, John Ruggie. We were deeply saddened at the passing on 16 September of John Ruggie, the former UN Assistant Secretary‑General and close adviser to Secretaries‑General. Mr. Ruggie was a renowned scholar and academic who brought his wisdom and vision to several landmark United Nations initiatives.
He played a key role in crafting the Millennium Development Goals and contributed to the launch of the UN Global Compact back in 2000. He was also the architect of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The “Ruggie Principles”, as they have become known, have since made their way into numerous national laws and have helped to shape and elevate the importance of human rights in business.
The Secretary‑General conveys his deepest condolences to John’s family, and he trusts that they will take comfort in the immense impact he had on the world. I think those of us who were fortunate to have worked with John on those years are deeply saddened by his passing, but his legacy does live on. Madame?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I’d like to know, Deborah Lyons, the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary‑General) in Afghanistan, is she still working from Kazakhstan?
Spokesman: No, she is in Kabul, and she’s been back in Kabul for…
Question: When did she come… go back?
Spokesman: She came back, I think, last week.
Question: Because I heard she was the first one to be in the UN plane at first and she… she left behind the local people? Is it true?
Spokesman: She’s not the first one to be… she did not… okay. Let’s rewind a little bit. Ms. Lyons was in Kabul until, if I recall, very late in August, at some of the most difficult time. She had a… there was a family emergency that she had to be there for. She was in Kazakhstan. There was also, as I will remind you, the two deputy special representatives were and remained in Kabul the whole time. We also tried to rotate some of those senior leadership out. I… and as I will, again, restate, there remains… it will… remained more than 100 international staff that never left Kabul, and our national staff are also there. We have been very, very much focused on keeping the national staff safe. To date, that has been successful, and we will continue to emphasize that. Benno?
Spokesman: Okay. Let’s…
Question: Brazilian President [Jair] Bolsonaro is in quarantine Brazil for at least five days, reportedly, and you also said that the whole delegation will go into quarantine after at least two COVID cases during their visit in New York and here at the Headquarters. Can you tell me, is it right now… how does it stand? Is it still two cases? Is there more cases? Did you find out anything else?
Spokesman: We have not… I mean, I just got off the phone with our medical director. There have been no new cases reported besides the one… notably, the one that we reported on in the last 24 hours or so. So, there have been no cases reported to us. So, that’s… I mean, I can only go by what’s being reported. We have… as we’ve said, we have been in touch with the… we’ve looked into all the potential exposure to UN staff that were present in the GA Hall. Contact tracing has been done. And just to make sure everybody has the same information, the person in question did not meet with the Secretary‑General and was not part of the bilateral between the Brazilian President and the Secretary‑General.
Question: And just a follow-up and the request for two confirmations. Is it so still two cases, as far as we know? And is it correct that parts of the delegation are quarantining in New York, including the Health Minister?
Spokesman: On your second part, that’s really for the Brazilian Mission to speak for itself. It’s my understanding, but again, that’s… an understanding is not a fact. You should check with them. And I’m not aware of any new cases. Okay. Fathi?
Question: A follow‑up. The Secretary‑General and his senior staff who are engaging with the Heads of States and Governments who are visiting, are they tested on a daily basis?
Spokesman: No, I mean, for…
Question: For the Secretary-General.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is masked the whole time. And tests are conducted when the medical officers feel it is appropriate. Stefano?
Question: Is… a follow-up on a question I asked last week on Haiti…
Spokesman: On? On, I’m sorry?
Correspondent: Migrants or refugees… Haiti.
Question: The Haitians, mig… with, in Texas. In this case, does the Secretary… how does Secretary‑General call… calls them? Are they… are those Haitian there refugees or migrants?
Spokesman: Look, I would refer to you to what the head of UNHCR said on the issue. Mr. [Filippo] Grandi was very clear in saying that the… he was concerned and shocked at the images that were seen… that had been seen on TV and added that the mass expulsions currently under way without screening for protection needs are inconsistent with international norms and may constitute refoulement.
Correspondent: So… translation is: they are refugees.
Spokesman: The issue of whether a person is a migrant and… or a refugee depends on, obviously, the screening process and what people claim. What Mr. Grandi is expressing here is his deep concern at what he is seeing and what he’s hearing is going on in… as it relates to the Haitians.
Question: A quick follow-up. I’m sorry, Stéphane. I respect Filippo Grandi very much. I think he’s doing excellent work, but I think the Secretary‑General, when he speaks, has more weight, in a sense, if the Secretary‑General say something, the world will hear more than…
Spokesman: I’m fully aware of those differences in voices. Mr. Grandi speaks for the UN system on issues having to do with refugees and related issue. The Secretary‑General has no… of course, no issue with what he’s saying. Kaitlin, if that’s you, yeah.
Question: So, does the UN have no role then in what the HRW (Human Rights Watch), Amnesty [International], even the US’ own envoy to Haiti has described as inhumane and even racist?
Spokesman: No, we have no role on the southern border of the United States, as far as I know. No, no, I know, so let me go through the different steps. We are present and have been present, including UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and others, on the northern border of Mexico, where we have seen over the years a large accumulation of migrants who are on the move and others who need humanitarian help, and we’re present there. On arrival in Haiti, we just checked in with our colleagues there, and we are providing assistance to those people who are arriving back. Lenka, and then Abdelhamid. Yeah?
Question: Do we have the number of swipes from Tuesday by any chance? Thank you.
Spokesman: It’s a very good question. I did not see them, but my terrific office, who I hope is listening to this briefing, will send me the numbers.
Question: It would be great to have comparison with 2019 and 2020.
Spokesman: Yeah, that’s easy enough. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The situation in Libya might be going out of hand after General Khalifa Haftar stepped down for only three months of his military post in preparation for himself to be nominated as President. What happened after the parliament suspended the confidence in the National Unity Government and the rejection of the National Unity Government of their decision of no confidence? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think we’ve expressed our concern at some of the latest developments in that country. There is… there have been agreements reached by a number of… there’s been agreements reached by a number of Libyan parties, notably towards the elections that would take place in late December. For the sake of the Libyan people, it is very important that all of the Libyan leaders work towards the interests of the people. Thank you. Evelyn, and then we’ll go to Ibtisam.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéph. Is there any update on Tunisia now that its representatives are here and the last week it seems to have shed the last vestiges of democracy?
Spokesman: Look, we’re, obviously, following very closely what’s going on in Tunisia. We, again, encourage all the relevant political actors to resolve their issues through inclusive dialogue in line with the democratic values of Tunisia. We are committed to continue to support Tunisia’s democratic institutions, as well as its response to the ongoing pandemic. Ibtisam and then…
Question: On Libya, what’s your position actually on the declaration of the east parliament… the parliament in east Libya that they withdraw their support to the Government? And then, on Yemen and the meeting yesterday, you said that countries showed their solidarity with the Libyan [sic] people, but the question is if this translated into pledged or any cash…?
Spokesman: Yeah. I don’t have the updated number. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to process the money that’s… was announced and to figure out what’s new, what’s not new. So, there’s… there is, I’m sure, colleagues in OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) with little green visors going through the numbers. On Libya, I think you may have seen… I mean, there was a lot of stuff going on, but on Tuesday, I think the Mission put out a press release in which they expressed their concern about the decision taken by the House of Representatives and asked for parties to follow and stick to that electoral timetable, which has already been agreed and is a critical step on Libya’s return to democracy. Evelyn… sorry. Okay. Jennifer. Jennifer? Okay.
Question: As you probably know, this is happening while there’s been considerable criticism of it from various civil society groups and, I think, from the UN’s own Special Rapporteur on food issues. Is the Secretary‑General disappointed?
Spokesman: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. If I could… I will… how about I do this? I will call on you first when the Deputy Secretary‑General comes in in about seven to eight minutes. And referring back to Stefano’s remark, when she speaks, it’s more powerful than when I speak, so…. Who has… yes, all the way in the back. I can’t recognize you with the green mask. Oh, there we go. Okay. Now I… Mario, welcome back. Yeah.
Question: Stéph, following up on the letter that you received from the Taliban authorities, have you had any further communications with them or with the Credentials Committee to arrange for any possible travel?
Spokesman: No, so, there’s been no new developments on that front. The letters, as we said, have been sent to the Credentials Committee. They will take that up whenever they feel they will take it up. Carla. I’ll come back to you.
Question: Thank you. Last week, I asked you about our colleague who works for La Prensa Latina.
Spokesman: Yeah, I know, yeah.
Question: Yeah. Have you… is there any more progress on dealing with the host country? And what excuse are they giving?
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of. That’s a question… I don’t speak for the host country. I speak for the institution they are hosting. David?
Question: Thank you. On the P5 meeting with the Secretary‑General, he called on the P5 to coordinate and mitigate the emerging humanitarian crisis and prevent an economic collapse, according to the State Department. What sort of measures, what sort of ideas did he have to do that? Did he call on countries specifically to ease an economic collapse by doing specific things?
Spokesman: Well, I think part of it is ensuring that the cash can flow into the Afghan economy, get to those people who need it, right, get to… giving us the United Nations the resources to buy humanitarian aid, to distribute humanitarian aid. I think, as he said a number of times, an economic collapse of Afghanistan would have a catastrophic impact, obviously, on the people of Afghanistan but on the stability of the country and the region as a whole. Benno, and then we’ll go back to Ibtisam and Abdelhamid.
Question: I’d like to follow up to Mario’s question about the Taliban. Do you… could you tell us if the Secretary‑General thinks that a representative here in New York for the Taliban would be an upside for actually negotiating humanitarian issues and so on and so on and so on?
Spokesman: Well, and so on and so on and so on. [Laughter] Yadda, yadda, yadda, as they say, yeah. The… it’s a very interesting question, but it boils down to the rules and regulations of this Organization. There are rules and regulations in terms of credentials, who gets to sit in the chair behind a nameplate. Those rules are pretty clear. It is now up to the Credentials Committee to take a decision. And I will leave it at that. I’ll come back to you. Ibtisam? Ibtisam, please.
Question: So, a follow-up on… two follow-ups, both Afghanistan. So, the issue of the Credentials Committee, is it… is it only has to do with ambassador, I thought, and who represents any country regarding their ambassador here, but it is not clear to me if it also handles the issue of UNGA and who speaks in front of UNGA. Why should… is this part of their work?
Spokesman: Well, the Credentials… yes, it is part… the Credentials Committee is a subset of the General Assembly. It’s a committee of the General Assembly.
Question: Okay. So, on the other follow‑up on the asset freezing, what is actually the position of the Secretary‑General and Afghanistan? Does he believe that this asset… that… freezing should be lifted or not?
Spokesman: Our principled stand has always been, when it comes to sanctions, they should not be done in a way that hurts the people of a country, right, that sanctions should be targeted against… can be targeted against individuals, but we would want to see policies put in place that benefit the people of Afghanistan. Abdelhamid?
Question: Stéphane, there is a crisis brewing between two North African neighbours, Algeria and Morocco. Yesterday, Algeria suspended all flights of Moroccan origin or Moroccans passing over Algeria. First, would that make the mission of Mr. Staffan de Mistura a little bit more difficult? That’s on one hand. Would the SG also open the subject with… if he’s meeting with Ramtane Lamamra, the Algerian Foreign Minister, who’s here. I don’t know if he met with him or he will be meeting with him. Would he open the subject to try to at least explore if the UN can play a role in that crisis?
Spokesman: I don’t know why you’re bringing Mr. de Mistura into this. We haven’t made any announcement on anything anyway. Mr. de Mistura is happy in his home right now in Europe. We do believe that it is important for both countries to engage in a positive dialogue. They’re two very important countries in the region, and we want… we would want to see the best… two… the best possible relations, bilateral relations, between the two. As for the Secretary-General’s discussions with the various delegations, we will put out a bilateral… a readout. One last question, and then our… we have to go to our guests.
Question: Okay. Just a follow‑up on the accreditation committee. My understanding, the accreditation committee is set to meet in November. And what’s the situation for Myanmar and Guinea? Is it all bundled, the three cases or each case is…?
Spokesman: Obviously, each case… I mean, each case refers to that particular case. I mean, I… but the discussions of the Credentials Committee are the purview of the committee members, which are Member States, chaired by our… by Sweden. I’m not aware of any meeting scheduled for this time. Once we get information that we’re able to share, we will do so. Okay.