The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guests Today
In a short while, I will be joined in-person by the sitting President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ambassador Collen Kelapile of Botswana, and we will be joined virtually by Citi’s Vice Chairman for Banking, Capital Markets and Advisory, Jay Collins. They will brief you on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Investment Fair, which is scheduled to take place on 28 and 29 September.
This morning, the Security Council held an open debate to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-ban Treaty (CTBT).
Izumi Nakamitsu, the Head of the [Office] of Disarmament Affairs, said we are rightly celebrating the anniversary of a hard-won victory, but, she added, this should also be a time to rethink what we can do to overcome the challenges that still lie ahead.
Since its adoption by the General Assembly and opening for signature in September 1996, the Treaty has achieved a near universal adherence, of 185 signatories and 170 ratifying States.
However, Ms. Nakamistsu added, in recent years, we have seen a worrisome trend towards the modernization and expansion of nuclear arsenals.
As relations continue to decline amongst States that possess nuclear weapons, we cannot take for granted that the norm against nuclear testing will hold, she said.
She concluded that the best way to uphold the norm against testing is to reaffirm and enhance support for the Treaty — to reinforce its existing strengths and to strive to bring about the entry into force. And the head of the CTBTO also briefed the Security Council.
**Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
And to stay on the topic, yesterday was the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. In his message, António Guterres said that we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race and face the highest level of nuclear risk in almost four decades.
And tomorrow in the General Assembly, the Secretary-General will speak at the high-level event to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
Moving on to Afghanistan: Our colleagues on the ground tell us that the humanitarian response continues across the country. The World Food Programme (WFP) has provided food assistance to 6.9 million people this year, reaching 1 million people with more than 13,000 metric tons of food in September alone.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed a community centre in Baghlan, in northern Afghanistan, to be used by an estimated 700 households. The organization has assessed the needs of more than 2,500 displaced people in Kabul, Sar-e Pol, Balkh, Kunduz and Takhar. Their Rapid Response Teams also screened [nearly] 60,000 people for COVID-19 at border points.
Our humanitarian colleagues warn that thousands of health facilities have been left without funding for medical supplies and salaries for health staff.
Urgent action is required to scale up the health response and to prevent a total breakdown of the health-care services across the country.
As you know, last week, Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths released $45 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to prevent Afghanistan’s health-care system from complete collapse. However, more funding is needed to scale up the response.
And also, just to give you an update on the numbers from the Afghan pledging conference which took place on 13 September: You’ll recall $1.2 billion for humanitarian and development aid was pledged. To date, more than $131 million has actually been received; that’s 21.7 per cent of the $606 million required through the end of this year. Again, we are very pleased with pledges; we are even more pleased when we get cash.
On Myanmar, our colleagues tell us that the country is facing a humanitarian crisis, worsened by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and events following the 1 February takeover of the Government.
Some 3 million people need humanitarian assistance, including an additional 2 million people since 1 February of this year.
The most vulnerable are families living in urban areas, mainly in Yangon and Mandalay, as well as people affected by conflict in south-eastern and western Myanmar.
More than 220,000 people have been internally displaced due to armed clashes since 1 February.
The situation in Rakhine State remains calm, although the situation remains dire, with food insecurity on the rise.
Our colleagues on the ground remain concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been more than 450,000 cases and 17,000 deaths reported in Myanmar, but it is likely that the numbers are much higher than that.
We along with our partners have been working to help people affected by displacement, growing food insecurity and the COVID-19 virus. For example, the World Food Programme (WFP) has helped more than 800,000 people in Yangon alone since May.
But we are facing challenges, including insecurity, bureaucratic impediments and disruptions to the banking systems.
The Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021 requires $276.5 million to help more than 3 million people, but it is only 47 per cent funded. Now I’ll let you know that Andrew Kirkwood, the acting resident Coordinator in Yangon, will be here to brief you virtually from Myanmar on Thursday.
Turning to Somalia, the Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack that took place on 25 September in Mogadishu, in which at least eight people were killed, including Ms. Hibaaq Abukar, the Adviser for Women Affairs and Human Rights in the Office of the Prime Minister, and she was a tireless advocate for women’s rights in Somalia.
The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the bereaved families as well as the people and Government of Somalia and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured, and he hopes that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice and reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to support the Government and people of Somalia in their efforts to achieve peace and stability.
**Children and Armed Conflict
Our friends at the office for Children and Armed Conflict have released a new report on Yemen.
The country report, which covers 2019 and 2020, documents grave violations committed against 3,500 children in Yemen.
The denial of humanitarian access, killing and maiming, and the recruitment and use of children were the most prevalent of the grave violations documented against children.
The denial of humanitarian access, with nearly 5,000 cases documented, was the violation with the biggest increase.
The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, is calling on all parties to the conflict to take measures to better protect children.
Quick COVAX updates for you, from Bolivia, Paraguay, and Viet Nam.
Yesterday, Bolivia received more than 18,000 doses through COVAX, donated by the United States. This brings the total number of doses that Bolivia received through COVAX to nearly 2.5 million. The UN team in Bolivia helped with the logistics.
Also, over the weekend, more than 300,000 AstraZeneca doses arrived in Paraguay. These came through COVAX and were donated by Spain. Thank you.
Meanwhile, Viet Nam has now received 12.6 million doses from COVAX, in addition to other doses the Government has procured bilaterally. As of earlier this month, 40 per cent of the population in Viet Nam over the age of 18 has received their first dose.
Very happy to report that the UN will be present at Expo 2020 in Dubai, which opens its doors to in-person visitors this coming Friday. It had been delayed because of the virus but it is happening.
The UN presence at Expo 2020 is an opportunity to showcase how the UN System works to deal with global challenges; in this instance a large part of the focus is primarily on the Sustainable Development Goals, and we have invited participating countries to highlight their own work to achieve the SDGs.
**World Tourism Day
Today is World Tourism Day. The Secretary-General notes that tourism continues to suffer enormously under the COVID-19 pandemic. He points out that in the first five months of this year, international tourist arrivals decreased by a staggering 95 per cent in parts of the world. His full message is online.
We start our Monday with a little quiz. We have a new Member State that has paid its budget dues in full, bringing us up to 129.
That country hosts, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest church in the world. Hmm, Hmm.
Spokesman: Church in the world. Do you have… no? It’s definitely not Saudi Arabia.
Spokesman: All right. It’s Côte d’Ivoire. The Basilica at Yamoussoukro, according to Guinness Book of World Records, is the biggest church in the world.
I’ll ask myself a question. But go ahead, Edie. Asked and answered. Edie, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Afghanistan, the Russian Foreign Minister on Saturday said that Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan are working together to try and… to ensure that the Taliban keep their promises to have an inclusive Government and… including its human rights promises and respect for women’s rights. Is the United Nations at all involved in trying to join with these four countries in promoting an inc…
Spokesman: I mean, this is the message that we ourselves have been constantly channelling to the Taliban in our various conversation, notably on the issues of human rights, especially on the issue of rights [of] women and girls, whether it’s access to education, access to the labour market.
I think, as the Secretary-General said a number of times, the UN alone will not solve this problem. It is very important for the neighbouring countries, for those countries that have influence on the situation, to pass the same messages through their own channels and in their own ways to the Taliban.
Question: And a follow-up question, how many bilateral meetings has the Secretary-General had? [Cross talk]
Spokesman: He’s continuing today. We will have a… given the speeches that are continuing today, bilaterals are continuing today, we will have a wrap-up of all final numbers by the end of today or tomorrow.
James and then Pam.
Question: Another question on Afghanistan ‑ clearly, human rights are a concern for you. There has been an incident in Herat where the Taliban have killed suspected kidnappers and then displayed their bodies around Herat City, one of them hanged from a crane. Does the UN have any reaction to that sort of public display of execution?
Spokesman: Wherever… I mean, it’s pretty clear that, from our standpoint, the death penalty has no place anywhere in the twenty-first century. We stand against it everywhere. We stand against cruel and unusual punishment, anything that continues to demean human beings.
Question: And another question on Mr. [Sergey] Lavrov, who was here on Saturday in this chair. He was talking about Mali and the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group, that has been signed up by the Malian Government to provide extra security resources. He said it was a legitimate deal with the current legitimate Government. The Malian President said he had no choice to do this deal because the French were pulling out.
What is the UN’s response given there is a peacekeeping operation there for… to the Government that you are there supporting doing a deal with what is effectively a mercenary company?
Spokesman: Look, Mali is a sovereign State with a sovereign Government. The Mission has its own mandate, obviously, working with the Malian Government and any other… and bilateral forces. We will continue to uphold our mandate, and we will continue to report on what goes on in the country.
Question: But this company is the same company that’s been accused of abuses in Libya and involvement in that war where you said you didn’t want any foreign fighters. So, are you a bit worried that that company with this background is the one that’s involved?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that for now. Thank you.
Question: Another Afghanistan follow-up. You talked about Afghanistan, but since there’s a withdrawal of the speech at the General Assembly by the Afghan Member State, which was the [Ashraf] Ghani Government, not the Taliban, I under… can you comment on that? Now, I understand it’s been passed… the Taliban request to speak has been passed to the Credentials Committee. That might not happen until October, November, you said. But is there something… any thoughts on the fact that it’s sort of sad at this moment in time in Afghanistan that there’s no one to speak for it from any side? Thanks.
Spokesman: The decision to withdraw from the Afghan delegation was their own decision. I can’t comment on that. Obviously, the General Assembly is in a… high-level week is an opportunity for every Member State to address the world in a sense, and we wish for every of those Member States who have that opportunity to take it.
Question: Thank you. Also, on Afghanistan, do you expect more cash?
And how much will be spent on education in percentages? Thank you.
Spokesman: We wish for more cash. We expect more cash. I mean, I don’t mean to make light of this. We fully understand that Member States have their procedures to follow from pledges to cash, but we do want to make sure that everyone understands that a pledge is a pledge, but we can’t spend a pledge. Right? We can spend cash. So, we very much hope that all these pledges will be converted to cash very quickly.
As to the percentage, that… from the… you’ll have to… I don’t have those numbers with me. The appeal is fairly public, so we can send you the link for that page.
Question: Yeah, just a… to be sure, on 193 country, only two are not going to speak, Afghanistan and Myanmar?
Spokesman: By my count, but I think we have to look at the speakers’ list so… that’s by my count, but let’s wait until the end of the speeches and then we can do some tabulation.
Question: Hello, Stéphane. Maybe you’ve seen the Belarusian Foreign Minister, Mr. [Vladimir] Makei, made some allegations in his recent interview to national TV. He said that, at a meeting with the Secretary-General, he wants UN not to interfere in internal affairs of Belarus. He also said that some UN agencies transfer money which were supposed to go to the people with disabilities to support protest movements. Could you comment on that?
Spokesman: Yeah, no, I’ve seen that. I was hoping to have some language on that by noon. I do not have it with me, but I will circulate it as soon as I get it.
Yep, go ahead, NHK. Yes, please.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I want to ask a question about the Afghanistan speech at the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly). So, could you reveal any detail on the conversation you might have had with their Afghanistan Mission when they require to… when they request to withdraw their Ambassador from the list?
Spokesman: No, I mean, it’s not so much of a conversation as we received a communication from them via email that they wished to be taken out from the speakers’ list, and we did. I mean, it’s not so much of a dialogue as an information and instruction from a Permanent Mission about how they want to be on the speakers’ list.
Question: So, when did this happen?
Spokesman: Over the weekend.
Question: Over the weekend?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Stefano, and then we’ll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It’s about Libya. How the… how much the Secretary-General is concerned on the thought that there is not consensus in an election law and this could, all of a sudden, derail the election… the 24… December 24 election?
Spokesman: We’re very concerned at the disputes that we’ve seen between various parties in Libya, and we very much hope that things will get back on track to hold the elections in December that the Libyan people deserve and expect.
Question: But does the Secretary-General have any advice, anything to…
Spokesman: I think the advice that he has to Libyan leaders is to put the interests of the Libyan people first and foremost.
Rick Gladstone, then we’ll go back to Evelyn.
Question: Thank you very much. I’m sorry. I have a question on Afghanistan, too. The speakers’ list today still lists the chair of delegation of Afghanistan as the next to the last speaker of the day. Is that… Does that mean somebody else is going to speak for Afghanistan or just…
Spokesman: No. No, my… Rick, the info… I will check again. The information that I have, which is not that… which is still fairly fresh, says there is no one from Afghanistan speaking. It may be that the list has not been updated, but that’s what I… that’s what… he’s not on the list that I have, so…
Question: Yeah, it’s just that the country is still listed even if there’s no name on it. That’s all.
Spokesman: No. Okay. They’re not speaking.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I also asked Lavrov on Saturday about Syria and the controversy on human… humanitarian delivery and whether Damascus thought UN deliveries were a Trojan horse. And he indicated that the UN and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) had not delivered the goods that they’d already prepared and promised. Do you know anything about that? Is it security or what?
Spokesman: I can tell you that we are working with the utmost resolve to reach every Syrian that needs humanitarian help wherever they are.
Let’s go to Iftikhar. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question was asked by Edie, but generally, please let us know what progress is being made by the United Nations in their dialogue with the Afghans on the political front.
Spokesman: Well, dialogue with the Taliban is an ongoing process. I will leave it at that.
Let’s go to Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, five Palestinians were killed, two in Jenin and three near Jerusalem in the village of Biddu. It didn’t make any news to the UN. No one mentioned it. No one had any language about it. Mr. Tor Wennesland is MIA. He doesn’t make a comment on these atrocities committed by the occupation forces. Why is that?
Spokesman: We’re, obviously, very concerned about the violence that we’ve seen, as well as for the loss of life.
Let’s go to Maria from… Maria Koniotou. Maria?
Question: Yes. Hello? My question concerns… yes. Do you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes. Perfectly.
Question: Hello? Yes. Okay. My question concerns the lunch with which Mr. [António] Guterres is hosting later today for President [Nicos] Anastasiades and Mr. [Ersin] Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot leader. What shall we expect from this lunch? Mrs. [Jane Holl] Lute is soon leaving her post. Should we expect the appointment of a new envoy? And if yes, what will be his or her mandate?
Spokesman: Okay. There is no development to… or news to announce on a new envoy, as far as I’m aware.
The lunch will be with the Secretary-General and the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Tatar. We hope that, after the lunch, we will provide you with some sort of a readout of further information.
Okay. Mario and then Carla.
Question: Steph, now that the General Assembly is almost over, the Secretary-General had spoken about COVID vaccines and climate commitments as two big priorities for this week. Is he satisfied with the messages he heard here, or what’s his take on what happened last week?
Spokesman: Look, I think he was heartened by a number of messages and statements that he heard, but it is clear that we still have a long way to go on both of these issues.
Question: I’ve got a few more questions. The chief prosecutor of the ICC (International Criminal Court), Karim Khan, has issued a statement in which he says he’s going to now de-prioritize part of his investigation on Afghanistan. He’ll prioritize crimes committed by ISIL and the Taliban, but it seems he’s not going to pursue the allegations that there were crimes carried out by NATO or US forces.
Does the Secretary-General… is he worried that this means that victims of those civilian casualties that have gone on for 20 years carried out by western forces will not get any justice?
And number two, is he worried that the International Criminal Court taking this sort of action is going to be seen as a Western court?
Spokesman: Look, as you know, we’re not going to comment on actions or decisions by the International Criminal Court. What I can tell you, in terms of Afghanistan, is, over the last number of years, probably I think more than ten, we have been reporting regularly on casualties in Afghanistan, on civilian casualties especially, conducted by the Taliban or other groups, conducted by Afghan national forces, conducted by international forces. We’ve been extremely transparent in that reporting. Victims everywhere deserve justice.
Question: Another question from Mr. Lavrov’s press conference. He spoke about…
Spokesman: He spoke for 90 minutes. I hope you don’t have a question on everything that he said.
Question: I know… He’s got lots of questions for me, lots of ammunition here.
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah.
Question: No, he spoke about the submarine deal with Australia buying UK/US technology, nuclear technology, and he said he was worried about that, concerned that it would set a precedent and that there would now be a queue of people wanting nuclear-powered technology for their submarine fleet. Is that a worry the Secretary-General shares?
Spokesman: Look, I think the Secretary-General has… not particularly pinged by that deal but has a worry about the continuing growth in the armament business and the continuing arms race that we see in different parts of the world.
Question: Two final questions, post-UNGA questions. One, it was pretty much a normal UNGA. There were nearly the normal number of people around, perhaps not in the building but in the area. But one exemption from that was the NGO (non-governmental organization) community, which are an important part of this ecosystem. When is the Secretary-General going to allow NGOs to properly participate? Because they are very important in the system…
Spokesman: They are a critical part of the ecosystem in this building. The building remains under kind of a COVID lockdown. We let you in because you have your offices here, and this is your place of work. The delegates, they own this building. It’s only normal that they would be allowed in. So, a number of staff were also back in on a much reduced footprint.
I very much hope that we will be open to re-open the building to a larger number of visitors… to a larger number of categories of people, including NGOs, in the very near future.
Question: One more question on the building. We had the big cantina open again as it’s open every year. So, I’m going to ask you again ‑ I’m sorry ‑ about the library building. It’s the one part of the UN that never got refurbished. There is a reasonably new Administration in Washington. There is a new mayor coming to New York.
When are you going to finally resolve this issue? When are you going to confront the authorities in New York so that you can refurbish that building, move the link off the FDR and actually get the whole building operational?
Spokesman: Very good question. I will try to answer it when I can.
Carla and then…
Question: That’s what you said last time I asked.
Spokesman: The fact that I tried… I mean, the fact that I can’t answer doesn’t mean I’m not trying.
Carla and then Ahmed, and then we’ll go to our guests.
Question: I have a few questions. One, the nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, is that not a violation of article 1 of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty)?
And a follow-up question is actually on a different matter. There was a ministerial meeting held at the Venezuelan Mission of countries ‑ Foreign Minister level ‑ of countries to protect the United Nations from unilateral control. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that movement?
Spokesman: I’m not sure I understand the question, so I don’t think I can answer it.
And on your first question, I really have nothing to add at this point to it.
Yes. Go ahead, Ahmed.
Question: Just a quick follow-up on James’ and Carla’s question. Is nuclear-powered submarine… is considered an energy source? Does it fall under non-proliferation or just as a usage of energy source?
Spokesman: There is a difference, as far as I understand it, between vessels that are nuclear-powered and those that carry nuclear weapons. That’s my understanding. Yeah. Okay.
Question: Yeah. But for the power, what would be the problem with it as far as the…
Spokesman: I think you’ve reached my very limited knowledge of nuclear propulsion… electrical propulsion.
Question: Okay. I should have attended Minister Lavrov’s press conference. b
Spokesman: I will not go toe to toe with Minister Lavrov on anything.
Okay. One last question from Sukirti of NDTV India.
Question: My question is that earlier… am I audible?
Spokesman: Yeah, please.
Question: Sir, my question is that, earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General had expressed that he was encouraged by the fact that both India and Pakistan had announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir and he had hoped that there would be further dialogue. However, contrary to that, we recently saw, at the UN General Assembly, India and Pakistan exchanged very strong statements against each other, with Pakistan accusing India of perpetuating Islamophobia and India accusing Pakistan of continuing to shelter terrorists and is an arsonist disguised as a firefighter.
So, considering the kind of exchange that the UN witnessed between India and Pakistan this time, is the UN concerned about peace in that region?
And is the UN Secretary-General planning to speak to leaders of either of these countries?
Spokesman: We heard the remarks, and I think, despite the tone and the content of the remarks, we always remain hopeful that dialogue can happen, maybe in a place that is not under the spotlights.
Okay. Thank you. I will get our guests and be back in two seconds.