The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
This morning, the Secretary‑General left Glasgow for Cambridge where, just about now, he’s receiving an honorary degree from the University of Cambridge. In his formal remarks upon receiving the degree, he reminded the audience of the University’s enduring links with global governance and the United Nations, from the economist John Maynard Keynes to Margaret Anstee, the first woman to be appointed Assistant Secretary‑General. The Secretary‑General delivered an overview of the global challenges that the world faces, from climate change to the pandemic to the war on facts. In that context, the Secretary‑General said that the world needs the values of truth and integrity that are at the heart of the liberal education that Cambridge has provided for eight centuries. Tomorrow, he will engage with students at Cambridge for a discussion on the ethics of climate change. That discussion will be webcast.
Today at the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners published detailed guidance to help the world’s cities address warming, which is occurring at twice the global average rate in urban areas. “Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities” describes how cities are warming quickly due to the “heat island effect”, caused by a combination of diminished green cover, the thermal properties of the materials commonly used in urban surfaces, and waste heat from human activities. UNEP warned that by the end of this century, many cities could warm as much as 4°C if greenhouse gas emissions continue at high levels. The handbook provides a comprehensive overview of ways to cool cities sustainably and equitably. You can find it on UNEP’s website.
Also, at COP26, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the Scottish Government released a joint statement calling for the role of women and girls to be advanced in addressing climate change. The statement commits to further strengthening efforts to support women and girls to lead on addressing climate change at community, national, and international levels. The statement will remain open for signatures from today until the sixty-sixth meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, to be held in March 2022 with a focus on women’s empowerment in the context of climate change, the environment and disaster risk reduction.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary‑General voiced his concern at the escalation of violence in Ethiopia and the recent declaration of a state of emergency. The stability of Ethiopia and the wider region is at stake, he said. The Secretary‑General reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, unrestricted humanitarian access to deliver urgent life‑saving assistance, and an inclusive dialogue to resolve this crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country.
The Secretary‑General notes the extremely serious findings of the joint Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights‑Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation released today detailing that all parties to the Tigray conflict have committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. The Secretary‑General is deeply concerned that the recent escalation and widening of armed conflict and the declaration of the state of emergency will only aggravate the human rights situation of the people of Ethiopia. He calls once again for the fighting to stop immediately. The Secretary‑General stresses that, ultimately, the current crisis in Ethiopia can only be resolved around the negotiation table and by including all of Ethiopia’s people and leaders.
I’d like to add on that report that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the gravity and seriousness of the violations and abuses documented underscore the need to hold perpetrators accountable on all sides. She also said today that she fears such horrific violations and abuses are continuing, based on the consistent reports that are emerging. The full report and accompanying press releases are available online.
**Bosnia and Herzegovina
I just want to flag that this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold a semi‑annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I have a COVID‑19 update for you, today from Indonesia, where the UN team — led by Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand — continues to support the country’s response to the pandemic. With 10 million vaccine doses now administered every week, pressure is easing on the national healthcare system, which the UN continues to support. Our team has facilitated the delivery of more than 40 million vaccine doses through COVAX and is also helping with other aspects of the vaccine campaign, including the deployment of a cold chain logistics digital application. The UN has expanded its partnerships with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) having signed a new five‑year agreement with USAID to support Indonesia’s response to the pandemic and its long-term impacts on children. We also continue to support the most vulnerable people. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are working with local health authorities to vaccinate refugees.
In Senegal, our colleagues at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have concluded a three‑day regional summit with a call to reinvent the response to the HIV Pandemic. Western and Central Africa is home to 4.7 million people living with HIV — or 12 per cent of those living with the virus globally. However, the region experiences 22 per cent of all HIV deaths in the world. They are calling for more community-led infrastructure and organizations to strengthen national health systems; for updated health policies to align with the latest HIV science and evidence; for more resources to respond to HIV in the region and finally, to put HIV and COVID‑19 at the centre of pandemic preparedness and response.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has today published its annual Statistical Yearbook, showing that the global value added that was generated by agriculture, forestry and fishing grew by 73 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2019, reaching $3.5 trillion in 2019. According to FAO, agriculture provided employment for 874 million people in 2020, totalling 27 per cent of the global workforce. Yet FAO also points out that the global level of undernourishment increased sharply between 2019 and 2020, under the shadow of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Nearly 10 per cent of the world’s population suffered from hunger in 2020, compared to 8.4 per cent in 2019.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Tomorrow, Eri Kaneko will be your briefer and she will be joined by Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). She will brief you on the Security Council’s meeting to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Resolution 1373 and the establishment of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee. And that is it for me. Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. First, does the Secretary‑General have any comment or reaction to the Taliban banning all foreign currency and its potential impact on UN operations?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. On that, what I can say is that we are in touch with the de facto authorities, and we are working to maintain our operations on the ground and make sure that we can keep up the humanitarian efforts on the ground.
Question: But is the finan… is this going to impact… have any impact at all on financing UN operations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, we’re in discussions. What we’re trying to do is make sure that it does not have any impact on our operations, that we can maintain all of the operations in the way that we’ve been doing, and we’ll see how that goes.
Question: And a second question, you talked about Mich… the UN Human Rights Council’s report on Tigray and Michelle Bachelet’s comments. Does the Secretary‑General support those comments and her calls for accountability?
Deputy Spokesman: He certainly does. As I pointed out just at the start that he did note the findings, that he was deeply concerned at the recent escalation and the idea that that will only aggravate the human rights situation. And for him, the basic point is that the current crisis can only be resolved around the negotiation table and by including all of Ethiopia’s people and its leaders. But certainly, accountability is part of that process, and he stands by what the High Commissioner has said on that. Yes, Adla?
Question: I have a question on Western Sahara. What is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to Algeria ruling out any roundtable talks?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, as you know, our new envoy, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, has yet to formally take up his duties, but he will begin his work, and he’s going to talk to all of the parties and all of the concerned states in the region. And we’ll see from there what the real temperature on the ground is. Until then, we’re not going to react to any of the things said by any particular side because we believe that there’s still room for all of the parties and the regional players to come together. Yes, please?
Question: This meeting about Bosnia and Herzegovina, you said they talk about semi‑annual report from High Representative. Is… you know that he’s not allowed to be… present his report. What is your comment? And is EUFOR mission also scheduled?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, I believe the members will discuss amongst themselves the appropriate format for this meeting, but you will be able to see for yourself at 3:00 p.m. what the format for the meeting is, and we expect that they’ll discuss all of the relevant topics.
Question: Yeah, just follow-up, please. I’m not finished. What is your stance about that High Representative from Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot attend this meeting?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’ll see what the members themselves agree to at this stage. This is something to be decided by the membership of the Security Council, and we’ll abide, of course, by whatever the Security Council members themselves agree to. It’s important for the Security Council to have as full a picture of the situation on the ground as they can possibly have.
Question: And on the end, please, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is extremely fragile, and we know that you know that. And is the United Nations… ever consider maybe last few months to impose sanctions on people who are threat… from Bosnia and Herzegovina, politicians, who are threat for integrity of the country and peace in the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is an issue under the purview of the Security Council. They’ll discuss it this afternoon, and we’ll let them discuss the matter and see what conclusions they come up with. Yes, Benno?
Question: Follow‑up on this. Does the Secretary‑General believe that the position of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an important role that is not obsolete?
Deputy Spokesman: He certainly believes that this is an important role and has been one for many years, and we have worked well with the Office of the High Commissioner. Yes?
Question: Farhan, getting back to Ethiopia, it appears that no humanitarian supplies have got into the country since middle October. Are there any negotiations underway to renew those humanitarian supplies, particularly for the some 2.5 million people who have been displaced?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, of course, we’re continuing to reach out to all of the authorities on the ground, both the Government and the de facto authorities, to have as much humanitarian access as we can possibly have and to get more supplies in. As you know, we’ve been mentioning every few days the need to bring in food, to bring in fuel, to be able to conduct our operations and the problems, for example, involving having a restoration of the UN humanitarian air support that has not been flying for the past… a little bit over a week. And of course, a lot of the precondition for that to happen is that there needs to be an easing of fighting. There’s no way to get into places where there’s heavy conflict. And so, what we want is to see an end to the conflict and, as the Secretary‑General also pointed out, a restoration to full humanitarian access.
Question: At what level are the discussions taking place about humanitarian aid? Is it in‑country discussion or is it outside the country?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s both. These are discussions that are being taken by the UN team in the country but also by people such as the Emergency Relief Coordinator and other senior officials in the system. Célhia?
Question: Farhan, going back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, would it be correct to say that finally the mission was not that successful because the mission ended up in 2003 and since then there have been trouble over there? Between the three entities.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I wouldn’t say that. And the reason I wouldn’t say that is you have to remember the situation the country was in in 1994. Here we are, 27 years later, and during that phase — and it’s been a long phase — there’s been a period of relative peace on the ground. The difficulty is getting the communities to work together, getting the countries in the region to work well with each other. These are problems that have been there since the 1990s and are there today, and we’re continuing to work at that. But the fact that the UN peacekeeping mission and its successors helped stabilise the situation on the ground and allow people who had been suffering from a horrific war in which more than 300,000 people had died and giving them the stability of this is not something to be discounted. It’s something that UN peacekeeping is capable of doing, but the basic point is that more is needed. It’s not a problem that can be solved by peacekeepers alone. This has to be solved ultimately by the governments, the authorities, the politicians and the peoples of Bosnia and around it. Yes, Ibtisam?
Question: Going back to Ethiopia, so… and of all the flights, you said you can’t fly now because what’s happened last, I think, 10 days ago, was it? Yeah. And the thing is… and because of the… the fights are more intense there, but there were… I mean, the fighting has been going on for a long time, and you were able to fly and to bring humanitarian aid. So, what changed? Aren’t you able… you didn’t get… aren’t you getting any allowance from the Government, or what’s exactly happening?
Deputy Spokesman: I mean, obviously, we’ve been in touch throughout, with both the de facto authorities in different areas and with the Government of Ethiopia. Now the point is that from them we need unrestricted humanitarian access in order to deliver the aid that we have. We do not have that at present, but we are working to arrange that, and we’re working again with the Government and with parties including the parties in Tigray and around it.
Correspondent: So, just to clarify, so the main restriction you are having now that you’re not getting permission from the Government or both, like the de facto…
Deputy Spokesman: I think it’s a general problem that the various parties are saying that the situation on the ground is too unsafe to allow for certain types of access. We… and we want, first of all, for a certain amount of stability to be restored through a cessation of hostilities, but beyond that, we want to have the unrestricted humanitarian access that, to be honest, we have not had for many weeks now, even prior to the problems with the Humanitarian Air Service. As you know, we had problems getting some supplies in, and we want to go back to a situation where we can get everything that’s needed to the people who need it. Yes?
Question: Sorry, Farhan. A follow‑up on Ethiopia. The US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, is on his way back to Ethiopia. Is there any coordination with the UN in terms of his activities, and do you think that his intervention again is helpful in creating some kind of negotiated outcome?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, our hope is that other countries and… including the US, can play a helpful role in this process, so we’ll try to reach out and be in contact with Mr. Feltman, who, as you know, worked here for many years, as well. So, we’ll try to see what can come out of his efforts, but certainly, we want all of the various countries that have a role with any of the parties on the ground or in the region to play a helpful role in resolving the situation. Yes, please, and then we’ll go to the screens after you.
Question: Okay. Thank you so much. Just shortly back to Bosnia, please, can you reaffirm that the Secretary‑General is giving support to High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina and why?
Deputy Spokesman: No. What I can say is that we’ve had a very productive relationship with the Office of the High Representative. As you know, it’s not a UN position, but it is an office that has worked with the Security Council and with the parties on the ground, and we have found them, the High Representative’s office, to be a very helpful part of this process. All right. Now Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have a few questions. Start with the behaviour of the Israeli ambassador in the General Assembly last Friday. I asked the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly, and I did not get an answer. He stood up in front of the audience and people in the… participating in the meeting, tore apart the human rights report. And he addressed them saying, “Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.” Is that an acceptable diplomatic behaviour from a representative of a country?
Deputy Spokesman: I won’t comment on the behaviour of any of the various diplomats. They all have their own procedures. What I can say is that we stand by the work of our human rights teams, including the other work on the issues involving Israel and the [occupied] Palestinian territory.
Question: But is that acceptable, I mean that kind of insult addressed to so many countries? How could it pass with no comment from any official?
Deputy Spokesman: All of the diplomats here are entitled to the words that they say. I’m not going to comment on their particular behaviour. What I will say, again, is that we stand by the professionalism of our teams.
Question: My second question, on Lebanon, are you aware of the crisis developing between the Gulf States and Lebanon? Many of those states withdrew their ambassadors; they stopped importing from Lebanon; that will make the situation in Lebanon much worse at the economic level. Is the UN aware of the crisis? Are they trying to do anything? Did they talk to any official on both sides?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in gen… as you are aware, the relations between Lebanon and countries in the region are bilateral matters, but we do hope that any issues between these countries will be resolved expeditiously and amicably.
Question: And my last question, Farhan, I raised this issue a few days ago. There are five Palestinians… prisoners who are in detention, administrative detention, are on hunger strike. Some of them passed the 100 days, and two of them are on the verge of collapse completely. And there is this issue, and I was asking for any comment on this developing story.
Deputy Spokesman: Our comment is the same one that we’ve had for all of those prisoners who have been in detention, that either they be charged and tried formally or otherwise released. Okay. Iftikhar? Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As the Tigrayan rebels marched towards Addis Ababa, and the Ethiopian Government has asked residents of the capital to defend with their own arms, has the United Nations taken steps to protect the staff in Addis Ababa?
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the situation on the ground, and as with all of our various duty stations, we’re taking steps to make sure that our staff are protected. Yes?
Question: Quick follow‑up on Ethiopia. So, I think a month ago, there was… during the Security Council briefing, the Ethiopian ambassador accused UN high officials grave falsing reports, etc., and back then, the Secretary‑General asked him to provide proof. Since then, the Secretary‑General has spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister more than one time. Did the subject… did he talk with him about it? And did you have any proof or any… anything on this matter?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe your colleague James has also asked about this a few times over the weeks, and the answer is no, we have not received any proof. And with that, I bid you all a good afternoon. Take care.