Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. After we are done with my briefing, there will be our friend, Mr. [Brenden] Varma, who will brief on behalf of the PGA (President of the General Assembly). And, after that, there will be a virtual press conference on the fifteenth Internet Governance Forum, under the theme, “Internet for Human Resilience and Solidarity”. Speakers will include Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, along with Wai Min Kwok, Senior Governance and Public Administration Officer, and Chengetai Masango, Programme Management Officer, all in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. So, I will ask you to stay on for that after Brenden.
Turning to the elections in this country: The Secretary‑General congratulates the American people for a vibrant exercise of democracy in their country’s elections last week. He congratulates the President‑elect and the Vice‑President-‑elect and reaffirms that the partnership between the United States and the United Nations is an essential pillar of the international cooperation needed to address the dramatic challenges facing the world today.
The Deputy Secretary‑General is in Nigeria today, as she begins a two‑week solidarity visit to West Africa and the Sahel. Throughout the trip, Amina Mohammed will highlight how the UN has adapted its work to support national responses and recovery plans to the COVID‑19 pandemic while continuing to focus on the root causes of inequalities. She will emphasize the sustainable development programmes that promote socioeconomic recovery, gender equality, intergenerational leadership, resilience, climate action - as well as the delivery of life‑saving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable.
A few hours ago, in Abuja, she met with the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and later joined the Vice‑President, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, as well as UN colleagues to launch the “UN Plus Offer” to support the Government of Nigeria’s efforts to address the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.
The offer seeks to mobilize close to $250 million in support of the country’s socioeconomic recovery. The funds will be used to strengthen health systems and responses, as well as to build a stronger pro‑poor social protection system in the country. In a few minutes, Amina Mohammed will launch the UN Women Global Generation Equality Campaign, along with the Nigerian Minister of Women’s Affairs. We will be providing you daily updates about her travels.
As you will have seen in a note to correspondents we issued over the weekend, the Secretary‑General spoke by phone on Saturday with Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed] of Ethiopia. They discussed the ongoing tensions in the Tigray region. The Secretary‑General expressed condolences for the recent deaths in clashes and offered his good offices.
The Secretary-General has also spoken with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok of Sudan, in his capacity as Chairperson of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development). He also spoke with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, as Chair of the African Union. In those conversations, the Secretary‑General expressed the readiness of the UN to support IGAD and the African Union in any initiative to address the situation.
Also on Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that we and our partners are committed to staying and delivering assistance to the more than 2 million people who need aid in the Tigray region, including internally displaced people and refugees. Discussions are under way on the relocation of all non‑essential UN staff and on gaining humanitarian access.
In addition to Tigray, there are nearly 9 million people at high risk due to the conflict living near the area. More than 6,000 people are affected by COVID‑19 in the Tigray region. It is also one of the areas most affected by the desert locust infestation. Our humanitarian colleagues and their partners are finalizing a humanitarian response plan for Tigray.
Today, the Secretary‑General today delivered a recorded video message at the launch of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum, which is being held in Tunisia.
The Secretary‑General told the delegates that they have gathered today to continue forging a new era of peace and stability in Libya. They have the opportunity to end a tragic conflict and create a future of dignity and hope, he said. He called the signing of a ceasefire agreement by the Libyan parties in Geneva last month a fundamental step forward.
He told the delegates that compromise is the only approach that will pave the road to national unity and that they can count on the UN to support those efforts. He also called on the international community to provide its strong backing as well, including by ensuring full adherence to the Security Council arms embargo.
Addressing the dialogue in Tunis, the Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, told delegates that the Libyan people collectively have a vision for pulling Libya out of this crisis. “This vision, which we will present to you today,” she said, “is the basis of a National Political Program. It is not an agenda from a foreign party, but rather a gift that you today can give to your fellow citizens.”
This morning, the Secretary‑General also addressed, by recorded video message, the opening of the “Race to Zero” Dialogues, convened by the COP25 (Conference of Parties) and COP 26 High‑Level Champions for Global Climate Action, Gonzalo Muñoz and Nigel Topping.
He said that the postponement of COP26, which would have started today in Glasgow, highlights the disruption the pandemic [has caused]. He also said that, while we have had recent encouraging announcements by some Governments and businesses on their pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we are still far from where we need to be. That message has been shared with you.
Also on climate, he spoke by video message to the Green Horizon Summit, which is organized by the City of London Corporation, in collaboration with the Green Finance Institute and supported by the World Economic Forum. The Summit focuses on the role of green finance in the recovery from COVID‑19.
The Secretary‑General said that decarbonization is the greatest commercial opportunity of our time, adding that markets are moving fast, and those who move first will benefit the most. He called on development finance institutions, multilateral development banks and climate funds to scale up their role in improving the risk‑return profiles of investments and to align their portfolios with net‑zero goals. He also called on asset owners and managers to shift the trillions of dollars they invest towards the sustainable economy and ensure all of their portfolios align with net‑zero goals.
I have been asked about the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General takes note of the announcement by the Constitutional Council on 9 November, that’s today, of the final result of the 31 October presidential elections, confirming that President Alassane Ouattara won with 94.27 per cent of the vote.
The Secretary‑General continues to express concern over reports of tensions rising in the post‑election period. He is particularly concerned by reports of arrests and restriction of movement of opposition figures. He urges the Ivorian authorities and the opposition to take immediate steps towards de‑escalation and to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the post‑electoral crisis. He reassures the parties of the UN’s full support in this regard.
Also on Côte d’Ivoire, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on all sides to refrain from incitement to violence and to engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve the difficult situation following the elections. Her statement is online.
**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
A distressing announcement from our colleagues at UNRWA: The Commissioner General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, announced that the Agency has run out of money as of today to pay for the salaries of 28,000 UNRWA staff for November. The Agency needs to raise $70 million by the end of the month if it is to pay full salaries for the months of November and December. Mr. Lazzarini said if additional funding is not pledged in the next weeks, UNRWA will be forced to defer partial salaries to all staff. Over the last five years, UNRWA cut $500 million out of its budget by enacting efficiency and cost‑reduction measures. This has included cutting staff, stopping needed repairs and investments in its infrastructure, increasing classroom size to 50 students per teacher, and reducing life‑saving humanitarian assistance at a time of rising needs.
A quick note from the Philippines: The humanitarian country team today launched a $45.5 million plan to help 260,000 of the most vulnerable people affected by Super Typhoon Goni, which is known locally in the Philippines as Rolly. The new plan will support the Government’s response and aims to reach people living in poverty prior to the disaster who now need urgent help. Yesterday, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Gustavo Gonzalez, led an inter‑agency fact‑finding team to Albay Province to see the damage brought about by the typhoon. Mr. Gonzalez stressed that the UN, along with our humanitarian partners, are mobilizing resources to ensure that we leave no one behind at this time of great need.
Also on storms, in Honduras, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) there said that women and girls in the country are at high risk in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta. More than 400,000 women have been directly impacted by the widespread destruction and are now left without access to essential [health] services. UNFPA is joining the response effort, supporting a rapid needs assessment and working to restore [access to] sexual and reproductive health services. Also, a UN disaster assessment and coordination team will also deploy to Honduras in the coming days to help the Government and communities’ needs assessment and response coordination efforts.
We end on good news, this one on the budget. Eritrea is the latest Member State to pay its budget dues in full, bringing us up to 133. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: We have finally a statement from the UN on the US presidential elections. What took two days?
Spokesman: Listen, we… this was the first Monday back since the briefing. We wanted to have something at the briefing. I think statement… I would not read too much into statements. Statements are… I mean, we’re seeing other messages from other people coming in…
Question: But you’ve put out other statements. I’m going to ask you about one in a moment about Ethiopia over the weekend. What was that you were waiting for that meant that you couldn’t put out those exact words on Saturday?
Spokesman: We just decided to wait until Monday.
Question: Okay. I want to ask you about the Ethiopia statement, about the phone call that the Secretary‑General had with the Prime Minister. This a Prime Minister who’s launched air strikes on his own people, and yet in the statement, it doesn’t suggest in any way that he urged restraint. I mean, is the Secretary‑General worried about the military action that the Prime Minister has…?
Spokesman: He is… the message that he’s also delivered to the Prime Minister and to everyone was to call for an immediate de‑escalation of tensions and a peaceful resolution of the dispute. I think our concern is on the protection of civilians and on the issues of human rights. I mean, if you look, not only at Ethiopia, but the risk to the greater region, it’s a region that’s… like almost every corner of the world, is facing the pandemic. You also have the desert locust. You have food insecurity. The peace and stability of Ethiopia is critical to the peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.
Correspondent: I have more, but you can come back to me.
Spokesman: Okay. Madame?
Question: It’s about Amina Mohammed. Last week, she went on a virtual trip, if I remember it well, and this week she’s in Nigeria, and it’s not virtual.
Question: What is the difference?
Spokesman: Well, the difference is, first of all, she is in Nigeria. She will… there will be other parts of the trip that we will be announcing. The situation in the Sahel is one that is of extreme concern to us. I mean, you had, I think, David Beasley very eloquently talking about the situation in that part of the world - as he put it, millions running into famine. It is an area of the world where we need to highlight the humanitarian situation, the peace and security situation, and that’s what the trip is designed to do. Okay. Toby?
Question: Hi there, Stéph. Thank you very much. Can you hear me okay?
Spokesman: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Question: My question is, now that the Secretary‑General has congratulated the President and Vice‑President‑elect on winning the US elections, does he expect or anticipate an increased level of cooperation with the UN, particularly with regard to the Paris climate Agreement? Does he think that the US will and should re‑enter that agreement?
Spokesman: Look, whether it’s the United States or anywhere else, we deal with one administration at a time. The Secretary‑General’s strong position in defence of the Paris climate Agreement has never wavered, and for us, the… what I think I’ve reasserted in the statement is the critical relationship between the US and the United Nations as we face many problems throughout the world. Okay. Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Stéph. I have a couple of follow‑up questions. On UNRWA first, does the Secretary‑General plan to reach out himself and try and spur this $70 million fundraising campaign? And on the message about the US… reaction to the US election, does the Secretary‑General plan to try and talk to President‑elect [Joseph] Biden anytime in the near future, or has he already? And thirdly, on Nagorno‑Karabakh…
Spokesman: Sorry. I need to take notes now. If you go past two questions…
Correspondent: I… that’s… I’ll wait on Nagorno‑Karabakh.
Spokesman: Okay. All right. On your last question, no, there’s been no direct contact. And if and when that happens, we will let you know, but I’m not aware of anything happening in the next few days. On your first question, on UNRWA, the Secretary‑General has been a big advocate of the stabilizing presence of UNRWA and the work that it does. He will continue to advocate for them and advocate in a way that will hopefully lead to money coming into the agency very quickly. As you’ll recall, he personally chaired a number of fundraising conferences for UNRWA, and he will continue to advocate for them. On Arm… Nagorno‑Karabakh, go ahead. Edie, go ahead. You’re muted.
Question: [Mic muted]… claim to take the… Azerbaijan’s claim to have taken the second largest city in Nagorno‑Karabakh, and I think that’s been agreed that that happened. And there… all of the ceasefires have been ignored. Is there anything that the Secretary‑General is trying to do, can do to try and end this conflict, which has been hitting civilian areas?
Spokesman: Look, he continues to follow it closely. We continue to be in touch with the parties at different level, with the Minsk [Group] Co‑Chairs. Our biggest worry now… as we see the fast‑moving developments and the reports of heavy fighting, our biggest worry is for the protection and safety of civilians. I mean, as you mentioned, the parties have made repeated commitments for humanitarian ceasefire, for humanitarian access. They all have a responsibility to ensure the conditions for humanitarian assistance for all those in need. They need to be held to their obligations under international humanitarian law to make sure that civilians are spared, that civilians are protected, as well as civilian infrastructure. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for negotiations for them to reach a peaceful and durable settlement. Okay. Hold on. I’ll come back to you, James. Iftikhar?
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéph. My question about the possibility of a meeting between the Secretary‑General and the President‑elect has been asked by Edie. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Great. Ibtisam, and then Joe Klein.
Question: Hi, Stéph. I have three questions. The first one also about the President‑elect. Am I right that, when you read the statement, you didn’t mention his name, or was I dreaming or something?
Spokesman: Of course. I mean, he’s talking about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. [Laughter.] Okay.
Question: Okay, but…
Spokesman: In case there was a doubt. Yeah, yeah. Okay…
Question: I’m not done. So…
Spokesman: Oh. Neither am I then. [Laughter.] Go ahead.
Question: I have a follow‑up on the issue of UNRWA. So, you said… you talked about the position of the Secretary‑General, but you didn’t name exact steps that he is willing or wishing to take to help and…
Spokesman: I mean, what he’s willing to do is reach out to Member States as much as he needs to, to try to get money for them. I mean, the steps are pretty simple. UNRWA needs cash, and we don’t print money. So, we need to… and Philippe Lazzarini and his team are working with the donors, with Member States, and the Secretary‑General will fully support them in any way he can.
Question: I have one more question on Iraq.
Question: So, the Norwegian Refugee Council issued a statement regarding… the Iraqi authorities are saying that the Iraqi authorities are rapidly closing down displacement camps across the country without any sustainable plan for people to return. They talked… the statement talked about 100,000 people. Do you have a comment on that? Do you have more on that?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, this is something, I think, we’ve mentioned here last week, is our… we’ve been in touch with the Iraqi authorities, expressing our concern and to ensure that whatever is done is done within the context of established norms and the protection of civilians and ensuring that these men, women and children who are internally displaced continue to have access to the services they need wherever they may be.
Question: But it seems to be…
Question: Sorry. I have a follow‑up. But it seems to be that… according to the statement, it seems to be that the Iraqi authorities are not doing exactly what you are talking about. So, the question is…
Spokesman: I mean, I… yeah? Go ahead. Sorry.
Question: The question… no, it’s okay. Are you following up on that? Are you… I mean, that they should do… to start with, they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, so why would you expect them…?
Spokesman: I mean, we are in touch with them and trying to ensure that the situation goes the right way. Mr. Klein?
Question: All right. Yes. You indicated another Member State paying its dues this year, but could you comment on the liquidity condition of the United Nations at the present time, which I believe recently…
Spokesman: What condition?
Question: … the Secretary‑General has… had commented on…?
Spokesman: Liquidity. I’ll… yeah, I…
Question: I’m sorry…. And where…?
Spokesman: Go ahead, Joe.
Question: Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes. Go ahead.
Question: Yeah. Okay. I just wanted to ask whether you could give us a comment on the current liquidity situation at the UN despite the fact that countries are… additional countries are paying their dues, as you indicated today, and what contingency plans the UN has to deal with any cash flow issues during the balance of the year.
Spokesman: Very good questions. Let me… I’m trying not to make up numbers out of thin air. So, let me get back to you either later today, or I’ll have a larger update for all of you tomorrow.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Michelle Nichols?
Question: Hi, Stéph. Thanks for the question. Has the Secretary‑General… I don’t think you answered Edie’s question. Has the Secretary‑General spoken with Joe Biden? Sorry if I missed that.
Spokesman: I did. I did. And I said no.
Question: Oh, okay. Great. And just one other thing. The US has elected their first female ‑President. Does the SG have any reaction specifically to that?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General always welcomes any instance where women leaders… where a woman gets to break a new ceiling. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. First, I need to ask you again about Libya, about those 18 fishermen, if the Secretary‑General in any way, because he’s involved, of course, in a lot of stuff in Libya, if any way he is trying to resolve the situation between Italy and Libya for this. And then I have a follow‑up on the question of the President‑elect, if you… if I may.
Spokesman: I have nothing new on those fishermen. I have to see what I can get for you. What is your other question?
Question: Well, like somebody noticed before, there is not the name; you say, no, of course, he’s talking about Joe Biden, but I wanted to ask you about the expression that you use… you use as a vibrant exercise of democracy. Because [Donald] Trump, instead, is taking to court the election, practically, I would like to know what the Secretary‑General think about the statements, the official statement from the White House, that say that these election have been rigged; they are not legal.
Spokesman: I’m not going to comment on statements from one party or another. What I can tell you is that we have full confidence in the institutions of the United States of America to see this through. Okay. Hold on. I’m still going to… Sylviane, and then Maria, and then we’ll go to James for a second.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Hope you are well. My question is on Syria, international conference that will take place in 11 November and 12 November. That’s an international… that will take place in Damascus on the Syrian refugee to… the return of Syrian refugee to Syria. Will the UN be represented at this conference? And how much is it’s important for that, for the return of Syrian from Lebanon?
Spokesman: You know, let me get right back to you on that. I have some language, but I’ll get right back to you… let me get right back to you on that before the end of the briefing. [He later said that The United Nations will be represented at the planned conference by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Damascus, as an observer.]
Question: Yeah, I have another question. The second question will be on the former Lebanese Foreign Affair [Minister], Gebran Bassil, has been sanctioned by US Treasury Department. Any reaction from the UN? Because it can be… have implication on the formation of new government. Do you have any language on that?
Spokesman: No, I do not, not yet.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. James?
Question: Okay. I have quite a few questions, I’m afraid, still. Back to the US election: The Secretary‑General has been on the global stage for a very long time. Joe Biden’s been around even longer. Can you tell us what their sort of relations are? They must know each other pretty well.
Spokesman: I don’t know if they know each other pretty well. I know they’ve met in the past.
Question: Okay. Moving on to Libya, the talks have started. If you could, perhaps, put today in perspective for us. I know, yesterday, you put out a statement, but these… as I understand it, we’ve had lots of phases of little talks and whatever. These are now the big talks under way. Can you tell us what is at stake, what the timeline is, and what’s the basic agenda for these talks?
Spokesman: Well, they will work… these talks will go on for a bit of time. I think what is at stake is an opportunity that is not to be missed to bring peace and stability for the people of Libya. The military ceasefire that was agreed in Geneva was, as the Secretary-General just said, a very positive step forward. These are now meetings with political leaders. We don’t want to see this opportunity pass by. The Libyan people have suffered long enough, and they deserve peace, and they deserve stability.
Question: And another question on UNRWA and its funding. Salaries will not be paid. What then potentially is the impact on Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip? And how could it impact basic services for them?
Spokesman: Well, what we’re said… I think Mr. Lazzarini said, if the money doesn’t come in, they will go to partial salaries. So, they would not see zero out. That will have an impact on Palestinians in the sense… because the vast majority of UNRWA staff are local staff. So, if… that will cut into the money that’s flowing into society. Obviously, there’s no talk at this point of cutting services because some of it has already been cut, but a further cut of educational, health services, socio‑services could have a devastating impact on Palestinian society.
Question: And my last question is on COVID‑19. Cases are now raging across the US. Given where UN Headquarters is based, you’re aware that cases are slightly on the rise in New York, as well. How concerned is the Secretary‑General about the operations of the UN in New York? And do you continue to keep the current posture, or are there plans to revert to more of a work‑from‑home phase?
Spokesman: No, I mean, we’re keeping the current posture. There’s no plans to greatly open up more. There’s just no plans to cut back. Our medical team is in daily touch with the health authorities in New York City and New York State. We’re seeing the numbers in New York… I mean, New York is doing well. New York City, broadly speaking, I mean, the cases have increased but is doing well vis‑à‑vis other places. We remain extremely vigilant while continuing to support Member States, having in‑person meetings inasmuch as possible and keeping the UN open while keeping the place very safe.
Question: My last question following up on Joe’s liquidity question - one assumes it won’t be the same problem this year because you haven’t had the escalators running most of the year.
Spokesman: They have been running. Yeah, no, they have been running, James. So, we keep them running so we can cut them. [Laughter.] Carla?
Question: You may have already answered this. What is the reason why the funds to UNRWA have been cut in half, you said? Who or what is contributing less and why?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, why people contribute less, I think you have to ask them. We saw a number of Governments eliminate or drastically cut back their financial contributions and… every… it’s all up on the UNRWA website in terms of the contributions.
Question: But you have no… [inaudible] in the past, why did they cut it this year?
Spokesman: If somebody contributes, it’s up… or stops contributing, it is up to them to explain why. It’s not for me to… we suffer the consequences. We don’t have to interpret the reasons. Evelyn?
Question: Yes, Stéph. Thank you. I just wanted to point out that the big gap in UNRWA is at least three years’ worth of US funding that was slashed by President Trump. It’s $300 million a year. Is this a [inaudible] the Secretary‑General going to appeal strongly to the US, whether it is listed…?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General and I think all of us will appeal to all those who can and are willing to give.
Question: But that’s a big… you’re talking about 9… at least 900 million…
Spokesman: I… no, no, I’m aware of the numbers. Pam, and then… sorry. Did you have another question?
Correspondent: No, I did not.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Hi, Stéph. Thanks, Stéph. Could you just do it again more clearly? What was the Secretary‑General’s comment about Kamala Harris as the President… Vice‑President‑elect?
Spokesman: What I said is… I hope… maybe now I will speak more clearly. I think the Secretary‑General is always pleased when a woman leader breaks yet another ceiling.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Toby, and then James.
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéph. I’m good. I was… the same question as Pam. Thank you.
Spokesman: Good. James?
Question: When you say James, you mean James me here, James R.?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean James Bays here is [inaudible] enough not to question who I’m asking. Go ahead, Mr. Reinl.
Question: Thank you so much. Yeah, I’ve got a question about this award that the SG is getting tonight from the World Jewish Congress, which is an avowedly Zionist organization. And I guess my question is, have you considered what the optics are of this? I mean, you’ve just been talking about how nobody’s giving any money to UNRWA. It’s been a rough year for the Palestinians from the point of view of the Americans, Arab states turning their back on them, and now tonight, the UN… the UNSG taking an award from a Zionist organization. Have you thought about how it looks?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, as you’ll see from the remarks, is focussed on the fight against anti‑Semitism, which he has been very vocal about since day one. And I would encourage you to read the remarks where he talks about discrimination in terms of other religions, whether it’s Islamophobia or others. His remarks in no way contradict his strong belief and continued belief in a two‑State solution, where Palestinians and Israelis can live together in peace, side by side.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Any other questions? Excellent… Carla, if you must. Otherwise, we will go to Brenden.
Question: I… there has been talk of and evidence of a global financial crisis that’s compared to the Great Depression. I was wondering whether that had any impact on the cut in funding to UNRWA.
Spokesman: As I said, Carla, Member States make sovereign decisions about where to give, when to give, how much to give. There… I mean, your question is extremely valid and extremely important. It’s just being asked to the wrong person. Speaking of the right person, I will leave this podium in the hands of Mr. Varma.