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.
**Attacks on Journalists in Conflict Zones
All right. Good afternoon. I’ll start off with a statement of the Secretary‑General on attacks on journalists in conflict zones.
The Secretary‑General remains deeply concerned about attacks against journalists and media workers around the world, including in conflict zones. He condemns all attacks and killings of journalists and calls for concerted efforts to tackle widespread impunity for such crimes.
In 2018‑2019, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) documented 67 killings of journalists in countries experiencing armed conflict, among which 23 were directly involved in covering the conflict. Apart from fatal attacks, journalists covering conflicts face a range of other threats including violence leading to injuries, arbitrary detention, denial of visas and restrictions to movements in and across or out of conflict zones.
The fundamental role of journalists in ensuring access to reliable information is essential to [achieving] durable peace and sustainable development, as well as human rights, of course. The Secretary‑General recalls that civilians, including civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict, must be respected and protected under international humanitarian law. He calls on all parties to conflict, and the international community as a whole, to protect journalists and enable conditions for the exercise of their profession.
Earlier today, the Deputy Secretary‑General landed in Niger, the second stop of her solidarity visit to West Africa and the Sahel.
Ms. [Amina] Mohammed met with the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, as well as UN colleagues, and as well as women and youth leaders, to discuss progress and challenges in the implementation, the achievement, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She also addressed, discussed addressing the socioeconomic and public health impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic… I’m hearing myself.
They also had exchanges on progress and challenges faced by the people of Niger, including humanitarian and security, as well as the importance of promoting the rights of women and girls.
Today, the Deputy Secretary‑General is also scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister and other Government officials and council of traditional leaders. Amina Mohammed’s visit to Niger continues tomorrow, as part of her solidarity visit to West Africa and the Sahel, which is taking place amid the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council members via VTC (video teleconference) on Yemen today. He told Council members that it is now time for the Yemeni parties to take the final decisions required to bring the negotiations on the Joint Declaration to fruition. He added that he has been working with each party to find solutions, but in the end, he is the mediator and not the negotiator.
Mr. Griffiths said that the violence on the frontlines has not been as intense as in previous months. At the same time, he is deeply concerned by the periodic spikes in violence between the parties in Marib and Taiz, as well as recent escalation in attacks on Saudi territory.
Regarding the SAFER oil tanker, he said that although discussions have been constructive, we are yet to receive the approvals needed for the expert mission to proceed.
Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), also briefed via video. Both warned Council members about the increasing level of hunger in the country.
Mr. Lowcock said the most urgent task in Yemen today is to prevent widespread famine. In order to prevent famine, he added, the world must act now on the protection of civilians and humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, the economy and progress towards peace.
For his part, Mr. Beasley said malnutrition in Yemen has never been worse, with one in four Yemeni children being malnourished.
Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues say they remain concerned about the ongoing tensions in the Tigray region and their impact on civilians.
We along with our partners are working with the authorities to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers, continued access to people in need of assistance, and availability of funding given increasing needs.
On the ground, we are told that communications continue to be disrupted. There are also reports of intermittent electricity supply shortages, as well as shortages of basic commodities such as flour and fuel are also reported. Banks remain closed and the shortage of available cash is becoming much more acute. The closure of banks and inaccessibility to the region hamper our humanitarian operations including the traditional humanitarian cash transfers to 1 million people.
Humanitarian colleagues in Tigray have just one month of fuel supply to run water pumps for 90,000 refugees. Supply for several programmes are also running low.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is finalizing a humanitarian response plan. The UN country teams in neighbouring Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti are also being supported to finalize their contingency plan.
Just to dive a little deeper on the issue: the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tells us they are working with authorities in Sudan to help more than 7,000 refugees who fled Ethiopia in the past two days; this obviously following clashes in the Tigray region.
UNHCR and local authorities are screening and registering people who are arriving in Sudan. More refugees from Ethiopia to arrive in other neighbouring countries. Our UNHCR colleagues are stepping up its preparations for emergency relief by working with governments and partners.
We urge governments in the neighbouring countries to keep their borders open for people forced to flee from their homes. UNHCR is also asking the Ethiopian authorities to take steps to allow the agency to keep providing assistance to the safety to refugees and internally displaced people who are in Tigray.
Within Ethiopia, UNHCR is very concerned for the more than 96,000 Eritreans living in refugee camps and the host communities living alongside them, as well as the 100,000 people in Tigray who were already internally displaced before this particular violence started.
Staying in the Horn of Africa, in Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that nearly 73,000 people have now been affected by flash floods.
More than 13,000 have been displaced and it is believed that four people have died.
The floods come at a time when aid workers are responding to the pandemic, a desert locust invasion, and the impact of the previous flooding.
The UN and our partners are undertaking a rapid needs assessment and have also mobilized pre‑positioned supplies to help those affected. At least 6,000 people have been provided with shelter.
I also want to note on Bahrain, that the Secretary‑General sends his condolences to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and his family, and the Government of Bahrain at the passing of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa was the world’s longest serving prime minister, serving for almost half a century, during a period of great change and the modernization of Bahrain.
And as you saw earlier today, representatives from the Governments of Israel and Lebanon held productive talks mediated by the United States and hosted by the United Nations Special Coordinator’s Office. The United States and the Special Coordinator remain hopeful that these negotiations will lead to a long‑awaited resolution. The parties committed to continue negotiations in early December.
And a quick update on Malawi on what our colleagues are doing to address the pandemic and supporting the government.
The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres, has installed an oxygen plant to generate over one million litres of oxygen a day in one of the main hospitals.
The team is also helping to increase access to clean water and sanitation. To prevent infections in schools, health facilities, markets, and other public spaces, nearly 200 water samples from boreholes and taps were collected, with nearly 30 per cent found to be contaminated and handed to authorities for swift action.
The UN team has also delivered medical supplies, including infrared thermometers, medical masks and hand sanitizers.
In the past two weeks, we have provided personal protection equipment, hygiene materials, food and psychological first aid to nearly 5,000 Malawians returning from South Africa. Some 10,000 people have been reached with COVID‑19 messages through door‑to‑door campaigns, as well as other community outreach mechanisms.
Turning to Latin America, where pandemic has led to the biggest economic contraction in the last 100 years, with major economic, labour, social and production‑related costs. That’s according to a new report by the International Labour Organization and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The greatest impacts were felt in the second quarter of the year, when it is estimated that approximately 47 million jobs were lost across the region.
The report is online.
You saw that yesterday we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General said that he was shocked over recent reports of massacres by non-State armed groups in several villages in northern Mozambique, including the reported beheading and kidnapping of women and children. He strongly condemns this wanton brutality.
The full statement was shared with you.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
Also yesterday afternoon, we announced a senior personnel appointment, which I want to read into the record.
The Secretary‑General has appointed Alice Wairimu Nderitu of Kenya as Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. She has been a recognized voice in the field of peacebuilding and violence prevention, having led as a mediator and senior adviser in reconciliation processes among communities in Kenya, as well as other African settings. Her full bio is available.
**UN Resident Coordinator
And lastly, the UN Development Coordination Office tells us that Michaela Friberg‑Storey of Sweden has taken up her new post as Resident Coordinator in Kazakhstan on 1 November. Her appointment follows confirmation from the host Government.
Resident Coordinators, as you know, boost coordination among UN entities to help countries tackle and recover better from the COVID‑19 pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
We are proud to announce that we remain with full gender parity and North‑South geographic balance among all our Resident Coordinators serving 162 countries and territories.
**Questions and Answers
Question: A request before I have some questions. Given the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Tigray, do you think you could get someone from the ground to tell us a little bit more, whoever's there from the UN…?
Spokesman: We are trying. Yeah, yeah.
Question: It would be useful to have a briefing. Okay. So, questions: you mentioned the Yemen Security Council meeting. Mr. Lowcock, in that meeting, said it's not Yemenis who are going hungry. He said they are being starved. Who does the UN believe is starving them?
Spokesman: We have said from the beginning this is a man‑made crisis, a man‑made disaster. I think all those involved in fighting, in military operations have a responsibility. We have called for the guns to be silenced for a long time now.
There are parties in Yemen. There are parties outside of Yemen. The Secretary‑General has been calling repeatedly for a global ceasefire for people to fight the pandemic. This is one of these case in points, as we say.
Question: And moving further afield from there to Hong Kong and the news from the Legislative Council, the LegCo there, where four members have been ousted, prompting the other pro‑democracy… the 15 others to resign. How concerned is the Secretary‑General that this is a further attack on democracy in Hong Kong?
Spokesman: Look, I think the Secretary‑General has been saying for a long time now and in a way that's applicable the world over is that he's always insisted on the need for civic space, as well as the integrity and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Question: Wouldn't it be useful to have a statement not on the situation globally but on the situation in Hong Kong, where it seems democracy is under threat? Could you address specifically what has happened with these four figures and the others quitting? Because that was part of the democratic tradition of Hong Kong that seems to be disappearing.
Spokesman: I understand you. I think this concern for shrinking civic space and attack on human rights is one the Secretary‑General has pointed out globally and is applicable in this situation, as well. Yep.
Question: Stéphane, the situation in Côte d'Ivoire is getting… which is going to be a big problem for Liberia. What can the Secretary‑General do to defuse the tension? But it's not even a tension. It's really murderous now.
Spokesman: I think we have been working with Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas and our partners in ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] to encourage dialogue amongst the political parties to avoid a further slide into violence and conflict. I think we've already seen… what has been distressing is not only the violence in Côte d'Ivoire but the fact that people have fled into neighbouring countries fearing for their lives, and so, instability in Côte d'Ivoire will have an impact and is already starting to have an impact in the region.
Correspondent: Yeah, but, obviously, it's not working, what the UN is doing.
Spokesman: Well, listen, it's… there is no magic wand that can be waved. I think it's important that we work closely with ECOWAS, with other regional partners and that the international community speak with one voice.
Okay. Let's go to the screen. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yeah. I want to follow up… thank you, Stéphane. I want to follow up with James Bays' question about Yemen. Remember the donors meeting had only… was met… those pledges in the donors meeting by 38 per cent, I believe. Among the two countries who always the biggest donors are Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, I believe Saudi Arabia lately had put some money. I'm not sure how much, but United Arab Emirates did not put any money, and it is involving the war and some of the miseries the Yemenis are facing because of the involvement of the United Arab Emirates in the war. So, can you give us update on the… who met their pledges at the Donors Conference?
Spokesman: The… I don't have the numbers with me, but the numbers are public. We can look on the relevant OCHA website that keeps track of who gives money and the pledges and when those pledges are converted into cash.
I think Mr. Lowcock, in his remarks, referred to a meeting tomorrow with the Europeans and other donors. We continue to appeal to all those who have pledged but not paid to pay and all those who have not pledged to pledge and give money.
There is a need… an immediate need for cash in our humanitarian operations in Yemen. We've talked about repeatedly, over the past few weeks, about programmes being cut or scaled down. And that's a reality. And meanwhile, I mean, I think you read Mr. Lowcock's remarks about… I mean, the very vivid language he uses about what happens when babies do not have food. And I would encourage everyone to read that.
Okay. Iftikhar, and then Joe.
Question: Thank you, Steph. This statement by the Secretary‑General about attacks on journalists must be welcomed, but is there any particular event that triggered it?
Spokesman: I think we've been seeing disturbing cases of journalists being killed all over the world, and we felt it was time to speak up.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Joe, and then we'll go to Maria and then Elena.
Question: Yes. I'm just following up on the question I asked a couple days ago regarding the liquidity situation at the UN at the present time. And, in addition, is the United States on its usual schedule in terms of payment and its assessment dues, or is it late? And is there any effort to either contact the appropriate people in the [Donald] Trump Administration or the transition team of the Biden… the incoming [Joseph] Biden Administration to get the US to pay up [audio gap, inaudible]?
Spokesman: We continue to receive payments from the United States. I'd say they are broadly on their usual schedule. Received  million, I think, not… just a few… on Friday or a few days ago.
The issue… the liquidity crisis continues. We will probably end up with greater… as the Secretary‑General predicted, greater arrears at the end of this year than we had last year and forcing to borrow from other funds, including closed peacekeeping missions.
Question: Well, is there now a contingency plan being developed to be put in effect while… previously in terms of staff cuts…
Spokesman: The contingency plan… I mean, the plan to roll back the amount of money has continuously been put in place. There is a hiring freeze across most departments. We have asked managers to push back investments that could be pushed back. But we will be in… we are in a strange place where we will not have enough money to fulfil the budgetary obligations that the Member States give us, and we may wind up having to return some of the money that we were not even able to spend.
Okay. Maria, and then Elena. Sorry…
Correspondent: Hi, Steph.
Spokesman: Yeah. Yeah.
Question: Hi. On Nagorno‑Karabakh, yesterday, you mentioned that the United Nations is in touch with Russian authorities on the possibilities of some help and observance of the ceasefire agreement. So, do you have any update on the possibilities for…
Spokesman: I mean, I know the Russian authorities have spoken, either today or late yesterday, with UNHCR, and they are really the… since the agreement specifies the issues of refugees and returnees, they are in the lead, and I know they're in touch with Russian authorities.
Question: Hello. Thank you so much for taking my question. It's about Mozambique and the statement yesterday issued, for which I also thank you. I wanted to ask, what kind of information does the UN have because… about the alleged massacres that have occurred in Mozambique, because public information is not from completely reliable sources?
Spokesman: We have information from sources that we deem reliable on the ground.
Question: So, from the UN?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, our UN staff… I mean, we have… I can't say that the UN… there's no first‑hand account from the UN staff, but, obviously, the UN office in Mozambique is very much aware of the situation.
Question: Right. Do you have any concrete numbers that you are taking as a fact?
Spokesman: No, I have no numbers that I can say are UN numbers at this point.
Question: Okay. And one last question. I know the Secretary‑General is expecting there to be an investigation from the Government. What if the massacre is not officially confirmed, as it… like, what we know for now is, like, maybe 50 people were beheaded, but what if it's not completely or not officially confirmed?
Spokesman: It is the responsibility of the national authorities to investigate this incident. They have the primary responsibilities, as they have the primary responsibility to protect their own civilians, as every Member States does.
Question: And is the UN going to help?
Spokesman: We are always ready to help should we be asked.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. You're welcome. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. That's about [inaudible] if you are asked. Again, about… maybe looks like a small problem, but the 18 fishermen that now they are still prisoner in Libya, and now it's 70 days that they've been in this situation. And maybe few words from the Secretary‑General will be… at this point maybe could be helpful, because even the Pope talk; nothing works.
So, do you have any circumstance… actually, I have a specific question. Does the Secretary‑General have information about this situation? Does… is… do the Italian Government ask to him his help?
And there is any way that the Secretary‑General can say a few words about the… those people, prisoner in Libya?
Spokesman: Look, we're, obviously, concerned about their fate, and we want the situation to be resolved as quickly as possible and see them released. I'm trying to get some information from our colleagues on the ground on exactly what the state of play is.
Question: Yeah. So, question first on Syria. President [Bashar al] Assad has had a conference on refugees, and he lashed out against the US, the EU, and Syria's neighbours, blaming them for the reluctance of those that have fled Syria to return. What is the UN's position on the situation in Syria now and the safety of refugees to return at this stage?
Spokesman: We were present as an observer at the conference with our Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator. The decision to return and safety to return should be left up to the people themselves. That's a basic principle.
Question: And two further questions on Libya, if I can. The Secretary‑General had his virtual lunch with the Security Council earlier on this week. My understanding is that he has said that a new team for UNSMIL [UN Support Mission in Libya] and a new Special Envoy is now close. Are you now hopeful that that appointment, which has taken so long, could come soon and that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov could finally be in the job soon?
Spokesman: Well, I will answer your question, but by answering your question doesn't mean I agree with all the facts that you've put into your question. Yes, we hope that it's soon, but I think until… to use mixed metaphors, I think until all the chickens are lined up, we're not going to have an official announcement, and it's not official until we have an official announcement.
Question: And the other question on Libya, clearly, is the ceasefire and the ceasefire mechanism. I wanted to know what work was going on with regard to that. We've seen reports from Brussels of the European Union potentially making a substantial contribution in terms of ceasefire monitors. There's talk maybe of African and Arab monitors. How would this work? Would it be under a UN umbrella? Can you give us some more details?
Spokesman: I cannot at this point, but let me try to get you something.
Okay. Mr. [Brenden] Varma?