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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.


All right.  Good afternoon.  In a short while, I will be joined by Ambassador Munir Akram, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan, who is here in his capacity as the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  In the meantime, a few things for you:

**Secretary-General - World Food Programme

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke [to] the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Board.  He once again congratulated the colleagues on their Nobel Peace Prize, adding that he witnessed their commitment to deliver life‑saving assistance in the most remote locations, in the most dangerous situations and the most challenging contexts.

The Secretary‑General added that he could have never imagined that hunger would rise again during his time in office as Secretary‑General.  However, according to WFP figures, 130 million [more] people risk being pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of the year.  This is totally unacceptable, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said.  The COVID‑19 recovery must address inequalities and fragilities, and the question of food will be central to a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

Turning to climate, the Secretary‑General added that he believes that food systems will be essential in bringing [us] to net zero, adding that, in this regard, the work of WFP is also essential.  His full remarks are available.

**Secretary-General - Bloomberg Forum

Also this morning, the Secretary-General participated in the third annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum.  He said that the UN has been working to save lives, control transmissions of the virus and ease the fallout.  He added that we are advocating a massive rescue package for the world’s most vulnerable people and countries.

The Secretary‑General said that, even before the spread of the virus, inequalities were rising, societal divisions were widening, and a lack of opportunities was causing frustration and unrest.  He stressed that we must address these issues.  He also noted that we may [be at] a potential running point on climate change, with more countries pledging to be carbon neutral by 2050.  He emphasized that carbon should be given a price and that countries need to phase out coal.  2021 must be the year of a great leap towards carbon neutrality, he said, adding that, as we recover from the pandemic, we have an opening to address the climate crisis.


And the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, is concluding her visit to Ghana today, where she had a series of meetings with authorities, development partners, UN colleagues and civil society organizations.  This morning, she visited the National Peace Council, which continues to play a positive role in promoting a culture of peace in the country.  Later, she visited the UN hospital and a clinic supported by the UN to strengthen the Government’s COVID‑19 response, as well as the continuity of essential health services, particularly for women and children.  Yesterday evening, Amina Mohammed met with the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo‑Addo, as well as key ministers.  She took part in the presentation of the COVID‑19 UN Socioeconomic Response and Recovery Plan.

Over the weekend, she was in Sierra Leone, where she met with the President, Vice‑President and other key Government officials.  There, too, she took part in the presentation of the COVID‑19 UN Socioeconomic Response and Recovery Plan for Sierra Leone.  She also visited an area of the country where massive mudslides left over 1,100 people missing and 6,000 people displaced in 2017.  Since then, the UN has supported efforts to stabilize the slope from further slippage.  She also met with a group of women working to bring solar power to communities in the country.  She will be returning to Nigeria later today, which will be the last leg of her solidarity trip to West Africa.


And turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are alarmed by the escalating conflict in the north.  There have been reports of rocket attacks on the Amhara region, as well as in Eritrea.  There was also a reported air strike in the vicinity of Mekelle, the main city in Tigray region.  Our humanitarian colleagues repeat their call to all parties to the conflict to de‑escalate to avoid further casualties and the suffering of civilians.  According to unconfirmed reports, there is a massive internal displacement from western to northern Tigray.  More than 25,000 Ethiopians have crossed into Sudan so far.

We are equally alarmed by the increasing insecurity in western and southern Oromia province, as well as in the eastern Benishangul Gumuz region.  The protection of civilians and the adherence to international humanitarian law must be enforced as a priority by all parties.  In addition, we call for humanitarian access and the resumption of telecommunication and basic supplies, including food, medicine and fuel for [civilians] in the Tigray region.


A quick note from the Philippines, where our humanitarian colleagues tell us that 67 people have lost their lives, 21 people are reported injured and 13 are missing following Typhoon Vamco, which hit the main island of Luzon late last week.  Rescue operations are ongoing as floodwaters recede, with at least 50 villages remaining isolated.  In Isabella and Cagayan Provinces, at least 1.1 million people were impacted by flooding.  In Manila, tens of thousands of suburban homes were submerged.  This is the worst flooding in that region for decades.  The Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Gustavo González, has expressed his condolences to the Government and conveyed the readiness of the humanitarian community to provide support.  The Secretary-General joins the Resident Coordinator in expressing his condolences to the people of the Philippines for their losses.

**Central America

In Central America, people are bracing for another potentially catastrophic storm – that storm is named Iota – just two weeks after Hurricane Eta made landfall in the region causing death and destruction.  Ahead of Iota, we, along with our regional and national partners are building on the preparedness and response work under way for Eta, including pre‑propositioning of supplies.

Meanwhile, in response to Hurricane Eta, seven members of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team was deployed on Saturday to Honduras.  The team will assist authorities and the UN Country Team in needs assessments, coordination, logistics and information management and will remain in the country through November.


Just staying in that region, I have been asked about Peru and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General is following with concern recent developments in Peru.  He urges all stakeholders to work towards a prompt and institutional solution to the current political crisis and challenges facing the country, through inclusive dialogue with full respect for the rule of law.  The Secretary‑General is deeply disturbed by reports of excessive use of force and violence allegedly committed by security forces during the protests, including the death of two young men, dozens of injured and attacks against media workers.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and trusts that the authorities will conduct an impartial and independent investigation into these events.

[Receives note] This is what happens when you start on time!

**Security Council

And this morning, here, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council during a session on the G5 Sahel, and he did so by videoconference.  He said that, despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, counter‑terrorism efforts in the Sahel have intensified.  Mr. Lacroix welcomed the increased coordination of security players on the ground, adding that this has allowed for a more visible presence of defence and security forces, as well as stepped up [pressure] on terrorist groups.

Mr. Lacroix reiterated the importance of more predictable funding, saying that we should be mindful of the disastrous implications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the [situation in the Sahel is not adequately addressed.  His remarks have been shared with you.

**Israel - Palestine

Also, just for you to note, if you haven’t noted, that Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today that he was very concerned by the decision of the Israeli authorities to open the bidding process for the construction of Givat Hamatos.

If built, he warned, this would further consolidate the ring of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.  He added that it would significantly damage the prospects for a future contiguous Palestinian State and for achieving a negotiated two‑State solution based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.  Mr. Mladenov reiterated that settlement construction is illegal under international law and he called on the authorities to reverse this step.

**Secretary-General - Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Just for you to note that, over the weekend, the Secretary‑General spoke at the ASEAN‑UN Summit.  We distributed those remarks.  He said that, as we mark the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the UN, the international community is facing a “perfect storm” of a pandemic, the climate emergency, and rising geopolitical tensions, among many others.  He commended ASEAN for its commitment to international cooperation and regional [solidarity], as well as for its recognition that any COVID‑19 [vaccine] must be a global public good.  Those remarks have been shared with you.

**International Day for Tolerance

And in case you were wondering, today is the International Day for Tolerance, so be kind.  The UN is committed to strengthening tolerance by fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples.  In a tweet, the Secretary‑General made a call that, on this Day and every day, we should all advance human dignity, fight racism and forge peace, adding that it is his firm belief that we can help solve our biggest challenges by embracing diversity and respecting each other.  So, I will go to your questions.  Iftikhar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  You read about the situation in Ethiopia.  The situation has taken a turn for the worse and even spreading into third countries.  Has the Secretary‑General renewed his contacts with the leaders of the region to bring about an easing of tensions?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General has been making a number of calls over the weekend.  His envoy for the Horn of Africa also remains in the region.  He’s, obviously, following the developments in Tigray and the impact that they can have for the wider region with great concern.  I think we’ve talked often about the risk of destabilizing the whole of the Horn of Africa.  For him, it is very important to stress the need to prioritize human rights, the protection of civilians and access for humanitarian assistance.  I think, as I’ve just said, we are facing a bit of a black hole in terms of what is actually going on.  It is important that, urgently, measures to de‑escalate tensions be put in place, and he underlines the importance of peace in ensuring a stable and prosperous Horn of Africa.

Question:  One more.  How is Mr. Lacroix doing after his…?

Spokesman:  Mr.?

Correspondent:  Lacroix.

Spokesman:  Oh, he’s well.  He remains in… I don’t want to say splendid isolation but in quarantine in Lisbon, but I’ve been in touch with him.  And as far as I know, there are no symptoms, and he’s in good spirits and good enough spirits to brief the Security Council.  Apostolos, and then we’ll go to you, James.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Yesterday, in spite of pleas by the Secretary‑General and of the Security Council in Varosha, Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan went for a picnic in the fenced area.  Is the Secretary‑General intending to do something more drastic this time?  And since he openly supported a two‑State solution for Cyprus, is this altering Secretary‑General’s plans to send Mrs. [Jane Holl] Lute to the island for a new exploratory initiative?

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t have anything to share with you on Ms. Lute’s potential travel.  We’ve, obviously, been following what’s been going on over the weekend in Varosha very closely and I would say with concern.  Our position on Varosha remains unchanged, and we’re guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions, as we’ve often said.  I think it is important and the Secretary‑General calls on all parties to avoid any unilateral actions that could trigger tensions on the island and that would potentially undermine a return to dialogue for the future success of talks.  We call again on the parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve their differences.  We believe it is important to resume a viable and comprehensive negotiation process and remain committed to supporting the two sides in revitalising the political process.  And we reiterate our readiness to explore the possibility of convening an informal five‑plus‑UN meeting at an appropriate stage.  But, ultimately, the means for a durable solution in Cyprus are in the hands of the parties.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane… one more, if I may.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Since Mr. Erdoğan speaks now for a two‑State solution and the Secretary‑General, in his reports, he’s speaking about his six points at Crans‑Montana. On which basis is the new effort going to start?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General’s positions remains unchanged.  You’ve laid it out yourself, quoting the various Security Council… various reports to the Security Council.  So, our position will not change. We will leave you to do the compare‑and‑contrast.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  First, another vaccine, it seems, for COVID‑19.  The Secretary‑General’s reaction?

Spokesman:  Look, these are all very positive developments.  Obviously, they all need to be adequately vetted through the medical procedures, which we understand they are.  But it is also a reminder of the need to treat these vaccines as a global public good.

Question:  Moving on to Libya, thank you for the briefing that we had on Friday afternoon with the acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, who confirmed that the monitoring mechanism in Libya would be under a UN umbrella.  So, a couple of questions on that.  First, who is carrying out the effort?  Who’s in charge of the effort of trying to recruit these monitors?  Is it happening within UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Libya] or other people in this building working it?

Spokesman:  Those… I mean, let me just say, I’m not going to go any further than what she said.  If I can get more details, I will, but I won’t go any further than what she said to you on Friday.

Question:  Okay.  Well, with regard to a monitoring mechanism, which now she has said will be under a UN umbrella, one assumes that needs a new mandate from the Security Council.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  We would…

Question:  … And what is… if that is the case, what is the Secretary‑General’s message to the Security Council?

Spokesman:  Well, the message to the Security Council is support our efforts. Support the Libyan people. Support the process that is underway in a strong and united voice and also a reminder to reiterate our call for the respect of the embargoes on Libya, the arms embargo.

Ms. Williams is scheduled to speak to the Council later this week, if I’m not mistaken, so I expect she will update the Council.  Nick.  Go ahead.  Toby.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know why I’m calling you Nick, Toby… Toby, Nick.  Whatever.  You know who you are even if I’m not sure who you are.  But, yes, go ahead, Toby.

Question:  I’ll be Nick for today.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  My question is, the virus, we have a lot of good news about potential vaccines at the moment; it’s true.  But the virus is surging globally and surging here in the US in particular . And I’m wondering how concerned is the Secretary‑General over these numbers and what this pandemic is doing at the moment.

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General is like all of us.  He’s very concerned about rising numbers wherever we see them, and it is a reminder for people to tackle the virus with policies that are tethered to reality and that are based on science.  And while, obviously, I think, as you pointed out, the vaccine… all these vaccines are very good news, there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of containing the spread of the virus every day… today and every day.  Philippe from AFP, and then we’ll go to Maria.

Question:  Hello, Stéphane.  Sorry if I missed that, but can you confirm, on Western Sahara, exchange of fire between the two parties?

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that the Mission, MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara], has received reports by both parties of incidents of shooting, at night‑time in the Territory at various locations along the berm.  The Mission continues to urge the parties to exercise restraint and take all necessary steps to defuse tensions, and our colleagues on the ground in Western Sahara are continuing to monitor the situation very closely.  Okay.  Maria?

Correspondent:  It’s… sorry…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Philippe.  Sorry.

Correspondent:  No, just to tell you that it would be nice if we can have a contact also with MINURSO, I mean even for journalists in Morocco, because it’s very difficult to have information from them.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Registered.  Maria Khrenova?

Question:  Hi, Steph. Thank you.  So, I have a follow‑up on Ethiopia…

Spokesman:  You’re muted, Maria.  Go ahead.  Try it again.

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  Good.  Hi again, everyone.  So, a follow‑up on Ethiopia. I just wonder if you have any numbers of casualties.  And another question on Moldova, where presidential elections were held and likely without any civil unrest so far, so I wonder if SG has a comment on that.

Spokesman:  Okay. I heard Moldova, if that’s correct. I don’t have any comment on…

Question:  … [Inaudible] So it’s not as good as I expected.

Spokesman:  Okay.  You’re breaking up.  I don’t have anything on Moldova.  On Ethiopia, obviously, we’re very concerned about the reports of casualties, of high casualties, among civilians and targeted attacks among civilians.  As I said, part of the issue is the lack of communication with the area.


We are continuing to see an outflow of people from Ethiopia, from Tigray province into Sudan. There’ve been more than 20,000, according to my colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], that have crossed the border.  Plus, we’re obviously concerned about the plight of the Eritrean refugees who are already in Ethiopia.  There’s 96,000 of them, and there were also internally displaced people in Tigray.  There’s a risk of this becoming a grave, grave humanitarian crisis.  Did you have another question?  Okay. We’ll leave it at that.

Question:  Moldova but you said you don’t have, so… [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Excellent.  Thanks.  Okay.  Dulcie asked about Amina Mohammed.  We will ask her to come and brief after she comes back.  Gloria, a quick question, and then we’ll go to our guest.

Question:  Yes.  Yes.  I think I’m one of the few people who followed the Cyprus questions and even visited north and south Cyprus, and I could be incorrect, but are there talks at least on tourism between the two countries {sic], an investment and agreed‑upon repairs to both sides?  Because on both sides, the real estate is running where there are questions of ownership, and the people on the islands are ready and willing to follow any accord to be able to invest, unload or somehow the… solve these financial problems, which would help both sides of the island.

Spokesman:  All right.  Well, these are issues, I think, that are very much front and foremost on the minds of those who are trying to move the process forward.  Okay.  I will ask… we’ll bring in our guest, and I’ll be back in two seconds.

For information media. Not an official record.