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.
[Following an earlier briefing on Ethiopia] Let me just follow up with some more info on what’s going on in Ethiopia itself.
Obviously, we continue to be gravely concerned about the safety of civilians who may be caught up in the conflict and how blocked roads are hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who need it.
We, along with our partners are continuing to identify existing supplies and staff to deploy to the region once access is granted. We obviously urgently call on all parties to the conflict to allow for immediate, free, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.
Electricity continues to be cut off. Fuel for generators has run out. That leaves 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia without clean water.
UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) says that more than 31,000 people have crossed into Sudan — and just to flag that a Humanitarian Preparedness Plan targeting nearly 2 million people has been finalized. The plan seeks $75 million to help people affected by the conflict in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia until January 2021.
Our colleagues note that, in addition to the current conflict, there are many humanitarian concerns elsewhere in the country, including displacement, desert locusts, food insecurity and, of course, COVID-19.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke, in a pre-recorded video message, to the European Council on Foreign Relations.
He focused on the climate crisis and said that while we may have seen encouraging responses by countries who have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, we are still running behind in the race against time.
The Secretary-General said that we need to see more ambitious plans well in advance of COP26 (26th Conference of Parties) this time next year. He urged the European Union to commit to reducing emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 in its new nationally determined contribution.
He also added that it’s essential that the European Union accelerates its transition towards clean energy. “There must be no new coal, and all existing coal in the European Union should be phased out by 2030 in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, and by 2040 elsewhere,” he said. Adding that, he also called on the European Union to stop the financing of fossil fuels internationally and to promote a shift in taxation from income to carbon.
In addition, he added that the EU can help developing countries tackle the existing crisis and should lead the way in aligning international trade with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
**Secretary-General — Racism
And also this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a panel discussion for UN staff on racism in the workplace.
He noted that racism is a persistent scourge in our world, adding that people’s opportunities for education and employment, and their access to health care and justice, are often determined by race.
Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said that racism challenges every Government, every society, and every organization — including the United Nations.
Let me be very clear, he stressed. Racism has no place here in the UN.
But let’s be honest, he added. Sometimes we have been slow to acknowledge the existence of racism inside the organization.
We are launching today a campaign on Awareness and Action to make sure that everyone who contributes to the work of the United Nations feels respected and valued as individuals and as a member of our UN family.
His remarks have been shared with you.
**Central African Republic
Quick update from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in advance of the elections, later in December.
Earlier this week, the Mission assisted the National Elections Authority in Berberati, in the Mambéré Kadéi Prefecture. Our colleagues helped to monitor the recruitment process for polling agents. They also contributed to an update of the plan for the deployment and collection of electoral material.
The recruitment process of 16,000 polling agents is being conducted in all 16 prefectures with the United Nations’ support.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Denise Brown, together with the Deputy Force Commander and Police Commissioner, met with the country’s ministers of defence and territorial administration, local authorities, and the defence and security forces to discuss the establishment of local committees to secure the elections.
Stephanie Williams, the Acting Special Representative for Libya, spoke to the Security Council by videoconference today. She said that we have made substantial progress in the search for peace and stability in Libya. She also said that the ceasefire agreement signed in Geneva provides for the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from the frontlines and the departure of mercenaries and foreign fighters from the entire Libyan territory within a period of 90 days.
More work remains to be done, she said, but the Libyans stood up and did their part. We owe it to them to do ours by fully respecting and supporting these agreements, including respect for the non-interference in Libya’s internal affairs and full implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya.
She told the Council members that it has tools at its disposal to prevent obstructionists from jeopardizing this rare opportunity to restore peace in Libya, and she called on the members of the Council to use those tools.
Turning to Honduras, we, along with our humanitarian partners in the country, have launched a flash appeal to respond to the needs of 450,000 people. Those are the most vulnerable people impacted by Tropical Storm Eta. The Plan calls for $69.2 million to support the Government’s response.
Heavy rains brought by the storm triggered floods that caused catastrophic damage across nearly all of Honduras and impacted more than 2 million people. The passage of Eta worsened existing vulnerabilities that, combined with the pandemic, greatly increased humanitarian needs.
Given the recent new tropical storm Iota, the plan will be updated following assessments of its impact.
It is based on the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles as well as the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s Data Strategy on data protection, privacy, and human rights.
The statement is online.
Also on COVID, a new report released by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) today warns of significant and growing consequences for children as the pandemic lurches towards a second year. UNICEF says that while symptoms among infected children remain mild, infections are rising and the longer-term impact on the education, nutrition and well-being of an entire generation of children and young people can be life-altering.
They also point out that there is a 40 per cent decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries.
That report is online.
**COVID-19 — Iran
Quick update from our UN country team in Iran and what they are doing to support authorities in their efforts to support vulnerable groups, including refugees and undocumented Afghans.
The UN team, led by acting Resident Coordinator Claudio Providas, launched a socioeconomic recovery programme in support of the Government, assisting 16 million people and more than 11 million households.
WHO (World Health Organization) has provided 150 ventilators, 60 real-time PCR machines and more than 200,000 COVID testing kits, among other items. UN agencies have also provided 220 tons of personal protective equipment to different provinces for health-care workers and vulnerable communities.
Meanwhile, for its part, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) distributed 8,000 packages containing brochures and podcasts with basic and critical information on COVID for people who use drugs. UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) also conducted a nation-wide needs assessment for people living with HIV.
WFP (World Food Programme) and UNHCR are providing tens of thousands of refugees with cash and food grants. And UNICEF is providing psychosocial counselling to adolescents, minors and mothers in detention, and others in need.
**World Toilet Day
Today is World Toilet Day, and this year the theme of the Day marks the importance of “sustainable sanitation and climate change”. Flood, drought, and rising sea levels are threatening sanitation systems — from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants.
The aim of the Day is also to raise awareness about the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation.
**World Philosophy Day
And today is also another day. Can you think about that? It is World Philosophy Day, which was introduced in 2002 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
This year, the Day invites the world to reflect on the meaning of the current pandemic, underlining the need, more than ever before, to resort to philosophical reflection in order to face the multiple crises we are going through.
As a reminder, tomorrow, there will not be a daily noon briefing, as I will be replaced by my boss, the Secretary-General, who will be here at 12:30, for a stakeout to preview his participation in this weekend’s G20 summit. He will obviously have some remarks and take some questions from you, as I will do now.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On this day for contemplation on the loo, I’m going to ask you several questions. Can I start with Yemen? The US Administration looks like it’s going to designate Ansar Allah, the Houthis, as a terrorist group. Some humanitarian groups are worried about the implications of humanitarian aid. How concerned is the UN this could affect its operations?
Spokesman: Look, to give you my stock answer that I’m not going to comment on something that has yet to happen, but what is clear for us is that, as we’ve been underlining, the growing risk of famine in Yemen underlines the need for us to continue to have access, to continue to be able to conduct principled humanitarian assistance and reach all people who need it in Yemen.
I think as Mr. [Mark] Lowcock, Mr. [David] Beasley, the Secretary‑General and so many others have said that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has never been worse.
Question: Foreign Policy are reporting that the UN has already withdrawn US nationals who are working for the UN in northern Yemen. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: No, I’m not going to comment on security issues, but I can tell you that we have been doing some basic rotations of staff.
Question: To Ethiopia and the Ethiopian army chief has made certain allegations against Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the head of the WHO, describing him as a criminal, saying that he’d been supplying weapons to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. What is the Secretary‑General’s view on this attack on this very senior figure in the UN system?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has the utmost respect for Dr. Tedros, who is an exemplary international civil servant.
We’ve all seen the work that he’s been doing leading WHO. He’s guided it through a number of emergencies, Ebola, COVID, obviously unprecedented emergencies, and he’s always focused, first and foremost, on the urgent need to strengthen global public health for all.
Correspondent: I’ll save my rest for later.
Spokesman: Thank you. You’re so kind to share the time.
Question: Stephane, une question sur le Burundi, donc, si je peux, en français. Le Burundi a demandé dans une lettre la fermeture du bureau de l’ONU le 31 décembre. Dans un récent rapport, Antonio Guterres demande à ce qu’il soit fermé le 31 décembre 2021. Quelle est votre réaction?
Spokesman: I don’t have… I don’t have a comment at this point on Burundi. Je ne commenterai pas dans cet instant, but I will come back to you.
Question: Thank you, Steph. How does the UN view the move by Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo to visit the West Bank? Is this a provocative gesture?
Spokesman: I will leave the analysis to you and other journalists. Our stance on the illegality of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains unchanged.
Okay. Any other questions?
Question: Hi. Can I jump in? It’s James Reinl here.
Spokesman: Yes, James. Sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Thanks so much. It’s just a continuation of Toby’s question, actually. Mr. Pompeo is, obviously, in the West Bank. He’s been meeting with Israeli officials. He’s made references to the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, BDS. He said that it’s anti‑Semitic. Does the UN have a position on BDS? And what is that position in a line or two?
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of at this point, but I will get back to you.
All right. Let me see if there are any other questions in the… oh, Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Does the Secretary‑General have any thoughts on United States having reached a grim milestone of quarter of million deaths due to coronavirus?
Spokesman: Look, we are reaching grim milestones all over the world on COVID, and I think it’s just a reminder of the need for coordinated response from the international community, on the need to ensure that the vaccines that are being developed are accessible to all and treated as a global public good.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Maggie, did you have a question?
Correspondent: [inaudible] No…
Spokesman: No. Okay.
Correspondent: Sorry. No. Sorry. It’s not working.
Spokesman: Ibtisam, and then we’ll go back to James, who’s twitching.
Question: Hi, Steph. Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes, I can.
Question: So, I have two questions, the first one on Libya regarding UN envoy. Is there any news there, given the fact also that the American ambassador today in the meeting said that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov is the right person for the job? Do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: We will be there when we’re there. When we have an official announcement, we will share with you. I think no one more than the Secretary‑General would want to see this issue solved, though it bears reiterating what a fantastic job our acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, has been doing. But, obviously, there is a need for a permanent envoy and a coordinator, and we will fulfil that request as soon as all the dots are I’d or all the I’s are dotted.
Question: So, you don’t have a comment on what the American ambassador said regarding Mr. Mladenov and the fact that he’s the right man for the job and that she wants to see it soon announced, or something like that.
Spokesman: We would all like to see an announcement made soon. As you know better than I, this is not only in the hands of the Secretary‑General, but he is continuing to plug at it, and we hope this to be resolved soon.
Spokesman: Sorry. You’re muted, Ibtisam.
Question: So, my second question is back to the Secretary of State visit to the West Bank and the settlements. I understand that you don’t… in general, you don’t comment on these issues, but in this case, actually, this visit comes against UN resolutions, on occupied territory to settlements, so I do not understand why don’t you have a comment on that.
Spokesman: I have… the comment that I have is that our position is clear, right, on where we stand on illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The respect for Security Council resolutions is up to Member States to respect those resolutions.
Question: But don’t you… so, yeah, absolutely, but somebody is… Secretary of State is not respecting your own resolutions. So, you don’t have a comment on that?
Spokesman: Resolutions of the Security Council are everyone [inaudible] resolutions.
Question: This is a follow‑up on that, though. Does the Secretary‑General believe that Secretary Pompeo is respecting the Security Council resolutions by visiting that settlement?
Spokesman: I’m not going to get into a running commentary on his visit.
Question: Okay. Moving to Uganda. The situation has deteriorated further. The figures I have — but they may have changed further — are 16 dead, 350 arrested. And the opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, is still in custody. UN response?
Spokesman: We call for the immediate release of the detained opposition leaders, including Bobi Wine, and it’s important that security forces act in a way that respects human rights principles and the rule of law in dealing with protesters.
I can tell you that we’re following very closely and with great concern the developments in the country, including the reports of casualties that you’ve mentioned.
It is vital that all political leaders and their supporters commit themselves to peaceful conduct and refrain from any incitement to violence or hate speech during the process.
Question: And on the part of what you just said there about the security forces, your response to the fact it appears that, on some occasions, they have been using live ammunition?
Spokesman: We have… whether it’s in Uganda and many other countries, it is critical that security forces show restraint, especially when faced with people demonstrating their basic right to express themselves and to demonstrate.
Okay. Any other question…? Gloria, then Stefano.
Question: My question is with the refugees. Do they have the engineering resources within themselves to help farm in local areas where farming could be helped around where the refugee camps are? Can they help in restructuring the building of the refugee camps? Because if we go back to America in the 1600s, when the refugees came from England, they had nothing, and they built up a whole community. Refugees are very resourceful. Can they be harnessed in this situation?
Spokesman: I would, of course, agree with you that refugees are resourceful without going back to the seventeenth century, which I don’t often do here.
I think, first and foremost, if you’re referring to the area… the refugees coming from Ethiopia, they need help; they need support. As Babacar [Cisse] said, they’ve been walking for days. So, the first focus is, obviously, on getting them the help, the food, the rest that they need.
And we’ve seen all over the world refugee communities being an asset to their host communities, but let’s focus on their immediate needs, which is support after an exhausting journey. Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question again is about the fishermen prisoner in Libya by the [Khalifa] Haftar militia. Does Secretary‑General Guterres… is there any chance to look on the matter to find a way to resolve the situation? Can you update us with that?
Spokesman: I mean, no more update than what we’ve said to you recently, which is that the mission was seized of the matter and is in touch with local authorities and that we hope to see those who have been detained freed.
Question: And just a quick follow‑up. I asked the last time if the Secretary‑General with an intention has to issue a statement, even a short statement, because sometimes helps, like the Pope did, for example.
Spokesman: There are a lot of tools available to the Secretariat, to the Secretary‑General, and we will deploy those tools as needed.
At this point, we think it is… this matter is best being handled by the UN Mission, and obviously, we would hope that others also put pressure in the right places to see these detained people go free.
Okay. Mr. [Brenden] Varma, you’ve earned your spot.