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. Happy Monday. It feels like we just saw each other a few days ago.
I just want to start off with a sad note that obviously the Secretary-General was very saddened to hear of the passing of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of the Kingdom of Eswatini. He extends his deepest condolences to the people and the Government of the country. And I expect a full, more formal statement on that shortly.
I have a trip announcement for you. The Secretary-General will travel on Wednesday to Berlin, where he will address the German Parliament on Friday morning. While in Berlin, he will also meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He will be discussing various issues with them, including the pandemic, climate crisis and international cooperation. We will share in advance his remarks to the Bundestag with you.
I have a statement to share with you on Yemen and the anniversary with the Stockholm Agreement. Today marks the second anniversary of the Stockholm Agreement, a diplomatic breakthrough that offered a glimmer of hope that an end to the devastating conflict in Yemen was at hand. Unfortunately, far more needs to be done to achieve that common goal — and the profound suffering of the Yemeni people has persisted. The Stockholm Agreement helped to avert a catastrophic military escalation at the time, thereby safeguarding the continued although limited functioning of the Red Sea ports and the entry of commercial goods and key humanitarian assistance, on which millions of Yemenis depend to survive. The preservation of this lifeline is even more vital now as pockets of famine-like conditions have returned in Yemen and millions are facing severe, growing food insecurity, in particular against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary-General calls on all Member States to step up their financial support for the United Nations relief operations, and to help address the severe economic crisis of the country.
He calls on the parties to fulfil the commitments they assumed in Stockholm, including through full and unconditional participation in the Redeployment Coordination Committee and its related joint mechanisms, and the implementation of the terms of the ceasefire on the ground. It is crucial to avoid any action that would exacerbate the dire situation in Yemen. The Secretary-General urges the parties to engage with his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, and that engagement be in good faith. Only through dialogue will the Yemeni parties be able to agree on a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian confidence-building measures to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, as well as the resumption of an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement to end the conflict. We will be sharing that statement with you electronically as we speak.
Also, I just wanted to flag that the Head of the UN Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) and Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, Lieutenant General Abhijit Guha, is also calling for full implementation of the Agreement to end the suffering of the people of Yemen. Both General Guha and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, as well as Martin Griffiths, briefed the Security Council this morning on Yemen in a closed meeting.
On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues continue to tell us of dire shortages of food, water, fuel, cash and electricity, as well as telecommunication services and other vital supplies in the Tigray region. Yesterday, we were told that the mobile network and electrical power were reportedly restored in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle — that is to be welcomed — and we reiterate our call for all basic services in the region to be restored. As we’ve been telling you, the communications blackout has made it very difficult to verify information and to provide basic humanitarian services to those who need it the most. So far, more than 63,000 people have been recorded as internally displaced in Tigray, including some who fled towards Afar and Amhara. We expect these numbers to change if access to the region is allowed. An inter-agency mission conducted between 2 and 8 December in Afar found that thousands of newly internally displaced people need water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as medical supplies and care.
We, as well our humanitarian partners, continue to mobilize resources and personnel as we prepare to scale up assistance in Tigray as soon as humanitarian access is re-established for the United Nations. We also continue to engage at the highest levels with the federal Government to work out operational details, including security conditions, to guarantee access. And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners in Shire continue to coordinate the protection of refugees, despite difficulties in accessing the camps, among others. Over the past month, our colleagues tell us that there has been an increased spread of misinformation on social media. We are working with the Government of Ethiopia and others to rectify this.
Turning to Nigeria, you will have seen yesterday that we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack on 11 December on a secondary school in Katsina State in Nigeria, and the reported abduction of hundreds of boys by suspected armed bandits. The Secretary-General calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted children and, of course, for their safe return to their families. He reiterates that attacks on schools and other educational facilities constitute a grave violation of human rights. He urges the Nigerian authorities to bring those responsible for this act to justice. And he of course reaffirms the solidarity with the Government and people of Nigeria in their fight against organized crime, violent extremism and terrorism. For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also expressed its concern about the violence. It stressed that children should feel safe at home, in schools and in their playgrounds at all times. They add that they stand with the families of missing children and the community impacted by this horrifying event.
As you will recall, if you can recall back to Saturday, that the Secretary-General, along with the Governments of the United Kingdom and France, co-convened the Climate Ambition Summit. The Summit marked a major milestone on the road to next year’s twenty-sixth Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in Scotland in the United Kingdom. The Secretary-General appealed to leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached. He also said, as we look ahead, the central objective of the UN for 2021 is to build a Global Coalition for Carbon Neutrality, for global net‑zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. He added that there is solid momentum behind the net‑zero goal and that by early next year, countries representing two thirds of global carbon‑dioxide emissions and 70 per cent of the world economy will have made strong commitments to carbon neutrality. At the Summit, 75 leaders from all continents outlined new commitments and you can find more details on each of these pledges on the Summit’s website.
**Timor-Leste — COVID-19
And turning to Timor-Leste, I’ve been meaning to give you an update on what we are doing on the ground to help address the pandemic. The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy, is helping on several fronts, including the socioeconomic response and recovery efforts. With support from the Secretary‑General’s “Recover Better” fund, the UN has provided technical expertise and funding to ensure that the Government’s social cash‑transfer scheme reached the most vulnerable and marginalized people. Nearly 300,000 households were reached through this scheme, which represents approximately 94 per cent of all low-income households in the country. The UN also brought in 13 women’s groups and the only LGBTI rights organization in the country to monitor the scheme to ensure that the process is inclusive. Given the success of this initiative, authorities have also asked the UN for support in the development of a longer-term National Food Assistance Policy.
Just to flag that tomorrow, our guest will be the Acting Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, who will join us virtually to brief on his recent travels to Afghanistan. And I will leave it at that, and I will turn to you. Ibtisam?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Yemen, so, you talked about… in your statement, about the updates of what's happening with the Stockholm Agreement, but could you say more on what it's… what do you… what are you expecting and why it's not happening? Like, what's standing in your way?
Spokesman: Well, what is standing in our way is the parties… all the parties involved agreeing on a nationwide ceasefire, on better humanitarian access. I think that's a question to ask the various parties. Our efforts on Hudaydah through the support Mission and more… nationwide through the efforts of Mr. Griffiths have continued. Mr. Griffiths continues to be in constant touch with the parties. It's a labour that he is not giving up on. I mean, we're seeing every day that is… which there is no agreement, the suffering of the Yemeni people continues and increases in a very negative way.
Question: A follow‑up… two follow‑ups on that. So… but… I mean, although all parties are talking about their agreement to the ceasefire, but they are actually not translating this on the ground to… so why not name and shame after all these years and two years waiting and trying and just talking exactly, too, about what's happening in the different parts?
Spokesman: I think we've been very clear about what is happening and the impact on the ground of the lack of progress. It's a very complex negotiation, and no party is guilt‑free. As in any of these efforts, it's one party sometimes that moves more forward than the other and then it's the flip side. So, the naming and shaming, I think, is not something that is conducive to getting an agreement.
Question: Okay. Last one. On the humanitarian front, so, there are some countries that promised to pay their share and still didn't pay. First of all, if you have any updates. And what do you say to countries who promised to pay more for humanitarian assistance and they are not paying? Thank you.
Spokesman: Our message is clear: Pay, cash. I mean, if you've pledged, turn those pledges into cash. If you haven't pledged, do so and turn those pledges into cash. The breakdown of the humanitarian appeal is on the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] website. I can send you the link, and you'll see it in real time where the money is, and sadly, where the money is not. Okay. Mr. Sato?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Nigeria, so, similar things of which terrorists kidnapping the children at school, again and again. So, what does Secretary‑General think the root cause is of these things happens and what can Sec… UN do for preventing these things happens?
Spokesman: Look, I think if you look at this particular incident, from the information that we have, it seems that it's more attributable to armed criminal groups than violent… than religious or violent extremists, extremist groups. That really doesn't change the fact that children have been abducted and that they need to be released. We are there in support of the Government and the people of Nigeria on a variety of socio‑economic issues. There are… the root causes are… the roots are deep, and they're complicated. It is issues of humanitarian issues, issues of climate change, issues of governance. And we are there with the Nigerian Government trying to address all of them. Okay. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any comment on today's decision by the US to remove Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism?
Spokesman: That's a bilateral issue between the US and Sudan. Obviously, anything that would make, I think, Sudan's place in the community of nations easier for them… easier to function would be welcome, but that's really a bilateral issue. Okay. Amanda, and then we'll go to Iftikhar.
Question: Hi, Steph. Can you provide a further update on Ethiopia, specifically on the UN's efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the region [inaudible]…
Spokesman: I'm sorry, on which… I heard… on what country?
Correspondent: On Ethiopia.
Spokesman: Ethiopia. Sorry. Not much more than what I've said. Our discussions with the Government to… on how to operationalize this… the agreement's continuing. It bears saying that it's somewhat frustrating, to say the least, that we've not been able to go in, that we've not been able to reach people that we know are in need. And again, like in so many other places, days wasted by a lack of agreement, a lack of green light for us, is just one more day of suffering for the people who need help. Okay. Iftikhar, and then Célhia.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Following up on questions on Yemen, could you also update us on what's happening to the FSO Safer?
Spokesman: Yes, we had… the last update that I had was that, about a week ago, we had a productive meeting with the de facto authorities. We are still hoping to stick to our timeline of late January, early February on site for that first critical mission. Célhia?
Question: Stéphane, about naming and shaming, what does the UN think about President [inaudible] visits in Paris and getting Légion d'honneur when so many people are arrested, jailed and killed?
Spokesman: It's not for me to comment on the decisions taken by the Government to do this. What I can tell you is that we have expressed, at various times, our concern about the shrinking civic space in Egypt, and notably, arrests of human rights defenders. But, on what happened in Paris, that's a question to address to other parties. Ibtisam, who's filling in for James today.
Correspondent: Seems to be, yeah.
Spokesman: And then I'll go to Sylviane, yeah.
Question: A follow‑up on Célhia's question on Egypt and France, also, if I'm not mistaken, France, they don't want anymore to connect the selling of weapons to human rights violations in Egypt. So, do you have a comment on that in general about countries selling… Western countries selling weapons to different countries that violate human rights, and specifically Egypt in this case?
Spokesman: Look, the global arms trade is huge business, and I think every country, whether from the global north, the global South, East or West, that sells weapons has to make decisions and has to face up responsibility for these sales, and that applies to every arms exporter. Sorry. Sylviane, and then we'll go to Stefano.
Question: Can you hear me? Thank you, Stéphane. Do you hear me, Stéphane?
Spokesman: I hear you.
Question: Okay. Thank you. My question is on Lebanon. A French Foreign Minister, Jean‑Yves Le Drian, said: "Lebanon's political and economic collapse was like the sinking of Titanic, only without the music." How much the SG can help in preventing the Lebanese people to perish with this Titanic? Please help us.
Spokesman: It sounds like I should have invited the Spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of France to this briefing. But on a…
Question: The SG, can he do something?
Spokesman: Listen, I think the Secretary‑General, through his representative on the ground, the Special Coordinator, Ján Kubiš, has been very, very clear on our position on Lebanon for the need for reforms, for the need for a government that listens to its people. The Secretary… the UN is represented as part of the International Support Group. We will continue to work individually and through the group to ensure that the people of Lebanon do not sink. Mr. Vaccara?
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. Because I connected a little bit late, I don't know if you talked about it, but Iran execute… Iran executed a journalist this weekend, Ruhollah Zam. So, I would like to know… it was a dissident journalist capture… captured in Iraq. So, I would like to know the reaction of the Secretary‑General. And then I have other two questions after you answer this.
Spokesman: We've, obviously, seen the news… the tragic news of the execution of Ruhollah Zam. I think this execution goes against two basic principles that the Secretary‑General holds dear. One is that he stands firmly against the use of the death penalty. Second, he stands firmly for freedom of the press. No journalist should be jailed, let alone executed, for just doing their job. Your second question?
Question: [Inaudible] week. It was about the internation… can you hear me? Can you hear me? The second question is… I already ask last week. It was about the international water in Libya and what is the position of the Secretary‑General about the fish… the Italian fishermen that were captured in this international water that Libya consider it on its own not international water, but the international community consider international water, so if the UN considered those water international, if Italy… if in case Italy resolve in force to try to rescue the fishermen, if it will be covered… if this action will be under the umbrella of international law?
Spokesman: A couple of things. One, I'm not going to comment on any hypothetical military operations. Second, the issue of demarcation of maritime borders between two nations is one that has to be decided bilaterally. Thirdly, I… permesso. Thirdly, we are very much aware of this very sad case of these Italian fishermen. Our mission on the ground is working with the authorities to try to resolve it in a positive manner. I'm not going to go ahead and speculate and opine on where they were caught. At this point, our focus is that these people should be freed. Okay. Abdelhamid, you had another question, and then I'll go to Gloria.
Question: Yeah. I have a follow‑up question on my previous question, and I have… it's a legal question. I want to know, Stéphane, if crimes committed during a certain ruthless regime is passed over to the new regime once the old… older regime is… collapses. For example, do the crimes committed during the period of [Nicolae] Ceausescu, [Augusto] Pinochet, Shah of Iran, [Ferdinand] Marcos, [Fulgencio] Batista, and Omar al‑Bashir… after they collapse, do these crimes transfer automatically to the new regime and they remain responsible for these crimes?
Spokesman: Look, I… it's a very interesting legal question, which I'm clearly not qualified to answer. What I will tell you, though, is that individuals will always carry with them the accountability for having committed crimes, violent crimes, crimes against humanity, no matter what label you have. But, on the issue of States' responsibility, I will advise you to speak to a lawyer, which I am not. Okay. I don't see… [inaudible]. Okay. [Inaudible] and Maria too, sorry. Gloria and then Maria.
Question: I am unmuted? I'm shocked with the situation with Nigeria with the escalating of the problems with the students, but this time, what's unusual, it was boys. It wasn't girls. Before, for religious reasons, they had the right for more wives. But, what are they going to do with the boys? Are they trying to conscript them into their armies? Secondly, it's a more affluent area that they kidnapped from this time. It's not quite the areas they were attacking before. Is there a reason for all of this or a weakness in the current military protections?
Spokesman: I… Gloria, I cannot speak… [inaudible]. Somebody's not muted, because I'm getting some feedback. Okay. Gloria, I clearly cannot speak to the motive of those people who committed this horrendous crime. What we do know… or what we've seen is that this was apparently an armed criminal group and not a group of relig… of extremists, no matter how you characterise them. That being said, it remains a horrific, horrific attack, and we want these boys to be freed immediately. Maria Khrenova?
Question: Hi, Steph. Thank you. About SG trip to Germany, so, if I understand correctly, it's his first personal trip since March; right?
Correspondent: I don't know why I can't hear you.
Spokesman: Can you hear me now? Maria?
Spokesman: Okay. It is his first official trip. As you may have recalled, he went home twice to see his family.
Question: Yeah. So, the question is, why is it so important to go to Germany, in particular taking into account the current strict COVID measures in Germany right now? And is it, like, the sign of him going back to his personal trips as more usual? And also, about safety measures that he is going to take, is he going by personal plane or is it [inaudible] and if he's going to quarantine after his arrival back to New York?
Spokesman: A couple of things. We may have more travel to announce. I will tell you that the way we're… travel is organized, safety is first and foremost. The Secretary‑General will be tested before leaving, as will his delegation. This was a very important invitation on behalf… by the German Government. It's not every day that a Secretary‑General is invited to address the Bundestag. So, we've accepted the invitation. The Secretary‑General will, of course, follow all regulations pertinent to the City and Xtate of New York upon return when he is in New York. Did you ask me another question, or did I answer?
Question: I asked about the plane, how he travels, if it's not…
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General travels commercially. We do not… as you know, very, very, very rarely do we use private aviation. Okay. Unless there are any other questions, hasta la vista. Thank you.