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.


Turning to Ethiopia, where our senior leadership in country, including the Resident Coordinator, Catherine Sozi, the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General to the UN Office to the African Union, Hanna Tetteh, and the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, met yesterday with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Demeke Mekonnen Hassen.  In their discussions, they reiterated our call for full humanitarian access, protection of civilians and restoration of basic services.

Also on Ethiopia, our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) tell us they are helping people who have fled Tigray as it awaits greater access to the region itself.  IOM has assessed 10 districts in the Afar and Amhara regions, which are hosting people who have fled Tigray.  The agency provided water and other supplies, as well as sanitation services, in Kebero Meda camp in the town of Gondar in North Amhara.  Most of the people in the sites hosting displaced people from Tigray are women and children, many of whom fled without their belongings.


And here, well, virtually here, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the constitutional committee and other recent developments.  He, of course, briefed by videoconference.  He said that, thanks to the existing arrangements, including those involving Russia, Turkey and the United States, a fragile calm continues, although this falls well short of the nationwide ceasefire envisaged in resolution 2254 (2015).  Mr. Pedersen warned that with five international armies operating in Syria, the country remains a tinderbox for a major international incident, with potential implications across the region.  The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, also briefed.  He told Council members that the number of reported COVID‑19 cases in Syria continues to rise, though limited testing in all parts of the country makes the extent of the outbreak impossible to assess with certainty.  Mr. Lowcock also warned that prices of subsidized bread have doubled, while the price of subsidized diesel more than doubled since September.  Meanwhile, he added, hostilities have been continuing in northern Syria in recent weeks, putting civilians at risk.


Turning to Libya, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) applauds the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Libya for the decision taken in this morning’s long-awaited meeting to unify the exchange rate.  The Mission calls the decision an important and much needed step towards alleviating the suffering of the Libyan people and a good sign that this vital sovereign institution is moving towards unification.  The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Stephanie Williams, stressed that this is the moment for all Libyans — particularly the country’s political actors — to demonstrate similar courage, determination and leadership for the sake of the Libyan people.

**Senior Appointment

And speaking of Libya, I have an appointment to announce:  The Secretary‑General has appointed Raisedon Zenenga of Zimbabwe as Assistant Secretary-General and Mission Coordinator to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).  This position is established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2542 (2020).  That is not the Special Envoy position that you’ve been asking me about, just so there’s clarity.  Mr. Zenenga brings with him diverse and substantial experience in supporting political processes and mediation, proven skills in managing complex peace operations, and significant experience in working with Government and other key stakeholders in conflict and post-conflict settings.  He has over 30 years of United Nations, Government and diplomatic service experience.  He has also served most recently as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General at the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).  And we congratulate Rai on this appointment.

**South Sudan

Yesterday afternoon, Security Council members met on South Sudan.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, told members of the Council that millions of South Sudanese people have been pushed to a breaking point.  Violence, flooding, the pandemic, and a deteriorating economy are making an already bad humanitarian crisis much worse.  Mr. Lowcock reiterated three things that need to happen now to prevent the problem from worsening: first, violence must be de-escalated; second, there must be unhindered access to reach people in need; and lastly, the Humanitarian Response Plan needs additional funding, particularly to deal with severe food insecurity.  Also briefing was the Special Representative, and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said that there has been some progress in South Sudan, pointing to the formation of a transitional government.  But he said that progress is lagging, with the dispute over governorships leaving a local vacuum of power, which makes it difficult to nip brewing intercommunal violence in the bud.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, where the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) has reinforced security in Bossangoa and Koro-M'poko, both in the Ouham prefecture.  This happened yesterday after hundreds of protesters, including anti-Balaka combatants, demonstrated following the invalidation of the candidacy of former President François Bozizé, and that candidacy is to the forthcoming presidential elections.  Later in the day, the Mission also reported tensions between anti-Balaka and Internal Security Forces after the arrest of a local anti-Balaka leader.  Following the incident, peacekeepers and national defence troops increased patrols in the zone.  The UN Mission also reports that ballots for the presidential elections arrived in Bangui yesterday.  Our colleagues are supporting their distribution throughout the country, while continuing to work closely with the national authorities to secure the elections.  This includes assisting with the deployment of national military and internal security forces, increasing patrols and establishing additional Temporary Operational Bases.


I had a note on Yemen, which… there we go.  Before I forget about Yemen.  Just a quick note, an update on Yemen:  Our humanitarian colleagues confirm that the UN response plan remains less than half-funded, it’s funded at 49 per cent.  The total plan calls for a bit more than $3 billion.  The current level today is less than half as much as agencies received last year.  We’re now helping only about 9 million people every month, down from a peak of 13 million earlier this year.  More than 80 per cent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance and protection.  Next year, more than half of all Yemenis will go hungry and we expect five million people to be living just one step away from famine and about 50,000 people to be living in famine-like conditions.  Preventing famine is the top priority right now.  Everyone must do everything they can to prevent famine from taking hold.  This includes increasing humanitarian funding; supporting the economy through foreign-exchange injections; and pushing for an end to the violence.  The Secretary‑General has called on everyone to avoid any steps that could make the situation worse.


Turning to Fiji, where our humanitarian colleagues tell us that Tropical Cyclone Yasa has intensified into a Category 5 storm and continues to move slowly towards the country.  The cyclone is expected to make landfall on Friday morning.  The UN in Suva is liaising closely with the Government and stands ready to support national emergency response efforts.  The Pacific Humanitarian Team is also upgrading preparedness procedures with humanitarian partners and is coordinating with relevant authorities in Fiji.

**COVID-19 — Kazakhstan

Quick note from Kazakhstan, where our UN team is led by Resident Coordinator Michaela Friberg-Storey, and where the team is supporting authorities as they address a surge in cases.  Leading the UN team’s health response, since March, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent more than 76 metric tons of material to support health workers responding to the pandemic.  For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) continues supporting school psychologists and staff, children, adolescents and their families to promote mental health and prevent violence, as well as cyberbullying during distance learning.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has also developed regulatory guidelines for case treatment of medical COVID-19 waste, and the International Organization for Migration has assisted more than 5,000 migrants and victims of trafficking.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), for its part, has helped develop the 2021-2025 National Mother and Child Health Strategy and Action Plan, with local authorities.  And these are guidelines on prevention and control of infections in health care.

**Financial Contribution

 I am happy to say on this Wednesday, we say a big thank you to our friends in both Lesotho and Costa Rica.  Both countries have paid up their dues in full for 2020.  This takes us to 139 fully paid-up Member States of these United Nations.  This is the part where there is an awkward silence and I wait for questions.  Okay.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any position on the situation in Uganda?  We're hearing about a violent crackdown on media there from our team on the ground.  It's been reported there's changes to accreditation for foreign journalists.  The election's less than a month away.  Does the Secretary‑General have a concern about that… a position on that?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Look, our position is the same everywhere, whether in Uganda or other places, is that journalists need to be able to do their work free of harassment, free of arrest, free of an administrative burden that is unnecessary.  A free press, a free media, is essential to the conduct of democracy and especially during an election season.  Yes, Carla, and then…

Question:  [Inaudible] You said last week the Secretary‑General was opposed to sanctions as a blunt instrument.  And on Friday, there was a stakeout at 5:00, where the chairman of the Sanctions Committee held another diatribe against the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  And he had said to me, since you referred me to them, "Well, there's no problem with the exemptions.  In two days, they can get them."  But if somebody had a child who needed medical care in an hour, waiting two days might cause the child to die.  So, these exemptions are the equivalent of a blunt instrument.  And, so, why is this double standard permitted?

Spokesman:  Look, how sanctions are written is for the Security Council to decide.  The Secretary‑General has made his opinion clear, and that opinion is unchanged.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Well, I think you can read resolutions as much as I can, and it's up to you journalists to make that analysis.

Question:  Just, Stéphane, talking about Libya, do you have any update in terms of the appointment of the new Special Envoy?

Spokesman:  No.  I know there are a lot of appointments that people are eagerly waiting.  The process, the wheels, things are turning.  And as soon as something comes out of that process and is spit out here and I will announce it, but before that, nothing.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Good afternoon and thank you for the briefing.  My question is about a report that poor countries may not receive the COVAX vaccine until 2024.  Have you seen this report? And does the Secretary‑General… is he factoring this into his assessment?

Spokesman:  I have not personally seen that particular report.  The issues raised in your question are extremely important and are the forefront not only of the Secretary‑General's thoughts but in terms of how he's trying to get the UN system to work as a whole through the COVAX facility to make sure that there is access to these vaccines as quickly as possible.  There is no… it's understandable that national leaders who can afford it would want to see their populations vaccinated first, but that is not in opposition to also ensuring that the efforts that poor countries have access to the vaccine can't be funded.  We can do… we can actually do both.  The international community can do both.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I just want to clarify, on Ethiopia, you have no access; is that correct, to Tigray?  And secondly on Yemen, is… considering the famine, is there… does WFP [World Food Programme] or anyone else have access?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, for… to… if you could mute your microphone, whoever has it open.  Thank you.  The issue in Yemen, of course, is we don't have access to all the population that need to receive our help.  But the bigger issue in Yemen is just lack of funds.  I think, as I've said, we've gone from assisting… I'll pull up the note.  I think the number was… it's pretty stark.  We're right now… we're assisting 9 million people every month, and that's down from a peak of 13 million earlier this year.  And that's not because of access that's shrunk.  It's because cash has shrunk and because the money is not there.  In Ethiopia, we did… our WFP colleagues did manage to get a convoy in yesterday.  Eighteen trucks delivered 750 [corrected to 570; see below] metric tonnes of food.  That's enough to feed about 35,000 refugees for a month.  That was done to the Adi Harush and Mai Ayni camps in Tigray, which, as you know, mostly hosted Eritrean refugees.  The supplies are going to be distributed in coming days.  And other convoys are heading to other camps.  But we are still looking for that unhindered and full humanitarian access that is so critical to reach the displaced population in Tigray and even people who have stayed in their homes and who need help because of lack of basic services.  Yeah?

Question:  I do have to ask a follow‑up to that UNSMIL announcement.  Do we know when we might hear about the Special Envoy officially?  It's been widely confirmed that the Council's on board here so…

Spokesman:  I mean, do you ask the cardinals when the white smoke will come?

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Well, I mean if I was in…

Spokesman:  I mean, what do they tell you?

Question:  … If they had a press spokesperson available to me, I probably would…

Spokesman:  I think the cardinal in charge of the elections would tell you to be patient.  Joking aside, I think, as I've said before, the Secretary‑General, first and foremost, has been working very hard with Member States to name, to clear and to confirm the leadership position in this Mission and other missions.  It's a complex issue, in which we don't hold all the levers of power, but once all the rails are aligned, we hope to be able to make an announcement.  It's a lot of mixed metaphors in there.

Question:  Can I have a follow‑up?

Spokesman:  All right.  Yes, of course, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah.  I'm here reading Reuters' report that says the Security Council had approved a proposal introduced by the Secretary‑General to appoint Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov as Special Envoy to Libya and Tor Wennesland from Norway to replace him as the Special Coordinator for peace process in the Middle East.  Can you confirm this Reuter that quoting diplomatic sources in the UN?  Why… how come…

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Spokesman:  Sorry, Abdelhamid.  First of all, I need to correct something I said on Ethiopia.  I think I read out wrong digits.  It's 570 metric tons that was delivered, not 750.  That's just part of the process.  I mean, Abdelhamid, you and I have been here quite some time.  You know the final piece in the confirmation comes when there's an announcement either read by me or sent out by email.  I have no… it is not for me to doubt the veracity of the reporting by Reuters.  I've no issue with that, but the process ends… the nomination process ends when we make the official announcement, because the title of these people is Special Representative, is Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General.  So, the announcement comes from the… official announcement comes from the Secretary‑General's own office.  All right.  Brenden [Varma] is… oh, sorry, Maggie.  Sorry, Maggie, before we go to Brenden.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Steph, I know we've talked about it previously, but do you have anything further or at all on the reports of the Eritrean soldiers in Tigray and the… because the US State Department has said they're aware of credible reports.  So, have you guys been able to get any confirmations or verifications?

Spokesman:  No.  I have nothing to add on that.  Okay.  I will turn it over to Brenden, who's briefing from an undisclosed location.  Before I do turn it to Brenden… sorry.  There's a mic that needs to be muted.  Just to let you know, because of the impending snow, the building will likely be closed around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.  We will let you know if we're open tomorrow.  But if the building is closed, we will continue… we'll do the briefings virtually, but we will let you know before the end of the day.  Excuse me, Brenden.  It's all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.