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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.

**Secretary-General’s Virtual Trip

Starting off with the Secretary-General’s virtual trip to the United Kingdom:

In just a few minutes, he will sit down with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a virtual bilateral meeting.

He also spoke a few minutes ago at the COP26 (Conference of Parties) event on Africa, at an event entitled “Transition to clean power as part of a green recovery”.

The Secretary-General said that, to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we need an urgent transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and that we especially need to support developing countries in this shift.

The Secretary-General reiterated his appeal to developed nations to fulfil their longstanding pledge to provide $100 billion dollars a year for developing countries to support mitigation and adaptation.  He also said the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the national development banks must develop financial instruments that can reduce investment risks and attract private capital to African countries.

In addition, he emphasized the importance of investing in adaptation, as Africa is highly vulnerable to climate risks.

Yesterday, as you know, the Secretary-General joined Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon in an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the first session of the United Nations General Assembly, which took place in London’s Westminster Central Methodist Hall.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, throughout its history, the work of the General Assembly has helped to boost global health, literacy, and living standards, and to promote human rights and gender equality.

Turning to the challenges of our time, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres reiterated his call for a new global deal, as well as a new social contract between people, Governments, the private sector and civil society to tackle the roots of inequality.

We need a networked multilateralism, Mr. Guterres said, so that global and regional organizations communicate and work together towards common goals.

Concluding on an optimistic note, the Secretary-General expressed confidence that, together, we can emerge from this pandemic and lay the foundations for a cleaner, safer, fairer world for all, and for generations to come.

Those remarks were shared with you and it’s also posted on various YouTube and WebTV platforms.

**One Planet

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke by video teleconference to the One Planet Summit, convened by French President Emmanuel Macron.  He said that 2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature.  He stressed that, as we rebuild and recover from the pandemic, we cannot revert to the old normal.  This is our chance to change course, he said, with smart policies and the right investments.

He also said that protecting the world’s biodiversity can help create jobs and added that the biodiversity meeting in Kunming, China, which is scheduled for this year and is a vital step in stopping the extinction crisis.

The Secretary-General reiterated his message that countries must put a price on carbon, stop building new coal plants, end fossil fuel subsidies, and shift the fiscal burden from taxpayers to polluters.

He also pointed out that the newly launched High Ambition Coalition is a sign that the private and public sectors, along with civil society, can work together on initiatives to protect the planet.

That was shared with you.


And I have been asked a few times, to say the least, this morning regarding the Secretary-General’s future, and I can tell you that, in a response to the President of the General Assembly, who had enquired last Friday about the Secretary-General’s intentions regarding a second mandate, the Secretary-General conveyed to him today that he is available to serve a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, if that would be the will of the Member States.

The Secretary-General also addressed a letter of similar content to the President of the Security Council.

**Security Council

Speaking of the Security Council, this morning, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), presented an update on political developments in the region, which were marked by five presidential, three legislative, and two local elections.

Despite the pandemic, he said, Electoral Management Bodies were able to maintain electoral calendars and have demonstrated impressive technical capacity to organize and conduct elections.  Notwithstanding contesting of results and unacceptable levels of violence in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, the polls overall went well, said Mr. Chambas.

Turning to the Sahel, Mr. Chambas said insecurity continues to prevail and to harm innocent lives.  After the end of the rainy season, militants have again staged audacious and deadly attacks, notably in Niger.

Despite important successes, insecurity has also expanded to areas previously considered safe, he added.

Mr. Chambas concluded his remarks by telling members of the Council that we need to confront the all-too-well-known root causes of exclusion, strengthen democratic governance, and give a new and decisive push to fight insecurity.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues on the ground in the Central African Republic and our peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) tell us that they are continuing to work with the country’s armed forces to protect civilians who are facing attacks by armed groups.

The UN Mission says that in Bouar in Nana-Mambéré prefecture, peacekeepers and the armed forces pushed anti-Balaka and 3R fighters back during heavy fighting on Saturday.  The situation remains tense in the city today, with nearly 4,000 people having taken refuge in the town’s cathedral.  Peacekeepers are carrying out patrols to create secure conditions for humanitarian aid delivery.

In Grimari in Ouaka prefecture, the UN Mission and the armed forces also held back the advance of fighters from armed groups on Saturday.

The UN Mission stresses that the armed groups and their allies will be held responsible for humanitarian chaos caused by their attacks in Bouar and other areas, including their efforts to block supply routes.  The Mission also notes the [groups’] responsibility for the deaths of civilians, members of the defence and security forces, and peacekeepers.  The Mission stressed that attacks on peacekeepers can be considered war crimes.

The UN Mission remains committed to carrying out its mandate to protect civilians and to [secure] the electoral process to support the Central African defence and security forces.


Turning to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, this year, the UN and humanitarian partners will seek $1.3 billion […] to assist almost 16 million people with life-saving aid.  This is up from the target of 2.3 million people four years ago.  It’s a huge increase in people who need aid.

They say that ongoing conflict, natural disasters, chronic poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be a deadly combination for people in Afghanistan.

In 2021, nearly half of the population will need humanitarian assistance to survive.  Food insecurity is soaring as people’s livelihoods were lost.  Some 5.5 million people in Afghanistan are in emergency food insecurity phase, and it is projected that nearly one in two children under the age of five will face acute malnutrition this year.

With skyrocketing household debt, people’s survival depends on our ability to mobilize sufficient funds to deliver a well-coordinated response.


In Iraq, our Special Representative on the ground, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, visited the Sinjar district yesterday to follow up on the implementation of a recent agreement between Baghdad and Erbil aimed at creating stability, security and better living conditions for its inhabitants.  Her delegation stressed the need to do more — in unity and at a faster pace — to alleviate current hardships.

She said that what has been achieved so far could set the stage for a greater improvement in living conditions, but, to make this happen, all stakeholders will have to act in unity and solidarity.

In discussions with the visiting UN team, displaced Sinjaris voiced their concerns, requesting further assistance for the vulnerable local communities who recently returned from displaced camps.


Just a couple of notes:  I want to say we welcome the announcement by the presidency of Kazakhstan earlier this month that the country has ratified internally the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.  The Secretary-General looks forward to receiving the formal instrument of ratification, as the ratification makes permanent the existing moratorium on State executions in Kazakhstan, which had been in place since 2003.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the universal ratification of the Second Optional Protocol [to] the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and encourages other countries that still use the death penalty to follow Kazakhstan’s example to abolish the death penalty or to introduce moratoria as a transition towards abolition.

**Security Council Highlights

It is my pleasure to announce that the 2020 Highlights of Security Council Practice is out.  This year’s edition builds on the revamped version [launched] in 2019 and provides an overview of the work of the Security Council in 2020, a year marked by unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the innovative solutions found in response to the changing circumstances.

As you know from past editions, the Highlights Paper, which is produced by our colleagues in the Security Council branch of the Department of Political and Peacekeeping Affairs (DPPA), contains information about the practices of the Council relating to its meetings and videoconferences, items on its agenda, the decisions adopted and the voting patterns, as well as subsidiary bodies.  It’s a rather helpful research tool.

I think that is it, though I do have a note on Cameroon, which hopefully someone will bring me, but otherwise in the meantime, let’s take some questions.


[Read at the end:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns Friday’s suicide bombing perpetrated by a Boko Haram faction that killed at least 15 civilians, including children ranging from 3 to 14 years old.  He was shocked to learn that a young girl was made to carry out this horrific attack.

The Secretary-General is alarmed by the level of violence against the civilian population in the far-north region of Cameroon as well as other parts of the Lake Chad Basin.  Nothing can justify such senseless and egregious attacks.

The United Nations remains steadfast in its support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in their efforts to overcome the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism and address the security, political, humanitarian, human rights, health and socioeconomic challenges in the region.]

**Questions and Answers

Edie, please?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  First, a follow‑up on the announcement that the Secretary‑General would like a second term.  What are the next steps?

And my two other questions are, apparently, the Cyprus Government has announced that the Secretary‑General is planning to meet with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders.  Can you confirm this?  And when is this meeting going to take place?  And what is he expecting?

And the third is related.  The Turks just invited the… the Turkish leader just invited the Greek leader for talks.  And what’s the UN reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I haven’t seen the first… on your last question, I have not seen those reports, but I will look into it.

On your second question, just taking things one step at a time, Jane Holl Lute is currently on the island.  She’s visiting Cyprus from 10 to 12 January for meetings with Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar.  This is part of her consultations she’s carrying out on behalf of the Secretary‑General with the two Cypriot communities, as well as the guarantor powers, in order to assess conditions to prepare for an informal meeting of the 5+1, so one…

Question:  That’s not quite what the Cypriot Government Spokesman said today.  He said the meeting was going to take place.  Can you check and see if there’s any further…

Spokesman:  I think each Spokesperson says what they’re told to say and what they… within the parameters of what they can say.  So…

And… sorry, your first… your next question, I mean, part… the next step is really a question to address to Brenden Varma, who will speak on behalf of the PGA (President of the General Assembly).  The Secretary‑General will be in the hands of Member States on the process, and the Secretary‑General will, of course, fully meet any expectations by… expressed by the General Assembly on submission of a vision statement giving… opening himself to question sessions, but it’s… he is a candidate.  Those who organize the process, the Member States will have to talk to you about next steps.

Okay.  Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, do we know if there are other candidates for the post?

Spokesman:  I… again, I… I speak for António Guterres as Secretary‑General.  Whether there are other candidates, you’ll have to ask whoever other candidate… and ask, I think, Brenden on the process.

Yes, Ray, and then we’ll go to Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you may have heard, the Department of State, US Department of State, have declared Houthi militia as terrorist group.  Is there any comment or statement on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Hold on.  I’m multitasking in ways I should not be multitasking.

Yes, on Yemen, listen, we’re, obviously, studying the announcement that was made by the Department of State and especially to assess its potential impact, but it’s clear that the decision is likely to have serious humanitarian and political repercussions.

I mean, just to put things in context — and I know you all follow this very closely, but Yemen brings in almost all of its food via commercial imports.  We’re concerned that the designation will negatively impact, including through possible “over‑compliance” by commercial entities, the imports of food and other essential commodities just as more Yemenis are starving, as we’ve been saying repeatedly.

The humanitarian operation, which I will remind you is the largest in the world, cannot replace the private sector or compensate for major drops in commercial imports of food and other essential goods.

There is a growing risk of famine in Yemen, and that underlines for us the imperative for the US to swiftly grant the necessary licenses and exemptions to ensure that principled humanitarian assistance can continue to reach all people who need it across the country without disruption.

Given the central importance of the commercial imports to millions of Yemenis’ survival, these licenses and exceptions must also ensure that the private sector can continue to function in order to stave off complete economic collapse and large‑scale famine.

We’re also concerned that the designation may have a detrimental impact on efforts to resume the political process in Yemen, as well as to polarize even more the positions of the parties to the conflict.

Notwithstanding possible political repercussions, we will continue to work with all parties to resume and continue an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement and end to the conflict.

Toby, and then Dulcie, and then we’ll go to the screen.  And I will send around what I’ve just read for those of you who were not able to take copious notes.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just a quick follow‑up on that as the first one, which is, what does this mean for Martin Griffiths’ work in the very short term?

And the second question that I have is, did the Secretary‑General’s announcement of his availability for a second term… did that depend at all or have anything to do with the US election, which will bring in an Administration that seems to be much more favourable towards multilateralism in general?  Did that have anything to do with his decision?

And also… well, I’ll leave it there.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On your second question, I think he spent some time over the holidays speaking to his family, but this was really in response to a question raised by the President of the General Assembly.  I think the Secretary‑General wanted to be as transparent as possible.  I don’t think any particular election cycle in any particular country impacted his decision.

Your second question, remind me the headline.  Oh, on Yemen.  Listen, it’s clear that we’re very worried that this designation will have a detrimental impact on our political efforts.  I mean, that’s the short of it.

Dulcie, and then we’ll go to Benno on the screen.

Question:  Thanks… is this working?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Can you please read that statement again about the Secretary‑General’s intentions?

And did he notify… personally notify Linda Thomas‑Greenfield, the US nominee for US Ambassador?  Has he had any conversation with her and… since she was nominated?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Yes, I don’t know if he’s spoken to her since she was nominated.  We deal with one Administration at a time.  The Secretary‑General received a question from the President of the General Assembly asking for his intentions.  He answered that.  He also informed the P5.  He’s also informed the heads of the regional groups, and he’s written to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council earlier this morning.

Question:  So, he talked to the President of the General Assembly on Friday? 

Spokesman:  That’s correct.

Question:  He… okay.  And then, today, he sent a letter to the President of the Security Council?

Spokesman:  The President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council.

Question:  And when did he notify the P5?

Spokesman:  It was done on Friday.  It was done… the Sec… he spoke to the President of the General Assembly first and then informed the P5 and made a whole host of phone calls to heads of various regional groups, political groups, over the weekend to make sure everybody had the same information.

Question:  And what was the reaction of the P5?

Spokesman:  I think the reaction of the Member States will be revealed in the process.

Question:  Okay.  Did they say what the next steps were going to be?

Spokesman:  Again, as I told Edie, the next steps is really up for… is a question you should ask Brenden.  The Secretary‑General will avail himself to whatever process the Member States would like.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Benno?

Question:  Yeah.  Follow‑up on that.  Thank you, Steph.  Can you tell me if the Secretary‑General thinks that his agenda concerning climate change might be easier to achieve with the incoming US Government?

Spokesman:  Listen, we’re not in the prediction business, but I think the Secretary‑General himself — and we’ve said from here — that we welcome the expectation that the incoming… the President‑elect will announce a return to the Paris Agreement, with all the positive things that has, but it is… the climate agenda is a global agenda.  It depends on Member States.  It depends on the private sectors.  It depends on civil society.  The climate agenda has also been moving forward in the last four years in which António Guterres has been in office with every Member State.

James Reinl?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  I’m wondering if you can give us an update on two issues.  The first one is the deployment of monitors to Libya for monitoring the ceasefire.  We’ve had some details about it.  I’m just wondering if you can tell us where the arrangements are at the moment and whether or not we’re expected to see something this month.

The second one is on Yemen.  You mentioned at the end of last year that, in relation to that oil tanker, the Safer, there’s going to be a UN team sent out there.  You said it was going to be end of January, early February.  Can you just update us on when that is likely to happen?

Spokesman:  On the oil tanker, I have no… we still expect to keep to our timelines with expected arrival early February.

I also just… I don’t have any updates from… on Libya besides what I’ve… what’s in the Secretary‑General’s report.  If I have anything new, I’ll send those to you.

I wanted to read into the record a note on Cameroon, which was just sent to me.  [reads note on Cameroon; please see above.]

Okay.  Any other questions?  Sounds good.  I will leave you in the… sorry.  I can’t see where that is… yes, go ahead… Ibtisam, sorry, go ahead, and then we’ll go to Brenden.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  I want to go to the Yemen issue again.  So, despite the exemption that the Americans are talking about, could you say more how this will practically influence your operation given the fact that… would that mean that you will have to get permission for every single thing that you’ll… aid that you have to enter into the country?

And a second part, do you… are… would you like the incoming Administration to walk this American decision… the decision for the current Administration back?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I’m not… as I told Dulcie, we’ll deal with one US Administration at a time.

I think there are two things that are of concern, and obviously, we’re studying this more closely.  One is, obviously, that we will need to get all sorts of exemptions.  Those will need to be granted quickly, but our fear is the over‑compliance of the private sector.  Right?  And we’ve seen this in other situations where the private sector does not want to get in the cross hairs of any sort of unilateral sanctions, so they sort of self‑censor and hold back, because it does add a layer of complexity, a cost layer to ask for for exemptions.

And without… the UN’s humanitarian operation is huge, but without the private sector, it would completely collapse.  Right?  Yemen, even before this crisis, depended, I think, on 70… I think almost 70 per cent of its food… on imports, commercial imports for food.  And I have to check the figure.  But there’s a huge reliance on the private sector.  Right?  So, if the private sector starts to go through what we would call over‑compliance, that would have a tremendous detrimental impact on our humanitarian operations.

Correspondent:  Stéphane?  Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yes, Mr. Klein.  Yes, Joe.

Correspondent:  I have a follow‑up.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Ibtisam has a follow‑up.  Go ahead, Ibtisam.

Question:  Yeah.  To your knowledge, would that… I mean, I know it’s a little bit maybe complicated question, but would this declaration make… make it criminal to… make it a criminal act to, maybe to… partly to some private sectors to deal with the Houthis or to… with the humanitarian organizations?  Is… this is part of why things get very complicated under this declaration?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think that’s almost a question you have to kind of do some research and answer yourself, because we did not write these unilateral… this is a policy that we did not write.  How it’s implemented, how it’s enforced, that’s a question you need to ask the US authorities.

The short answer for us is that it makes… it will make both the human… it risks making both the humanitarian and the political work of the UN in Yemen that much more complicated.

Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  In deciding to move forward with a possible second term or seeking a second term, did the Secretary‑General take account of his own declarations over the last several years about women playing a leading role at the UN, mostly senior positions, and the desire of many to see a woman as the next Secretary‑General?  To what extent did he factor that into his thinking?

Spokesman:  Look, the… first of all, the Secretary‑General is who he is.  Right?  I mean, he’s… he is a man, and he’s putting himself forward as a candidate.  There’s no mystery there.  He has done a tremendous amount of work on… to bring gender parity to this organization.  We have it in our senior leadership.  It was achieved, I believe, in just about two years, which is a momentous, I think, task.

We have gender parity in our resident coordinators.  Those are the people who serve under his direct authority and appointment.  We are working towards gender parity within the general staff at all levels.  The Secretary‑General, I think, has, by his own account, pushed a feminist policy, and he’s said it himself.

So, he is a candidate for an election.  It will… and he’s… it’s not the first time António Guterres has put himself forward for an election.  Those who have a vote will decide.

Okay.  Brenden?

For information media. Not an official record.