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.


As you may have seen, our Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, just concluded a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia.  In Riyadh, he met with Saudi Deputy Minister for Defence, Prince Khalid bin Salman; the Yemeni Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Bin Mubarak; and the US Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, as well as other officials.  In his meetings, he discussed the latest developments, including the hostilities against Ma'rib and the prospects of resuming an inclusive political process.  Mr. Griffiths further discussed the acute fuel shortages in Ansar Allah-controlled areas and the need for immediate actions to avoid worsening of the humanitarian and economic situation.  Mr. Griffiths warned that we are seeing an uptick in military hostilities and constant threats to the lives of Yemeni women, men and children.  This must stop, he said.

**Security Council — Ukraine

Back here, the Security Council held an open meeting by video conference on Ukraine.  Briefing Council members, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, said that since the Trilateral Contact Group agreed to an indefinite ceasefire that came into force on July 2020, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has reported a significant decrease in civilian casualties and exchange of fire.  However, she said that the humanitarian situation has not improved and noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the difficult socioeconomic [conditions] on Ukraine.  Ms. DiCarlo also noted that more than 3.4 million people are still in need of sustained humanitarian assistance.  More than half of those in need are women, and 40 per cent are the elderly.  That brief was shared with you, and I think that they also heard from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) officials.  Immediately following the Council’s meeting on Ukraine, there will be a joint virtual stakeout by current EU members of the UN Security Council, Estonia, France and Ireland, and a former Security… past elected members of the Security Council, including Belgium and Germany, and Norway and United Kingdom will also join.


Turning to Haiti, just a quick humanitarian update on the country, given all that is going on.  The number of people in need has increased drastically over the past year.  As a result, 40 per cent of Haiti’s population, that is 40 per cent of 11.4 million, will require humanitarian assistance.  And that comes up to 4.4 million people.  This considerable increase, as you can imagine, is a consequence of a series of sociopolitical crises that have significantly impacted existing fragilities and impacted the resilience of the Haitian people.  Haitians have also been hit by the spread of COVID-19 and the impact of natural disasters, such as last summer’s tropical storm Laura.  Insecurity has also increased in the country.  This includes kidnappings, clashes between armed gangs leading to civilian deaths, the burning of houses and the displacement of people.  Public demonstrations and strikes have also continued to paralyze basic services.  Most schools in Haiti have been closed since the first week of February.  However, our colleagues tell us that there are indications that schooling may resume next week if the security situation allows.  In 2020, 1.4 million people in Haiti were reached with humanitarian assistance through the Humanitarian Response Plan, receiving $155.7 million out of the $472 million requested.


And on Myanmar, UN‑Women today said that it is strongly concerned over the use of force by security forces against peaceful demonstrators, including women.  UN‑Women also urged all to listen to the voices of Myanmar women.  Over the past decade, the agency says that the women civil society organizations of Myanmar have played an essential role in the transition process towards a prosperous and democratic society.  They have also been central in advocating for peace and inclusive governance.  Today, UN‑Women stands in solidarity with the women and women’s civil society organizations of Myanmar as they seek to exercise their fundamental right to demonstrate peacefully and express their hopes and desires for the future of their country.


And you saw yesterday afternoon, or evening, we updated you on Somalia, which we welcomed the announcement of another summit between the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states leaders, and their commitment to continue dialogue.  The summit is scheduled for 15 February.  We call on all Somali leaders to come together in a spirit of goodwill and collaboration in the interest of the Somali people.  We also reiterate that dialogue and compromise to forge an inclusive political agreement and the implementation of the September 2020 Electoral Model are essential.  A consensus-based agreement is the only way forward.

**South Sudan

And on South Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, today called on the Government to expedite the operationalization of the African Union Hybrid Court and other transitional justice institutions.  Ms. Patten noted that these institutions will send a strong signal that violations — including acts of sexual violence — will not be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account.  She noted the important role that survivors of sexual violence and their families have to play in that regard.


We have got a number of questions this morning about an attack in Afghanistan, and I can tell you that according to our colleagues in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), they said that the UN family in the country mourns the loss of five Afghan security personnel, who were killed in an incident in the Surobi District of Kabul.  UNAMA tells us that no UN staff members were hurt in the attack, in which an Afghan security vehicle was escorting a UN convoy.  UNAMA is transmitting its condolences to the Afghan authorities and we expect a statement shortly from them.


Our friends at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has asked for $1.5 billion to fund its essential services, emergency appeals and priority projects for this year.  This figure includes $806 million for core services, such as education, health, relief and social services, protection and infrastructure, as well as camp improvement.  Emergency humanitarian assistance would require another $231 million.  To respond to the hardship caused by the conflict in Syria to Palestine refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, the Agency is seeking $318 million.  The emergency appeals include adjustments that UNRWA made to its services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among [Palestine refugees] and to address its impact.

**COVID-19 — Rwanda

A quick update on COVID-19 from Rwanda, where we are doing our best to help the Government to address the pandemic.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Fodé Ndiaye, is supporting national efforts — including with robots.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working with authorities to deploy eight high-tech robots in the fight against COVID-19.  Each of these robots can screen up to 150 people a minute to track fevers and other potential signs of COVID-19.  The robots can also deliver food and medicine to patients.  Others use ultraviolet light to clean up and disinfect treatment centres and other places, which can swiftly limit the spread of the virus.  In the human realm, the UN team has deployed 50 human staff to support the national COVID-19 coordination centre in areas including laboratory oversight, case management, risk communication, counselling, and prevention.  From March 2020 to January 2021, the UN team has contributed more than $22 million to the response.


And you might have seen that our colleagues in Ecuador issued a statement last night, congratulating the people of Ecuador on exercising their civic right to vote and for the high voter turnout in Sunday’s election.  We called on Ecuadorean society, particularly the main political actors involved, to await the announcement of final results by the electoral authorities.  The UN team in Ecuador has also called on all candidates and their supporters and citizens to accept the will of the people expressed at the polls, and to use institutional channels to launch any potential challenge.  We trust that the electoral authorities will address any existing appeal promptly and with transparency.

**Lunar New Year

In a video message, the Secretary-General has extended his best wishes to everyone celebrating the Lunar New Year.  This year is the Year of the Ox […], which he said is the same sign as the year of his birth.  The ox symbolizes energy, strength, and courage, and the Secretary-General said these qualities are what the world needs now.  In 2021, we must stand together to fight the virus, take climate action and build a strong recovery from the pandemic, he stressed.

**Women and Girls in Science

And today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  The Secretary-General says that advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future.  He says that during the pandemic gender inequalities have increased dramatically, as women bear the brunt of school closures and working from home.  And we also have a message from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

**Honour Roll

And the Honour Roll officially closes at the end of business today.  But, we are able to flag that our friends in Vilnius have paid their regular budget dues, which brings us up to 39.  Thank you, Lithuania.  And tomorrow we will give you that cash update we have promised.  Mr. Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, something you didn't read out, which I asked about yesterday, which I am told now reliably by Member States is happening, is, in the GA Hall tomorrow at 10 a.m., there's a meeting of the States parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  I say I get it from Member States.  There is no press notice about this.  There's nothing on the ICC website.  It's another case of the ICC, no comment.  It's three persistent days of calls of all contact to the ICC and no answer.  Can you confirm that there's… because it's an important…?

Spokesman:  No, no, I agree…

Question:  It's a vote for the chief prosecutor.  It's the first time it's come to a vote.  And clearly, it's in the news at the moment.  It seems staggering that no one wants to tell us about this meeting.

Spokesman:  I will check with the States parties.  I have not been advised of any meeting…

Question:  One assumes the conference office of the UN… someone has to be asked to have the General Assembly, don't they?

Spokesman:  Yes, yes.

Question:  Yeah.  If you could please give us information about that we'd… and one assumes, because it's happening in this building, the media arrangements would be arranged by MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] and the filming arrangements.  Back to actual stories, if you don't mind.  First, on the attack in Afghanistan where the UN staff were attacked on the road out of Kabul towards Jalalabad, that area of Kabul and Nangarhar has had Taliban, but it's also had ISIL.  Do we know who was responsible?

Spokesman:  We do not.  We do not here.  We're waiting for our colleagues in the Mission to give us a bit more information.

Question:  And another question for you, quoting here Axios, the Jewish National Fund is apparently planning this weekend to approve a new policy that will allow the organization, which is a very big organization, as you know, to purchase land in the West Bank for the first time.  What's the UN's reaction?

Spokesman:  Look, I… the only thing I've seen is that same report from Axios.  We will look into it.  I think our stand for a negotiated settlement continues unchanged, as well as our stand against anything that would annex land, but that's just our position… we'll look into, A, if that actually happens and look into the report a little bit further.  Edie and then Mr. Sato.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I'd first like to echo what James said about the ICC.  It is a very important vote, and we should be able to get some details of what's happening.  Is there an update on the UN efforts to get international staff into Tigray, especially into areas that it hasn't been able to get into previously?

Spokesman:  No.  We have no positive developments to report.  We're continuing to try to break through the logistical and, frankly, the bureaucratic barriers.  We very much welcome what David Beasley was able to obtain, which is a good first step, but, we, obviously, need more to address the tremendous needs of the people in the region.

Question:  Does that mean that the 25 international staff that you announced the other day have actually made it into Tigray?

Spokesman:  It's not clear at this point, but I will check.  Mr. Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is on the Tokyo Olympic games.  Today, in Japan, the head of Olympic… head organizer, Yoshiro Mori, former Japanese Prime Minister, has decided to resign from his post after being criticized with his remark on women.  Is there any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Look, I think… we can only be shocked by the comments that were made.  It is up to the Tok… to the Olympic authorities to decide how to manage their games, but I… obviously, on the tone of the remarks, we were all very shocked.  Okay.  We'll go to the screen.  Iftikhar, let's try you.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question has been asked by James, but I would like to know whether any high official of the UN was present in the car that was being escorted?

Spokesman:  I have no information on who was in the convoy, but you may want to check with the Mission.  Okay.  Benno?

Question:  Hi.  Hi, Steph.  Hi, dear colleagues.  I do have a question about… you can remember that Panel of Experts report on Yemen a few days ago, in which it said that Khalid Batarfi is arrested.  Now, he appeared pretty much not arrested in the new video.  Can you tell me what this is about and if there was a mistake?

Spokesman:  I think… as you know, the Panel of Experts are independent from the Secretary‑General.  You would have to ask them on what basis they had based the information they included in the report.

Question:  So, is there an address I can, like… to whom do I go actually to, like…?

Spokesman:  Just reach out to Farhan [Haq].  He'll give you the right names of people to talk to.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is on Iraq.  Now there are official discussion between UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq] and the Iraqi Government and other parties about the role of United Nations in the upcoming elections, and the Iraqi Government wants a larger role for the UNAMI in the election.  There's a lot of confusion, though, about what is going to be the role of the United Nations in the election process and also verifying the results.  What is the latest?  Do you know anything about this?  What's the UN decided about its role in the elections?  And can you UN… can UN actually verify election results in Iraq or any country?

Spokesman:  Look, as a matter of principle, we stand ready to assist Member States in running their elections in… whatever help they would need.  Traditionally, in the past few years, our focus has been on technical help during… in the preparation, on helping with messaging afterwards, sometimes on coordination of observers.  We do not send observers anymore.  At least we haven't done so in quite some time.  I think the most important thing is that this be an Iraqi‑led process in which all of the Iraqi parties feel they have a stake and a trust.  We will be there to assist the Iraqis in that effort.  Okay. Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Stéphane, can… sorry.  Do you have anything in particular about the decision of the United Nations with regard to Iraq…?

Spokesman:  No, if I get… if I have more, I will share that with you.  Stephanie?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Just a quick question about the elections.  So, the Secretary‑General must be aware of it by now.  There is a UN employee who decided to launch a campaign.  So, I was wondering if you had any reaction to this and also in terms of, like, ethics if there's any problem in terms of an employee running a campaign while being on the UN payroll.

Spokesman:  Look, António Guterres is a candidate for the selection process.  It's not for him to comment on other people who may want to come forward.  This is a process run by Member States.  So, I'm not aware of any issues or problems with that.  But again, I… let me put it this way.  I speak for the incumbent candidate, but we have no comment on anyone else who may wish to put their hat in the proverbial ring.  Speaking of selection process, unless I see another question, I will go to my friend Brenden [Varma], who will be delighted to speak about the selection process.  Oh, sorry Tob… I apologize.  Mr.… Erol has a question and then Toby, and then I'll throw it to you, Brenden.  Go ahead, Erol, and then we'll go to Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There is a story that's going on for months now and, from time to time, really pick up the headlines, and it's regarding migrants in western Balkan coming through Bosnia going to European Union.  And they are stopped on the border of Croatia, which, of course, a member of the European Union, and severely beaten, according to many reports.  So, what is the position of Secretary‑General on this?  And does he feel that he needs to appeal to any of these Governments to treat migrants more humanely?

Spokesman:  Well, this is something that was raised yesterday at the briefing.  We flagged what the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, which was raising their concern about exactly what you're talking about, the way migrants and refugees, would‑be refugees, are being treated at the border of the European Union or the border of other States in the Balkans.  Violence is unacceptable.  Treating migrants or refugees without the dignity and respect that every human being deserves is unacceptable.  We are seeing very tough conditions, given the weather and the time of the year in that area.  There was the case of the camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It is incumbent on every Member State to live up to their responsibility they have and the moral responsibility that we all have in terms of human solidarity, and we would urge Member States to follow the call issued by the International Organization for Migration yesterday.

Question:  Just a quick… it's a very comprehensive response.  Thank you very much.  Does the Secretary‑General feels like the former head of the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] or so and now head of the United Nations to pick up the phone and call somebody and say, hey, stop treat those migrants that badly?

Spokesman:  This is an issue that comes up regularly in his contacts, and he continues to speak out about it publicly and privately.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just three quick questions.  First is, who is the UN staff who has named themselves a candidate for the SG?  I didn't hear about that.  That's one.  Number two, do you have any more details about how the sociopolitical crises are actually affecting the humanitarian needs in Haiti?  Just a little bit more detail there about how that works.  And then the third one is a question I asked you earlier.  Does… on 19 February, when the US essentially join… when their re-joining of the Paris accord comes into effect, does that happen with the International Date Line, or does that happen according to GMT? What is the actual timing of that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I… Toby, and I feel for you.  I understand your interest in exact timings.

Correspondent:  Yeah, because we have to coordinate… yeah, it's…

Spokesman:  No, no.  I… I know you work across many time zones.  I think we can assume it's on the nineteenth, wherever the nineteenth … whenever the nineteenth falls, wherever you may be.  There is no… I'm not aware of any specific time date.  So, let's just… let's keep it general and on the nineteenth.  On your first question, again, I speak for one candidate.  I would encourage you use the Google machine or call your colleague Stephanie.  I'm sure she can give you the name of the person.  Thirdly, on the socioeconomic impact of Haiti, whenever… you have in Haiti a kind of a perfect storm of continuing challenges from climate, with the storms that have been hitting, the fact that the country already faces a high level of deforestation and the impact that storms have on areas where there is already severe deforestation.  You have the pandemic, which has made matters worse.  And on terms of the political uncertainty, you've had… any political uncertainty has an impact on the ability of Government to deliver basic services, and also when you have in cities demonstrations, political unrest, that has an impact on people's ability to access basic private services, shops, foods and markets.  It has an impact on farmers getting food to the market, especially when you're dealing with an… in countries… and there are other examples where you have… where people really work… live on daily subsistence, where they earn money daily; they spend it daily to get what they need.  So, any disruption to the market, private or public, will have a negative impact.  Brenden, say something so we can wave.

Brenden Varma:  Hello, Steph.  Can everyone hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Just to note that tomorrow we will be briefing virtually, as well, from an undisclosed location.  Call it whatever you want to call it, James Bays.

For information media. Not an official record.