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 to you, and happy Wednesday.
You will have seen that we issued a statement last night in which the Secretary-General reiterated his call for the immediate release of UN staff members detained in Ethiopia.
As far as the Secretary-General is aware, the staff members are being held without charge, and no specific information has been provided regarding the reasons for their arrest. United Nations personnel carry out critical and impartial work in Ethiopia.
The Secretary-General stresses the obligation of respecting the privileges and immunities of United Nations personnel, both international and Ethiopian, as well as protecting United Nations personnel and other humanitarian workers in Ethiopia, including from arbitrary detention.
The Secretary-General expresses his concern over reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, which serve to widen divisions and resentment between groups.
He calls upon the authorities to publicly and unequivocally speak out against the targeting of any particular ethnic group or groups and to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
The course of military conflict will not bring lasting peace and stability to Ethiopia. The Secretary-General urges the parties to end hostilities and prioritize the welfare of civilians. Safe and unhindered humanitarian access must be restored urgently.
The Secretary-General underlines that the challenges facing Ethiopia can only be resolved through dialogue involving all Ethiopians.
Also on Ethiopia, and to give you a humanitarian update, especially on the situation in the northern part of the country which continue to be volatile and highly unpredictable: humanitarian operations remain heavily constrained due to insecurity, bureaucratic impediments and other factors.
Tens of thousands of people are reportedly displaced in Amhara and Afar regions because of active fighting in multiple locations.
Between 4 and 10 November, some 10,000 people received food assistance left in Tigray. This is only about 1.2 per cent of the [at least] 870,000 people targeted for assistance on average per week.
As of 15 November, there are fewer than 10,000 metric tons of food stocks left in Tigray.
The ongoing fuel and cash shortage is also significantly undermining the ability of humanitarian organizations to distribute available supplies within Tigray.
Meanwhile, humanitarian partners are scaling up the response to areas where it is possible in the Afar and Amhara regions. Nearly 150,000 people were provided with food aid in both regions last week.
We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to urgently and immediately facilitate free, sustained, and safe movement of humanitarian workers and supplies in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
About 8 million people in northern Ethiopia are targeted for humanitarian assistance until the end of the year.
Humanitarian operations throughout Ethiopia face a funding gap of $1.3 billion, including $350 million for the response in Tigray.
Turning to Yemen, I can tell you that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the arrests and detention of two UN staff members in Sana’a by the Houthis earlier this month.
The two UN staff members are being held without any justification or charge and have been prevented from communicating with their families and offices.
Before the Security Council meeting on Yemen last Thursday, we received assurances from the Houthis that the two staff members would be released. We also reported those assurances to the Security Council.
However, as of today, the staff members remain in detention, in breach of UN privileges and immunities and in direct contravention to the assurances we received last week. We call for their immediate release.
And on another Yemen-related note, we condemn the summary executions of 10 individuals belonging to local security forces that took place in Hudaydah governorate on 13 November. These amount to serious violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law, which must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and perpetrators brought to justice. We call again on all sides to fully adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law, under all circumstances.
This afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the Security Council will hold a briefing followed by consultations on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of Mission, Deborah Lyons, will brief the Council members in person. And I will then bring her out to the stakeout after the open meeting and consultations later this afternoon.
This morning, Council members heard a briefing on Somalia.
Briefing was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, James Swan. He said that slow and uneven progress has been made in the electoral process.
He said it is encouraging that 14 women will soon take office as Senators, representing 26 per cent of the Upper House, though still short of the 30 per cent target.
But Mr. Swan pointed out that it has now been more than one year since Somalia’s political leaders signed the 17 September Electoral Agreement and nearly six months since their commitments were reaffirmed through the 27 May Agreement.
He said the efforts of Somalia’s political leaders will need to be redoubled in the coming weeks to bring the elections for the Federal Parliament to a successful conclusion, so that presidential election can then be held as soon as possible. Those remarks were shared with you.
A quick humanitarian update for you on what our colleagues are doing on the Belarus-Poland border: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has small offices, both in Minsk and in Warsaw. However, UNHCR has no permanent or regular presence at the border on either side.
From the Belarusian side, a UNHCR team was granted access to the border four times since the beginning of this crisis. The team has made three visits to a group of Afghans stranded at the border in September and October and most recently on 11 November. In the recent visit to a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the border near the international border crossing point known as “Bruzgi,” UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration delivered some emergency aid, including hygienic items for children and women, as well as food items.
UNHCR tells us that more assistance is on the way, such as blankets, warm clothes, gloves, hats and boots, for children. Those are to be delivered by the partner organization, which is the Belarusian Red Cross.
UNHCR is currently negotiating more regular access to the border on the Belarusian side, as well as discussing access on the Polish side. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been advocating with the authorities to move people to safe locations away from the border, where they can be provided with adequate assistance and counselling, and where humane solutions can be found according to individuals’ personal situations and needs.
The two UN agencies stress that the makeshift camp at the border is not a safe and suitable place for people and could lead to further loss of life.
**Central African Republic
A quick note from the Central African Republic: our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that, on Monday, in a village of the Ouham-Pendé prefecture, presumed combatants from the 3R armed group attacked a Central African armed forces base and surrounding neighbourhoods. Twelve civilians were reportedly killed and 15 were injured and are receiving medical treatment at a local hospital. People also fled the area of the attack.
The peacekeepers are currently preparing for the deployment of a Force patrol to the incident area to help ensure the protection of civilians.
You will have seen that, yesterday afternoon, we also issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the terrorist attacks that took place yesterday in Uganda, and he expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of these despicable acts of violence.
And a quick update from Fiji to end: our UN team there tell us that Fiji recently received more than 200,000 vaccine doses through COVAX donated by the US and Japan — we thank them both. This brings the total number of doses Fiji has received from COVAX to more than 300,000 doses.
Of all people over the age of 18, 97 per cent have received their first dose and 90 per cent received two doses.
The UN team supported the vaccine rollout, providing more than $12 million worth of equipment, including COVID-testing machines, refrigerators, freezers, cold boxes, ultra-cold chain equipment, and personal protection kits.
And the World Health Organization (WHO) is continuing to provide technical support.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I've got a few for you. First one, Ethiopia, that new statement by the Secretary‑General, very strong language; have you had a response from the Ethiopian authorities?
Spokesman: No. And the short answer, no, because our colleagues remain in detention.
Question: Okay. Sudan, fresh protests and more deaths. The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors reporting ten people killed, shot dead by security forces. What is the UN's reaction?
Spokesman: We're waiting to get some details from our folks on the ground. But obviously, if these numbers are confirmed, they're extremely worrying. It is critical that people be allowed to express themselves freely and demonstrate freely, and we continue to urge the military authorities to return to the transition agreements.
Question: Finally, Afghanistan, looks like we're getting a stakeout today, and we'll, obviously, listen to what's said in the Council, the Council being briefed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Can I ask what the Personal Envoy is currently up to? Because he may be very busy, but if he is, it's very, very below the radar because we hear nothing about it.
Spokesman: Yeah, I think, at this point, from what I understand, the efforts are really focussed on the work of the Special Representative.
Question: [Off mic, inaudible]
Spokesman: I have no updates.
Question: What has he been up to?
Spokesman: No, no, I have no…
Question: Do you think you can find out what he's been up to for, say, the last month, how many meetings he's had? Because we've heard nothing about it. Thank you.
Spokesman: Yeah. I agree with you. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Could you give us a few more… first, could you give us a few more details on the two UN staff members who've been arrested by the Houthis? Are they national or international?
Spokesman: Yes, they're national staff.
Question: Male, female?
Question: Okay. And is anybody in Yemen right now actually contacting… from the UN contacting the Houthis about why they have not yet released…?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we're in touch locally with the Houthis. As I said, we'd been given assurances that they would be released. They clearly have not. We don't understand why they're being detained and why they have not been released.
Question: The UN Human Rights Office put out a report, I think, saying that almost 100 civilians have been… people have been detained since the declaration of a state of emergency, mainly ethnic Tigrayans. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the fact that this could potentially be part of an ethnic cleansing?
Spokesman: Well, we're extremely concerned at these reports of people who are being detained because they belong to one group or another, and we feel that it's important that the Government stop these and show their commitments to human rights and the rule of law. Maggie, and then we'll go right.
Question: Thanks, Steph. A few more on the Yemen situation. When exactly were they arrested or detained? Because you said they gave assurances last week, and then they weren't released. So, how long ago did this happen?
Spokesman: I think this happened earlier last week, but I will give you an exact date.
Question: And what exactly… which agency and what was their job in the Mission there?
Spokesman: One, as far as I understand it, works for the Human Rights Office. The other one works for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as far as I know.
Question: And, I'm sorry, did you say there was a reason or no reason…?
Spokesman: I mean, there's no reason given to us. Right? I don't know what the reasoning is. The point is we'd been promised and given assurances that they would be released. It is important that they are actually released.
Question: And has anyone from the UN been able to visit them, like you had in Ethiopia?
Spokesman: No, I mean, as I've said, we have not been able to reach out to our colleagues, which is also worrying.
Question: And since we're on Yemen, could you just give us an update on the Safer tanker, if there's any?
Spokesman: No, not… no update and no positive movement that I'm aware of. I mean, the discussions are ongoing with the Houthi authorities. We're trying to find a kind of pragmatic workable solution as quick as possible.
From our side, the discussions are being led by David Gressly, who's the Resident Coordinator in Yemen. As I said, there are active discussions going on. We hope to see progress soon, but clearly, the pos… as long as there's no real forward movement, the possibility of a catastrophic accident, catastrophic oil spill remains.
On the staff members… sorry, because I… what happens when I'm not here, I should… one staff member was arrested on 5 November and the second, 7 November, and just to confirm that we've had no access or communication with them.
Question: All right. Just for more detail since you found the page, were they arrested from their homes, from their workplaces, on the street?
Spokesman: Unclear. Okay. Madame?
Question: Stéphane, about the Central African Republic, can MINUSCA fulfil its mandate correctly when the Wagner forces are really stopping them from doing so? How can they do their work?
Spokesman: Look, the UN Mission is fulfilling its mandate in terms of protection of civilians, in terms of a lot of other facets, as well. There are challenges in the Central African Republic, security challenges, political challenges, humanitarian challenges. We report on them regularly to the Security Council, but we are… our colleagues on the ground are fulfilling their mandates to the best of their ability.
Question: Is the Secretary-General worried about what is going on?
Spokesman: I mean, I think the Secretary-General, if you read his reports, has expressed his concern about the situation on the ground, the situation… are challenges that sometimes occur, even with national forces or with the bilateral forces. Evelyn and then…
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Somalia, I listened to most of the Security Council speeches this morning and read US Secretary [Antony] Blinken's comments in Kenya. No one mentioned, that I heard anyway, of Kenya's intention to close the Somalian refugee camp. Does the United Nations have any plan of how to deal with the Dadaab refugee camp?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, that's a dialogue that's been ongoing between UNHCR and the Kenyan authorities. This issue of the possible closing of a number of refugee camps has been ongoing. I think it is only right to recognise the amazing generosity of the Kenyan people and the Kenyan Government over the past decades. And again, when you look at how refugees are treated, you see it as often developing countries that open their hearts and their doors more to refugees than others, and that needs to be marked. But, obviously, the Kenyan Government has some concerns, and our colleagues at UNHCR are dealing with them.
Correspondent: Surprised nobody mentioned it, but thank you for the explanation.
Spokesman: No problem. Thank you. Ray?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding this afternoon meeting on Afghanistan, I do have a question about the issue of international recognition of the Taliban movement. Also, is there anything in your… any update on Afghanistan’s seat of the United Nations? Thank you.
Spokesman: No. Not one that I have. Obviously, I think, as we've said, that is an issue for Member States to deal with, with the Credentials Committee. So, I would encourage you to ask those Member States who sit or who chair that committee. Majeed, and then we'll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up on Afghanistan. Taliban is asking for asset to be released by multiple countries, including the US. What's the UN's position about that?
Spokesman: We've expressed our fear, really, at the prospect of a possible financial collapse in Afghanistan with the clear humanitarian impacts that that could have. It is important that the international community be able to support the people of Afghanistan, which is what we're doing through a number of programmes, notably the United Nations Development Programme-led (UNDP) project, which is paying health‑care workers directly. But there are all sorts of challenges that Member States will have to figure out how to navigate when it comes to Afghanistan while never forgetting the need to help those who need it the most.
Question: Do you think those assets should be released…?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that.
Question: And on Belarus, you said the UN agencies have been given access four times. Was that from the Belarusian side or…
Spokesman: Yes, on the Belarusian… from Minsk into the Belarusian side, which is where most of the needs are.
Question: Have they given any promises for future access?
Spokesman: Yes, and they have… as I said, they've been negotiating and I think given… they will be distributing more supplies through… in partnership with the Belarusian Red Cross, which is our local partner organization.
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph.
Spokesman: Okay. All right. Ibtisam, and then we'll go to the screen.
Question: A follow‑up on Afghanistan. So, you and other UN officials have… and you mentioned also that there are some salaries that are being paid through some UN agencies, and there's a talk about having the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)… through the UNICEF paying also teachers, etc., but not much is moving. Can we get an answer why or where things…?
Spokesman: You know, it's an absolutely fantastic question. I would ask you to write it down and then reread it this afternoon when you see Deborah Lyons. You'll get a better answer.
Ibtisam… sorry. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have two questions. The first one, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) donors meeting yesterday, do you have any details about the pledges, how much money was raised, how much UNRWA is short of, and if you have any… did it meet the expectation of the Secretary‑General and his High Commissioner? The commissioner of…
Spokesman: I will get you… I think the accounting and bookkeeping is still ongoing. We'll ask our UNRWA colleagues to see what they've come up with.
Question: My second question, Steph, Kayed al‑Fasfous, he's been on hunger strike for 126 days, and his health is deteriorating. He's protesting his administrative detention, and now he is entering the stage where he might lose his life. Any statement, any information about this case, why there's no mention of this case?
Spokesman: Let me get some updates from our human rights colleagues on the ground.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: James Reinl?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Another question on the detentions of UN staff in Yemen. About the same kind of time as your staff were detained, the Houthis were arresting staff of the US Embassy in Sana’a. Is there any connection between these two? Is… does there appear to be a kind of Houthi roundup of Yemenis with international connections?
Spokesman: Look, I think that's a question you need to ask of the people who are doing the detention, not the people who are being detained. We don't know why these… our two colleagues have been detained. We want them released. What the motivation is, the bigger picture, that's not for me to speak on. My focus right now is to get… is getting our two colleagues out. Margaret?
Question: Just following up on that, have the Houthis made any contact with UN representatives?
Spokesman: Well, we had contact last week. We were given assurances from senior Houthi officials that they would be released, and that's what we told the Security Council, but that has not happened.
Question: But did the Houthis express any conditions, perhaps, in order to get them released?
Spokesman: UN staff should not be arbitrarily detained. It is not a conditionality issue. We want them to be released. Oui, Philippe?
Question: Sorry. It's also about Yemen as a detention. You say 5 November and 7 November. Which one is 5 November? Is it UNESCO or is it…
Spokesman: I will check. [He later said that the OHCHR staff member in Yemen was arrested on 5 November and the UNESCO staff member was arrested on 7 November.]
Question: And is it the first time that Yemen you have people arrested?
Spokesman: I do not believe it is the first time, and I'm… whether… whichever part of Yemen, but I will double‑check on that, but I do not believe this is the first time. James?
Question: I have a few other odd questions for the end. First, Libya…
Spokesman: Did you write them down while you were on the beach?
Question: Of course. Of course [inaudible].
Question: So, on Libya, we are now, I believe, a month and a week away from the date when elections are supposed to be held. We've got various candidates putting themselves forward, including Saif al‑Islam Gaddafi, who is wanted for questioning by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and also the Prime Minister [Abdul Hamid] Dbeibah is talking about running. Does the UN have a position on, one, indicted people before the International Criminal Court or serving politicians who, I think, the UN had stressed they didn't want them to run? Do you have a position on either of those categories running for election in this?
Spokesman: It's clear that there were agreements made and understandings reached. Ultimately, the decision who is clear to run, as far as I understand it, is up to the High Electoral Council in Libya. This is a Libyan… this is not a UN‑organised election. This is for the Libyan people to choose their future leader. We want the election, obviously, to be credible, to be transparent, to be effective; but in terms of clearance of candidate, that is up to the Libyan institutions.
Question: So, if you could just be clear then, with the elections coming up so fast, you're not running the election, but could you give us an idea on what the Mission there are doing in support of the election right now?
Spokesman: Let me give you… let me get some exact details because I don't want to freelance…
Question: Okay. Next question is on the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) and I don't want to talk about the outcomes of that. I'm just interested in the logistical UN part of that, because it was a massive UN operation. Do you have a list of how many UN staff were in Glasgow and where they all came from, which duty stations they were based?
And also, it occurred to me, being in Glasgow, who was paying for all that UN presence? Does it come out of the regular budget? Is it paid by the UK? If you could find…
Spokesman: That's a good question. Traditionally, when these are UN‑organized conferences, there are certain functions that have to be filled, security one of them. I know a large number of the UN Security officials that came from European duty stations, Geneva, Rome and others. There were some from other places. But let me see what I can do. I'll check with UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
Question: Okay. And finally, I'm going to just ask this last one because I don't think it's been asked for some time, but tell… if I'm wrong, I'm sorry. Fabrizio Hochschild, what… ten months now. That seems a ridiculously long investigation.
Spokesman: The process is ongoing, following established rules for the benefit of everyone involved in any investigation, those who are being accused, those who are doing the accusing. The UN procedure is a long one, and that is defined in relevant rules and regulation, but the process is ongoing. Do you have a question about James?
Question: Always, many questions. [Laughter]
But I'll just ask one final one, Ethiopia, if I may. Can you just remind us the status of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service flights? Because you're saying how the cargo…
Spokesman: The flights have not resumed, not at all, but there are what I would qualify as deep discussions between all involved to try to resume them as soon as possible.
And they are a critical, critical part of us getting humanitarian workers in, of getting cash in. You need… we… to really run this in an effective manner, we both need the road and the air access in a way that is unfettered and unhindered and free from any sort of bureaucratic or other more violent impediments. Sorry. I didn't see you because you're behind the screen so… yeah.
Question: Partly behind the screen. So, back to Fabrizio Hochschild, regardless of the status of his investigation, will the tech envoy post be open soon?
Spokesman: I have nothing for you on that at this very moment.
Okay. Thank you, all, and see you tomorrow.