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.
**Senior Personnel Appointments
I have a few senior personnel appointments for you, which may be of interest. The Secretary-General is appointing Stephanie Williams of the United States as his Special Adviser on Libya. She will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks — that’s the political, security and the economic — as well as support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya. Ms. Williams as you know has extensive experience in diplomacy and foreign security policy, and of course in Libya.
The Secretary-General is also appointing Beysolow Nyanti of Liberia as his new Deputy Special Representative in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and Resident Coordinator in South Sudan. Ms. Nyanti will also serve as the Humanitarian Coordinator. Ms. Nyanti succeeds Alain Noudéhou of Benin, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his leadership and dedicated commitment to the people of South Sudan. The biographies of both are available, as well.
I’ve been asked by some of you for our reaction to the sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, and I’m sure you will have seen the statement made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, [Michelle] Bachelet, condemning that verdict. For his part, the Secretary-General reiterates his condemnation of the military takeover on 1 February and repeats the call for an immediate end to the violence and repression, for the respect for human rights, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar. As you know, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and all of the guarantees necessary for a person’s defence.
Also on Myanmar, the Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms yesterday’s killing and injuring of a number of unarmed civilians by security forces in Yangon, when a vehicle rammed into protestors who were then fired upon with live ammunition. The killing of peaceful demonstrators violates the fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, and the right of peaceful assembly, and is in clear defiance of calls by the Security Council for restraint and dialogue. The violence against civilians must stop and the perpetrators held accountable. To date, more than 1,300 women, children and men have lost their lives in Myanmar since the takeover of the Government by the military 1 February. We reiterate our call for the military to refrain from violence and repression, and for a return to Myanmar’s democratic path. Also expressing deep concern over yesterday’s attack on unarmed civilians was the acting Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan. He stressed in a statement that the freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the actions by security forces are completely unacceptable.
Turning to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues report that provision of winterization assistance continues across the country. Last week, more than 81,000 people received winterization assistance in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan Provinces. Some 284,500 people received relief food assistance, and about 46,000 people in Paktya and Kabul Provinces people were reached with cash assistance. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided essential medicine items in the Nangarhar Province. And yesterday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) undertook a road mission to visit a distribution site and assess additional needs, including health, water and sanitation and hygiene services.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Back here in the Security Council, where Council members heard from Bintou Keita, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there. She began her briefing by noting the ongoing military operations by Ugandan and Congolese forces against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). She emphasized the Mission’s advocacy to put in place cooperation mechanisms, in the context of these operations, to ensure the security of UN peacekeepers and, of course, also civilians. Turning to the illegal exploitation of natural resources, which she described as a major driver of conflict in the country, Ms. Keita said she is encouraged by the Government’s efforts to reform the mining sector. As the country looks ahead to elections next year, Ms. Keita urged all political stakeholders to focus on taking forward the key reforms needed to consolidate the hard-won stabilization gains achieved so far and to overcome continuing challenges, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**Central African Republic
And in the neighbouring Central African Republic, our UN peacekeepers are continuing to patrol the town of Kouango, in the country’s south. Following violence there last week by combatants associated with the UPC armed group, close to 1,500 people have sought refuge around the UN temporary base. On Thursday, while Kouango was under attack, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) deployed helicopter reinforcements to help peacekeepers already on location. This intervention, as well as UN support to the Central African army, forced the combatants to flee. The Mission condemns the attack and calls on the UPC — and all armed groups — to immediately end violence and to respect the ceasefire, as well as their commitments under the Peace Agreement.
And you will have seen we issued a statement yesterday on Mali, in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack perpetrated against civilians on Friday afternoon, near the village of Songho, in central Mali. Reportedly, 30 civilians were killed and several wounded and we dispatched peacekeepers to the area.
Finally, a last peacekeeping note, a senior UN delegation has arrived in Seoul, ahead of the 2021 UN Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting, which begins tomorrow. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atul Khare and Catherine Pollard, respectively the heads of Peace Operations, the Department Operational Support, as well as the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, will all three take part in this two-day event, hosted virtually by the Republic of Korea. More than 100 Member States and intergovernmental organizations are expected to reaffirm their support to UN peacekeeping and pledge resources to strengthen peacekeeping. This year, Member States have been asked to close capability gaps in peacekeeping through concrete pledges that align with the Action for Peacekeeping and priorities, the strategy to strengthen peacekeepers’ work on the ground. For those of you who are early risers, the event will be broadcast live on UN Web TV, starting at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. It will be recorded, so Benno can watch it later when he wakes up on his terrace.
A quick COVID update from Botswana: With cases of the Omicron variant detected in the country, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Zia Choudhury, is increasing its support for the Government’s COVID-19 response. We are helping to enhance Botswana’s capacity to diagnose and treat the virus by providing medical and protective equipment. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing risk communication support on health and safety measures, increasing access to education, and providing medical and nutrition support for vulnerable children. Of the nearly 2 million vaccine doses delivered to Botswana, more than 700,000 came through COVAX. Botswana has achieved the WHO target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population by this month. As of 29 November, 75 per cent of the people in the country have received at least one dose, while 68 per cent are fully vaccinated.
In a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the successful conclusion of the Second Session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction. That session ended on Friday. He congratulated the participating States of the Conference on their constructive engagement and the decision to establish a working committee to continue deliberations during the intersessional period.
This afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the General Assembly session to honour the late High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio. The Secretary-General will say that Portugal lost an extraordinary leader, one of the country’s best. And he will mention the work that Mr. Sampaio did in the Alliance of Civilizations to promote preventive diplomacy and build bridges of dialogue and understanding between cultures and religions.
**Press Encounter Today
And at 2.45 p.m. this afternoon, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway will brief you at the Security Council Stakeout ahead of the Council’s Arria Formula meeting on the Protection of Education in Conflict.
I will end on a positive news, at least for us, in the form of a full payment to the regular budget. It comes from a Member State whose sea coconut — endemic to its islands — produces the largest seed in the world. And it is definitely a place we’d all rather be today on this dark, stormy, cold day. Philippe? Hold on, hold on, what country? Exactly. Seychelles. Perfect. Thank you. Yes, the Seychelles, and the seed is found in the, shall we say, “distinctly shaped” Coco de Mer… I’m sorry; the integrity of this quiz show is above all reproach. So anyway, we thank the Seychelles for their payment, which takes us up to 139 [fully paid‑up Member States]. All right, Philippe… All right. Philippe. Sorry. Then we’ll go to you, Lenka.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. A question on Stephanie Williams in Libya. Where she would be based?
Spokesman: She will be based in Tripoli and will start in the coming days.
Question: So, does that mean that you are not looking anymore for a new Special Envoy?
Spokesman: At this point, she is the Special Adviser, and she will lead the work that we are doing ahead of the Mission.
Question: And to be precise, does that mean that António Guterres refused the proposal from Mr. [Jan] Kubiš to stay in his function until the end of the election?
Spokesman: I don’t think… what Mr… the way I read Mr. Kubiš’ proposal was that he did not want to leave the Mission without senior leadership, and we appreciate the fact that he did not leave immediately so we’ll have a positive transition. Edie?
Question: Follow up on that. [Inaudible] tenure for Stephanie Williams in this position? Is it basically to get through the electoral period? And perhaps, you could give us a little more insight into how the Secretary-General talked her into taking this job.
Spokesman: Well, who would not want to have this job? I think Ms.… in all seriousness, Ms. Williams did a spectacular job when she was in office, and we are delighted that she accepted the offer to return. I’m not aware of any time bound. And if I’m not mistaken, obviously, the mandate of the Mission will have to be… scheduled to be renewed in January. We’ll see what architecture Security Council members come up with.
Question: Could I have another question on Afghanistan? I believe the World Bank has released over — I don’t know — $250 million for humanitarian assistance. Can you tell us what the UN is doing… the broader UN is doing to ensure that that money does not go to the Taliban?
Spokesman: Well, the money, which will… part of it will be used by WFP [World Food Programme], as you know, goes either directly to buy the necessary supplies, food and others. As you know, UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] has also created a programme of the Global Fund to pay the salaries of health workers directly. So, it is not going through any structures of the interim… of the de facto authorities — excuse me — of the de facto authorities in Kabul. Sorry, Lenka, I… you won, and I passed you over, and for that, I apologize.
Question: That’s fine. On Myanmar, is [inaudible] already happened. Is the Secretary-General considering to contact the junta? And what is the update on the UN’s envoy? Has she started working? Thank you.
Spokesman: The new envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, if I’m not mistaken, starts 13 December. I think you’re all very aware of the difficulties of contacts that we’ve had with junta. So, obviously, Ms. Heyzer will take the lead in contacting the authorities in Myanmar. Benno?
Question: I have a follow-up to Libya, as well. This position of the Special Adviser is a new position, so Ms. Williams doesn’t follow anybody. Right?
Spokesman: That’s correct.
Question: Is there the possibility that she will become the next envoy after that time?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has the authority to appoint special advisers, which he has used. As I mentioned to Edie, if… the mandate will be re… is scheduled for renewal. We’ll have to see what architecture comes up with. So, I just want to focus on this… Ms. Williams’ role has really been outlined in the announcement that I read and especially with the focus on getting us… in getting the Libyan people and institutions through these elections. Mike, and then we’ll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you. On Sudan, there’ve been mass protests throughout the country in response to the Prime Minister’s decision to be with a military-dominated Government. What is the UN position on the fact that he’s participating within that Government?
Spokesman: I think we’ve… on the… on Sudan, we have… I think we expressed ourselves pretty clearly that there’s still actions that we want to see taken. We support Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok’s efforts to engage with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the different civil society committees, the resistance committees and other voices within the Sudanese public. We still very much continue to advocate for the immediate release of all those who were arbitrarily detained or arrested since 25 October. There also needs to be full accountability for the human rights violations that were reported, notably against demonstrators and protesters. The agreement that was signed on 21 November, for us, is really an initial step towards the full restoring of order… of civilian and democratic order, but more needs to be done.
Question: Sorry. Just a follow-up, if I may. What’s your position on… is there confidence in the military’s reassurance that it’s going to get out of government after the election?
Spokesman: Look, I think… we are… I hate to use the expression “it is what it is.” We are faced with a situation. We’ve heard assurances. We are looking for and we will continue to look for action that will lead to the restoration of the constitutional and democratic order. Before I turn to you, Mr. Klein, I have an appointment for you… not for you, but for everybody, a senior appointment, and that is George William Okoth-Obbo of Uganda has been appointed by the Secretary-General as his Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. Mr. Okoth-Obbo will succeed Karen Smith of South Africa, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful. Mr. Okoth-Obbo is currently Assistant Secretary-General and General and Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the Secretariat of the… wow. Let me try it again. He is currently Assistant Secretary-General and Secretary and Head of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement. He’s had a UN career spanning more than 30 years and has served as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations at UNHCR, among many other positions, and we congratulate him. Sorry. Joe, up to you. And then Carrie.
Question: Thank you. On Friday, Israeli Ambassador [Gilad] Erdan sent the Secretary-General a rather scathing letter, decrying the discrimination that OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] was making… the statistics that it had published between Israeli civilian citizens and Israeli civilian settlers, such distinction having no basis in international law. So, he asked the Secretary-General for his response to this and also the fact that OCHA had misidentified an Israeli civilian who was murdered in Jerusalem by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist as a settler when he actually lived within pre-1967 Israel. So, I’m wondering, first, whether the Secretary-General, in fact, did receive the letter and how he intended to respond? Thank you.
Spokesman: Couple of things. I haven’t… I’m not aware of the letter, which doesn’t mean much because I’m not always aware of every letter, but there was a story published along these lines in the Israeli media, which kind of makes the same points you made, notably on Eli Kay. What I can tell you is that the article itself conflates a number of issues. There’s nothing here that runs contrary to international humanitarian law. What is very clear, needs to be made clear, is that, for the UN, Israeli settlers are civilians. Since 2008, OCHA, on behalf of the UN system, has maintained a database, which includes the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed or injured in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel in the context of the occupation and conflict. In doing so, the database categorizes whether the casualty or the perpetrator was known or believed to be a civilian or a combatant. There is no third category. Under the civilian category, there is a subcategory for Israeli settlers, which is necessary because it is part of the context. The UN position is that settlements are illegal under international law. As you know, the Secretary-General has been reporting on the key drivers of the conflict for many years, which includes settlers and settlement activity. Because of this context, OCHA and the UN, more broadly, are asked by Member States to report on settler-based violence. Regarding Eli Kay specifically, OCHA is engaging with the Israeli authorities and will ensure to make any needed correction. It must be clear that in no way does the UN suggest or imply in our reporting of databases that Israeli settlers should be targets for harm. The cycle of violence must be stopped and long-overdue peace and security brought to the people of Israel and Palestine. Carrie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Hi. What was the main… just a quick follow-up on Libya again. What was the main goal of nominating a Special Adviser and not going for the Special Representative right away? Was it to be faster, lighter, to be sure to have somebody on… like, there for representing the UN during the elections?
Spokesman: No… we have no mandate to appoint a Special Representative. Right? The latest mandate talks about a Special Envoy. This appointment of Ms. Williams as a Special Adviser ensures that we will have the leadership in place during this very critical month of December.
Question: And if I may, a follow-up? Because she already did the job for 10 months, right, last year, practically, like, in… effectively. So, would she be a good candidate to go forward as a Special Envoy, then?
Spokesman: Well, I think… let’s take things one step at a time, but she is definitely extremely qualified to be… to help guide the Mission during this critical month. Yes, sir?
Question: Hi, Steph. Grigory Sapozhnikov of TASS. What’s UN opinion on tomorrow’s meeting between [Vladimir] Putin and [Joseph] Biden and… generally? Do UN see any signs of… do you think it’s possible there could be an open conflict around the Ukraine? Thanks.
Spokesman: Well, I think the phone call, as I understand it, that it’s a… whatever, a cyber-… a virtual meeting that will take place between the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States is extremely important, given the current context of what we see going on in many parts of the world. Cooperation and open dialogue between these two permanent members of the Security Council is something that is important, we feel. And we hope… what we hope to see, whether it’s a direct outcome of the call or in the coming weeks, is movements towards de‑escalation of tensions, notably around the Ukraine issue. Yeah.
Question: Thank you. Are you planning to open the gift stores in the UN or the Delegates Lounge? Thank you.
Spokesman: My birthday’s 20 August, so we hope to have it open before then. No, my understanding is that they are open as of today, gift shop, bookshop and post office.
Spokesman: Okay well, let’s see. It’s supposed to be open. Madame?
Spokesman: Yeah, you.
Question: What about the bar? Yeah, I mean, we need it. Come on.
Spokesman: That is true. I’ll find out. Maybe before my birthday. Yes?
Question: Sorry. Maybe I missed something. That means tourists can come to the United Nations again.
Spokesman: Yes, you did miss something. We announced last week that the tours have reopened following… we will be, obviously, following very strictly the New York City COVID guidelines for these sorts of things. The book… there will be limited number of tours, Monday through Friday, I think 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and you can only book online.
Question: What about civil society in the building?
Spokesman: Civil society will come back, if I’m not mistaken, as of 1 January. They’ve all been made aware, and arrangements for updating passes and things are being… are currently ongoing. Okay. Paulina, all yours.
* *** *