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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.

Good afternoon.  Just a little housekeeping order, I’m going to brief, then Paulina and then we expect the President of Niger, President [Mohamed] Bazoum, to brief probably in about half an hour or so.  So, we just ask you to wait in the room until after Paulina [Kubiak] and I are done.  Thank you.

**Security Council

Just wanted to flag the obvious, which is that the Secretary-General is back working from the office this morning after having tested negative earlier today.  So we are glad to have him back.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s high-level debate on “maintaining peace and security in the context of terrorism and climate change”.  The Secretary-General said that no one is safe from the destructive effects of climate disruption.  However, the regions that are most vulnerable to climate change often also suffer from insecurity, poverty, weak governance and the scourge of terrorism.

The Secretary-General noted that, while climate change is not the source of all ills, it has a multiplier effect and is an aggravating factor for instability, conflict and terrorism.  He added that we must address these challenges in an integrated manner and create a virtuous circle of peace, resilience and sustainable development.  He pointed out to five areas where collective action is needed:  preventing and addressing the root causes of insecurity; increasing investment on adaptation and resilience; improving early warning systems; developing partnerships and initiatives linking local, regional and national approaches; and ensuring there is sustained funding to fight terrorism and conflict.

**Mali

We have an update for you on Mali, following the attack on our peacekeeping convoy and the death of seven of our peacekeeping colleagues.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that the three Togolese peacekeepers injured yesterday are now being treated at a UN hospital in Mopti.  They are reported to be in stable condition.  Two of the injured peacekeepers are scheduled to be evacuated to Dakar for further treatment soon, and we wish them a speedy and full recovery.  And a UN peacekeeping ground quick reaction force was activated yesterday, following the attack, to secure the area and retrieve the damaged armoured personnel carrier.  They are also supporting a post-blast investigation and explosive ordnance disposal team.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Also yesterday, you will have seen that in the afternoon, we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General condemned an attack that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Suspected Mai-Mai combatants attacked Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) colleagues who were travelling in the Lubero Territory in North Kivu Province.  They were being escorted by a UN peacekeeping patrol.  The UNHCR team was returning to the city of Beni after distributing humanitarian aid to people displaced by violence, as well as vulnerable families from the host community.  Three UNHCR members were wounded.  The mission dispatched reinforcements to the scene and provided medical evacuation to the wounded.  The Secretary‑General calls on the Congolese authorities to spare no effort in investigating and promptly holding accountable the perpetrators of this unacceptable attack.

**Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting

We now have some more details on the peacekeeping ministerial meeting, which took place, as you know, in Seoul, in [the Republic of] Korea, and ended yesterday.  Sixty-two Member States have announced new pledges to help enhance the performance and impact of peacekeeping operations, in line with the Secretary-General’s “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative.  Thirty-six countries made commitments of new military and police capabilities, some available for rapid deployment.  The host of the event, the Republic of Korea, pledged to donate 16 helicopters to be used in UN peacekeeping missions.  Forty-five countries pledged to provide training opportunities or announced capacity-building partnerships with other countries.  Pledges also included efforts to strengthen the technology and medical capacity of UN peacekeeping.  Member States also affirmed their commitment to enhance the role of women in peacekeeping and to improve the UN’s environmental footprint.  The three Under-Secretaries-General who represented the UN in Seoul, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atul Khare and Catherine Pollard, welcomed the strong political support and pledges from Member States.  They said this will help improve mandate delivery and support for peacekeepers.

**Afghanistan

As you will have seen, a short while ago, we issued a note to highlight that that the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, concluded her visit to Afghanistan today.  While there, Ms. DiCarlo met a wide range of Taliban representatives, political figures, women leaders, members of civil society and the diplomatic community.  She reiterated that the UN will stay and deliver in Afghanistan, where political turmoil has contributed to a dire humanitarian situation.  During her discussions with senior Taliban representatives Mawlavi Abdul Kabir and Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Under-Secretary-General emphasized the paramount importance of ensuring that all Afghans — men, women, youth and religious and ethnic groups and minorities, as well — can all take part in governance and public life.  Ms. DiCarlo also noted that there is serious and understandable concern about the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.  The Under-Secretary-General also discussed the country’s humanitarian situation, which has significantly deteriorated since last year.

On that note, I can report, happily, some more deliveries of aid throughout Afghanistan.  Our colleagues are telling us that in the three-month period of September through November, humanitarian partners have reached 8 million Afghans with food assistance; 150,000 people with relief items and 130,000 children with community-based education activities.  In the period, more than 1.1 million people have also received primary and secondary health-care services and more than 200,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition.  In addition, 45,000 people received protection assistance, including cash, and 488,000 people received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.

Thanks to the continuing commitment of donors, the Afghan Flash Appeal is more than 100 per cent funded, and the Humanitarian Response Plan is currently 84 per cent funded.  With the worsening situation in the country, the humanitarian requirement is expected to triple in 2022.  We count on continued commitment from donors to respond to the rising needs.  Our humanitarian colleagues also note that addressing the pressing financial crisis in Afghanistan, including the liquidity shortage, remains a critical priority.  It is also critical that humanitarian operations are exempted from the scope of sanctions regimes so that scaled-up assistance can be delivered unhindered.

**Ethiopia

I have a rather lengthy update for you on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia.  In the North, our colleagues are telling us that many people continue to be displaced due to conflict in Amhara, Afar and Western Tigray.  Tens of thousands of people have been uprooted from the town of Shewa Robit in Amhara’s North Shewa Zone to parts of neighbouring Afar region.  Several thousand people have been displaced from Woldiya and Lalibela, in Amhara, while tens of thousands of people are believed to have fled Western Tigray to Tigray’s North-Western Zone.  Between 1 and 7 December, 44 trucks of food, nutrition, and water and sanitation supplies arrived in Mekelle through the Afar corridor.  This is compared to 157 trucks a week earlier and remains far short of the needs of 100 trucks per day that we have been talking to you about for quite some time to meet the needs of people in Tigray.  Fuel has not yet arrived in Tigray through the Afar route, and that’s since 2 August.  In addition, medicine and medical equipment have not been allowed to enter Tigray, with a few limited exceptions.

In Tigray itself, despite reduced capacity, our humanitarian partners continued to deliver life-saving assistance and critical services across the region.  Between 25 November and 1 December, some 43,000 people received food aid, including more than [10,000] newly displaced.  Insecurity and other challenges have made delivering aid to Amhara difficult.  A recent assessment in the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha saw the looting of public services, including health facilities.  As noted yesterday, significant looting of food supplies in Kombolcha was also reported.  Our partners are continuing to scale up their assistance to the parts of Amhara and Afar that they can actually access.

In Amhara, more than 947,000 people received food aid since the start of November, including more than 370,000 people in the past week.  Our partners have resumed their support to three hospitals and 19 health centres in Amhara, in addition to 26 mobile health and nutrition teams operating in the region.  In Afar, in the past week, 16,000 people received food assistance and more than 26,000 displaced people received water and sanitation support, while 30 mobile health and nutrition teams are operating in the region.  I will e-mail this out to you; this had a lot of numbers.

**Venezuela Refugees

UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today launched a $1.79 billion regional plan to support the needs of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their host communities across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide has topped 6 million.  More information on the interweb.

**COVID-19

A few COVID-19 updates for you.  New shipments of vaccines have arrived in Latin America and the Caribbean through COVAX this week.  More than 1.3 million doses arrived in Ecuador, while Guyana received more than 42,000 doses.  Our colleagues at the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) tell us that more than 72 million doses have been delivered so far to 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  And in Cabo Verde, in Africa, the Resident Coordinator there, Ana Patricia Graça, says that more than 65,000 doses arrived in the country yesterday, with nearly 140,000 more expected by the end of this month.  This will allow young people over the age of 12 to be vaccinated.  The UN team has been supporting authorities since the onset of the pandemic, in a number of sectors.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is also working to enhance lab capacity to improve genomic sequencing, which will help the country swiftly detect new variants, such as Omicron.  With support from the UN team and other partners, Cabo Verde has already reached full vaccination of 65 per cent of the adult population, 18 years or older.

**Land and Water Resources

Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a report highlighting the worsening state of the earth’s soil, land and water resources and the challenges that poses for feeding a global population expected to near 10 billion by 2050.  According to the report, if we keep the current trajectory, producing the additional 50 per cent more food that would be needed could mean water withdrawals for agriculture increasing by up to 35 per cent.  They warn that this could create environmental disasters, increase competition for resources, and fuel new social challenges.

**Crime of Genocide

 We have two days today.  Today is the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide.  Speaking by prerecorded video message to an event to mark the Day, the Secretary-General said that the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide has given us a better understanding of early warning signs and risk factors.  Yet, he added, today, genocide remains a very real threat.  The international community has repeatedly failed to respond collaboratively, also has not responded swiftly and decisively to prevent genocide or related atrocity crimes.  We know what is needed, the Secretary-General said.  We must eliminate identity-based discrimination and recognize diversity as a strength.  States have the primary responsibility for preventing genocide, but this cannot be achieved without the participation of society as a whole.

**International Anti-Corruption Day

Today is also International Anti-Corruption Day.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General said that corruption betrays people, drains resources and weakens democracies.  He noted that the Day highlights the need for us to take a stand for integrity, promote justice and demand accountability.  Also marking the Day, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched the first-ever Global Report on Corruption in Sport.  The report shows that up to $1.7 trillion is estimated to be wagered on illicit betting markets each year in sports.  That’s a lot of money.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:   Thank you, Stéphane.  A couple of follow‑ups.  Has the Ethiopian Government or have the Tigray forces given the UN any explanation of why convoys with medicine and fuel trucks are being barred from entering the Tigray area?

Spokesman:  You know, we've had… the short answer is no, not that I'm aware of.  We have faced numerous hurdles, whether they be administrative, whether they be more related to people with guns, to checkpoints, to continued fighting, to displacement.  So, we are… some is getting in.  I mean, as I said, a number of trucks got in this past week.  But, we are so far below our target of 100 trucks per day.  And the continuing lack of fuel is continuing to hamper our ability to respond quickly to those people who need help.

Question:  And a quick follow‑up on the Secretary‑General's return to his UN office.  Is he going to keep getting tested for COVID?

Spokesman:  I think he will follow the protocols.  I think this was a protocol the doctors told him to follow.  I'm sure he will get… I mean, I will check.  But, basically, you know, he really did this, he went to… he worked from home yesterday out of an abundance of caution.  I mean, the chances of him catching it were very small.  The chances of him transmitting it were small; but, obviously, for all the reasons you can imagine, he really did not want to take any chances.

Question:  Okay, and my question was:  Has the Secretary‑General been invited by the Chinese Government to attend the Beijing Olympics in February [2022]?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General received an invitation from the International Olympic Committee to attend the Beijing winter games and he has accepted it.  I mean, as you know, I think his two immediate predecessors have attended almost every Olympic game since at least 2002, when Kofi Annan went to Salt Lake City.  And I mean, I'm just going back to my time.  There was a time before me, as well.  Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, do we know who is behind the attack on the peacekeepers?  Is it only jihadists?  Is it… what do we know about it?

Spokesman:  I have not… I mean, okay, it fits a pattern that we've seen of attacks by various terror elements in the region.  I have not seen, and maybe you have, I have not seen anyone claiming responsibility.  And this… you know, even with the violence that we've seen, I mean, this is just such a shocking attack on young people who are serving in their nation's armed forces, who were sent just sort of as a peacekeeping force to help the population, to try to protect the population.  And they gave their all.  They gave their life.  Okay, I don't see any other questions.  Oh, Abdelhamid, sorry, then James Reinl.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  According to Al Arabiya channel, it says that Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger have agreed to a mechanism to withdraw all mercenaries from Libya and that the news said, according to the channel, was welcomed by Turkey.  Do you have any details of this development?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  We would welcome the full withdrawal of non‑State forces in Libya, but I've not seen anything on our end.

Question:  Is Ms. Stephanie Williams now in Tripoli, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  On the clock, so to speak; I don't think she has arrived in Tripoli yet.  James Reinl and then we will go to… James?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  It's another follow‑up on the tragedy in Mali.  You mentioned that there was an armoured personnel carrier that was damaged in the incident.  Were the seven peacekeepers who died and the three injured, were they actually inside the armoured personnel carrier?  I ask because that is obviously quite a large death toll from people who were inside an armoured vehicle.

Spokesman:  …[inaudible] the peacekeeping mission to really have the equipment that they need as they operate in areas that are increasingly dangerous and in areas where they are increasingly targeted because they are UN peacekeepers.  Okay, Paulina — oh, sorry, Dulcie, go ahead.

Question:  Just about this vehicle:  So it was not reinforced appropriately for IED attacks?

Spokesman:  All I know is that it was an armoured personnel carrier.  I'm not a ballistics expert.  But, you know, you can imagine that if you use enough explosives, you can damage just about anything, whether it's, you know, I mean, it's armoured, so it's already…it's reinforced by definition.  But, obviously, that has to do with the amount of explosives that are being used to target the vehicle.

Question:  Sorry, Stéphane, can I do two quick follow‑ups on the Mali thing again?  You said the vehicle was targeted.  I mean, it's a roadside bomb.  So sometimes it's delayed and nobody knows what vehicle is going to be driving over them.  Do you have intelligence that the peacekeepers were the intended target?  Second part, you did mention that there is an investigation into this incident.  Will the UN make the results of this investigation public?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we will share with what we… well, I'll give an update to what our peacekeepers find.  Okay, thank you, Paulina.

For information media. Not an official record.