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 Appointment
Good afternoon. I’m going to start with a senior personnel appointment.
Following consultations with the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Catherine Russell of the United States as UNICEF’s next Executive Director.
She will succeed Henrietta Fore of the United States, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization. The Secretary-General wishes to express his appreciation to Ms. Fore for her inspiring leadership of UNICEF and, in particular, UNICEF’s critical role in the global response to COVID-19 and in reimagining education. As a result of her leadership, UNICEF is now an organization with a broader array of public and private sector partnerships and a bolder focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ms. Russell brings to the role decades of experience in developing innovative policy that empowers underserved communities around the world. She currently serves as Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. From 2013 to 2017, she served as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues in the US Department of State, and we welcome her, and we send our congratulations also to Henrietta Fore for her work.
I wanted to flag a horrific story, which I think many of you have seen. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said that at least 54 migrants died in yesterday’s truck crash in Chiapas, in Mexico. This is the single deadliest incident for migrants in Mexico since at least 2014, when IOM began documenting deaths of migrants.
As a reminder, some 651 people died this year attempting to cross Mexico’s border with the United States, more than in any year since 2014. This increase is especially concerning, because most data for this border region is reported only after the year ends.
According to IOM, the number of deaths and disappearances has increased on many migratory routes across the world in 2021, including in Europe and the Americas. The UN agency said that with the case in Mexico, the migrant death toll in 2021 has surpassed 4,470 men, women and children.
The organization notes that globally the number of deaths this year is already more than the 4,236 total recorded in 2020. According to IOM, more than 45,400 deaths have been recorded since 2014, and if this latest incident isn’t a reminder for the world and for Member States to agree on controlled and managed [migration], it’s unclear to see what is.
The Security Council is currently in closed consultations on Sudan. Volker Perthes, The Special Representative for the Secretary-General in that country, said in the open meeting that preceded the consultation that in the last six weeks, Sudan’s political transition has been undergoing its greatest crisis to date. He noted that this crisis is not over yet, but discussions on the way forward have begun.
Mr. Perthes said he cautiously welcomed the 21 November political agreement between Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok and Lt. General [Abdel Fattah] Burhan — which was reached after weeks of domestic and international efforts to find a way out of the crisis.
He called the Agreement far from perfect, but said it can help to avoid further bloodshed and provide a step towards comprehensive dialogue and a return to constitutional order.
He acknowledged that many feel betrayed by the coup and now reject any negotiations or partnership with the military.
Mr. Perthes has agreed to speak to you at the stakeout at the Security Council as soon as the consultations are done, and we’ll let you know when that is.
**Human Rights Day
And today is Human Rights Day. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that our world is at a crossroads. The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the expansion of digital technology into all areas of our lives have created new threats to human rights.
But we can choose a different path, he underscores, adding that recovery from the pandemic must be an opportunity to expand human rights and freedoms and rebuild trust.
The principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remain the key to realizing all human rights, for all people, everywhere, he concludes.
A quick update to you from Cameroon, where the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says today that it is deeply concerned by renewed intercommunal clashes in Cameroon’s Far North region.
At least 22 people have been killed, according to UNHCR. Thousands have been displaced inside the country and more than 30,000 have fled into Chad.
Eighty per cent of the new arrivals into Chad are women and children. UNHCR, working with Chadian authorities and partners, is supporting refugees with emergency shelter and assistance. The clashes began in the border village of Ouloumsa, following a dispute between herders, fishermen and farmers over dwindling water resources. Violence then spread to neighbouring villages. UNHCR said ten villages have been burned to the ground as the situation remains volatile.
And an update for you from Jamaica, which recently received 100,000 doses of vaccines through COVAX, bringing the total number sent by COVAX to Jamaica to more than 1 million.
The UN team in Jamaica, led by Resident Coordinator Garry Conille, is working with authorities and partners to increase confidence in vaccines and the uptake of doses.
The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has called on countries to increase vaccination coverage while also implementing public health measures to limit the transmission of the virus.
More than 780,000 new COVID-19 infections and 11,000 deaths were reported in the region last week alone, yet just 55 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.
**International Mountain Day
Tomorrow is an International Day. Anybody know what day it is tomorrow? International Mountain Day, and this year’s theme is sustainable mountain tourism.
Ahead of the Day, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) today released a report highlighting the role of tourism in the sustainable development of mountain regions, including by boosting livelihoods, alleviating poverty, and promoting environmental conservation.
**International Universal Health Coverage Day
Sunday is the International Universal Health Coverage Day. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General emphasizes that as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must urgently strengthen our health systems to ensure they are equitable, resilient and capable of meeting everyone’s needs, including for their mental health.
The Secretary-General stresses that the best insurance for resilient economies and communities, as well as pandemic preparedness for the future, is strengthening health systems before a crisis arrives. He calls all to join the commitment to end the pandemic and build a healthier, safer future for all by investing in health systems that leave no one behind.
And Sunday is also the International Day of Neutrality, but I take no position on that. [laughter] Sorry.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, two days ago, in Burkina Faso, the Prime… yes, the Prime Minister, Christophe Dabire, has resigned, which, of course, means that the Government, according to the Constitution, has to resign as well. Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the security deteriorating in the country?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we've seen that the resignation and the dissolution of the Government is happening in a context of insecurity, but not just in Burkina Faso, in the broader Sahel. That is something the Secretary‑General has been very concerned about. I think he spoke about it even yesterday. He's spoken about it repeatedly, especially a call for a multisectoral approach to dealing with all the issues that are facing Sahel.
I mean, security is what is the most visible and attracts the most headlines, but we all know there are development and governance issues throughout the region. It's very important for the international community to support the countries, notably the G5 Sahel Force.
We continue our commitment… reaffirm our commitment to sustain and support Burkina Faso in its ongoing efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism and foster social cohesion.
Question: If I may, despite the G5 Force Sahel, nothing is going right. So, what's the point for the Force?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I don't share your assessment that nothing is going right. The challenge the Force has been facing is the lack of [predictable] funding. We also support the idea that it operate under a Chapter 7 resolution. And the Secretary‑General, I think, has been very clear on advocating for that.
Okay. Yes, yes?
Question: Stéphane, update for the refugees. They've been, you know, trying to pass Europe, and they stop them, you know, by Poland and Belarussian and stuff like that. And what's the… what happened right now with those refugees?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we've all seen the terrible images of migrants, of refugees, of men, women and children seeking a better life. We saw what was going on at the border between Belarus and Poland, just read about… I mean, I just mentioned the horrific death toll in the truck accident in Mexico, which killed more than 50 migrants. We've seen also deaths at sea increase.
This is all linked to a number of things, including conflict, including climate change, and including the lack of real and sustained and logical cooperation between countries, between countries of destination, countries of origin, countries of transit, on how to manage the movement of people, which will always happen. But right now, it seems to be more managed by criminal enterprises than by Governments.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. Quick question on Cathy Russell, the woman who's just been appointed as the new head of UNICEF. She's an American. [In] 74 years, it's always an American in this job. Why is that?
Spokesman: Well, there is a process. There's a consultation between the Secretary‑General and the Executive Board of UNICEF, and senior people get appointed.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Today, London court ruled in favour of the US appeal to extradite Mr. Julian Assange. Do you have any comment regarding this?
Spokesman: No. I mean, we've seen the news. My understanding is there's still a judicial process ongoing, appeals and so forth. So, at this point, we have no comment.
Okay. Madame Paulina [Kubiak], all yours. And I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and hopefully, we won't speak to each other over the weekend because, if we do, it's never good.