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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Hello. Good afternoon, everyone and happy pre-Christmas. I am going to start by talking about Libya. Stephanie Williams, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Libya, noted that yesterday, the High National Elections Commission in that country announced that despite its technical preparedness, it is unable to meet the 24 December 2021 date set by the political roadmap for national elections.
Ms. Williams calls upon the concerned institutions to honour and support the will of the 2.8 million Libyans who registered to vote. To contribute to a solution of Libya’s political crisis and to durable stability, she said, presidential and parliamentary elections must take place in the appropriate conditions, on a level playing field among all candidates to peacefully end the political transition and transfer power to democratically elected institutions.
The Special Adviser said that the current challenges in the electoral process should in no way be instrumentalized to undermine the stability and progress which has been achieved in Libya over the past 15 months. She strongly urges relevant institutions and all political actors to focus on the electoral process and on creating the political and security conditions to secure the holding of inclusive, free, fair, peaceful and credible elections, whose outcome will be accepted by all parties.
The Secretariat is aware of the announcement on 20 December by the de facto authorities in Myanmar informing of their decision to end their hosting of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar on the basis of Christine Schraner Burgener ending her tenure as Special Envoy.
The agreement for an in-country presence of the Office of the Special Envoy was reached with the Government of Myanmar in 2018.
In continuation of the commitment of the United Nations to support the people of Myanmar and promote peace, the recently appointed Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, hopes to obtain a first-hand understanding of the situation on the ground and listen carefully to all stakeholders with a view to mobilizing greater international support towards a Myanmar-led process to end the ongoing crisis. This is in line with calls by the Security Council for all parties to exercise utmost restraint and seek a peaceful solution through constructive dialogue and practical reconciliation in the interests of the people and their livelihood.
In this respect, the in-country presence of the Office of the Special Envoy will remain important and Special Envoy Heyzer looks forward to strengthening cooperation with all stakeholders in Myanmar.
On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, said she is gravely concerned about the situation in the country following reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment perpetrated against women and girls by the security forces during demonstrations in Khartoum this past Sunday, 19 December.
Ms. Patten said she has deep concerns about credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls to disperse protesters who had attempted a sit-in.
She demanded the immediate and complete cessation of all human rights violations and abuses including sexual violence. She also called on the authorities to take effective measures to ensure ease of access to medical, legal and psychosocial support to the survivors, and put in place accountability mechanisms to prevent recurrence of such violence, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.
Ms. Patten also echoed the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call for a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into the allegations of rape and sexual harassment.
Also on Sudan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that children were among those injured and raped in the weekend protests. It called on all authorities in Sudan to protect all children from all forms of violence and harm, including during conflict and political events.
Turning to Yemen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights into and out of Sana’a airport scheduled for today have been cancelled.
The civil aviation authorities in Sana’a have now effectively prevented humanitarian flights into and out of the airport since 19 December. The Humanitarian Air Service is a vital link for the movement of aid workers and the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Yemen.
As we reported earlier in the week, a UN team visited the airport on 21 December to assess the damage caused by airstrikes the night before and noted that it remains operational for emergency humanitarian use. The UN is exploring alternatives to move supplies and staff into and out of Sana’a.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is stepping up its presence and aid delivery to help a growing number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants crossing by foot across Chile’s northern border with Bolivia. Since November, according to local authorities, between 400 and 500 refugees and migrants from Venezuela have been crossing into Chile every day, using irregular routes and facing dangers such as the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse by criminal groups.
UNHCR said that many people arrive hungry and in ill health, suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, hypothermia and altitude sickness. Some 21 people have lost their lives at Chile’s northern border since the beginning of the year. UNHCR gives information and legal counselling, as well as food, cash assistance and other aid to newly-arrived Venezuelans. There’s more on this online.
After we’re done here, you will hear from the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Gustavo Gonzalez. He will announce a coordinated plan to respond to the most urgent needs following Typhoon Rai.
Also on the Philippines, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, today announced a $12 million rapid response allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support the response to Typhoon Rai. These funds will help 220,000 vulnerable people in areas such as food, protection, water and sanitation, shelter and telecommunication in the hardest-hit Caraga region and Region VIII.
And today we thank Grenada and North Macedonia for their full payments to the regular budget. We are now up to 144 fully paid-up Member States.
This is the last briefing we intend to have this year, since UN Headquarters is closed tomorrow for the Christmas holiday and, as we usually do, we won’t have any briefings during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. We will still have spokespeople working during the weekdays next week to answer your questions and we’ll update our website with the news of the UN system each day. And the noon briefing will resume on Tuesday, 4 January 2022.
And on behalf of the Office, we wish you a happy holiday season and give you our hopes for a wonderful 2022. And given that, are there any questions for me before we turn to our guest, Gustavo Gonzalez? Okay. Joe Klein. Joe Klein, you have a question.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, I wasn't sure that you saw it on the chat. Yeah, regarding the passage yesterday of the Security Council resolution allowing a humanitarian exemption from sanctions imposed on the Taliban, I have two questions. First, how does the UN intend to monitor how the exemption will be working on the ground in practise… in practical terms? And what… and secondly, what security measures are being considered, if any, to ensure the safety of UN and other aid workers?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen that Martin Griffiths welcomed the passage by the Security Council of this exception. We will be in touch through our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and we'll report back to the Security Council on how this exception will be handled. That is going to be devised right now, and the details will be worked out, but certainly, the Security Council members will be apprised of the measures that are taken on making sure that we can have the goods that come in through this exception properly monitored.
Question: Well, the report is only, I believe, to be… Security Council is only done every six months, so there's a lot of time in between. I'm wondering whether there will be interim reports. And secondly, you didn't answer the question about security measures. I mean, you have UN workers. You have other non-governmental organizations’ (NGO) aid workers on the ground. We know that, for example, in November, a UN convoy carrying food supplies was held up at gunpoint by Taliban militants, and the food was stolen. It was returned, but you got to expect this is going to happen again, and so, what security measures are going to be taken to…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I dealt with this extensively in yesterday's briefing, so I'd advise you to look at what I said at… yesterday. The nickel summary is that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) does have a budget for supplementary security services, going above and beyond what the Host Country authorities can provide. But in general, it's up to the Host Country authorities in all the areas where the UN works and the de facto authorities in… to ensure security. Now, obviously, things in the ground in Afghanistan have changed in the second half of August 2021, and since then, the UN system in Afghanistan has requested various security assurances and assistance from the de facto authorities. The UN system provides allowances to personnel who perform supplementary security services, which are critical for the safety of personnel in compounds, as well as operations and movements in the country. And all such allowances are provided to the concerned persons directly and not through the de facto authorities. Betul?
Question: Hi, Farhan. Thank you. I'll just have a follow‑up on what you said about Libya. The elections are not going to happen, obviously, which was planned for 24 December, which is tomorrow. And Libya's electoral committee's suggesting that the elections be held on 24 January. Does the UN support that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have just sent out now a fuller version of what I was reading at the top of this briefing, which is to say Stephanie Williams' statement on this, and I'd advise you to look at the full statement. Beyond that, I do expect that we'll have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson about the Secretary‑General's views about the latest developments, and so, we should have some more information for you a little bit later this afternoon. Pam Falk, over to you.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. A follow‑up on the Afghanistan aid that Joe asked. Just let me get it straight. If some of the countries say they felt that the… some… Pakistan, in particular, said they didn't see that this changed anything. But if some countries see this as their ability to not violate sanctions and give aid that would go via the UN to the Taliban but… or to people that need it, are you going to be reporting aid that has been frozen to UN agencies that's now lifted, or are you going to be reporting overall aid? And then a totally secondary question, because I can't wait to hear the Philippines briefing. My question is, are the tours that you opened up on 10 December, with the Omicron expansion and infection rate going up, going to continue? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, I don't have any change to report about the plans for tourists that Stéphane [Dujarric] had reported a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, we're worried about the implications of this latest COVID outbreak, and if we have to make adjustments, we'll make those changes at that time.
Question: But just on the tours, Farhan, visitors don't come in. Guests have to be credentialed, but here are at least 10 visitors per tour, and we've all seen them walking around, walking around the building. Even if they have to show their vax card, are there not additional risks to UN Headquarters? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, like I said, the plan… we devised a plan that we believe will still be in line with the protection that the building needs. If there's any need to forestall the plans for tours, we'll make that at that stage. But at this stage, we believe sufficient protection measures are in place for now. Of course, we're evaluating the health situation as it proceeds. [He later said that the UN tours have been temporarily suspended due to COVID‑19.]
Regarding your other question, as I had said to Joe, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will be looking into how to implement the Security Council resolution that was passed yesterday. You'll have seen what Martin Griffiths has said on this, and we will report back to the Security Council. That's a process that's being worked out even now.
Question: And do you… did the SG say anything? Is this considered sort of a happy, good-news breakthrough?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly do welcome this, this measure, and we welcome all steps that can help us to provide the humanitarian aid that the people of Afghanistan desperately need. So, yes, he shares the views of his Emergency Relief Coordinator on this.
Correspondent: Thank you so much.
Deputy Spokesman: Thank you. And without further ado, let me turn the floor over to Gustavo Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez, the floor is yours.