17 November 2020

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.


Let me start on a couple of notes from Ethiopia, which I am discovering with you:  our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that they and their partners continue to call for the protection of civilians, respect for international humanitarian law, and ways to assess needs and ensure that aid continues to reach areas affected by the conflict.  Roads to the Tigray region remain blocked and our partners warn that supplies will soon be exhausted, putting millions at risk of food insecurity and disease.  The UN’s partners have finalized a Humanitarian Response, Preparedness Plan targeting nearly 2 million people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions between now and next January (2021).

The UN resident coordinators and their teams in the Horn of Africa are deeply concerned with the situation in Ethiopia and reiterate the Secretary‑General’s call this month to de‑escalate tensions.  Our UN teams in four countries – Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti – are working with authorities to address the needs of the most affected people.  In Ethiopia, the UN team is particularly concerned about the plight of some of the most vulnerable households in the Tigray.  It is also concerned with the movement of people and the risk this entails for the spread of COVID‑19.  Since the beginning of the conflict, all systems of surveillance have broken down, with lack of communications and access to health facilities.

**Ethiopia — Refugees

Also, related to Ethiopia, our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned today that a full‑scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding as thousands of refugees flee ongoing fighting in Tigray every day to seek safety in eastern Sudan.  UNHCR says that the influx is unseen over the last two decades in this part of the country.  People have been crossing the border at the rate of 4,000 per day since 10 November, rapidly overwhelming the humanitarian response on the ground.  UNHCR says that more than 27,000 have now crossed into Sudan.  The UN agencies, along with our partners, are supporting the Sudanese Government’s response.  We are providing clean water and other hygiene support, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food and high‑protein biscuits.  UNHCR is calling for more sites to be identified to relocate refugees away from the border and allow them to access aid and services.

**Secretary-General — G20

Ahead of this weekend virtual G20 summit later this week, the Secretary‑General has written a letter to all of its members.  In this letter, he says that the COVID‑19 pandemic has laid bare systemic fragilities in our societies, our global economic system and the frameworks that govern the international system.  The Secretary‑General says that the G20’s early response was crucial in easing the social and economic fallout from the pandemic, but he stresses that it now needs to scale up ambition and deliver bolder measures to enable developing countries to address the crisis effectively and to prevent the global recession from becoming a global depression.  He also notes in the letter that the world needs unprecedented leadership that is united in its quest to respond to the crisis and recover better.  He said we will succeed if we cooperate to address the current emergency; stabilize economies; redouble efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; and align the recovery from the pandemic with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  We just emailed those letters to you in English, French and Espanol.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Nigeria

The Deputy Secretary-General, for her part, is back in Nigeria today.  This morning she met with the Minister for Women’s Affairs and participated in an event to launch the National Situation Room and Data Dashboard for ending violence against women and girls in Nigeria.  The new programme, supported by the UN, introduces an innovative data management and visualization platform, which uses technology to enable government, decision makers, and programme managers to view and analyse gender‑based violence data.

Following the launch, Amina Mohammed met with the Presidential Task Force on COVID‑19 and joined the Nigerian Governors’ Forum virtually.  She had exchanges with the Ministers for Youth and Women’s Affairs as well as youth leaders and representatives of youth organizations to explore tangible solutions to some of Nigeria’s biggest challenges.  You will also have seen that she joined the Secretary‑General and the Envoy on Youth in an event to meet the 2020 class of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals.  We will keep you updated on her programme.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

And related to West Africa, the UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, today allocated $100 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help people feed themselves in countries most at risk from growing hunger due to conflict, economic decline, climate change and COVID‑19.  This includes Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, also South Sudan and also Yemen and Afghanistan [will each receive a share of $80 million].  An extra $20 million has been set aside for anticipatory action to fight hunger in Ethiopia, where droughts could worsen an already fragile situation as we have been talking about.

Our humanitarian colleagues warn that without immediate action, the famine could be a reality in the coming months in parts of Burkina Faso, north‑east Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.  This would be the first time that famine has been declared since 2017 in parts of South Sudan.  CERF’s $80 million cash injection will be distributed via cash and voucher programming and it will target the most vulnerable – especially women and girls, and people with disabilities.

**Security Council

And this morning, members of the Security Council met in person.  They held a short open meeting on the situation in Mali.  The Security Council had closed consultations on the 1701 Report, regarding Lebanon.  That will be followed by a stakeout by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations.  We will try to tell you when that starts.


A note from our colleagues at the African Union‑UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  They said today that they [conducted] two dialogue forums in Khartoum Jadid and Korgul villages in North Darfur.  The aim was to help prevent tension between farmers and herders during the current harvest season.  About 95 participants, including 35 women, attended the two forums, which were addressed by community and traditional leaders.  Since 2018, UNAMID has initiated similar dialogue forums in collaboration with local leaders and authorities to bring together parties.

Meanwhile, in South Sudan, the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) organized a three‑day forum in Bentiu in Unity State to bring together women to foster dialogue on achieving 35 per cent representation at all levels of governance and decision‑making as stipulated in the Revitalized Peace Agreement signed by parties to the conflict in 2018.  The forum was organized in collaboration with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Institute of Leadership of the University of Juba.


Our friend, Stephanie Williams, the Acting Special Representative for Libya, attended a meeting hosted by Sirte Oil Company in Marsa Brega.  The meeting brought together the Chairman of the National Oil Company and the Commanders of the Petroleum Facilities Guards of the eastern and western regions.  The meeting, which is the first of its kind, comes as part of efforts to unify and restructure the Petroleum Facilities Guards and to form a new oil facilities protection force, as stipulated by the agreement signed on the ceasefire in Geneva last month.  After the meeting, Ms.  Williams hailed the dedication of the National Oil Company’s employees as they work tirelessly and under difficult circumstances to ensure the production of oil for the people of Libya. 

**COVID-19 — Research Road Map

I just want to flag a couple of COVID notes:  a new report provided suggestions on how to immediately address the complex health, humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic while boosting speedy recovery efforts.  The new Research Road Map for the COVID‑19 Recovery encourages targeted research for data‑driven responses that focus particularly on the needs of people left behind.  In the report, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary‑General, says that we have an historic opportunity for change – for macroeconomic choices and fiscal policies that are pro‑poor and that place peoples’ rights at the centre of the recovery.  More information online.

**COVID-19 — Sri Lanka

From Sri Lanka, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer, and its partners, are helping to respond to the crisis on the health, socioeconomic and risk communications fronts.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided 100,000 rapid testing kits and nearly 600 hospital beds.  It also helped to renovate nine local hospitals to boost clinical capacities.  For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided testing supplies for the airport.  While UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and WHO worked with authorities and local civil society organizations to develop communications campaigns in local languages to counter [misinformation] and prevent the spread of the virus.  The WFP and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are working together to produce content to combat gender‑based violence and highlight the rights of older persons during lockdown.

**Internet Governance Forum

And last, in a few moments, the Secretary-General will address, by pre‑recorded video message, the closing of the annual Internet Governance Forum, and he expected to highlight how digital technologies have become essential during the pandemic, helping many people continue doing their jobs.  However, the digital divide means that those without access to digital technology – that is almost half the world – are denied opportunities to study, communicate, trade, shop, work and participate in much of modern life.  The Secretary‑General will stress the need to put digital technology to work for those who need it most:  the vulnerable, the marginalized, those living in poverty, and people suffering from discrimination of all kinds and will urge governments to make sure their response and recovery plans include increasing digital connectivity in a way that is affordable, safe and inclusive.  You’ve heard me.  I hear you.  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, so, first, with regard to Libya, the Secretary‑General’s report on Libya to the Security Council has not been delivered.  Can you tell me what was the…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We’ve asked for just a slight extension on our homework.  There… obviously, things are moving, and we want to be as up to date as possible.

Question:  With regard to Ethiopia, reports that the Ethiopian contingent in Somalia have now been withdrawn so that they can eventually fight in Tigray.  What is the UN’s response to that?  And are you worried that it could further destabilize another country in the region?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  That contingent, from what I understand, is under the African Union force.  We will check with our colleagues.  But, obviously, we would continue to work for the stability and progress of Somalia.  Okay.  Let’s see if there are any questions.  Okay.  Any questions on screen?  Nope.  In person?  Excellent.

Question:  Hi, Stéph.  I’m sorry.  Stéphane, Stéphane, can you hear me?  Sorry, I have…

Spokesman:  I can.

Question:  I have written in the chat, but maybe “all attendees” isn’t picked up by all attendees.  I’ve got two questions, if that’s okay, one on Lebanon, one on Yemen.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  So, the Security Council had a briefing from Ján Kubiš.  It was behind closed doors, of course.  But Mr. Kubiš is, obviously, the SG’s Envoy.  Is there anything that you can share, any line or message that he was delivering?  And was it about the maritime dispute?

Spokesman:  No, it was report on the Secretary‑General’s 1701 Report, which if not… if it is not already, should be out as a public document very soon, but we’ll try to see what we can get you.  And your question on Yemen?

Question:  Yeah, sure.  Is it true that the Secretary‑General and Mr. [Martin] Griffiths have been speaking to their American interlocutors to try to prevent them fr… or asking them not to designate the Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist organization?

Spokesman:  I have no comment on that story.

Question:  But you don’t deny it.

Spokesman:  Okay.  You can quote me as saying, “I have no comment on that story.”  Mr. Varma…?

Question:  Could you… could I quickly do one more on Yemen?

Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  What do… what does the SG see as… from this point on, the route forward in terms of securing peace in Yemen?  What is the way forward?

Spokesman:  Well, the way forward [is] for the parties to agree on the comprehensive ceasefire, for increased humanitarian access.  I mean, this is what Mr. Griffiths has been saying, what Mr. Lowcock has been saying publicly in many fora, including the Security Council.  Yes, sir, Mr. Sato.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War released a statement; it’s uphold TPNW [Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] and also stated expectation for… of the renewal of the New START Treaty in upcoming US Administration.  Does Secretary… is Secretary‑General’s position the same?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Secretary‑General stands for and is working for the total ban on nuclear weapons, and that’s how we will be free of nuclear weapons, as he’s said.  Obviously, what will come in the months ahead, we will have to see.  Okay, Carla, and then Brenden [Varma] is chomping at the bit to come lecture you.

Question:  You mentioned the Secretary‑General is… supports the total abolition of nuclear weapons.  Does he have anything to say about the fact that the five nuclear‑weapon states ‑ well, the P5 ‑ are all in violation of article 6 of the Nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Secretary‑General will continue to work with all Member States towards his stated goal.  Okay.  Brenden.  There’s no escaping now…

Question:  This is Mario.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Hi.  This is Mario.  Can you hear me?  Can I want to ask a question on Western Sahara following up on what you said yesterday.  Does the UN have any information of casualties or wounded people during the recent clashes that you told us about?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have anything to share with you at this point.

Question:  And just a follow‑up…

Spokesman:  You had asked… Mario, you had asked me, I think, about the conversation the Secretary‑General had with King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and I can tell you that they did speak.  They exchanged views on the issue of Guerguerat.  And as you know, in recent days, we… I mean, the UN, including the Secretary‑General, of course, has been very much involved in multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation of the situation and to warn against violations of the ceasefire and serious consequences to the status quo.

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  Does…?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  And you know what, Mario?  This is what happens when I get stuff mid‑briefing.  I was handed a note on Western Sahara, and I can tell you that our colleagues at the Mission (MINURSO) continue to receive reports of shots being fired during the night at various locations along the Berm.  Last night, shots were reported in the areas of the Berm adjacent to Smara ‑ that’s in the north of the territory ‑ and Awsard in the south.  It goes without saying that we continue to urge the parties to take all necessary steps to defuse tensions.  And the Secretary‑General not only has spoken to the King, but he’s spoken to a number of other stakeholders.

Question:  [Mic muted].

Spokesman:  You’re muted, Mario.

Question:  Sorry.  Do you consider that actual ceasefire still holding or it’s been broken?  And…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we don’t want to… what is going on right now along the Berm has a great risk of escalation.  It’s some of the most serious incidents that we’ve seen.  But it is clearly, clearly not too late to pull back and to ensure that the situation does not further escalate.  Okay.  Now I will go.

For information media. Not an official record.