18 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.

**Secretary-General Stakeout on Friday

Before we start, I wanted to let you know that, on Friday at 12:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will be here for a stakeout.  He will deliver some remarks to tee up his presentation to the G20 and then he will take some questions.  That will replace the briefing.  That will be 12:30 p.m., here.  We will have a usual limit of 10 people — 10 journalists in the room.  We will try to save seven spots for journalists and three for photographers, first come, first served.  Okay… Ethiopia I will save in case he can call in.


This morning, the Secretary-General addressed, in a pre-recorded video message, the Youth4Climate virtual event, which was convened by the Government of Italy.  The Secretary-General said major and rapid change is what we need in the fight against climate disruption.  Change that will make our planet more liveable, sustainable and inclusive, and no group is more effective in pushing leaders to change the course than youth.  He urged young people to put their power to work in their schools, workplaces and online communities, and to keep raising their voices and driving forward the ambition we need.  “When you march, the world follows,” he told them.

And as a reminder, at 10 a.m. tomorrow, New York time, the Secretary-General will address the European Council on Foreign Relations, also on the topic of climate and that will be done in a pre-recorded video message.  We sent that text and that video with you under embargo.  The Secretary-General will urge the European Union to continue to lead on this issue and to commit to reducing emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030.  You can also follow, I think, hopefully, on the UN WebTV, but also on the European Council on Foreign Relations’ webpage.

**Middle East

Back here, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Council this morning via videoconference.  He warned about active COVID-19 cases again being on the rise in Israel and Palestine.  He said that Gaza remains the most immediate and pressing concern, as its crumbling infrastructure, poor living conditions and fragile health‑care system make it ill‑equipped to face a major spike in cases.  Mr. Mladenov welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel.  He expressed his appreciation to Israel for confirming that existing Israeli–Palestinian bilateral agreements continue to govern their relations, particularly in the context of economic, security and civilian coordination.

At the same time, he reiterated the UN’s call on Israeli authorities to cease demolitions, seizures of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate communities in the occupied West Bank.  Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State, he said.  Following that meeting, there will be a virtual stakeout by the Ambassadors of Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway.

**South Sudan

David Shearer, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said that the Mission is well under way with planning for its operations during the forthcoming dry season.  Mr. Shearer said that, over the coming weeks, in cooperation with the security services, the Mission will begin deploying peacekeepers to places like Manyabol, Likongule, Duk Padiat, Yuai and Waat to set up temporary bases or to conduct extended long-duration patrols.  He said the UN peacekeepers have a responsibility to protect those who need protection the most.  That means, he said, that UNMISS needs to relocate troops and staff to facilitate reconciliation and peacebuilding into areas of tensions and address that tensions before conflict erupts.


A quick update from Mozambique, where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that tens of thousands of people are continuing to flee insecurity in Cabo Delgado, in northern Mozambique.  IOM warned that this is challenging the ability of the Government and its humanitarian partners to respond with adequate shelter, food and other assistance.  According to IOM, more than 33,000 people have moved south in the last week.  The number of displaced people in the area increased to more than 355,000, from 88,000 earlier this [year].  In cooperation with the Government of Mozambique, IOM is providing immediate humanitarian assistance, but the UN agency says available resources do not cover the extensive humanitarian needs of families who arrive with nothing following their displacement.  Security concerns have also prevented the Organization from reaching several northern and coastal districts.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo — Ebola

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today marks the end of the eleventh Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly six months after the first cases were reported in Equateur Province.  WHO thanked partners for their support and congratulated responders and all those who tirelessly tracked [cases], provided treatment, engaged communities and vaccinated more than 40,000 people at [high] risk.  At the height of the outbreak there were more than 100 WHO experts on the ground, supporting the government’s response.  The World Health Organization noted that, while the eleventh outbreak is over, there is a need for continued vigilance and strong surveillance as potential flare-ups are possible in the months to come.


And our colleagues at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have asked us to flag that they’re appealing for a total of $131.6 million to fund the regional response to the Syria crisis, which spans 11.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, in addition to 5.6 million refugees throughout Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.  The appeal also includes urgent funding [required] to address the substantial needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added yet another layer of complexity to the issue.  So, I'm going to get my papers in order, but I think I'm ready to take some questions while we wait. Mr. Bays.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, Uganda.  Bobi Wine has been arrested again in Uganda ahead of the forthcoming elections.  How concerned is the Secretary‑General about these developments?

Spokesman:  We are, we've been following, I think, the developments around Uganda and the electoral, the presidential campaign.  I think it's very important that state institutions, particularly security forces, act in a manner that respects human rights and the principle of the rule of law in order to… for an inclusive and broad participatory political and environmental process.  We will be following up more closely on the latest developments, and I think it's important that all parties and political actors and Government leaders work in a way that will ensure a peaceful election.

Question:  Couple of follow‑ups.  You talk about peaceful, but the arrest has been followed by protests, which appear to be… have been violently put down.  There are even reports of people being shot by security forces, unconfirmed, and now some sort of curfew under way.  How concerned are you about the current situation?

Spokesman:  Well, people have a right to demonstrate, demonstrate peacefully.  Any excessive use of force by security forces anywhere is of concern to us, and it is important that there is a space provided for people to express themselves, whether in demonstration or through a democratic process.

Question:  After 36 years in power, do you think President Museveni is going to allow free and fair elections?  I ask that question because the EU [European Union] now is not going to send a monitoring mission.  The reason the EU is not going to send a monitoring mission is because it says it's done it in previous years.  And in 2016, it made 30 recommendations of things that the Ugandan authorities needed to do to have free and fair elections, and not one of them has been implemented.

Spokesman:  Well, I can't predict what will happen.  What I can say is that we hope there will be the space for the exercise of democratic process.  Maria, if that is you behind the mask.

Question:  Yeah, that's me.  So, on… on Friday, I understand we'll have the briefing, but I wonder on… SG, did he contact the Ethiopian authorities and discuss human… to discuss with them the situation?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Yes, the Secretary‑General, I think, has… had been… has spoken to Prime Minister Abiy.  Others have… other UN officials have been on the ground, including especially the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa.  We've been in touch with the Ethiopian authorities.  Our plea continues to… and… as well as the Resident Coordinator, continues to be for humanitarian access for… we need to make sure that supplies and fuel can get in.  The concern is, obviously, for human rights and the lack of, concern for the lack of communication that is currently ongoing, which makes it very difficult for us to operate.  Carla, I'll come back to you in a second.  Toby, and then we'll go to Carla.

Question:  Thanks very much, Steph.  Question today about unrest in Bangkok.  The UN has a significant presence in that city, and now we've got reports of numerous protesters actually shot.  What… what's to be done there?

Spokesman:  Sorry, sorry, Toby, if you can repeat the first part of your question.

Question:  Unrest and protesters shot in Bangkok, is this a human rights violation, what we're seeing now between security forces and demonstrators?

Spokesman:  As you know, we have expressed concern about the human rights situation in Thailand, and I think we're… we are… we've seen the reports, and I think it's disturbing to see the repeated use of less‑lethal, what are called less‑lethal weapons against peaceful protesters, including water cannons, and not only in the past 24 hours, but we've seen it in the recent month.  I think it's very important that the Government of Thailand refrain from the use of force and ensure the full protection of all people in Thailand, who are exercising a fundamental peaceful right to protest, and that's, goes for Thailand and other countries that we've been talking about.  These… it is a fundamental right for people all over the world to be able to express themselves peacefully to… and the right to assemble peacefully.  Okay, Carla.

Question:  Thank you.  Whenever I've raised questions about the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the Security Council sanctions, you've told me to go speak to the Security Council.  So, yesterday, I did when the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee had a stakeout.  And I said to him that the Security Council is not above the law.  There have been massive number of UN‑appointed human rights rapporteurs who have stated alarm at the humanitarian consequences of these sanctions.  Nothing is being done.  Is there anybody that is an international legal body that is superior to the Security Council that can… that can defend the rights of the…?

Spokesman:  Carla, I feel your passion on this issue.  The Secretary‑General has raised this issue himself directly with the Council.  As is there a body above the Security Council, I would refer you to the august Charter of these United Nations.  James?

Correspondent:  …it's being violated.

Spokesman:  James.

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.

Spokesman:  Reinl.

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  It's a question about US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  He's heading to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank today.  Foreign diplomats usually avoid these places because they're considered illegal under international law.  What do you guys say about the visit?

Spokesman:  Well, it's not for… the Secretary… it's not for us to comment on the Secretary of State's travel plans.  Our position on the illegality under international law of settlements has been often repeated and, if I'm mistaken, if I'm not mistaken, it has even been repeated today by Nickolay Mladenov in an open meeting of the Security Council.  Okay.  Yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  By now, many world leaders have spoken to President‑elect Biden.  Has the Secretary‑General done so?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that any contact has taken place.  Okay.  I'm being told that we… sorry, sorry, sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  May I follow up on this?  Would the Secretary‑General be interested with speaking with Mr. Biden?  Is there anything planned in the next days?

Spokesman:  No, there's nothing planned in the next days.  There's a process going on, and we have full confidence in the ability of the US… American institutions to manage that process.  Carla, yes.

Question:  [Inaudible] goes to countries that are controversial.  Is there any possibility that they would go to North Korea and see the faces of the people they're killing?

Spokesman:  Carla, Carla, Carla, as I said, I feel and I understand your passion, but you know very well that I don't speak for the Security Council.  Okay.  I'm being told that, unfortunately, they cannot establish a connection with Babacar [Cisse, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan].  We will have him tomorrow, and I do apologize.  What I can tell you is that he and the heads of… local heads of UNHCR, World Food Programme, UNICEF and UN Population Fund in Sudan were on a two‑day mission to assess the situation in refugee camps in the south-eastern region of Sudan, bordering the Tigray Province of Ethiopia.  There are now over 30,000 refugees in Sudan, adding that seeing families… there are families and children who have been sleeping in the open.  The UN team, with the Government of Sudan, is working to ensure that people are not in reception centres for more than two days before being transferred to more proper facilities and refugee camps.  Some 4,000 Ethiopians are now arriving daily in Sudan from three different entry points before reaching registration centres.  The mission visited the Hamdayet Reception Centre, which is in itself hosting 16,000 people.  They also visited places in Um Raquba camp, which currently hosts 4,400 Ethiopians, and it is prepared to accommodate 10,000 people.  That reception centre is being expanded to shelter more people come… crossing the border.  They're also looking, obviously, at identifying additional sites so that refugees can get away from the border and receive aid and essential services.  Our concern right now is with hygiene conditions as more and more people arrive, and obviously, that hygiene is focussed on trying to prevent the spread of the [COVID‑19] virus.  Yaiyah.

Question:  May I go back again to Mr. Biden, if I may?

Spokesman:  Of course.  You can go back to whatever you want.

Question:  I'd just like to know — and maybe you can explain that to me — I'm getting the readouts from Mr. Biden's calls to leaders in the world, and so far I'm… I'm just wondering why… is that normal that the Secretary‑General didn't speak to him so far?  Isn't that a bit late?

Spokesman:  You know, my definition of normal shifts on a daily basis.  I will leave it at that.  How about that? Okay?  All right.  Let me just… we'll go to Brenden [Varma].  And if, by chance, Mr.  Babacar… because they're still trying to connect.  We'll be, I'll stay on standby.  Okay.

For information media. Not an official record.