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25 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Elimination of Violence Against Women

Thank you very much, Brenden.  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  First off, today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at a virtual event to mark the Day and said that the COVID‑19 crisis has further exposed violence against women and girls as a global emergency requiring urgent action.

He reiterated his appeal to the international community to work to end this shadow pandemic once and for all, adding that the world needs to hear the voices and experiences of women and girls and take their needs into account, especially survivors and those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General also called for prioritizing women’s leadership in finding solutions and engaging men in the struggle.

And my guests today — the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, Natalia Kanem, and the journalist and writer, Isha Sesay — will talk more about this topic with you.

**Ethiopia — Secretary‑General

On Ethiopia, you will have seen in a statement we issued last night that the Secretary‑General is deeply concerned over the unfolding situation in the Tigray region and its surrounding area.  Amid reports of a potential military offensive into the regional capital of Mekelle, he urges the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance.

The Secretary‑General also calls for the free and safe movement of people searching for safety and assistance, regardless of their ethnic identity, across both national and international borders.  The Secretary‑General reiterates the full support of the United Nations to the initiative of the Chairperson of the African Union, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to facilitate peaceful solutions.  He urges all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate tensions. 

**Ethiopia — Humanitarian

Also on Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they continue to receive reports of people fleeing Mekelle in search of safety.  They tell us that violence and insecurity are also increasing in other regions of Ethiopia after the relocation of security forces to Tigray, with several reports of clashes and attacks in other places.  More than 95,000 people are estimated to be newly displaced in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, following clashes reported last week.  Food, water and shelter are urgently needed in that region, as most of the displaced people are in open spaces.

Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that nearly 42,000 people have now crossed the border to Sudan.  The UN and our partners have finalized our refugee response plan and it calls for $147 million to help a projected 100,000 refugees between November and June of next year.  The Sudan Humanitarian Fund has allocated an initial $425,000 for the most immediate needs, such as health, water, sanitation and hygiene, in the Um Raquba Camp in east Sudan.

**Syria

Khawla Matar, the Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning.  She informed Council members that plans are being finalized for the fourth session of the Constitutional Committee Small Body to convene from 30 November to 4 December in Geneva.  The co-Chairs further agreed to hold a fifth session in January 2021.  She added that a constitutional track on its own cannot resolve the crisis, and the Syrian-led committee’s work needs to be accompanied by mutual and reinforcing steps by Syrian and international players on the range of issues contained in Resolution 2254.  Ms. Matar said that, while falling short of the nationwide ceasefire called for by Resolution 2254, a fragile and relative calm continues broadly to hold in Syria.  That calm however continues to be ever more challenged, raising concerns, she added.

The acting Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, told the Council that 6.7 million people in Syria are internally displaced and about a third of them lack proper shelter.  He estimated that more than three million people across all of Syria will need assistance this winter because of their shelter needs.  Also, he said, an estimated 9.3 million people in Syria are food insecure — that’s 1.4 million more people than a year ago and more than at any other time during the crisis.  About one million of them are severely food insecure — twice as many as last year — and we expect this number to increase, he warned.

**Burkina Faso

We’ve been asked about the elections in Burkina Faso, and I can say that the Secretary‑General commends the people and Government of Burkina Faso for the peaceful and timely holding of elections on 22 November, despite the enormous security challenges in parts of the country.  The Secretary‑General urges all parties to maintain the atmosphere of peace and respect that has characterized the process.  He urges all parties to continue to uphold the Code of Conduct and allow the process to continue to its conclusion.  He calls on all stakeholders to address any differences or concerns they may have through legal means.

The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, in collaboration with the Resident Coordinator, is on the ground to engage with national stakeholders to facilitate dialogue.  The UN remains committed to supporting Burkina Faso and Mr. Chambas is closely collaborating with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other partners to support the electoral process.

**Central African Republic

We have another update on the forthcoming elections in the Central African Republic.  The UN Peacekeeping Mission in the country, MINUSCA, has organized a four-day civic education training workshop for leaders of civil society organizations who will engage with the electorate in the run-up to the elections on 27 December.  The workshop, called “Support project for the electoral process”, included 80 participants from 27 civil society organizations, who will in turn conduct electoral training within their organizations and be deployed to the field to raise awareness about the election process.  The training, which concluded yesterday, took place in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and in line with the Mission’s mandate to coordinate international electoral assistance.

And today, the Peacekeeping Mission expressed its concern at growing tensions in the country.  The Mission called on Central Africans to consider the elections as an opportunity to consolidate the democratic process and to find lasting solutions to the crisis.  The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and head of the peacekeeping mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, continues to use his good offices and to promote inclusive dialogue between political actors, in order to ease tensions.  The mission also reiterated that it will fully carry out its mandate to protect the civilian population and institutions.

**Samoa

Also, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, our UN teams around the world are promoting the “16 Days of Activism” campaign.  In several countries, some iconic buildings are being lit up in orange to raise awareness.  In the Pacific, our UN team in Samoa, led by Resident Coordinator Simona Marinescu, joined authorities and civil society organizations for a joint European Union-UN Spotlight initiative to tackle the urgent problem of violence against women.

Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, according to official figures, 86 per cent of women in Samoa experienced some form of violence and half of all women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported to have been victims of physical violence.  The UN and our partners are also concerned that, in the past month alone, more than 90 per cent of children between the ages of 1 and 14 experienced physical or psychological aggression by their caregivers.  The Spotlight Initiative is helping to address the issue at the community level.  Village Safety Committees now include the chiefs, the church and women’s committees.  Samoa’s “16 Days Healing” campaign starts today and will be broadcast nationally and regionally.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – COVID‑19

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns today that one of the consequences of the pandemic has been a renewed wave of violence against women and girls who are refugees, displaced or stateless.  The Global Protection Cluster, led by UNHCR, reported increases in gender-based violence in at least 27 countries.  The sale or exchange of sex as an economic coping mechanism was also reported in at least 20 countries.  Participants in the assessment described an increase of intimate partner violence, resulting from tensions over containment measures, movement restrictions and financial difficulties.  UNHCR is also alarmed by increased risks of child and forced marriages.  Echoing this year’s theme for the 16 Days of Activism, UNHCR is urging donor support to preserve and boost essential prevention and response services.

**HIV - Children

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today released a report showing that 320,000 children and young persons under the age of 20 were infected with HIV in 2019.  This represents approximately one every 100 seconds, bringing the total number of children living with HIV to 2.8 million.  The report warns that children are being left behind in the fight against HIV.  In 2019, a little more than half of children worldwide had access to life-saving treatment.  Nearly 110,000 children died of AIDS that year.

**Personnel Announcement

And I have an announcement for you:  Following the recommendation of the Secretary‑General, after consultation with Member States, the General Assembly confirmed Filippo Grandi of Italy as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for a further two-and-a-half-year term beginning 1 January 2021 and ending 30 June 2023.  While the Secretary‑General had intended to request the General Assembly to elect Mr. Grandi for a further term of five years, Mr. Grandi was agreeable, owing to personal reasons, to the shorter term.  Mr. Grandi is currently serving an initial five-year term as UNHCR’s High Commissioner.  Further on this is being mailed and posted as I speak.

**Financial Contributions

And I’m pleased to end on a positive note — our thanks today go to Madagascar and Oman, for both have paid their regular budget dues in full.  These contributions take us to 135 fully paid-up Member States.

**Briefing Schedule

And tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so there will be no briefings.  On Friday, we will not have a briefing, but we will be available to answer your questions.  We will be back in the briefing room on Monday.  So, I’ll wish you a happy Thanksgiving.  And before we go to our guests, please let me know if there are any questions for me.  I see a hand raised from James Bays.  James, you get to go first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  I’ve got three different questions on three different subjects, if it’s okay.  The first is on the pressing news on Ethiopia.  I heard what you just said in your opening, but that deadline of 72 hours and an imminent attack, deadline’s running out; the attack could be happening in the next hour or so.  So, how concerned is the Secretary‑General about that?  And also, what does he make of the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s comments that he wants the international community to refrain from any unwelcome or unlawful acts of interference?  What’s the Secretary‑General’s view that the Ethiopian Prime Minister says it’s none of your business?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General made his concerns clear in the statement we’ve issued, in the things we’ve been saying for the past few weeks.  And in terms of the international presence, we’ve been very clear about the need in particular for the African Union and its Chair, President Ramaphosa, to be in the lead in dealing with this issue.  And we’ve been supportive of their efforts, and we, of course, have also had our own involvement, including through our envoy, Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga.  So, we’re going to continue with our efforts.  We’re going to continue to call for the protection of all people, all civilians.  And we’re continuing to study the situation in Mekelle.  And as I just pointed out, our humanitarian colleagues are already trying to deal with the situation involving people fleeing from Mekelle and our worries that the situation could get worse.  But, yes, our positions continue to stand, and we are worried about this, and we will speak on this further and continue to act further if the situation worsens.

Question:  Second question is about the UK.  It has abandoned, reneged, on its pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on international aid.  One assumes that will have an impact on the humanitarian operations of the United Nations and its agencies.  What is the UN’s response to a member of the G7 who was making this bold pledge, now reneging on it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ll have to get further details from the Government of the United Kingdom, but we have been very clear about the need for more contributions, and we’ve also been clear about our worries of any signs of donor fatigue at a time when needs are so large as they are now.  We certainly want all developed nations, all countries that are capable of doing so, to meet a 0.7 per cent target, and we would regret any retreats from that target.

Question:  And my final question, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan delivered a dossier to the Secretary‑General, which he says details things that India has been doing in the India‑Pakistan border region to destabilise Pakistan.  The Secretary‑General, one assumes, has had a chance to look at that dossier.  What does he make of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have received this document, and it will be looked at.  That’s as much as I can say on that for now.  Abdelhamid, I believe you have a question?  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Yes.  My question that, yesterday, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan held a press conference, and he said that he had handed, Tuesday, the Secretary‑General, António Guterres, dossier on India’s campaign to promote terrorism and subversion in Pakistan.  And he urged him to interfere with a new data to stop this campaign.  First, do you confirm receiving this dossier?  And second, what is the reaction of the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, even though Edie Lederer is not the person who beat you to the question, your colleague James did ask the question before you just now.  And like I told him, we’ve received the letter, and we’ll study it.  That’s as much as a reaction as I have on that for this moment.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  I was unable to hear, so that’s why I missed some of the question.

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s okay.  Someday, we’ll all be in a room together, and we’ll… and you won’t have to worry about people cutting in front of you for the question.  Maurin Picard, do you have a question?

Question:  Farhan, can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Okay.  Great.  Could you give us the latest on the situation with the Ethiopian peacekeeping troops, the fate of this brigadier general, the No. 2 of UNISFA (United Nations Force in Abyei) who was recalled and seems to have disappeared without trace since, I believe, last week?  And is the Secretary‑General currently reaching out in any way towards the Ethiopian Government about this very worrying development?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  I mean, we’ve been very concerned about the matter of any possible troops being sent home without the right notifications going to our Department of Peace Operations (DPO).  At the moment, we’re ascertaining all the relevant facts, and we’re in the process of the implementing a number of steps in response.  And we’ve been engaging with the Ethiopian Government, including through the Permanent Mission in New York.  Regarding the Deputy Force Commander of the Abyei force, UNISFA, we have received a communication from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and are engaging with the Ethiopian Government broadly regarding the Missions to which Ethiopia has contributed troops.  And we can confirm that the Deputy Force Commander of UNISFA applied for and was granted leave, which is still ongoing.  Okay. Richard, you have a question?

Correspondent:  I do. I hope you can hear me.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  I don’t think I missed this at the beginning, but do you have a comment on the passing of Diego Maradona, who was, at one point, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in various years, who passed away a short time ago?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s very sad to hear this news.  He was an inspiration to many.  And, yes, he did work and gained… did a lot of positive work for us as a Goodwill Ambassador.  And I think I speak for many when I say that sometimes it seemed as if he had been touched by the hand of God.  And with that, Philippe, you have a question?

Question:  Yes. Hello, Farhan.  Maybe I missed that, but did Mr. Guterres have any discussion with Mr. [Joseph] Biden, or Mr. [Anthony] Blinken?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Who?  Sorry.

Correspondent:  Mr. Biden, the new President…

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  Because Mr. Biden talked to the Secretary‑General of NATO a few days ago and nothing with UN, so it’s very curious.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  And that’s actually fairly standard for us, that we deal with one government at a time.  And at some point in the future, we will be talking to Mr. Biden.  Of course, you’re aware of our congratulations to the President‑elect.  We’re aware of the appointments and the names he’s been giving out for the key positions, and we look forward to dealing with Mr. Biden’s Government once they’re in place.  Mr. Sato, you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a question about the next US Government’s commitment to the climate change action.  It seemed to me that the next US Government will be back into the Paris accord.  So, what does Secretary‑General expect for the next US Government?  And also, the next month, there will be the fifth anniversary of Paris accord, which will be organised by the UK Government.  What is the Secretary‑General’s message for the international community toward next month’s high‑level meeting of the fifth anniversary of Paris Accord?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General actually made comments yesterday in a round table with leading economists, and he actually looked ahead to the pledges countries have been making about carbon neutrality, that China has made a pledge for carbon neutrality by 2060.  You’re aware of what we’ve said about the Government of Japan and other governments and their pledge for carbon neutrality by 2050.  And he also said yesterday that he believes that, in the beginning of next year with the change of the US Administration, countries representing more than 65 per cent of global emissions and more than 70 per cent of the world economy may have commitments to carbon neutrality.  So, he has said that now is the moment to have a quantum leap and have a global coalition for net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and that is one of the messages he will be bringing forward for the… as we mark the anniversary of the Paris Agreement.  And I’d also like to point out that next week, on 2 December, he will have another major speech on climate change that we’ve been talking to you about, and we’d urge you to pay attention to what he has to say then.  Is that… oh, Carla, you have a question?

Question:  Yes. Thank you [inaudible] since yesterday at the briefing given by the Ambassador of Pakistan, and the question was discussed.  You’ve got two nuclear‑armed countries between whom threats of violence are escalating.  And this was a problem… a serious problem that the Prime Minister of Pakistan mentioned several years ago; the risk of an accidental nuclear exchange is very great.  So, my question is, why is this issue not being — the Pakistan‑India conflict — not being discussed at the Security Council, which spends an enormous amount of its time and energy on North Korea, which is basically defensive, whereas the possibility of even an accidental nuclear exchange between two extremely hostile countries is a reality?  And what does the Secretary‑General have to say about the fact that this is not being discussed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Security Council gets to determine its own agenda.  So we have nothing to say on that.  Regarding the Secretary‑General’s views, of course, he has been very clear about his stand on nuclear non‑proliferation.  You’re aware of his encouragement of countries to abide by the various Non‑Proliferation Treaties that are in effect, and we stand by that call today.  Iftikhar, do you have a question?  And then we’ll… let’s go to our guests.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph [sic].  Obviously, my question has been asked by three people, James, Abdelhamid, and Carla.  But I would like to ask you about something else, whether the UN has any information or comments on assistance reports that the Israeli Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia and met the Crown Prince.

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re aware of the media accounts, the same as you are, but we don’t have an official confirmation to make on that.  So, that would be an issue for the relevant governments to discuss.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Thanks, everyone.  And now let me turn to our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.