30 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.

Good afternoon.  Sorry for the delay, we had a lot of stuff going on today.  We always have a lot of stuff going on today.

**Guests Today

Today, we are absolutely delighted to be joined by three special guests:  Sheila E., the world-renowned percussionist and singer; Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund; and Mark Johnson, the founder of Playing for Change.  They will brief you on the upcoming Peace Through Music: A Global Event for Social Justice.


But before we get to them, we have a couple of news items to share with you.  On Ethiopia, you will have seen that the Secretary‑General spoke on Friday with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former President of Liberia.  She informed him of the contacts she’s held between the Envoys of President Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as President of the African Union — namely Joaquim Chissano, the former President of Mozambique, and Kgalema Motlanthe, the former President of South Africa — of those discussions they’ve had with the Ethiopian authorities, particularly with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed.  The Secretary‑General expressed his grave concern over the consequences of the Ethiopian conflict to the civilian population and over the spread of hate speech and reports of ethnic profiling.  The Secretary‑General expressed the UN’s full support for the African Union initiative led by President Ramaphosa.

And I also need to share with you that yesterday, the Secretary‑General received a phone call from Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia, to update him on the situation in the country.  The Secretary‑General once again underscored the need for the full respect for human rights, as well as for humanitarian access for ourselves and our humanitarian partners.  The Secretary‑General also said that Ethiopia needed a true reconciliation without discrimination and in a country where every community should feel respected and be part of Ethiopia.

**Ethiopia — Humanitarian

On the humanitarian front, our humanitarian colleagues and our partners are telling us they are, of course, deeply concerned about the plight of civilians in the Tigray Region, especially in the capital of Mekelle, following the latest developments reported in the city.  Even before the recent fighting began, civilians in Mekelle, which is home to nearly half a million people, had endured weeks of fuel, cash and basic commodity shortages.  Civilian infrastructure had also been damaged.

Our humanitarian colleagues have received reports of critical shortages of medical supplies in Mekelle and across Tigray to treat people injured during the clashes.  Aid workers report that people have been forced to rely on untreated water to survive following the damage and destruction of water infrastructure.  Our humanitarian colleagues are also warning that it is critical that essential supplies and services be restored immediately in Mekelle and across the Tigray Region.  We, along with our partners, are working with all parties to this end.  The UN and its humanitarian partners also acknowledge that the Federal Government’s stated commitment to ensure that humanitarian assistance is made available to impacted people, and calls for full, unconditional and immediate humanitarian access to reach people in need in Mekelle and across the Tigray Region.


And in neighbouring Sudan, People are continuing to flee [Tigray].  We are reporting now that nearly 45,500 people — most of them children — have fled to Sudan from Tigray and other places of Ethiopia.  In Sudan, aid workers are reporting complex logistical and operational challenges.  They are scaling up the response with the first UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] airlift with emergency assistance arrived in Khartoum over the weekend.  UNHCR has warned [of] the urgent need for additional refugee settlement sites, as the Um Rakuba camp in Gedaref State has reached its current maximum capacity of 10,000 people.


In Nigeria, you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary‑General condemned in the strongest terms the horrific attack on rice farm workers in Koshobe village, near the Borno State capital of Maiduguri.  This was done by suspected militants on 28 November.  Scores of people were reportedly killed and many others injured or abducted, including women.  The Secretary‑General reaffirms the commitment of the UN to support the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism and in response to pressing humanitarian needs in the northeast of the country.  For his part, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, also expressed his outrage and horror at the attack.  Mr. Kallon will join the Governor of Borno State soon on a visit to express his condolences and support to the families of the victims of Saturday’s attack.

**Secretary‑General — Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Speaking this morning at the opening of the [conference of] States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Secretary‑General said that realizing their rights is crucial for fulfilling the core promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, leaving no one behind.  For the most part, he said, the UN system is still beginning to consider disability inclusion in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.  The UN system-wide Disability Inclusion Strategy, launched last year, aims to address this issue and to bring about lasting and transformative change in the Organization’s work on disability inclusion.  One year on, Mr. Guterres said, the Strategy has triggered action across the system.

Through the implementation of the Disability Inclusion Strategy, the UN system is working to lead by example, but as we move forward, Mr. Guterres said, we must take a whole-of-society approach.  We must also ensure that the vision and aspirations of persons with disabilities are included and accounted for in a disability‑inclusive, accessible and sustainable post‑COVID‑19 world.  A couple of updates from our peacekeeping colleagues.


The UN Mission in Mali confirms that camps shared by UN peacekeepers and the French force Barkhane, located in Menaka and Kidal, came under indirect mortar attack this morning.  This followed an earlier attack on the Barkhane forces in Gao.  There are no reports of casualties.  The Head of the UN mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, strongly condemned the attacks against the international forces.  The UN remains in solidarity with key partners and will spare no efforts to carry out the Mission’s mandate to bring peace to Mali.

**MONUSCO and UNMISS Mission Updates

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the peacekeeping mission there has launched a new radio station, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called “Okapi Enfant”.  The new radio station will help inform children about their rights, as well as risks associated with epidemics.  The creation of the new station follows the launch in April of the programme “Okapi School”, on Radio Okapi, that aims to bring education to children in their homes in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) deployed a Nepalese Quick Reaction Force team to Cueibet, in the country’s Lakes region, to support local police in their efforts to protect civilians from a potential conflict between armed groups, following the killing of a young man.  The UN peacekeepers, who had been located at a temporary operating base, intercepted the groups quickly and set up a checkpoint between them.  They remained in the area until the situation was stable.  As part of its mandated activities, the UN Mission has established temporary bases in conflict hotspots in South Sudan, where integrated military and civilian teams work to deter violence, support reconciliation efforts, and help communities reach agreement to peacefully coexist.  The work is done to provide protection quickly and where it is needed the most.

**World Health Organization — Malaria

The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on countries and global health partners to step up the fight against malaria.  WHO stressed that a better targeting of interventions, new tools and increased funding are needed to change the global trajectory of the disease and reach targets agreed to internationally.  According to WHO’s latest World Malaria Report, in 2019, the global tally of malaria cases was 229 million, an annual estimate that has remained virtually unchanged over the last four years.  The disease claimed some 409,000 lives in 2019, compared to 411,000 in 2018.  As in past years, the African Region shouldered more than 90 per cent of the overall disease burden.  The Organization also noted that gaps in access to life-saving tools are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and that the COVID‑19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further.

**Launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021

A couple of notes to flag.  Tomorrow, our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will present the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021.  This is the annual overview of trends as well as the current state of worldwide humanitarian needs, projections and inter-agency response plans.  This includes an overview of the funding necessary to implement them in 2021.  The launch will take place in Geneva, in a virtual event that will be live-streamed on UN Web TV from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. European time.  Subsequent events will take place in Berlin, Brussels, London and Washington, D.C.  More information on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website.

**Day of Remembrance for All Victims of Chemical Warfare

And today is the Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary‑General noted that more than one hundred years after the first large-scale use of chemical weapons in battle, they continue to inflict terror, suffering and death.  He stressed that the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances, is intolerable and a serious violation of international law.  And he emphasized that it is imperative that those who use or have used chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.  For him, that is the only way to meet our moral responsibility to the victims of warfare.

**Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we will be joined by Ninan Varughese, the Acting Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Office, who will brief you on the World AIDS Report.  And, at 1 p.m., there will be a hybrid press briefing by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, the Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN, who will preside over the Security Council for the merry month of December.  So, before we go to our guests, I will take some questions.  Yes, please, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is that me?

Spokesman:  No, no.  Wait one second, Abdelhamid.  We’ll take it in the room first.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  You know, every day more pharmaceutical companies are announcing success for their COVID‑19 vaccine.  As United Nations, is there any efforts to help in the underdeveloped countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, getting the vaccine in the future or near future?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes.  It’s a big focus of the work of the UN, obviously the World Health Organization.  It is critical that the vaccine be treated as a global public good.  You have various initiatives, notably COVAX [COVID‑19 Vaccine Global Access], that are aimed at supporting access to the vaccine by middle‑income and low‑income countries.  What we do not want to see is that only the richest countries get it or that the richest in the richest countries or even the wealthiest people in the poorest countries get it.  Everyone everywhere needs to have access to the vaccine, and I think we all understand that none of us will be safe from this virus until all of us are safe and have access to the vaccine.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I heard the Secretary‑General issued some statement about the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian scientist.  I think he issued [it to] the world calling for restraint.  Such a crime with this magnitude, how could he not unequivocally condemn it?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we were very clear that we, of course, condemn any assassination or extrajudicial killing — that goes without saying — and that the situation in the region is volatile enough and that the Secretary‑General would call for restraint.

Question:  But, again, this… it’s some general statement about the principal position is one thing, and to condemn this heinous crime is another thing.  Why didn’t he more condemn this assassination?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, we condemn assassinations.  We condemn extrajudicial killings.  I don’t know how much clearer I can be on this issue.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I have a second question…

Spokesman:  Evelyn? Oh, please, sorry.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Okay.  Yesterday, it was the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  Did the SG issue a statement, or he will…

Spokesman:  Yes, I’m sorry.  We should have flagged, there was a statement.  You will have seen there was a tweet, as well, from the Secretary‑General.  Okay.  Evelyn.  Evelyn, go ahead.

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Yes.  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.  On Ethiopia, I noticed that the… that there’s… that there’s no mediation, that the Government in Addis has rejected it, that the AU and other envoys can speak to the Government in Addis but are not permitted to speak to the DPLF or other Tigray leader… leaders.  Has the SG intervened regularly with the Government in Addis for this…

Spokesman:  I think there [are] mediation teams sent by Cyril Ramaphosa, as head of the African Union.  The Secretary‑General’s been in touch with them.  He spoke to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  And as I mentioned, he received, yesterday, a call from Prime Minister Abiy, who updated him on the situation in the country.  And the Secretary‑General’s messages to the Prime Minister privately are those he said publicly, which is the need for full respect for human rights, the need for humanitarian access.  I think I’ve outlined the very dire humanitarian situation that we can only really guess at this point.  We have some information, and we’re seeing people flee across the border into Sudan, but it is clear that we do not have a clear picture of what is going on in Tigray Province, and that the Secretary‑General underscored the need for true reconciliation in Ethiopia between the various communities without discrimination and where all these communities feel fully part of Ethiopia.

Question:  That’s true.  The mediation team, however, has not been able to speak to the Tigray.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, they are working for the African Union.  We fully supported the African Union’s lead on this issue, and the Secretary‑General and his team are doing whatever they can to support them.  Okay?  Edie, welcome back.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A question also on Ethiopia.  Has the United Nations made any requests to send people into Tigray?  Have they been accepted?  Have they been denied, humanitarian people, anybody to talk to the Tigrayan leaders?

Spokesman:  We have made requests to the Federal Government and to others to have access where humanitarian aid can be brought in.  There’s a shortage of water.  Water plants have been destroyed.  There’s a shortage of fuel.  Banks have been closed, which means markets have been closed.  There’s a humanitarian toll.  There’s an economic toll, which has a direct impact on the humanitarian situation.  We have made these requests repeatedly.  We have not been able to access in large scale.  There was a small number of humanitarian aid workers in Mekelle when the fighting began, and we have a small number of UN staff and NGO staff also present in Mekelle, but they are cut off.  The communications are extremely difficult, and we’re very worried about the people in Mekelle, and we’re concerned about our colleagues, as well.

Question:  A follow‑up on the same subject, Stéphane?  Thank you.  There are reports that Eritrea has been involved in the fighting.  They prevented refugees running away from Tigray to [audio gap, inaudible] border.  Do you have any information about the Eritrean intervention, this internal conflict?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  We do not have any information on that.  It is very important that anyone fleeing the fighting, whether trying to flee internally or to cross borders, be allowed to do so.  No impediment should be in front of anyone trying to seek shelter, trying to seek safety for themselves and for their family.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  I don’t see another question.  So, I’m delighted to move to our guests.  Natalia and the others, if you could turn on your video so we can see you, that would be fantastic.  There we go.  All right, I’m sorry.  Dulcie, did you have a quick question?  Okay.  We’ll come back to you.

For information media. Not an official record.