1 December 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.  And apologies for the scheduling issues in the last two days, but when the President of the Security Council wants to brief at noon, the President of the Security Council briefs at noon.


Today, as you know, is World AIDS Day and we will be joined shortly by our guest Ninan Varughese, the Director ad interim of the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) office here in New York.  He will brief you virtually on the latest World AIDS Day report, entitled “Prevailing against pandemics by putting people at the centre”.


And a reminder that tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. the Secretary-General will be speaking at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum on the state of our planet.  He will stress that we are at a crucial point in time in which we need to make peace with nature to avert the worst impacts of climate change.  He will also talk about how the pandemic provides us with an opportunity to rethink human activities and transform our economies.  The Secretary-General will also call on all countries, businesses and financial institutions to adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.  His speech will be followed by a virtual Q&A session with Columbia University students and you’ll be able to watch it live on

**Secretary-General — Report on Global Compact on Migration

In a few minutes, at 1:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will speak via a pre-recorded video message to the launch event for his report on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  He says that the report describes how the Global Compact is taking root in promising ways and reflects a growing global understanding of the great benefits of human mobility. 

But he says that if poorly managed, migration can also generate huge challenges, from tragic loss of life to rights abuses and to social tensions.  The pandemic has heightened those challenges and has had negative effects on more than 2.7 million people, migrants, particularly women and girls.  That will be available to you.


An update on Ethiopia, where we are obviously continuing our call on all parties to the conflict in Tigray to allow unconditional, free and safe humanitarian access to the region. 

Nearly one month since the start of the conflict, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.  Our humanitarian colleagues on the ground have reported that there is a critical shortage of emergency supplies to respond to increasing needs.

The conflict in Tigray is taking place in a context where more than 800,000 people were already in urgent need of assistance and protection.  This includes nearly 96,000 Eritrean refugees, who are in Ethiopia, and mostly Tigray, and nearly 600,000 people relying on food aid to survive.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid workers in Tigray need immediate access to food, water and medical supplies, as well as fuel to run water pumps and other activities. 

From our side, we have pre-deployed personnel to key locations in Afar and Amhara region to support possible assessment and response missions in Tigray, while negotiations on access continue. 

And for its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) also appealed to Ethiopia’s Federal Government for urgent access to reach Eritrean refugees in Tigray. 

They say that concerns are growing by the hour, noting that camps will now have run out of food, which makes hunger and malnutrition a real danger. 

The agency also said that Ethiopian refugees continue to arrive in the hundreds to Sudan, with nearly 46,000 people having arrived since the start of November.  Over the weekend, UNHCR launched a response plan to deal with the growing number of refugees in eastern Sudan. 

The plan brings together 30 humanitarian partners working together with the Government to provide shelter, water, food and other supplies at a cost of $147 million to meet the needs of up to 100,000 refugees for the next six months. 

**United States

And as you saw, we confirmed last night, something you have been all asking me about, which is that the Secretary-General has spoken by telephone with President-elect Joe Biden to extend his personal congratulations to the President-elect.  

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres underscored the essential role played by the enduring close cooperation between the United States and the United Nations.  He looks forward to working with the President-elect and his team to building on our partnership to address the many urgent issues facing the world today, including the pandemic, climate change, upholding peace and security, promoting human rights, and addressing humanitarian needs, to mention just a few. 

**Palestinian People

Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at today’s session to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  He said that he had a deep sense of worry about the grim realities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the diminishing prospects of resolving the conflict.  Meanwhile, he warned, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already dire humanitarian and socioeconomic situation.

The Secretary-General said that he hopes that recent developments will encourage Palestinian and Israeli leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations, with the support of the international community, towards a two-State solution, and will create opportunities for regional cooperation.  Only a two-State solution that realizes the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis can lead to sustainable peace, he added. 

He also mentioned, called on Member States to provide the necessary resources to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), to continue delivering its vital services to millions of Palestine refugees.

**Central America

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke at the virtual Summit of Heads of State of the Central American Integration System, otherwise known as SICA.

He offered his support and condolences for the loss of life by the communities impacted following the two hurricanes that hit the area, reflecting on the vulnerability of the region to climate change.  And he also said it is urgent, more urgent now than ever, to strengthen the multilateralism and cooperation to ensure that the economic recovery from the pandemic prioritizes inclusion and that no one is left behind. 

**2021 Global Humanitarian Overview

Earlier today, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) presented the 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview. 

Next year, we along with our partners are aiming to mobilize $35 billion to help 160 million of the most vulnerable people in 56 countries. 

Obviously, the shock of COVID-19 has increased the number of people in need, and that number has risen by 40 per cent compared to last year — and this is a record number. 

Addressing the launch by pre-recorded message, the Secretary-General said that the humanitarian system again proved its worth in 2020.  But the crisis is far from over.  He emphasized that humanitarian aid budgets face dire shortfalls as the impact of the global pandemic continues to worsen. 

Also speaking at the event was Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief, who said that a clear choice confronts us.  We can let 2021 be the year of the grand reversal — the unravelling of 40 years of progress, he added — or we can work together to make sure we find a way out of this pandemic.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

Speaking of pandemic, a quick update from Brazil, where our Resident Coordinator, Niky Fabiancic, leads the team there.  This month the Joint SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Fund for Brazil launched a campaign targeting candidates who ran for mayors’ offices in over 5,500 municipalities.  The runoff in several cities took place this past Sunday.  

The goal is to engage local leaders to invest in early childhood development as a means to recover better from COVID-19 and achieve the SDGs.  The campaign targeted 11,000 candidates from key municipalities, with five agencies working on the ground to roll out the Joint SDG fund. 

The UN team is also boosting its “tele-medicine”, or online consultation with doctors, in the northern region of the country.  The focus is on women’s health and prenatal care during the pandemic, with the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) in the lead. 

And in the Amazon region, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continues its mobile health units targeting indigenous peoples and also migrants coming from Venezuela, with almost 150 medical visits this week alone. 

**COVID-19 — Internet Access 

And I just want to flag that UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) put out a report along with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that shows that two thirds of the world’s school-age children do not have an internet connection in their homes.  This represents 1.3 billion children aged 3 to 17. 

UNICEF points out that nearly a quarter of a billion students worldwide are still affected by COVID-19 school closures, forcing hundreds of millions of students to rely on virtual learning.  For those with no internet access, education can be out of reach.  That report is online.

**Resident Coordinator

And lastly, I want just to announce that our colleague François Batalingaya, of Rwanda, is taking up his post as Resident Coordinator for the Comoros today.  His appointment follows confirmation from the host Government. 

As you know, Resident Coordinators lead UN teams as they support countries response to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, while making the most of the UN’s assets at the country, regional and global levels. 

We remain with full gender parity and North-South balance among all of our Resident Coordinators covering 162 countries and territories.  

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays?

Question:  To begin with, just a follow‑up on Ethiopia.  You said you had pre‑deployed personnel that you wanted to get in and negotiations on access continue.  I’m assuming that’s the Federal Government that is not currently letting them in.  Tell me…

Spokesman:  That’s correct.  Negotiations are going on with the Federal Government.  We need to work with them… 

Question:  So, can you just tell us what’s at stake here, why you need those people…

Spokesman:  Well, what’s at stake is the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.  I mean, what we have are an already dire humanitarian situation before the fighting started.  We have, as we said, 96,000 Eritrean refugees.  We’ve had now for weeks low access on fuel, on food.  We have no visibility on the actual humanitarian situation in that area.  So, it is critical that the assessment missions go in as quickly as possible.  And as I said, the discussions with the Government are ongoing and I would say in a positive way.

Question:  If I can to go to a question on Iran, first, Iranian MPs seem to be preparing a new bill, which would restrict the inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and force the Iranians to increase their enrichment level to 20 per cent.  Is there any reaction from the UN?

Spokesman:  Well, we’re, obviously, watching those discussions.  Nothing has been…  as far as I know, nothing has been voted on and gone through.  But we’ve always called on Iran to abide by its commitments to the IAEA and JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and that position is unchanged.

Question:  And a separate story in Iran concerning the scientist, Iranian Swedish scientist Ahmadreza Djalali.  There are reports from human rights groups that he…  a judge has now said he should be taken from prison for execution.  What’s the UN’s view?

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  It is clear that our stand against capital punishment is unequivocal, but I will look into these very concerning reports.

Madame Lederer?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Libya and a Special Envoy.  We heard from the South African Ambassador a little while ago that he expects an announcement soon.  Any idea of how soon this week?

Spokesman:  My definition of “soon” is very vague.  Yes, Alan?

Question:  Stéphane, I have a follow‑up on Libya… 

Spokesman:  But…  let’s not say that the Secretary‑General and his team have not been working very hard on trying to close that process, which is not fully in our hands.  Yes, Alan?

Question:  Follow‑up on the appointment of the…  on Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.  As far as I remember, the SG sent a letter to the Security Council last week, and the Security Council was supposed to send back the… respond to that.  And as far as I know, Russia wants the replacement…  I mean the successor of Mr. Mladenov to be appointed simultaneously. 

So, can you name any…  just, can you say where do we stand on that?  And can you name any names of the successors of Mr. Mladenov on the Middle East peace process?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.

No on everything you’ve said basically, because I don’t want to…  listen, Alan, as you know, this is a process that’s been complicated.  There are a lot of moving parts.  The Secretary‑General is just one of those parts. 

He, more than anyone else, but though I don’t doubt everyone else’s sincerity, would like to see the slot filled in Libya, while, again, it bears saying that Stephanie Williams, I think, has shown…  done a great job and shown a lot of progress.  But as always, it always…  it’s best to have a person permanently in place, as opposed to someone with “acting” in their title.  It’s been as tortuous a process as I’ve seen in a long time.

Carla, and then we’ll go to the screen.

Question:  I don’t know whether you covered this or not, but a letter was sent by the Secretary General of Polisario to Secretary‑General Guterres, regarding a meeting that was supposed to be held between both Secretaries‑General and making reference to an attack by Morocco on the eve of that meeting, which they say was intended to torpedo the meeting.

So, was, in fact, a meeting held?  And, if so, what did the Secretary‑General have to say about it?

Spokesman:  Let me look into that letter, and then I will answer you.

Question:  It’s 13 November.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you. 


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, there is, I think there is news from UNICEF that 11 children in Yemen has been killed in the last three days.  Are you aware of this report…?  Do you have anything to say about it?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Your connection is very bad, Abdelhamid.  I’m having trouble hearing you. 

Question:  Can I repeat myself?  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead. 

Question:  Okay.  UNICEF said that 11 children have been killed in Yemen in the last three days.  Are you aware of this report?  And do you have anything to say about it?

Spokesman:  No, I haven’t seen that particular release from UNICEF, but I have no doubt…  if they’ve put it out, there’s…  I have no doubt of the veracity of it.  And it’s yet another reminder of why we need a political and a nationwide ceasefire there as quickly as possible.

Question:  My second question, Stéphane, recently, I asked you about a prospect of a visit by US Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo to a settlement.  In fact, he did, he visited the settlement of Psagot, near Ramallah, and it was like a statement, a statement by the US recognizing settlements as part of Israel.  And I expected also a comment afterward, because you said we had no comment on a visit that didn’t happen, but the visit did happen.  Do you have anything to say about it?

Spokesman:  Our comment is just to reiterate our position, again, on the illegality of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  That’s…  you will…  you can do the analysis and the compare‑and‑contrast.  This is our position.  Okay.  Toby?

Question:  Hi.  Thanks very much, Stéphane.  Did the Secretary‑General put out a formal statement on the killing of the Iranian scientist?  If so, I missed it, and I’m sorry about that.

And just as a corollary to that question, is there a general comment about the killing and the assassination of civilians that seem to be politically or militarily motivated?  Is there…  does the UN have a formal position on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Our answer to both of your questions is that we stand against assassinations and extrajudicial killings and that, I think, given the volatility that already exists in the region, the Secretary‑General is calling for restraint from all parties.

Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can…

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Three months ago today, 18 fishermen were captured in international waters by the Libyan militia of General [Khalifa] Haftar.  My question is, did the Italian Government ever ask directly the Secretary‑General to mediate or help resolve the situation?  And what the Secretary‑General thinks about…?

Spokesman:  I don’t know if there was a direct request from the Italian Government.  What I can tell you is that the Mission on the ground is seized of the matter and is trying to do its best to work for a positive outcome for those fishermen who are in detention.

Question:  So, you don’t know if the Italian Government asked directly the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  I don’t know off the top of my head if there was a direct request, but what I can tell you is that we are working on it, though I have no doubt it’s…  anyway, I’ll find out, but I can tell you that we are working on it.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I don’t see any more…  James, and then we’ll go to our guest.

Question:  I’ve got a couple of more questions, if I can.

Spokesman:  Of course.

Question:  One is another question on timing in Libya, not to do with the Special Envoy or Mr. Mladenov’s appointment, but you’ll remember that the Secretary‑General’s report on Libya was delayed.  Quite a rare thing that those reports are delayed because of the Tunis agreements that were made.  Do you have a new date for that…?

Spokesman:  It’s a good question.

Question:  Because he has to come up with the monitoring…  one assumes, with his recommendation for the monitoring, so, it would be useful for us to be given that date.

Spokesman:  Yep.  I will find out.

Question:  Okay.  And then the last two questions are on Uganda.  The election candidate, Bobi Wine, was electioneering and then travelling in his car and ended up being surrounded by police, who then fired shots into the car, hit several members of his entourage.  I’m not sure of their injuries or their status.  Do you have a comment on this taking place, with someone who is one of the most prominent candidates in the elections…?

Spokesman:  I mean, it’s a very worrying development, clearly.  I think we have called and we will continue to call on the security forces in Uganda to respect human rights, to show and respect the rule of law. 

I think it is very important that there be a positive climate for these elections to go ahead, and all political leaders and actors should commit to peaceful conduct and refrain from any incitement of violence or any violence themselves.

Question:  And just to add to that, a crew…  television crew from the CBC of Canada were expelled from Uganda there to cover the situation ahead of the election.

Spokesman:  I don’t have the details on that, and I will look, but it’s clear that we’ve always stood for the right of journalists to do their job in every corner of the world free of any harassment.

Okay.  We will now go to our guest, Ninan Varughese, who has been very patient.  And it’s always a pleasure to welcome him to this briefing, sadly just virtually this time.  But, Ninan, please, go ahead.  You have the floor, and then we’ll open up for questions.

For information media. Not an official record.