2 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.

**Secretary-General - Climate

As you know, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum on climate change.  He said that the lesson we must learn from 2020 is that we need to transform our relationship with nature and with each other, and he stressed that we must move forward together.  “Solidarity is survival,” he said, and he reiterated his call to all countries to implement plans to become carbon‑neutral by 2050.  The Secretary‑General said the pandemic and the climate crisis have brought us to a threshold, but he said we have the solutions we need to make 2021 the year in which we leap forward to carbon neutrality.  His full remarks have been distributed to you.

**Climate Change Reports

Staying on the topic of climate, I want to flag two reports that were issued today.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched its Production Gap Report, which says that governments must wind down fossil fuel production by 6 per cent per year to limit catastrophic warming.  The report measures the gap between Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas.  It found that the “production gap” remains large:  countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5°C temperature limit.

And the World Meteorological Organization today launched its State of the Climate Report, which says that 2020 is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record. Ocean heat is also at record levels and more than 80 per cent of the global ocean experienced a marine heatwave this year, with widespread repercussions for marine ecosystems already suffering with more acidic waters due to carbon dioxide absorption.  Those reports have been shared with you, as well.

**Secretary-General - Lebanon

Just about now, the Secretary-General will speak, by pre‑recorded video message, at the International Conference in Support of the Lebanese People. Four months after the 4 August explosion in Beirut, Mr. [An ónio] Guterres will thank the international community for its support and technical expertise.  But he is also warning that the pandemic is another factor aggravating the country’s already fragile economic situation.  Poverty is increasing, and he will add that the Lebanese people have been waiting for the formation of a new government with the capacity to implement needed reforms.

The new “Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework”, prepared jointly by the World Bank, European Union and the United Nations, is designed to help the Lebanese people move beyond the emergency phase and onto the path for longer‑term recovery and reconstruction.  As the framework begins its implementation, the Secretary‑General will call for continued engagement of non‑governmental stakeholders and for the voices of the people to be heard, as well as for more support for the urgent needs of families and businesses.


Turning to Ethiopia, we have been told by our humanitarian colleagues that the UN in the country and the Federal Government of Ethiopia have signed an agreement that seeks to enable unimpeded, sustained and secure access for humanitarian personnel and services in areas under the control of the Federal Government in Tigray, and the bordering areas of Amhara and Afar regions.

We, along with our humanitarian partners in Ethiopia, are engaging with the Federal Government and all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian action in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions is strictly based on needs, and carried out in compliance with the globally agreed principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality.  This includes working to ensure that people impacted by the conflict are assisted without distinction of any kind other than the urgency of their needs.

Today, an assessment and response mission is taking place in Afar, in the areas bordering Tigray, to reach people who have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict.


Stephanie Williams, the Acting Special Representative for Libya, spoke today at a virtual session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.  She warned the Libyan delegates that time is not on their side and that there is a direct cost for inaction and obstruction.  She said that there are now 20,000 foreign forces or mercenaries in the country, which she called a shocking violation of the Libyan sovereignty.  She added:  “You may believe that these foreigners are here as your guests, but they are now occupying your house.”

Ms. Williams added that, by next month, there will be an estimated 1.3 million Libyans in need of humanitarian assistance.  She reminded the delegates that they went a long way in Tunis and set the date for the elections.  The best way to address Libya’s governance crisis, she said, is to unify the country’s institutions and Central Bank, which needs to have a board meeting to address the exchange rate crisis immediately.


On Nigeria, you will recall that, earlier, on Sunday, we strongly condemned what the Secretary‑General called a horrific attack on farm workers that took place over the weekend in Zabarmari in Borno State.  The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, wrapped up a condolence visit today to the families of the victims of that attack.  He also met with Borno State authorities.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that tens of civilian farmers harvesting on rice farms were killed in the attack.  Details are still coming in, [with] the search for missing people continuing and more bodies being recovered.

In a meeting Mr. Kallon had, a farmer spoke of the trauma that people are facing due to many having been killed by assailants armed with machetes.  Following the attack, people living in rural communities are fearful for their lives and those of their children and have not returned to the farms.  They worry that the harvest may be entirely lost.  Some 4.3 million people are critically food insecure in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.  The number could reach 5.1 million over the lean season, between June and August next year.  Mr. Kallon also reiterated his call for abducted women and girls to be immediately released and for their safe return to [their] communities.


From Bangladesh, our colleagues there say they are aware of reports that the Government of Bangladesh may begin the initial movements of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal in the coming days.  We have not been involved in the preparations for this movement or in identifying refugees, and we have limited information on the overall relocation exercise, say our colleagues in Bangladesh.

We reiterate our long‑standing position that Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char based upon relevant, accurate and updated information.  The Government of Bangladesh has indicated that movements to the island will be voluntary, and the United Nations calls on the Government to respect this very important commitment.  We remain focused on supporting the Government’s leading role in delivering an effective and efficient humanitarian programme for the nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, while also working towards a solution for them, including through their safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar.

**COVID-19 - Wages

A report released today by [the International Labour Organization] has found that, due to COVID‑19, monthly wages fell or grew more slowly in the first six months of 2020 in two thirds of countries for which official data was available.  The ILO warns that the crisis is likely to inflict massive downward pressure on wages in the near future.  That report is available to you.


I also wanted to flag developments in Iran having to do with nationality, and the Secretary‑General welcomes the Government of Iran’s recent decision to give nationality to thousands of children born to Iranian mothers and non‑Iranian fathers.  UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) reported yesterday that, under a new law, which was amended in 2019, nearly 75,000 children who would otherwise be at risk of statelessness would now be allowed to apply for Iranian citizenship.  By allowing Iranian mothers to pass their nationality to their children, the law also marks a ground‑breaking step towards reducing the gender gap in Iran, where nationality used to be passed on mainly by fathers.  The Secretary-General commends the Government for taking concrete steps towards the prevention and reduction of statelessness in the country.  Around the world, millions of stateless persons continue to face a lifetime of exclusion and discrimination and are often denied access to education, health care, and job opportunities – making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

**International Day for the Abolition of Slavery

Today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that this year’s global protests against systemic racism have brought renewed attention to a legacy of injustices all over the world whose roots lie in the dark history of colonialism and slavery.  But slavery is not simply a matter of history, he said.  The Secretary‑General pointed out that today, more than 40 million people are still victims of contemporary slavery.  Women and girls account for more than 71 per cent of these victims.

The Secretary‑General calls on Member States, civil society and the private sector to strengthen their collective efforts to end this abhorrent practice.  He also called for support to identify, protect and empower victims and survivors, including by contributing to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery.

And I think I will stop reading, and I will start answering.  Mr. Bays, for once.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  So, can I follow up first on Ethiopia, this agreement that you have with the Federal Government?  You said to us yesterday that you had pre‑position personnel and aid.  When can those roll?

Spokesman:  Those will roll as soon as the operational details are being worked out.  We will not waste any time.  As soon as we feel we can go, we will roll.

Question:  And Afghanistan, the US State Department’s put out a statement that a major milestone has been passed in the talks in Doha.  These are the intra‑Afghan talks.  They’ve now agreed rules and proced… rules of procedure for the talks.  First, what is the Secretary‑General’s reaction?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We welcome the progress in the intra‑Afghan talks.  I mean, I think what happened today was a notable development, and the Secretary‑General encourages the negotiating teams in their further efforts.  He will, obviously, continue to follow the situation very closely.  I would add that we remain committed to supporting an inclusive and Afghan‑led peace process that upholds human rights of all citizens and especially women and leads to a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

Question:  You say the Secretary‑General is following the process.  How regularly is he speaking to Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad on this issue?  And does he believe that the new President‑elect, Joe Biden, should keep Khalilzad in this job, given this crucial moment?

Spokesman:  Should… does he believe that Ambassador Khalilzad should keep his job?  I mean that’s…

Question:  That the President‑elect should keep him because he’s making progress and to change… to change the negotiator might be dangerous.

Spokesman:  We would… obviously, we would hope that this… the progress remains seamless.  Staffing decisions by the US Government will stay in the hands of the US Government, of course.  I would add that our special… Deborah Lyons, the head of the UN Mission, is also in Doha and is having meetings there.  Edie?

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment today on the decision by the UK Government to give a green light for one of the COVID‑19 vaccines?  And also President [Vladimir] Putin’s announcement that immunizations will start next week.  And secondly, I note that he is going to be speaking at the COVID‑19 summit here tomorrow.  What… what’s his message going to be?

Spokesman:  Couple of things.  One, no particular comment on the developments in Russia and the UK.  I mean, it’s obviously normal that Governments are taking measures that they can take to vaccinate their own population.  What we very much want to see is that all countries and all people everywhere have access to the vaccine regardless of their… of a country’s status, developing country or least developing country.  The vaccine needs to be treated as a global public good, and that will be the basis of the Secretary‑General’s message, as well, tomorrow.  Okay.  I see a Greek‑speaking Apostolos on the screen, who, no doubt, if he shows his face, means he has a question.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Mrs. [Jane Holl] Lute was in Nicosia yesterday and today in Athens.  She held meetings with the two leaders and today with a representative of the Greek Government.  Do you have any update on that and what the plans for the Secretary‑General for the immediate future?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, you kind of stole my thunder.  Yes.  She did… I’ll confirm officially that, yesterday, she met with both the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. [Nicos] Anastasiades, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. [Ersin] Tatar.  This is part of the ongoing consultations she’s carrying out on behalf of the Secretary‑General with the two communities, as well as the guarantor powers.  And this is really to assess the conditions to prepare for an informal meeting of the 5+1.  And today, she is, indeed, in Athens meeting with Greek officials.  The Secretary‑General’s position is that he feels that it’s important to resume a viable and comprehensive negotiation process, and he remains committed to supporting the two sides in that effort.  Okay.  Michelle, I think you had a question.

Question:  You can hear me?

Spokesman:  And then Maggie.  Yeah, I can hear you.

Question:  All right.

Spokesman:  I can’t see you, though.

Question:  [Laughter]  No, I… you still won’t.  Just following on from Edie’s question.  Given, obviously, the UK has now approved a vaccine, the US is not far behind, aside from Russia, has anyone else offered the SG a vaccine?  When would you expect him to take it?  And is it something he would consider doing publicly, given he’s fighting against misinformation?

Spokesman:  Okay.  A few things.  First, the offer of vaccines to United Nations’ staff from Russia is the only one… from the Russian Federation is the only one that I’m aware of. We remain in discussions with them and, obviously, with the WHO [World Health Organization].  For the Secretary‑General, I think it is im… yes, as soon as a vaccine is available, I have no doubt that he will take one.  He would also want to see those who need it first, make sure that they have access to it, the front‑line workers and so on.  But when it’s ready for him to take it, I’m sure he will… I have no doubt that he will take it, as I hope all of you and all of us will do so.

Question:  Would he do that publicly?

Spokesman:  I’ll… we’ll see if he does it publicly.  I don’t know if you want to see him take off his shirt publicly.  Maggie?

Question:  I think a vaccine goes up your nose.  I don’t think he has to take off his shirt.  [Laughter.]  Question…

Spokesman:  Is that…?

Correspondent:  Two questions, actually.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  I think I saw some report about it’s like… like, you know, I think… some of them are like just spray, nasal spray…

Spokesman:  You know what, Maggie?  You and him can do it publicly through different ways…

Question:  Anyway, on Ethiopia, there are reports that possibly thousands of Eritrean refugees who are living in Tigray have been abducted by Eritrean forces back to their country.  Do you have any… I know you don’t have a lot of people on the ground, but do you have any sort of confirmation of these reports?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have confirmation of the reports.  What I do know is that the situation of the some 96,000 Tigrayan… Eritrean refugees in Tigray is very dire, indeed.  The loss… the lack of fuel has made it very difficult for fuel pumps to work, the lack of food.  It is an extremely, extremely worrying situation.  That’s why we’re working with the Ethiopian authorities and others to get in there as quickly as possible.

Question:  Okay.  And one other, the SG’s speech today on the planet, I think it was in the Q&A, he was talking about people should move to electric car use and hybrid car use.  And I was just trying to recall what kind of car the SG has, if it’s a hybrid or not, and if he’s contemplating getting a new one if it’s not.

Spokesman:  It is not a hybrid.  It is also an armoured vehicle, without going into specific details.  But I have no doubt if we could get hold of a hybrid electrical car that would meet the security standards, he would do so.

Correspondent:  Okay. Thanks.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar, and then we’ll keep moving.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the relocation of the Rohingya refugees, did the Government of Bangladesh give any explanation why they were doing so?

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  I said about the relocation of Rohingya refugees, has the Government of Bangladesh given any explanation why they were doing so?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think you’d have to ask them.  I know this has been… the issue of relieving pressure on Cox’s Bazar is one that has been discussed by the Government.  One also needs to underscore, yet again, the immense hospitality that Bangladesh has shown, the people of Bangladesh, especially the Bangladeshis who live around Cox’s Bazar, have shown to the refugees.  That being said, there remains a number of issues and principles that we want to follow and that are hard lines for us.  Abdelhamid, and then I’ll go to Carla and then James Reinl.

Question:  Thank you so much, Stéph.  On Monday evening, the Israeli occupation forces forced Mr. Abdo… Fawwaz Abdo to demolish his own home – upon the excuse that it doesn’t have a permit ‑ in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal al‑Mukabber.  So, how do you classify this crime?  When you force somebody to demolish his own home and leave his family in the street, that’s one question.  And second, how come a crime of that magnitude passes unnoticed by the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of… I personally am not aware of this particular incident.  That’s not to say that Mr. Mladenov is not aware.  We have spoken out, I think, very strongly against any type of demolition in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but we’re… I’m happy to look into the case for you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay. James Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Stéph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Thanks so much.  You were talking before about the vaccine.  You said it’s going to be available in all countries, all people, global public good.  This issue is going to come up tomorrow during the big debate.  How does it become available to all people in all countries?  And some UN members and some aid groups, they say that COVAX is not enough and that the solution is really to temporarily lift patent and intellectual property rights of Pfizer, Moderna and other drug‑makers so that poor countries can make their own cheap generic vaccines and roll them out to their own people.  What do you guys say about that?

Spokesman:  Look, I think the COVAX facility is really the focus of our work.  It is currently underfunded.  There was money given through the G20, which the Secretary‑General saluted, but it is not enough.  We think the COVAX is a very important method through which countries can get access to the vaccine at low cost or no cost, depending on how it… the operational details, and we believe that should remain the focus for now.

Question:  But if money is the issue, then one of the ways that you can solve that is you can lower the cost of the vaccines themselves by manufacturing generics so that money isn’t flowing out to Moderna or Pfizer…?

Spokesman:  I think we would like to see lower costs for the vaccine.  James, and then Carla.

Question:  I’m afraid I’ve got quite a few more.  So, staying with vaccines first, just to follow up on that, is the UN planning to procure its own vaccines for its staff, for example, here in New York?  Or is going to rely on people working in New York to get vaccines from the facilities in the host country?

Spokesman:  I can’t speak to that at this point.

Question:  Is one of the reasons you can’t speak to that because the Secretary‑General still hasn’t filled the job of the medical director here?

Spokesman:  No…

Question:  When… when is he going to fill that job?  It’s been on the list of empty jobs.

Spokesman:  Yeah, the recruitment is ongoing.  We have a very strong acting director, who the Secretary‑General is extremely pleased with and has been overseeing our response here and in the field.  The reason I can’t answer is I, individually, personally, do not know the answer to the question.  Doesn’t mean the answer doesn’t exist.  I just don’t have it.

Question:  Maybe you can…

Spokesman:  I could try to do my job and try to get it, yes, James.

Question:  And, now, Libya, follow‑up to your statement, clearly progress in Libya, but the thing that hasn’t… the key thing that hasn’t been achieved, which was supposed to be achieved, was this new unity presidency council and Prime Minister.  Any progress on that and the timeline for that?

Spokesman:  No, not that I can report from here.

Question:  Okay.  Next is on… back to Ethiopia.  Have you any more information on peacekeepers who were either disarmed or sent home of Tigrayan origin?  Are those numbers still as you gave them the other day?  And have you got any information of the whereabouts of those that you were not aware of the other day, including the deputy force commander in Abyei?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, this continues to be an issue of… sorry.  This continues to be an issue of concern to us.  We have had discussions with Ethiopian officials at various levels to remind them of their responsibility and also in terms of individual rights of people serving under the UN flag.

Question:  I think this is the last one. Pro‑democracy activists sentenced in Hong Kong ‑ Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam ‑ what is the Secretary‑General’s response to that?

Spokesman:  He’s following these developments very closely and calls on the relevant authorities to ensure the right to a fair trial and due process in line with international obligations.

Question:  But the only thing they’ve done is try and campaign for democracy.  In principle, the Secretary‑General is in favour of democracy.

Spokesman:  In principle, the Secretary‑General has always called for people to have a right to demonstrate peacefully anywhere in the world, and I would also… excuse me.  I would also remind you of the statement that he made, which is really kind of an evergreen for us - that he feels that no one should be arrested or detained for what they’re thinking or what they’re saying.

Question:  Well, I mean, all of those things are what these people have done.  All they’ve done is fight for democracy and demonstrated.  Surely, you should speak out a little stronger on this.

Spokesman:  I think he is… he wants to see and make sure that there is… these people have access to… right to a fair trial and due process.  Carla?

Question:  Yesterday, I was [off mic, inaudible] people saying that [inaudible] the permanent delegation had tested positive, and one had passed away.  I spoke to Joe this morning.  He hadn’t received the email.  I don’t know whether it’s true or not.

Spokesman:  We have been informed that two delegates of a Permanent Mission to the UN New York had tested positive for COVID‑19.  Sadly, one of these delegates passed away on the 30 November.  The other person is doing well.  Our Medical Services and other relevant services here at the UN have completed contact tracing and have determined that no additional safety precautions are necessary, and all in‑person meetings at the UN premises will continue as scheduled.

Question:  Follow‑up.  This morning, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now reported that there was information from… I don’t remember if it was the Centers for Disease Control or whatever, that case of COVID‑19 had been identified in the United States as early as December 2019, which is a month before it showed up in China.  Does the UN know anything about this?

Spokesman:  I have no information on that.  Okay.  Brenden, this sounds like a good time for you to come and speak.

For information media. Not an official record.