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7 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.

**Secretary-General — Resident Coordinators

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the start of a five-day meeting with the 129 UN Resident Coordinators who are leading the UN’s response and recovery efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

This is the third global gathering of Resident Coordinators and, of course, the first one to be fully online due to the pandemic.

The Secretary-General said he counts on them to fully mobilize their partners and UN country teams to support Governments in ensuring equitable access to the COVID-19 tests, treatments, and — very soon, hopefully — vaccines, which are a global good and must be available to all, everywhere.

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres noted that the pandemic has revealed profound fragilities, with inequalities growing, the climate emergency worsening and hatred spreading.

He said that recovering better from the pandemic and bolstering action for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must be two sides of the same coin.

During the coming days, the Resident Coordinators will discuss how to set the set the stage for a more sustainable recovery, including how to protect jobs and bolster social protection and basic services.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And here in the Security Council, addressing the Council by videoconference, Leila Zerrougui, the head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), began by highlighting political tensions in the country, which led to yesterday’s announcement by President [Felix] Tshisekedi that the coalition uniting Cap for Change (CACH) and the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) had ended.

The DRC cannot afford a serious institutional crisis, Ms. Zerrougui told Council members.  It needs stable and functioning institutions that get back to work as quickly as possible and focus on national economic recovery, as well as stabilization in the eastern part of the country, ahead of the general elections scheduled for 2023.

The Special Representative said that the Security Council can play an important role to encourage a negotiated resolution between the two forces that favours lasting solutions, prioritizing the interests of the Congolese people over short-term political objectives that risk further increasing tensions.

**Libya

The Acting Special Representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, hosted on [Saturday] a virtual meeting to inform the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum participants of the results of their voting processes over the previous days and to discuss the way forward.

She reaffirmed the UN Mission’s commitment to and respect for the decisions of the Forum members taken during their recent in-person meetings in Tunisia, according to which decisions should be reached on a consensual basis.

Ms. Williams announced that a virtual session will be held in the coming days to discuss the next steps based on the productive suggestions presented by many of the Dialogue Forum members during the weekend session.

**Yemen

Our acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Laurent Bukera, has said that a 3 December artillery shelling in Hudaydah City was “yet another senseless attack” that killed and injured many civilians.  He shared our deepest condolences with the families of those who had been killed and wish those injured a full and quick recovery.

That attack was the second one causing multiple civilian deaths and injuries in Hudaydah within a week and the third across Yemen.  Hostilities in the Hudaydah Governorate have escalated in recent months, with 49 fatalities and injuries recorded across the governorate in November and 74 fatalities and injuries recorded in October.

**Central African Republic

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that electoral materials, including 12,000 ballot boxes, 4,200 kits and 12,000 voting booths, have arrived in Bangui.  This is part of a batch of electoral equipment provided by South Africa in collaboration with the UN Mission and the UN Development Programme, and that is to support a democratic process in the Central African Republic.

Voter cards for the prefectures of Bamingui-Bogoran and Vakaga that were procured by the Central African Government were also delivered.

Over 1.8 million people have registered to vote in the 27 December elections [and] 46.6 per cent of them are women.

The Mission’s Deputy Special Representative, Denise Brown, was at the airport, along with other dignitaries, to receive the materials, [and] described the arrival of the voter cards as a critical marker of the “positive evolution of the election preparation process”.

On Monday, the Special Representative and Head of the Mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, and G5 group members — those are friends of the Central African Republic — started a series of meetings with all 17 candidates [for] the presidential election to discuss the electoral process, including the international community’s support to the elections.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will open the annual High-Level Pledging Conference of the Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF.

This event will be convened by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  It will highlight CERF’s achievements in 2020 and pledging announcements for 2021.

There will also be a discussion on how to collectively increase the level of the Fund towards the $1 billion target endorsed by the General Assembly in 2016.

The event will bring together senior representatives from the UN Member States and Observers, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, foundations and the private sector.

Since its establishment, CERF has provided nearly $7 billion for life-saving support for humanitarian action that has helped hundreds of millions of people across more than 100 countries and territories.  This, of course, would not have been possible without generous and consistent donor support.

**Afghanistan

A report released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office warns that Afghan women and girls are being failed by the country’s justice system, with their access to justice for crimes of violence remaining tenuous.  UNAMA found that only half of the reported crimes reached a primary court, with perpetrators convicted in around 40 per cent of all documented cases.  Other issues raised in the report include the problematic handling of rape cases and ongoing detention of women for “running away”.

Throughout the global campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, from 25 November to 10 December, the United Nations in Afghanistan is calling for an increased effort to prevent and redress violence against women and girls.  This is particularly important in the context of the outbreak of COVID-19, with the ongoing monitoring by UNAMA suggesting that violence against women and girls has increased, as difficulties for victims in reporting crimes and accessing safety and justice have also increased.

**Counter-Terrorism

Two events to flag related to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism:

First, this morning, the Office held an event to launch the “International Hub on Behavioural Insights to Counter Terrorism”, inaugurated today as a Programme Office in Doha in Qatar.

Vladimir Voronkov, the Head of the Office, said that through insights from cognitive psychology, behavioural economics and social sciences, the Hub will study how humans think, decide and take action.  It will help his Office understand why and how people become radicalized to violence and where they can intervene most effectively to halt the radicalization process.

And just about now, Mr. Voronkov, and the head of UNODC, Ghada Waly — that’s the [UN] Office for Drugs and Crime — will sign a joint Plan of Action to strengthen internal collaboration on counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism.

**International Civil Aviation Day

And today marks something that we rarely do these days — and that is International Civil Aviation Day.

In a message, the Secretary-General noted that this year’s observance of the Day falls as COVID-19 has severed international connections by air, cutting off businesses from clients, keeping tourists from destinations, and disproportionately affecting the vulnerable.

The Secretary-General stresses that countries must act urgently to sustain their air transport sectors in the face of the many COVID-related challenges.

Yet they must do so with climate in mind, he added.  He urged the entire sector to commit to net zero by 2050 and develop a strategy in alignment with the Paris Agreement well ahead of next year’s climate conference.

Okay.  I’ve run out of words.  I assume you have not, so yalla

**Questions and Answers

James Bays!  What a surprise. 

Question:  Can I start by asking you about Ethiopia, because we were going to get a briefing on Ethiopia and I know that’s not going to be… possibly tomorrow now.  First, there were reports that a UN team has been shot at while trying to get access to a refugee camp called Shimelba.  Can you give us any information?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I’m well aware of these reports.  For a variety of reasons, I’d rather not comment at this point.

Question:  Can you tell us how… an overall view on how easy the… it is now currently for the UN to operate in Tigray province of Ethiopia?  Are you facing any obstacles?  Are you getting all your personnel and all your aid in and able to deliver it widely to the people that need it?

Spokesman:  Short answer is that it remains extremely challenging.  We are not yet getting the access that we need.  The discussions with the Government are ongoing, but the situation remains challenging, to say the least.

Question:  Could you tell us what the challenges are?  Because some of the challenges, one assumes, are disorder and violence and whatever, but are there also… given that this agreement was signed, are there bureaucratic problems?

Spokesman:  Look, there’s a level of perhaps administrative hurdles that need to be passed.  It’s clear that the situation, at least from our point of view, is… and the information we’re getting, is not yet stabilized.  Issues of humanitarian access, issues of basic services, water and electricity makes all this very complicated.

Question:  One final one from me on a different subject, Libya.  You had a statement there from Stephanie Williams, but it didn’t address some reports, slightly worrying reports, of potential problems ahead in Libya. 

General [Khalifa] Haftar has put his forces on a high level of readiness.  The GNA (Government of National Accord), from their side, say that he’s been moving troops towards Sirte, and they say the UN is saying nothing, and they are threatening to pull out of the accords that they signed.

So, what is… how concerned is the UN about this?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we’ve seen reports, which are concerning.  We would urge everyone in Libya, the Libyan parties and those who have influence over them, to ensure that this cessation of hostilities continues.  I mean, there are political talks at many different levels, which are progressing well, and we want to make sure that continues.

Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have two questions also.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claiming a sweeping victory in congressional elections that the opposition boycotted?

Spokesman:  No, we had no involvement in the organization of these elections.  If you’d recall, there had been a request from the Venezuelan Government for electoral observation.  However, that would have required a mandate from a legislative body at the UN, which it was not received.  So, we have no particular comment at this point.

Question:  And secondly, do you have… does the UN have any update on the movement of the Rohingyas to that island?  Has the UN been given access to talk to those who…

Spokesman:  No.  There’s been no change.  We do not have access to the island.  I know our colleagues are trying to follow up on the reports of people being pressured.  It is… our position remains completely unchanged, that no one should be forced to relocate.  Everything needs to be done on a voluntary, dignified basis, and we would also want to be able to take a look at the relocation site to ensure that it is fit for purpose.  Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire is extremely difficult and volatile.  Is the UN concerned about it?

Spokesman:  Yes, but I’d need to get an update on Côte d’Ivoire for the time being.

Okay.  Abdelhamid, and then Maria. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want, first, to ask you about if you have any update on the inter‑Libyan dialogue going on in Ghadames?  And did you see that the attack of Haftar, General Haftar, on a GNA base in west Sirte coincided… I mean, is it just coincidence, or it happens as the dialogue started today?

Spokesman:  We don’t have any confirmation of any ceasefire violations.  We’ve, obviously, seen the reports.  And I think I answer… I don’t know if you heard my answer to James, which is to urge all sides to respect the ceasefire as talks are going on at various levels.

Question:  Yes.  My second question, in a tweet of Mr. Nickolay Mladenov about the arsenal against the church, a famous church in Palestine near Jerusalem, he used the word “arsonist”. While he was a settler, he was caught by the Palestinian.  He was handed to the police.  He is 49‑year‑old.  And the word “arsonist” is very vague.  He… instead of saying he is an extremist settler who try to set a famous historic church on fire.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I mean, I’m not sure what you want me to say.  I mean, I think… I mean, I’m… I will… I think the word “arsonist” is a very strong word.  It denotes a criminal intent to do harm by setting fire.  I’m… I’ll leave it at that.  I’m not a native English speaker, but to me, “arsonist” has always been a very strong and direct word.

Question:  Yeah, the nationality of this arsonist is vague, so that is what also is missing.  I mean, he should say Israeli arsonist.  I thought that clarifying the nationality of the arsonist is important in this incident.

Spokesman:  Noted.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Maria Khrenova?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  On Nagorno‑Karabakh, I assume that the SG discussed with Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov the deployment of United Nations Mission in the region.  So, I wonder if you have any update on the timing, possible timing, of deployment of such Mission and how many people will be included there, how many UN’s departments will participate in this Mission?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have some more details.  I’m trying to pry some details, and as soon as I’m able to pry them, I will share them.

Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on Rohingya refugee situation, the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) chief also made a similar statement that you just made, but I want to know whether there are UN personnel in Cox’s Bazar witnessing this thing and they’re not intervening. 

Spokesman:  The UN has a large presence… has a humanitarian presence in Cox’s Bazar, and they have… our colleagues on the ground have been following up to try to confirm these… some of the disturbing reports we have seen and heard of.

Correspondent:  Right.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Ray.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On tweet, the US NSC, which is the National Security Council, said, from 7 December to 12 December, we encourage Venezuelan inside and outside Venezuela to reject the regime’s fraudulent legislative elections and help restore democracy via the Consulta Popular.  Any comment?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to comment on the tweet from the National Security Council.  What I can tell you is that, from our end, the Secretariat is not going to pronounce itself on the legitimacy of the new legislative bodies.  We will continue to interact with all political actors and keep advocating for serious negotiations among these actors. 

I mean, this is a time, clearly, of great polarisation among Venezuelan political actors.  It is important that serious negotiations among all political groups in Venezuela is the only way to resolve the country’s many challenges and, of course, with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Okay.  I will leave it to Brenden [Varma] to answer all your questions… Sylviane, you had a question for me?  Go ahead.

Question:  I don’t know… thank you very much.  There is a report on UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), the incident on UNIFIL… happening inside last weekend.  How much the UN is concerned on this issue?

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I haven’t seen that report, but I will check for you.

Varma, étoi, as they say in English.

For information media. Not an official record.