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11 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.

**Climate Report

All right.  Good afternoon.  The Secretary‑General will release today a report by an independent group of experts on the $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate finance promised by developed countries to support efforts in developing countries to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.  The report shows that based on the pre‑COVID data up to 2018, climate finance counting towards the $100 billion had been on an upward trajectory but was still falling short of the $100 billion per year by 2020 target.

The report also found that the COVID‑19 pandemic drastically altered the context for international climate finance with particularly severe impacts on emerging markets and developing countries, with a huge increase in debt distress.  In the report, expert voices support the call of the Secretary‑General for a major push in 2021 to support achieving the $100 billion goal, with a clear roadmap and clear recommendations to do so.  We will share the report with you and a press release very shortly.

**Climate Ambition Summit

Also, on climate, as you know and as you heard yesterday from Selwin Hart, the Climate Ambition Summit is tomorrow.  About 70 world leaders will speak at the event, which the Secretary‑General is co-hosting with the Governments of the United Kingdom and France.  They will be highlighting new announcements and steps they are taking to reach the goal of net-zero emissions, as well as from businesses, investors, local governments, youth and civil society groups.  You can find the full list of participants on the Summit website, which is climateambitionsummit2020.org.

The Secretary‑General will speak at the opening — that’s about at 9 a.m.  And we will also organize a virtual press stakeout.  That will probably be in between 11 a.m. and noon tomorrow.  That will all be done virtually, so you will not be in this room.  We will send you the connection details.  You can also follow the meeting and the press stakeout on webtv.un.org.  We will share the details of the stakeout a bit later this afternoon and the Summit will be, obviously, will be virtual.

**Nobel Peace Prize Forum

This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke in a pre-recorded video message to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum 2020, which this year addresses how the COVID‑19 pandemic is impacting the conditions for international cooperation and global governance.  The Secretary‑General noted that the pandemic is a crisis like no other, in which the world faces a common enemy.  He said that, unfortunately, governments have not mounted a joint response to this global threat.

The Secretary‑General stressed that we cannot let the same thing happen for access to new COVID‑19 vaccines, which must be a global public good.  He emphasized that the multilateral cooperation should be firmly based on the universal values of community, solidarity, equality and humanity.  Mr. [António] Guterres noted that the Nobel Committee showed the way by awarding its Peace Prize to the World Food Programme (WFP).  He said that the prize recognizes the essential link between feeding the hungry, solidarity with those in need, and world peace.

**Resident Coordinators’ Meeting

Also today, our Resident Coordinators covering 162 countries and territories wrapped up a week-long virtual meeting.  They have been discussing how to speed up and increase support for countries to recover better from the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Earlier in the week, the Secretary‑General told them that, nearly three years into the reform of the UN development structure, the new Resident Coordinator system has passed its first serious “stress test” with COVID‑19.  He also noted that geopolitical tensions are escalating, which is why, earlier this year, he had called for a global ceasefire to focus on the common enemy, which is obviously the virus.

The Resident Coordinators also spoke with the Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, the Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed, who told them, that despite our efforts, COVID‑19 continues to have a dramatic impact on lives and livelihoods and has knocked the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) even further off track.  She said that, in 2021, through recovery strategies and investments that are anchored in driving greater inclusion, resilience and sustainability, we have a truly unique opportunity to help bring the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] to life.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

And the Secretary‑General will deliver a video message tomorrow, also a pre‑recorded video message, to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  He will say that the anniversary is an occasion to redouble our commitment to world peace and reconciliation, sustainable development and human rights for all. 

Building a future of peace, he is to say, requires dealing with the past.   It means acknowledging that horrific crimes were committed during the war.   These crimes should never be forgotten, nor should the ideology of the perpetrators be celebrated.   He will call for the country’s people to come together to build a more just, green and resilient Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

**Ethiopia

Ok, a bit of an update on various fronts related to Ethiopia.  We and our partners are continuing to be in the process of operationalizing the humanitarian agreements with the Government of Ethiopia, but to date we still have no access to the Tigray region.  We are extremely concerned for the safety and humanitarian needs of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.  Large numbers of refugees have left camps due to insecurity and the lack of basic services and are now in Mekelle and Addis Ababa.

We, along with our partners, have also not had access to the four refugee camps, which host nearly 100,000 people, in more than a month.  We have conducted two assessment missions to the border of Tigray and Afar, with our humanitarian partners.  In Afar, we found that newly displaced people and people affected by the fighting need water, hygiene services and medical supplies.  Two missions are still to be carried out to the Western and Southern parts of the Tigray region.

We also want to extend our condolences to the Danish Refugee Council who sadly confirmed the deaths of three colleagues in Tigray.  The International Rescue Committee also confirmed the killing of a staff member in Hitsats Refugee Camp in Shire, and we also, of course, extend our condolences to them.  These are extremely distressing reports and underscore why we need unfettered humanitarian access to the region as soon as possible.

**Sudan

Also, to note, in terms of the people who are fleeing Tigray to Sudan, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that nearly half of the people who have fled Tigray to Sudan are children.  UNICEF says the most urgent needs are clean water and sanitation for camps and border points, as well as child protection and gender-based violence services for the most vulnerable and at-risk refugees.  The agency also said that, as the crisis continues, education services are essential to ensure that children continue to learn and to provide them with a safe space and a semblance of normalcy.  UNICEF has also identified more than 200 unaccompanied and separated children.  They screened more than 8,000 children under the age of five for malnutrition at border points entry. 

And for its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tell us that it has now registered nearly 50,000 Ethiopian refugees who have crossed into eastern Sudan.  Since 6 December, the number of people escaping the Tigray region to Sudan has been [decreasing] to under 500 a day.  Some refugees have said they had to evade armed groups to reach safety and have given harrowing accounts of hiding in fields and bushes in an effort to avoid being spotted.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Just a couple of… this note on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will be in the DRC, starting on Monday and until 18 December.  He is expected to meet with national authorities, as well as key political and civil society actors in Kinshasa.  He will also travel to the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu to take stock of the Mission’s efforts to address continuing security challenges there.  

Mr. Lacroix will also interact with the Mission staff to express his support and appreciation for their work, particularly in these challenging times, as well as for managing the impact of COVID‑19 on UN personnel and operations.  This trip had been planned for some time, prescheduled to the current crisis.

**Bolivia

And turning to Bolivia.  Following the peaceful culmination of the recent electoral process in Bolivia, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General to that country, Jean Arnault, has concluded his mandate.  A little over a year ago, as you recall, Mr. Guterres asked Mr. Arnault to engage with all Bolivian actors and offer United Nations support in efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including through transparent, inclusive and credible elections.  The Secretary‑General expresses his gratitude for the work and steadfast dedication of Jean Arnault, his Personal Envoy, and all the work he carried out during a challenging year.

**Afghanistan

And today, the UN Acting Assistant-Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, completed a week-long field visit to Afghanistan.  The aim was to draw attention to the massive increase in humanitarian needs due to COVID‑19, conflict and climate change in the country.  During the visit, Mr. Rajasingham met with First Vice-President Amurallah Saleh, Government ministers, and the provincial governor of Kandahar.  He also met with humanitarian and development agencies, as well as newly displaced people.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, are stepping up to keep pace with massively increasing needs in Afghanistan.  The aim is to reach almost 16 million people with assistance next year, which is double the number of people compared to a year ago.  Throughout the country, almost 8 million people have been provided with humanitarian aid so far [this year].

**Yemen

And I was asked yesterday about the situation in Yemen, the humanitarian situation.  And as I had said yesterday, it is indeed grim.  At an event yesterday on Yemen, Mark Lowcock said that next year, more than half of all Yemenis will go hungry and we expect that 5 million people will be living just one step away from famine, while about 50,000 people will be living in famine-like conditions.

Meanwhile, the UN response plan remains only 49 per cent funded. This year, aid agencies received less than half as much as they did last year.  We are now helping only about nine million people every month, down from a peak of more than 13 million people earlier in the year.  To reverse that, we urgently need more funding for our operations in the country.

**International Mountain Day 

Today is International Mountain Day.  And in a message from the Secretary‑General, he said that at a time of accelerating climate and land degradation, this year’s observance of the Day highlights these threats and the importance of mountain ecosystems.  The Secretary‑General noted that the year ahead offers important policymaking opportunities to protect mountain biodiversity and ecosystems.

A study launched today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that mountains host about half of the global biodiversity hotspots and are home to a growing number of the world’s hungriest people.  According to the study, the number of mountain people vulnerable to food insecurity in developing countries increased from 243 million to almost 350 million between 2000 and 2017.

**Financial Contribution

And I would like to end the week with some positive news and say “Spasibo” to our friends in Moscow.  The Russian Federation has paid its dues in full for 2020, just in time.  Brings us up to 137.  We hope to get a few more before this calendar year ends.  Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéph.  A couple of questions.  First, following up on Ethiopia, it’s now been ten days since the original agreement between the UN and the Government of Ethiopia.  What specifically is holding up access for humanitarian aid?  And today, the Ethiopian Government sent back Eritrean refugees who had fled Tigray, and I wonder what the Secretary‑General’s reaction to that is.  Nobody apparently knows whether this was with or without their consent, and it certainly was without any UN involvement, so we understand.

Spokesman:  I can tell you that we’ve heard of these reports of… if these reports of refugees being forced back are true, they would be extremely worrying.  Any forcible movements of refugees… refoulement or any actions that refugees are the subject of without their consent is a grave violation of international law.  As to the humanitarian access, listen, we continue to be in discussions with the Ethiopian side.  I think, in a sense, your question should be asked of the Ethiopian side.  We are ready to roll, so to speak.

Question:  And two other quick questions.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong media tycoon and opposition supporter, being charged under the new national security law?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what we’ve said in the past, and that’s that the Secretary‑General expressing his concern about the shrinking civic space in many places around the world.

Question:  And secondly, does he have any reaction to the European Union’s announcement that it is going to cut net emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990?

Spokesman:  I think it’s a very welcome announcement, one that inscribes itself in the efforts the Secretary‑General has called on Member States or groups of Member States to take.  So, we very much welcome it.  Ray, and then Célhia.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The European Union has decided to widen some sanctions against Turkey.  It looks like the US has also decided to do the same because of the S‑400 missiles.  Any comment or statement on that?  And second question, if you allow me, you talk about the tragic humanitarian situation in Yemen.  My question is, who’s the party who… to be held responsible?  I mean, is it… who’s responsible for that, the Houthis, militias, the South, the transition Government?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  We have no comment on your first question.  On your second question, the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is a man‑made disaster; right?  I think all those who continue to engage in armed conflict have a responsibility.  It is so important for all of the parties and those who have influence over the parties to recommit themselves to the mediation efforts led by Mr. [Martin] Griffiths so we come to some type of nationwide… countrywide cessation of hostilities, of silencing of the guns in Yemen.  We also need money; right?  We need cash.  We need hard cash.  Our pledges are down from last year.  We need those who have pledged to give the cash that they have promised.  We need those who have not pledged, who have not given cash, to do so.  Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, have you heard about Leila Zerrougui coming at the end of her assignment?  And if so, is she going to leave, or is she going to be reappointed, or who is going to succeed to her?

Spokesman:  Senior personnel appointments are always of interest.  I have nothing to say at this point.  Okay.  Dulcie, and then we’ll go to the screens.

Question:  Thanks.  I just wanted to get some more clarification on the Ethiopia‑Tigray situation.  So, on Sunday, UN humanitarian convoy with four UN personnel was shot at, and then they were detained?

Spokesman:  Correct.

Question:  And nobody was hurt?

Spokesman:  No.  Correct.

Question:  Okay.  So are… have they been released?

Spokesman:  Yes, they have been released.

Question:  Okay.  And then the two agreements, what is the difference between them?

Spokesman:  I think one was a broader agreement on humanitarian access.  The other one carried more details on how that access would work, but the full operationalization of both those agreements have yet to come to fruition, and we keep discussing these issues with the Government of Ethiopia, and we hope that these things are resolved.

Question:  And just one other question.  The Ethiopian camps hosting the Eritreans, is that in Tigray, in the Tigray region…?

Spokesman:  That is in Tigray, yeah.

Correspondent:  Okay. Thanks.

Spokesman:  Let’s go to Carrie.  Carrie, I can’t hear you.

Correspondent:  Yes.  Hi.  Hi, Stéph.  Sorry.  You surprised me.  I thought that James and… both Jameses were before me, actually, so that’s why I was…

Spokesman:  You know, it’s one of the few powers that I have, is to jump around and choose who I give the mic to.

Correspondent:  Oh, that’s nice.  [Laughter.]  Very gentleman of you, though I’m very equal on that story.  Anyway, very quickly, I have two questions.  I think, first of all, I would like know if we have any reaction from the Secretary‑General after the American President, Donald Trump, has tied… has involved himself in some type of West… Western Sahara diplomacy.  And what does the Secretary‑General think about the US recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara?  That would be my first question.  Second question is, like, on Monday, we have Yemen is going to be discussed at the Security Council.  If I’m not wrong, the issue about the… or no, not if I’m not wrong.  I’m going to ask you the question.  Where are we right now with the UN teams going to access to this… the Safer, the oil tanker?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  On Western Sahara, I’ll repeat what I said yesterday, which is that the Secretary‑General’s position on Western Sahara remains unchanged, and he remains convinced that a solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions.  Obviously, the other development, as you’ve alluded to, from what I heard, was on the… the other big announcement was on the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel.  And I will say that we hope that this normalization of bilateral relations between Morocco and Israel will further cooperation and bring about new opportunities to advance peace and economic prosperity in North Africa and the Middle East region.  On the Safer tanker, we had a constructive meeting with the de facto authorities in Sana’a over the weekend, last weekend.  We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to keep to the predicted timelines, which is late… arrival late January, early February, for experts on the scene on the ship.  All right.  Mr. Bays, since I clearly overlooked you.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Question:  Hi there.  Right.  I want to first — sorry — come back to Edie’s question which I know we’ve had some other follow‑ups on it, but your two agreements with Ethiopia, one of them nine days ago, one of them in the last couple of days, and you keep saying that you’re trying to operationalize them.  Does the UN believe… well, how long does the UN think it should have taken to operationalize these?  And do you think aid should by now… the time that you’ve had for them to study the details and whatever the Ethiopian side that aid should now be flowing, is my first question.

Spokesman:  What is clear is that every day that we don’t have access is a day lost.  Every day that we don’t have access is a day that increases the suffering of the civilians that need humanitarian aid.  As any agreement, we’re on one side.  The federal authorities are on the other. I think there are questions all of you could ask them, as well.  We would have liked to have been there yesterday, clearly.  We need to get in there.  The reports that we have are very distressing.  We know there’s been a number of areas, including the refugee camps, have had no running water.  The food aid that used to be distributed is not being distributed.  The banking sector is disrupted with the carry‑on impact that has on cash flow, people being able to buy goods, electricity.  It’s essential that basic services be restored to the region, that whatever rule of law issues are resolved need to be done in full accordance with human rights, that there be a reconciliation where all communities can feel that they are part of the same Ethiopian community.

Question:  I have another question with regard to Ethiopia and then one follow‑up on Western Sahara.  With regard to Ethiopia, you’ll be aware that the Secretary‑General the other day, when he briefed us, said that he’d confronted the Ethiopian Prime Minister about the presence of Eritrean troops and was assured that they were not there.  We now hear that the US State Department believes that their presence is, quote, credible.  So, does the UN have any new information?  And does the Secretary‑General fear that he has been lied to by the Ethiopian Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to characterize how the Secretary‑General feels about what he’s been told.  We have no way… we’re not, from here, being able to confirm whether or not the Eritrean troops are present.  Obviously, some Member States and a few Member States have other means of gathering information, which the United Nations does not have.

Correspondent:  And my Western Sahara question…

Spokesman:  Okay. Yes, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Yeah, my Western Sahara question.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Obviously, 24 hours ago, you were taken by surprise by this news.  You told us that from the podium.  Twenty‑four hours on, can you tell us what contacts there have been between the Secretary‑General or Under‑Secretary‑General [Rosemary] DiCarlo with any US or Moroccan officials on this subject?

Spokesman:  Contacts have been had at various levels, including with our colleagues in the Mission, the… including with MINURSO (United Nations Mission in Western Sahara).  All right.  Let’s go to the other James, and then we’ll go to Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi there, Stéphane.  Couple of really quick questions.  You mentioned a stakeout tomorrow with the SG.  I’m just wondering, is it the SG alone, or is he with Boris [Johnson] or anyone like that?  And…

Spokesman:  It is the Secretary‑General alone.  He will not be joined by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, if that’s who you were referring to.

Question:  That was the Boris I was referring to.  Second quick question, you just mentioned you’ve had contacts with MINURSO.  Is there any information that you can relay from your Mission in Western Sahara about the situation on the ground to us now?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the situation on the ground has not changed in the last 24 hours.  We’ve not seen any activity that would raise any concern in the last 24 hours.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Abdelhamid, and then Philippe.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Security Council resolution 2548 (2020), which was adopted on 5 October, calls in its… paragraph No. 4 calls on the parties to negotiate with the aim of finding a permanent, just, lasting, agreeable by both parties of a solution to the conflict of Western Sahara that provides the self‑determination of the Sahrawi people.  The US was a sponsor of this resolution and voted for it, and less than two months later, they are in violation of this resolution.  A permanent member sponsored a draft resolution and votes in favour of it and then it violates it.  How do you assess the role of these permanent members who are doing this violation of international law and Security Council resolutions?

Spokesman:  It’s a great analysis to have, and I will let journalists and commentators do it.  Member States and Security Council members are masters of their own domain, their own vote, and the Secretary‑General follows and abides by Security Council resolutions.

Question:  But why he doesn’t have an opinion when a permanent member is in violation of such… flagrant violation of this…

Spokesman:  It’s always clearer… for us, in broad principled terms, it’s always easier when there is unity from Security Council members.  Philippe?

Question:  [Speaking French] Merci Stéphane.  Quelle est la réaction du Secrétaire général suite à la confirmation mardi par la cour suprême d’Iran de la condamnation à mort de l’opposant iranien Ruhallah Zam.  Est-ce que vous demandez sa libération?

Spokesman:  [Speaking French] Nous sommes fermement contre la peine de mort, que ce soit en Iran ou n’importe où d’autre et il est clair que… C’est une position claire et nette de la part du Secrétaire general.  I was asked about the imposition of the death penalty in Iran, and I said the Secretary‑General’s position was clear and unequivocal about the use of the death penalty whether it is in Iran or anywhere else, and he stands against it.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma, it is your turn.  We will let you know about the briefing tomorrow and then we… otherwise, we will see you in person on Monday, God willing.

Correspondent:  Have a good weekend, Stéph.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah. Whenever that is.  Merci.

For information media. Not an official record.