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21 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.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

A couple of senior personnel announcements to share with you.  One on Libya.  Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Georgette Gagnon of Canada as his new Assistant Secretary-General, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya.  Ms. Gagnon succeeds Yacoub el Hillo of Sudan, who will complete his assignment on 5 January 2021.  The Secretary-General is grateful for his distinguished service in support of the UN mandate in Libya, and his work with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).  Ms. Gagnon brings to the position over 25 years of experience leading and implementing strategic initiatives on human rights, humanitarian action and development and coordinating multi-disciplinary teams in conflict and post-conflict situations.  And we add our thanks to Yacoub and congratulations to Georgette.

Also, being appointed today, is Ramiz Alakbarov — excuse me, I need my glasses — is Ramiz Alakbarov of Azerbaijan as his new Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  He will also serve as the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan.  Mr. Alakbarov succeeds Toby Lanzer of the United Kingdom, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service.  Somebody does have a microphone on, if you could turn it off, thank you.  Mr. Alakbarov also brings 25 years of experience in executive leadership, strategic planning and policy making, development programming and management, as well as humanitarian response, including as the Director of the Policy and Strategy Division in New York and the Country Representative in Haiti for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

**Middle East

As you know, this morning, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed members of the Security Council.  He told them that the latest humanitarian needs assessment found that almost 2.5 million Palestinians — that’s 47 per cent of the population of the Occupied Palestinian Territory — need aid.  Mr. Mladenov said he remains deeply troubled by continued Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  Over the past year, Israeli authorities advanced controversial settlement plans that had been frozen for years.  He added that the total number of units advanced this year are on par with 2019 numbers, despite an eight-month hiatus.  Also, Mr. Mladenov said that violence and attacks against civilians have also continued in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He said that he’s appalled that children continue to be victims — with a particularly troubling series of incidents over the past months in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He urged security forces to exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life.  And around 12:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila of South Africa, will have a Security Council stakeout.  That stakeout will not start until I am finished, and Brenden is finished.  So, you won’t miss anything.

**Security Council — Western Sahara

And this afternoon the Security Council will also hold a closed meeting on Western Sahara.  They will be briefed by Bintou Keita, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, and Colin Stewart, the Special Representative and head of the UN Mission… excuse-me, the head of MINURSO.  There will also be a briefing by the Security Council President after that afternoon session.

**Ethiopia

And an update from Ethiopia, where I am pleased to tell you that our humanitarian colleagues confirmed that two inter-agency assessment teams are expected to enter Tigray today following official approval from the federal Government last Saturday.  One team is destined to visit Shire and another will go to Mekelle.  The aim of the missions, which are expected to last a week, is to assess the humanitarian needs.  In the meantime, the Humanitarian Response Plan for northern Ethiopia has been updated.  We now seek $116.5 million until the end of January 2021.  The goal is to address the immediate needs of an estimated 2.3 million people, including 1.3 million people impacted by the recent conflict.  The plan is currently 46 per cent funded with an outstanding gap of almost $63.4 million.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the Mission there tell us that political and security tensions increased over the weekend in the midst of the ongoing electoral campaign for the presidential and legislative elections, which is scheduled to take place, as you all know, on 27 December.  A coalition of armed groups simultaneously attacked four prefectures in the western and southern part of the country.  These groups also attempted to reach the capital, Bangui.  UN peacekeepers responded proactively and exchanged fire with armed groups in several areas.  No damage was reported.  And on Sunday, the Mission and members of the G5+ group consisting of main international partners in the Central African Republic issued a communiqué condemning the incidents and calling on stakeholders to stop the violence and supporting, and also …excuse-me, expressed their support to the holding of the elections as scheduled.  We will continue to engage with all national stakeholders, in close cooperation with our partners, in an effort to de-escalate the tensions, encourage parties to resolve their concerns through peaceful means, and ensure the holding of the elections, as planned.

**Berlin

And as you will recall, the Secretary-General wrapped up his trip to Berlin on Friday.  He told reporters there that international cooperation has been tested this year like never before, but he saw seeds of hope in the way Germany has shown the world what solidarity looks like and in the way it has taken on the COVID-19 challenge.  He thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her leadership, not just when it comes to the pandemic, but also on the climate crisis, peacekeeping and human rights, among other issues.  “Across the board, we have come to rely on Germany’s principled stance and leadership,” Mr. Guterres said.  During the trip, he also reiterated the need for a people’s vaccine that is accessible and affordable to everyone everywhere.  He said that developed countries that have bought more doses of the vaccine than they need should make them available to developing countries through the COVAX facility.  Vaccine nationalism is not the way to end the pandemic, he stressed.  All the remarks were shared with you.

**Coral Reefs

I just want to flag an interesting new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) that warns that if we don’t drastically reduce greenhouse‑gas emissions, every one of the world’s coral reefs will bleach by the end of the century.  The report says that in 2014, coral reefs around the world turned a pallid white from heat stress.  The bleaching began in the Pacific and rapidly spread across the Indian and Atlantic oceans.  This event was the third Global Bleaching Event and lasted 36 months, making it the longest, more pervasive and destructive coral bleaching incident ever recorded.  The report warns that mass bleaching events like this could become the norm in the coming decades.  It links the future health of the world’s reefs to reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions and calls for even more urgent action to limit the rise in the ocean temperature.  The full report is online.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And to flag that tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN.  He will be here in the room to discuss Germany’s term on the Security Council, which comes to an end on 31 December, as you know.

**Financial Contributions

And happy days.  As we get closer to Christmas, we want to thank two more Member States for paying their full contributions to the regular budget.  Our sincere thank yous go to Antigua and Barbuda, as well as to Saint Kitts and Nevis.  This takes us up to 141 fully paid‑up Members States.  Toby?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks very much.  I just want to confirm there's no announcement from your podium as to the appointment of a new Libyan envoy despite… sorry.  Let me rephrase.  The… Mr. Mladenov said his goodbyes today, but his statement said that his successor should replace him in January.  Is he… has he stepped down?  What is the official status of this?

Spokesman:  I think I'd refer you to what Mr. Mladenov said.  We do expect to have an announcement a bit later on today on the Middle East.  As for Libya, I mean, as we've said, I think the Secretary‑General's very much focussed and continues to attach great importance to the developments in Libya, to the political process, and we hope to name a new Special Envoy soon.  And as you just saw, we did announce a Deputy Special Representative, Georgette Gagnon.  We announced Raisedon Zenenga of Zimbabwe as the Mission coordinator.  And in the meantime, as I've said over and over again, Stephanie Williams continues in her very active role as acting head of the Mission, and so there's really no vacuum there.  All right.  Let me look in the proverbial chat.  Evelyn, please?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the Secretary‑General's trip to Germany, are there any comments available from Chancellor Merkel?

Spokesman:  Any what?  Sorry?

Correspondent:  Comments available from Chancellor Merkel.

Spokesman:  I would check the Chancellery and the foreign ministry's website.  As you know, we only transcribe our boss' comments, but I'm sure they've put out whatever they've put out.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Alan Bulkaty?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you very much for the opportunity.  There are several reports that in Central African Republic there were required an additional UN peacekeeping troops from neighbouring countries.  Could you please elaborate if you have any information on this, how many person… how many people were deployed from neighbouring countries to Central African Republic to handle the situation, from what neighbouring countries and so on, so forth?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  At this point, there has been no deployment of additional peacekeeping troops from other UN missions into the Central African Republic.  As you know, we have to have the concurrence of the Security Council to do that, so it is not something that it's in our power to do without any consultation.  James.  I can hear, you can take off your mask while you ask the question so I can hear you…

Question:  Thanks so much.  We've got the Western Sahara meeting, and it's going to be behind closed doors.  So, to help our coverage of it, is there anything that you can tell us about what the briefers are going to be saying to the Security Council or also anything that you've received from the Mission in Western Sahara in recent days or any conversations the Secretary‑General has had, particularly as it relates to the US decision to recognize Morocco's claim?

Spokesman:  I mean, our position on the announcements regarding Western Sahara is unchanged and that, for us, we continue to believe that a solution can be found through dialogue based on the relevant Security Council resolutions.  Ms. Bintou and Colin will update the Security Council members on the situation on the ground.  There are no major operational changes from our part, but there will also be a chance for Security Council members to ask them questions, and they will answer accordingly.  Yes, sir.  Yes.

Question:  Steph, my question is, how do you evaluate the work of the UN and UN Security Council during this year, and of course, during the COVID‑19?

Spokesman:  Well, that's a big question.  I will avoid evaluating the work of the Security Council.  It's not for me to grade the Council members.  It's up to you to do that and others.  This has been, obviously, a challenging year for all of us, every human being on the planet.  I think others will decide how the UN and how the Secretariat has held up, but I can tell you that the Secretary‑General has really mobilised the whole force of the UN system to battling the COVID‑19, whether it's the supply chain to make sure [personal protective equipment] gets to where they were going, needed to go, humanitarian workers, WHO [World Health Organization] gets to where it was going, to keep a principled message about human rights and women's rights, about the right to education during the pandemic and also to ensure that the UN's work goes on.  I mean, we were just talking today about Central African Republic.  Despite this pandemic, peacekeeping missions have continued to function.  And the Central African Republic, I think is one very good example of us continuing to fulfil our mandate in what is often very, very difficult circumstances.  James, if you can have a little narrower question, please.

Question: It's quite narrow actually.  There's been that big hack, US Government, bunch of other Governments affected.  It comes down to one piece of software by SolarWinds, the Orion piece of software.  Is that something that the UN used in any of its systems?  Have you done an assessment?  Is there any chance that any of the UN servers were affected by this?

Spokesman:  Let me just say I will not go into any detail at this point, but we're looking at this point, but we're assessing the situation.  But, I'm not aware of, in the Secretariat, of any major breach or any major issue regarding our IT.  Okay.  Where's Brenden?  Oh, there he is.  Okay.

Correspondent:  You're not done yet.

Spokesman:  What?  Oh, Benny, you have a question.  It looked like you were napping there, but go ahead.

Question:  I was not napping.  I was listening to you very intently.  I also… I also read Mladenov's remarks very intently, and I noticed one thing that was missing from his assessment on the Middle East, and that is he didn't mention at all anything about the most recent agreement between Israel and Morocco, three other countries.  Is it the assessment of the Secretariat and Mladenov, who this was his last briefing, obviously, that these agreements have nothing to do with peace in the Middle East or have no effect over even the Israeli‑Palestinian…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't… I think the briefing he gave was pursuant to Security Council resolution, I think, speaking off the top of my head, 2339, it was not part of his…

Question:  2334.

Spokesman:  Resolution 2334.  Thank you.  It was not part of his overall regular briefings that are specific to his mandate, which I think he has mentioned those agreements.  And I think we've spoken from here of hoping that these very important agreements are bringing a level of stability and increased cooperation in the region and are also used as an opportunity to re‑engage in the Israeli‑Palestinian dialogue.  Okay.  Mr. Iftikhar.  I see, Benny, you've reignited questions.  Iftikhar, go ahead.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Do you have any update from UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] regarding last week's incident in which a UN vehicle was damaged from fighting across the Line of Control in Kashmir?

Spokesman:  No, sir.  The investigation from last week's incident is ongoing.  All right.  I'm going to escape before somebody else decides to ask a question.  We will see you all tomorrow…

Correspondent:  I have a question.  He's not letting me have my question the second time, Julia.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Gloria, go ahead.  I didn't see you.  Please, go ahead.

Question:  My question is important.  It's about the Secretary‑General's visit to Germany and the fact that Germany now has accepted to take some ISIS families, two women, and I think, six children, and also Finland.  This is a very… this is a very interesting step.  And what will happen with the new administration, where we have… Trump has been refusing to take any of the ISIS children at all.  Very interesting step.  And historically, in German… after the German war, the European countries still took in the children of some of the troop [inaudible] leaders and even gave some of them, years later, official positions.  Going into the Bible, the sins of the father are not on the children.

Spokesman:  Well, it's obviously a move by Germany and Finland that we very much welcome.  This has been an issue we have been raising for quite some time.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.