22 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.


In a short while, I will be joined by Mankeur Ndiaye, who as you know is the head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Secretary‑General’s Representative there.  He will join us virtually from Bangui to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic.  Mr. Ndiaye will speak in French, but we have our interpreter colleagues here in the back who will be interpreting into English.  We also handed out some maps to you just for easier reference for his chat, and we emailed them to the resident correspondents.

**New Senior Personnel Appointments

I have a couple of senior personnel announcements to announce and updates.  First, the Secretary‑General is appointing Barrie Lynne Freeman of the United States as his Deputy Special Representative for the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  She succeeds Christopher Coleman, to whom the Secretary‑General expresses his gratitude for his dedicated service with UNMIK.  Ms. Freeman brings to the position over 30 years of experience in international peace and security.  Since 2018, she has served as the Deputy Head and Political Director for the Peacebuilding Support Office here in New York.

And the Secretary‑General is also appointing Mari Yamashita of Japan as Representative and Director of the UN Office in Belgrade.  Ms. Yamashita succeeds Simona‑Mirela Miculescu of Romania.  The Secretary‑General is grateful to Ms. Miculescu for her contribution to the work of the UN Office in Belgrade.  As the Secretary‑General’s Representative, Ms. Yamashita will oversee the Office’s activities in support of UNMIK.  Ms. Yamashita is an experienced UN professional, her career spanning over 30 years working on peace and security, preventive diplomacy, peacebuilding and outreach, both at Headquarters and in the field, and we congratulate all of our friends for these appointments.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Also, just to read into the record the announcement we made yesterday, with which the Secretary‑General announced the appointment of Tor Wennesland of Norway as his new Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority (UNSCO).  Mr. Wennesland succeeds Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his important contributions and leadership of the UNSCO office.  A career diplomat who joined the [Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs] in 1983, Mr. Wennesland is currently Norway’s Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process.  He has extensive experience in the region going back to 1994 when he was an Adviser on the Middle East Desk in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the process that led to the Oslo II Agreement.  Much more on the website.


And an update on something you have been asking me about, and that is Mr. Mladenov.  On Monday, Nickolay Mladenov informed the Secretary‑General that when his term as Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace process ends on 31 December, he will resign from the United Nations and he will not be able to take up the position of Special Envoy for Libya, for which, as you know, he had been considered.  Mr. Mladenov told the Secretary‑General in a letter that he had taken this decision for personal and family reasons.  The Secretary‑General thanked Mr. Mladenov for his dedicated service to the United Nations for the last seven years.

**Security Council

And this morning, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed Council members on the topic of non‑proliferation and the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015).  Ms. DiCarlo said that, over the past few years, regrettably tensions have increased in the Persian Gulf with attacks on critical infrastructure, heated rhetoric and the heightened risk of miscalculation.  She said that such actions deepen the differences related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and render efforts to address other regional conflicts more difficult.  Ms. DiCarlo called on all concerned to avoid any actions that may result in further escalation of tensions.  She reiterated the Secretary‑General’s call on all the participants to work to address their differences within the dispute resolution mechanism of the JCPOA, and how he has underscored the importance of all initiatives in support of trade and economic relations with Iran, especially during the current economic and health challenges posed by the pandemic.

**Ethiopia — Refugees

Our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and their partners today appealed for $156 million to meet the humanitarian needs of Ethiopian refugees fleeing the conflict in Tigray through the first half of 2021.  UNHCR said that over the past six weeks, more than 52,000 refugees have fled the region into eastern Sudan.  The appeal will reach up to 115,000 refugees and 22,000 people from host communities.  It aims to support the governments of Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea in maintaining access to asylum and providing life‑saving assistance to those who flee.  So far only 30 per cent of the required funds have been received by UNHCR and partners for the ongoing operations.

**Ethiopia — Human Rights

And staying on Ethiopia, I just want to flag that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned today that the continuing lack of humanitarian access, coupled with an ongoing communications blackout in many areas of the Tigray, raises increasing concerns about the situation of civilians.  She said that her office had received allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting, and she urged authorities to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

**Uganda — Refugees

And turning to Uganda, I just want to flag another example of what happens when money dries up in our humanitarian appeals.  The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that it will have to further reduce monthly cash and food rations for 1.26 million refugees in Uganda due to a funding shortfall.  With effect from February 2021, refugees will have to make do with only 60 per cent of a full ration.  WFP noted that [the] most vulnerable women, children and the elderly are increasingly at risk of becoming malnourished.  This can in turn impact their immune systems and make them more likely to be infected by disease, amid a pandemic.  WFP said that it immediately needs $95.8 million to provide full rations to refugees in Uganda over the next six months.


A quick update from Brazil, where our Resident Coordinator, Niky Fabiancic, is leading our UN efforts to support the authorities on the pandemic response.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are working with the Government on a campaign to highlight the importance of general immunization for adolescents.  For its part, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provided more than 100,000 [pieces of] personal protective equipment to boost the safety of front‑line workers supporting vulnerable communities in rural areas and the Amazon, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continued providing cleaning supplies, COVID‑19 testing support and free general consultation for migrants and refugees from Venezuela.

UNFPA is also working with the embassies of the Netherlands and Canada to facilitate protection services for women and victims of violence, especially during the pandemic.  And UNICEF is providing mental health counselling and support to young people in Brazil, as well as human rights training for indigenous community leaders to combat sexual violence, alcoholism and child labour.  And UNHCR, the Refugee Agency, and its partners are providing vocational training on starting a business in Brazil to refugees and migrant entrepreneurs while supporting refugees from Venezuela with cash‑based assistance.

**Food and Agriculture Organization — Fall Armyworm

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization said today that it is increasing efforts aimed at bolstering the global response to the Fall Armyworm, considered one of the top ten devastating plant pests impacting food and agriculture.  According to its estimates, the pest is putting at risk up to 80 million metric tons of maize worth $18 billion per year in Africa, Asia and the Near East.  More information is online.

**Hybrid Press Briefings

And just a note to remind you, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing in this very room by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, and he will discuss Germany’s term on the Security Council, which comes to an end on 31 December.  And at 4:00 p.m., there will be an end‑of‑presidency press briefing in this very room by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, the Permanent Representative of South Africa and President of the Security Council for the month of December.  All right.  Before we go to our guests, I’m happy to take questions if there are any.  I think Toby and James Reinl.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Hi, Stéphane…

Spokesman:  Toby?

Question:  Yes.  Can you hear me okay?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you very much as always for the briefing.  And just… was there any specific reason that Mr. Mladenov said he would not be accepting any further appointments, specifically the Libyan envoy, or he’s not disclosing any more information at this time?

Spokesman:  I can only say what he said in the letter to the Secretary‑General, which is it was for personal and family reasons.  Okay.  James, and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Yeah.  Just a continuation of the Libya envoy.  Does this mean that the job post is open, that the Secretary‑General is looking for other possible candidates?  Where do you stand now on who’s going to take this important role?

Spokesman:  Well, clearly, we are looking at… can you turn off your mic, James, please?  Clearly, we are looking at potential candidates.  We already have lists, though it bears reminding yet again that the Mission is being very actively led by our acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams.  And as you’ve seen in the last two days, we’ve named two new deputies to the Mission, including the coordinator, so the Mission is fully functional, and there is no leadership gap.  Iftikhar?  Iftikhar, you’re muted.  All right.  Iftikhar, I will come back to you.  Ray, and then we’ll go to Carla.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Turkish Parliament has just voted minutes ago the extension of their military mission in Libya for 18 months.  Any statement or comment?

Spokesman:  No, let me look at what they’ve actually voted, and I’ll come back to you.  Yes, Carla.

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, several months ago, I believe — might have been longer than that — I had presented you and, I believe, Farhan with documentation of the horrific human rights abuses of the Lithuanian journalist and statesman Algirdas Paleckis.  I received a reply saying that the UN would not intervene in cases that were still in court.  However, I just received notification that Lithuanian death squads have attacked the mother of Paleckis.

Spokesman:  Let me look into this, because I had not seen these reports.  Let me look into it.

Correspondent:  And this just came out.

Spokesman:  I know.  As I said, I haven’t seen it.  Ibtisam, Ibtisam, you had a question.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Steph.  A follow‑up on the Libya issue.  So, when did you receive the letter of Mr. Mladenov?  And then also, I mean, to offer him the job of the Libya envoy, probably there were a lot of negotiations in the past few weeks.  So, does this decision of his come as a surprise for you?  Could you say more on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General received the letter on Monday.  I think it’s common sense to say that this was not part of the plan.  Okay.  Iftikhar.

Question:  Can you hear me, Steph?  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.  Yes.

Question:  I carefully heard your readout on Ethiopia’s Tigray Province and Ms. Bachelet’s statement, but you carefully avoided mentioning hundreds and thousands… hundreds of people dead in [inaudible] strikes.  Is there any reason for that?

Spokesman:  I carefully avoided saying what?

Correspondent:  That hundreds of people have died in air strikes.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, she has obviously received allegations concerning violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings.  Given the current restrictions, what Ms. Bachelet said is that the UN human rights office is not in a position to verify reports on the ground.  And she underscored the need for independent human rights monitors to be given access to Tigray to adequately assess the human suffering.  So, this is all part of the need for openness and access.  We’ll go to Mr.…

Question:  Just one more… but the story on your website leads with hundreds killed in air strikes.

Spokesman:  She gave this statement out of Geneva.  I’m not repeating word for word what’s already in the public domain.  I’m not retracting or changing anything.  It’s just to flag what’s already been made.  There’s always more information on the website.  We’ll go to Mr. Sato, and then we’ll go to our guests in Bangui.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, my question is about the SG’s appointment to the senior office of which you announced just before.  So, in general, how long will it take from the appointment to actual dispatch on the ground?

Spokesman:  For which ones?  Ms. Yamashita?

Question:  Ms. Yamashita.

Spokesman:  We can ask.  I mean, it depends on people’s personal circumstances, obviously, the pandemic travel restrictions.  So, what we’ve seen, notably with a number of resident coordinators, is that they take up their post officially, but they continue to work from where they are.  So, I’ll get an update on Ms. Yamashita.  But, obviously, there are a lot of factors at play, especially during a pandemic.

Question:  One last question.  Does the Secretary‑General have any… another travel plan by end of this year?

Spokesman:  End of this year?  No, sir.  Okay.  Sorry.  Alan, and then we’ll go to our guests.  Yes, please.

Question:  I’m so, so sorry.  I should follow‑up on Mladenov story.  Can you please say how the Mission suffered from this development?

Spokesman:  There are two separate things.  Obviously, we would have liked to have seen a Permanent Representative of the Secretary‑General on the ground a long time ago; that’s clear, but I can’t tell you that the Mission has suffered if you look at the work that Stephanie Williams and the team has managed to do.  The political dialogue, the talks between the different military committees — a tremendous amount of work has been achieved.  But obviously Ms. Williams is staying on for a bit longer as acting head.  So, we don’t want a vacuum there.  So, the Mission hasn’t suffered, but that doesn’t mean that, in parallel, we don’t have a duty to have a person permanently in that post.  That’s a lot of Ps.  Okay.

For information media. Not an official record.