4 January 2021

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good afternoon.  Happy New Year, everyone.  I started the briefing a little bit late because I noticed that some of our colleagues are at a photo op at the Security Council and they will be able to join shortly.  But let’s get started.


In a statement we issued earlier today, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the terrorist attack and killing of at least 11 coal miners in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan yesterday.  He extended his sincere condolences to the families of the miners and the people and Government of Pakistan.  He trusts the Pakistani authorities will do everything possible to bring the perpetrators of this terrorist act to justice.


Turning to Niger, our humanitarian colleagues report that as of yesterday, an estimated 1,000 people have been displaced following attacks on two villages in the country’s Tillaberi region.  Many of them have sought refuge in nearby towns.  People fearing further attacks are also reportedly fleeing areas around the two villages attacked over the weekend.  A joint interagency assessment mission with the Government is scheduled for tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we, along with our humanitarian partners, are mobilizing relief items to provide emergency assistance as soon as possible to people affected by these attacks — including people still in the villages, displaced people and host communities.

In a statement issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attacks.  He expressed his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and the people and Government of Niger and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.  The Secretary-General added that he trusts that the Nigerien authorities will spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice while enhancing the protection of civilians.  He also reaffirmed the solidarity and support of the United Nations to the Government and people of Niger in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime.

**Sir Brian Urquhart

Yesterday, the Secretary-General said that he was deeply saddened at the passing of Sir Brian Urquhart, the legendary long-time United Nations official.  He offered condolences to his family and to his legions of admirers within and beyond the United Nations.  The Secretary-General said that Sir Brian’s imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the Organization’s history.  As one of the Organization’s earliest employees, he set the standard for the international civil service:  dedicated and impartial.  He said that we are grateful for his brilliant and incomparable contributions as a stalwart servant of “we the peoples”.  The full statement is online.


The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, announced over the weekend the establishment of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s Advisory Committee.  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), received a total of 28 nominations from the Forum and commended the enthusiasm demonstrated by the Forum members in the nomination process.  The Mission has expanded the membership of the Advisory Committee to 18 to ensure broad geographical and political diversity, as well as the participation of women, youth and cultural components.


Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, according to initial reports, three civilians were killed and at least four others were wounded when artillery shells fell in the vicinity of a wedding hall in Al Hawak District in Al Hudaydah City on 1 January.  The Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Ally-Raza Qureshi, called on the parties to the conflict to stop these indiscriminate attacks, which are causing many casualties among civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian law.  Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  Nearly 80 per cent of the population — more than 24 million people — require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection.  By the end of last year, only 50 per cent of the $3.38 billion needed for the humanitarian response had been received.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) strongly condemns the attacks launched over the weekend by armed groups against the towns of Damara, Ombella-M'Poko Prefecture, and Bangassou, Mbomou Prefecture.  Mankeur Ndiaye, the head of the Mission said that “there is no doubt that these attacks are taking place in a context of disruption of the elections — before, during and after the polls”.  He also reiterated the Mission’s commitment to protect the population, as well as its role to secure the elections.

Meanwhile, MINUSCA reports that protocols and tally sheets from the 27 December 2020 presidential and legislative elections from all 16 prefectures arrived at the Data Processing Centre in Bangui, with logistical and operational support from the Mission.  The National Elections Authority is expected to announce the final provisional results today.  In Damara, following Saturday’s attack, peacekeepers have increased patrols in the city and the surrounding areas.  In Bangassou, when the town was attacked, UN peacekeepers immediately intervened to protect civilians and secure local authorities, including the prefecture of Mbossou.  The UN is also securing the camp for displaced people and evacuated two wounded Central African soldiers to Bria.  Peacekeepers continue to patrol in both cities to deter any armed groups’ activities.


Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that although humanitarian access into some areas of Tigray has slightly improved, it remains critically challenged by insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region.  The two joint Government-humanitarian partners’ assessment missions are completed in south-eastern and western Tigray.  Initial findings indicate a dire humanitarian situation throughout the region with poor access to services and limited livelihoods, as well as urgent needs for shelter, food, non-food items, water, sanitation and hygiene, and provision of health and protection services.  Health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited to no stock of supplies and absence of health workers while facilities outside major cities are not operational.  It is estimated that more than 222,000 people were internally displaced due to the recent conflict in the Tigray region.  This is in addition to 100,000 people displaced prior to the conflict.  We continue to engage with the Government for the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to all parts of the region.

**Resident Coordinators

And I have three new UN Resident Coordinators to announce today — in Liberia, Montenegro and Niger.  These appointments follow the confirmation of the respective host governments.  Niels Scott of the United Kingdom will be the new Resident Coordinator in Liberia.  Peter Lundgren of Sweden is taking up his Resident Coordinator function in Montenegro, and Louise Aubin of Canada will be serving in Niger.  We are also proud to say that we remain with full gender parity and North-South balance among all our Resident Coordinators, covering 162 countries and territories.  And you can visit the UN Sustainable Development Group website for the list of all Resident Coordinators and heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes, as well as more information about the work of our teams in countries.

**World Braille Day

Today is World Braille Day, which raises awareness of the importance of Braille as a means of communication in the full realization of the human rights for blind and partially sighted people.  The UN notes that, even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities are less likely to have access to health care, education and employment and to participate in the community.  With COVID‑19, for the visually impaired, life under lockdown has posed several issues in terms of independence and isolation.  The pandemic has revealed how critically important it is to produce essential information in accessible formats, including in Braille and audible formats.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, globally, at least 1 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.

**Virtual Press Briefing

And after I am done, you will hear from Brenden Varma.  And then at 4 p.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by Ambassador Tarek Ladeb, Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of January.  He will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.  And before we get to Brenden, do you have any questions for me? If so, indicate it in the chat.  I don't see anything just yet.  Going once… Just waiting for questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have a question.  Can you hear me?

Deputy spokesman:  Yeah.  Sure, Abdelhamid.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, and happy New Year, Farhan.  In the last three days, the Israeli occupation forces went into rampage of invading Palestinian villages, towns.  The settlers got into the Aqsa Mosque.  This morning, the Israeli occupation forces stormed into a hospital in the city of Tulkarm, releasing some bombs in the reception area, instilling fear and disorder in the hospital.  In the absence of the transition… in the transition period after the Special Envoy had left and the new Special Envoy did not arrive, currently the Israelis are taking advantage of that.  Are you aware of these enormous attacks on the Palestinian, enormous number of people arrested, bulldozing houses, shooting at the peaceful demonstrators, et cetera?  My question, is any UN branch or any UN official following the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory?

Deputy spokesman:  Yes.  No, we're certainly aware of the actions being taken on the ground.  The UN Special Coordinator's office continues to do its work as we await the start of the next Special Coordinator's term, and any relevant information will be passed on to the Security Council.  As you know, we report regularly to them.  Apparently, there are hands raised from the journalists in the press briefing room.  Sorry.  I'm not in the briefing room with you, but can you raise up your hands so I can see you?  Okay.  Yes.  Yes, please.  Go right ahead.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  This is Ray Bouchefra from Sky News Arabia.  Happy New Year, by the way.  I start with Iran, two questions.  First question, Iran has seized this morning a South Korean flagged tank [sic], and South Korea is asking the release of this tank.  Would be any comment or statement?  Also, Iran has started 20 per cent for uranium enrichment.  As United Nations, want to hear from you guys if there is any statement on that.  And also, tomorrow, there will be a Gulf summit in Saudi Arabia.  Qatar is supposed to take part of this summit, although they didn't confirm their participation.  Have any comment on that?  Thank you.

Deputy spokesman:  Okay.  To take them in order, regarding the issue concerning Iran and the Republic of Korea, we hope that this will be resolved bilaterally, and we trust that that will happen.  Regarding Iran's activities, as you know, we have made it very clear that we believe that all parties need to continue to uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and we would urge Iran, as well, to uphold the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  And regarding tomorrow's meeting, we'll have to see what happens when that takes place.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has encouraged friendly relations among all the countries of the region.  And I believe Evelyn has a question.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  And happy New Year to you.  On the attack on the Saudi airport, is… in Yemen, is there… no… is there any more information on who did it and why?  I can't hear you.

Deputy spokesman:  Sorry.  Someone keeps muting me.  The information that we have is what's conveyed by our acting Resident Coordinator.  So, you'll have seen what he said, and we'll leave it at that.  At this point, he has expressed the sentiments of the Organization against this attack, but we have nothing further to say on that.  And I believe there's a question from Mohsen Taherzadeh.

Question:  I have a question about… is about the Middle East.  As you know, tension in the Middle East is going up, and Iran sent a letter to the Secretary‑General and Security Council warning about the situation in the region, particularly Persian Gulf.  What's the Secretary‑General's position about this current action that's bringing tension in the region?

Deputy spokesman:  Well, just to repeat what I said, we want to make sure that all parties continue to abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  The Secretary‑General has been clear that this is a very significant diplomatic achievement, and it needs to be upheld.  And we would encourage all parties to avoid any actions that would contribute to any sort of escalation.  Okay.  Kristen Saloomey?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Just following up on Iran, Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif referenced paragraph 36 of the JCPOA in a tweet, which seems to have some sort of a dispute‑resolution mechanism.  Do you know anything about that and how that would work and if that has been triggered by him referencing this or referencing… or them even taking this action?

Deputy spokesman:  As you know, the United Nations, although we support — and the Security Council has supported — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we are not a party to that treaty.  So, that really is a question for the parties to the treaty that they would have to resolve among themselves — how its various terms are activated.  Okay.  Anything further from people in the room?

Question:  Yeah, sorry.  You're cutting in and out.  I'm having a little bit of trouble understanding you, but a follow‑up would be… actually on something else.  I just also was wondering if you had any reaction to Julian Assange's extradition being denied to the US and where that leaves things.

Deputy spokesman:  No, we don't really have any comment on this.  That's part of the legal proceedings within a Member State.  And of course, we leave that in their hands.  I believe that there are different rapporteurs who report to the Human Rights Council who have had their views on this, and you can see what they have to say.  Okay.  Anything further?  Yes.  Yes, please.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  The Russian Federation, in a statement, called on the UN Mission in Libya and Stephanie Williams, in particular, to invite supporters of former regime of [Muammar al] Qadhafi.  Do you have any reaction to that?

Deputy spokesman:  No.  You've seen how Stephanie Williams has been dealing with the various parties.  She's reached out to a number of different components of the different factions, of the different authorities, and also of different parts of civil society.  And, so, those are the groups that she reaches out to as she goes about her work.  And with that, I think I will turn the floor over to Brenden Varma.  Brenden, the floor is yours.

Brenden Varma:  I think you have a question from Benno, actually.  I saw Benno raising his hand.

Correspondent:  Yes, that was me.  I can't hear you, Farhan.

Deputy spokesman:  Yeah.  Whoever in the controls who is muting me, please don't do that anymore.  Yes, Benno, over to you.

Question:  Thank you so much.  Happy New Year to you and all of the colleagues, as well.  Just wanted to come back to Julian Assange.  I mean, this case was in many people's eyes, firmly connected to universal press freedom.  So, the Secretary‑General has not an opinion about this case and the developments today?

Deputy spokesman:  We, as you know, trust in the independence of different judiciaries, so we wouldn't comment on a judiciary proceeding.  That's been going on.  And sovereign judicial bodies are entitled to go about their work.  All right.  Brenden, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.