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6 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Security Council

All right.  I guess I have to get going.  Welcome back, nice to see you all either in person or on the screen.

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to members of the Security Council at the open debate on “Challenges of Maintaining Peace and Security in Fragile Contexts”.

He said that even before the pandemic, conflicts were already increasingly complex — fuelled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-State armed groups and their linkages with criminal and terrorist interests.  Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been pushed into poverty and humanitarian needs have multiplied, reaching the highest levels since the Second World War, he noted.

He also repeated his call for more funding for conflict prevention and peacebuilding, adding that on 26 January he will be co-chairing a replenishment conference for the Peacebuilding Fund.  He told Council members that he counted on their support at this critical time.

**Gulf

And you saw that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the al Ula declaration on “solidarity and stability” announced at the Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The declaration recognizes the importance of unity among the GCC States and aims to strengthen regional security, peace, stability and prosperity.  The Secretary-General also welcomed the announcement on opening the airspace, land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and the State of Qatar.

The Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to those from the region and beyond, including the late Emir of [Kuwait] and the late Sultan of Oman, who worked tirelessly towards resolving the Gulf rift.  He trusts that all countries concerned will continue to act in a positive spirit to strengthen relations.

**Yemen

The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, met earlier today with Prime Minister… excuse me, the Special Envoy for the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, met earlier today with President [Abd Rabbo Mansour] Hadi in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Griffiths congratulated President Hadi of Yemen on the formation of the new Cabinet and condemned the horrific attack against the newly formed Government of Yemen last week that aimed at undermining peace efforts. 

Mr. Griffiths also conveyed, on behalf of the Secretary-General, condolences to the Government and people of Yemen and reiterated the support and solidarity of the UN and the international community to the country. 

The United Nations remains committed to helping Yemen find a way towards a sustainable and comprehensive end of this conflict through a negotiated, political solution.

**Syria

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, as well as the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Muhannad Hadi, strongly condemned two separate events in northern Syria in which improvised explosive devices claimed civilian lives and led to the serious injury of others.  Those events were car bomb attacks in Ras al-Ain market and in Jinderis; both took place on 2 January.

Mr. Riza and Mr. Hadi expressed their profound condolences to the families of the civilian victims and those affected by the attacks.  This year, civilians in Syria will have endured 10 years of crisis.  These two attacks so early in the new year serve as a tragic reminder of the price civilians across the country continue to pay.

They further remind all parties to respect their obligations to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

**Stockholm Initiative

And also, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke by video message to a ministerial meeting of the Stockholm Initiative on Nuclear Disarmament.

We know the only way to eliminate nuclear risks is to eliminate nuclear weapons, he told participants.

The Secretary-General commended the group’s efforts to strengthen the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, especially its centrepiece, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The Secretary-General added that the proposals developed by the Stockholm initiative to reduce nuclear risks and advance nuclear disarmament align with his own Agenda for Disarmament.  He also expressed the hope that all States will support these efforts, including at the Tenth NPT Review Conference this year.

He added that the Conference remains the best opportunity to reinforce this vital pillar of our collective security and ensure that it remains fit for purpose.  His full message has been shared with you.

**Niger

Lastly, I will share with you an update on the situation in Niger, following the 2 January attacks in two villages of the Tillaberi area.  According to local authorities, over 100 people were killed, and more than 25 others were injured.

Our humanitarian colleagues on the ground confirm that a UN inter-agency assessment mission has arrived yesterday in the town of Ouallam to evaluate the situation of people who fled the attacks.

According to the mission’s findings, about 10,600 people have been displaced and a majority of them found refuge in Mangaize village with host families who are already vulnerable.  More than 500 displaced children are now out of school.

Urgent needs include food, protection, shelter and non-food items, health care, water, sanitation, hygiene and education.  A joint inter-agency mission to assess the situation of the displaced people in Mangaize village and Tondikiwindi district is planned for tomorrow.

In addition to the assessment missions, the UN, along with our humanitarian partners, will support the Government-led response by assisting with the registration of displaced people and the delivery of emergency assistance.  Mobile clinics are already set up to strengthen the health-care situation.

I’ll stop there, and I will be happy to take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Edie, and then Célhia.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Does…  I have a couple of questions.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the arrest of over 50 democracy advocates and activists in Hong Kong yesterday?

Spokesman:  I would say that, obviously, the Secretary‑General is following the latest developments in Hong Kong with concern.  He calls on the authorities to uphold obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the peaceful exercise of the right to participate in political and public life.

Question:  And a follow‑up on Martin Griffiths.  You said that he’s trying to find a way… that he believes that… that, obviously, he’s going to keep pursuing a way forward through negotiations.  Can you tell us exactly what the next steps might be on that score?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, continuing his contacts, speaking to all the parties to try to use this new year for a renewed momentum.

Question:  And how big a blow was the attack at Aden airport to his efforts?

Spokesman:  I think it’s difficult to quantify it.  It was, obviously, clearly a targeted and horrific attack meant to destroy the peace process, but I don’t think we can allow any violence or any group to stop our efforts, so he will continue.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Célhia, and then we’ll go to James.

Correspondent:  Yes, absolute.  We always find one to replace James.

Spokesman:  I know.

Question:  He’s sadder today.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  No, no, James is not replaceable.  He’s here on video so…

Correspondent:  Okay, but he has to come by because you know what we say…

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ll see if we’ll allow him back.

Correspondent:  Tell him I…  [cross talk] James, I apologize for sitting in your seat.  [laughter]

Question:  Okay.  In the Central African Republic, half of the voters could not vote because of threats from armed groups or destroyed ballots, but still the UN claims that the election was a success.

Also, they said nothing about voters hiding in their home the day before the election nor about the attack on the International Red Cross based in Bouar.  Why is still the UN calling those election a success?

Spokesman:  Look, I would refer you back to what we along with…  the joint declaration that we issued with the regional groups, including the Economic Commission for Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union, the European Union, and I think everybody is on the same page, and I would refer you to what was said on Sunday.

I think what is clear is that there were definitely challenges, but I think the Central…  people of Central Africa demonstrated clearly their determination to exercise their right to vote despite the many obstacles, and I think no one is hiding those obstacles.

If there are disputes, all those disputes need to be addressed through the constitutional framework that is in place.

Question:  Does he [inaudible] it’s getting worse?

Spokesman:  Look, there…  I think we’ve been very open and transparent about the situation.  That’s why it’s very important that all political actors refrain from not only physical violence but also speech that incites violence, speech that incites disturbances.

There is a constitutional framework.  There’s an electoral framework, and that needs to be respected.

Edie, I wanted to add on Yemen that Mr. Griffiths will also be heading to Aden, I think, as we said earlier.

Let’s go to James, and then we’ll come back to the room.  Mr. Bays?

Correspondent:  Reinl was first, but if you’re calling on me, then I’ll do it.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I…  so, Reinl…  for a Frenchmen, it gets very confusing with more than two Anglo‑Saxon Jameses.  So, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Start by asking you, is the Secretary‑General concerned about renewed efforts, it seems, in the United States by some in the ruling party, including President [Donald] Trump, which so far seem to be failing, to undermine democracy?

Spokesman:  Look, I think we’ve…  as to what has been going on in the United States, we’ve always…  we have nothing more to add to what we’ve already said, which is our belief in the institutions of this country.

Question:  My second question, if I may…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Second question, if I may, from London, where there are important UN anniversaries coming up in the next few days — the first meeting of the General Assembly this weekend, 75 years ago took place in London and then, a week later, the Security Council meeting — how is the UN planning to mark those events?  And will the Secretary‑General, in any form, be taking part?

Spokesman:  We hope to have something to announce on that tomorrow along with our British colleagues.

Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi there.  Thank you.  I’ve got a question on the South Korean tanker that’s been seized by Iranian forces in the Gulf.  South Korean forces have arrived near the Strait of Hormuz today.  We asked Farhan [Haq] about it a couple of days ago.  He said that it was an issue that should be dealt with bilaterally.  Is the UN involved in this?  And what do you say about the deployment of South Korean commandos?

Spokesman:  No, we’re not involved in this.  Our understanding is that a delegation for the Republic of Korea is heading to Iran for discussions.  And as Farhan wisely said, we very much hope that this issue gets resolved bilaterally and, obviously, peacefully.

And, James, if you don’t mind turning on your camera next time, it’s better for the full broadcast.

Let’s go back to the room, yes.

Yeah.  Your mic…  I’m not sure your microphone is on.  Just press the button…  there we go.  You’re…  go ahead.

Question:  Am I on?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Good morning.  Abdelmalik [inaudible] from Alhurra.  I have a question related to the COVID‑19.  Today, European Union recommend authorization of Moderna.  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, it’s a decision made by the European Union.  I think every, whether national or regional, organization has the right to… and has a duty to certify vaccines for its populations.

Our concern is about equal access to the vaccine, and we are very concerned about the risks that, really, the wealthier countries will only have access to the vaccines and that the COVAX facility remains severely underfunded.

Let’s go to Philippe, and then we’ll go to you, Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There was a planning for a trip for António Guterres to London later in the month.  Did he confirm this trip?

Spokesman:  There is no…  I have no physical travels to announce, but I may have an announcement related to that tomorrow.

Maria Khrenova, and then we’ll go to Edie.

Maria?

Question:  Yeah.  Hi, Steph.  So, I wanted to ask about… [inaudible].

Spokesman:  Your audio is really bad.

Correspondent:  Stéphane, my name is before Maria.  It’s okay.  I can…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No one is going to go without a question being asked.  So, I will get to you in a second, Abdelhamid.  I don’t see you in the chat.

Maria, try again.  Otherwise, we’ll go to Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah.  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  So, yeah, I wanted to ask about the process of elimination of new Special Envoy in Libya, instead of Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.  How long do you think it will take to get the new candidate, as President of Security Council just said in press conference that members of Security Council are very willing to have the new candidate soon?

Spokesman:  Well, we are as willing as the Security Council to have a new candidate soon.  The Secretary‑General and his staff have been working on this as soon as we heard the news about Mr. Mladenov.

And as soon as we have a name willing to be… ready to be put forward, we will do that.  We obviously understand the importance of it.  And it bears reiterating once again the fact that there is no leadership vacuum there.

Abdelhamid, and then I promise we go to Edie for round two.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and happy New Year to you and your family.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  I had couple of questions, Stéphane, on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and on Palestine.  On UNRWA, the Agency was unable to pay the salaries at the end of December because of the shortages of funds, so if you have any update on that.

And the second about UNRWA, there is a report by The Guardian saying that United Arab Emirates working with Israel to dismantle UNRWA.  Have you read this report?  Do you have any information about it?  On the issue of…  [cross talk]

Yeah, please, go ahead.  And I have a question…

Spokesman:  Yes, I’ve read…  I read the media like you.  Our support, full support, strong support, for UNRWA continues.  Our call for UNRWA to be fully funded also continues, and the Secretary‑General, in partnership with Mr. [Philippe] Lazzarini, will continue to ask Member States to fund the vital work that UNRWA provides in the region.

Your second question?

Question:  My second question about the level of oppression that the occupied Palestinian territories have been witnessing in this transition period between the departure of Mladenov and the incoming Special Coordinator.  I mean, Israel had been invading villages.  They have been confiscating land.  They have been destroying homes.

They entered forcefully the hospital in Tulkarem.  Yesterday, they shot and killed a civilian near Bethlehem.  They let him bleed to death in front of the cameras.

And all these operations that had been going on for the last two or three weeks had not been mentioned in any kind of a statement by any UN official.  How can you explain that?

Spokesman:  Look, the…  while Mr. Mladenov is no longer the head, as you know, we’ve named a new head of UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator’s Office).  The Office continues.  Its work continues, and I can assure you that, in the next report to the Security Council, the Special Coordinator will report fully on what he has observed and what he has…  his office has seen.

Edie?

Question:  Steph, the how…  how supportive of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mission to look into the causes… the original cause of COVID‑19 virus in China is the Secretary‑General?  And I’m asking this because the WHO chief yesterday said that he was disappointed that the team that WHO is planning to send to China has been held up because of some requirements and negotiations which… with China, which I gather have been going on for a long time.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is fully supportive of Dr. Tedros’s [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] and WHO’s effort to get a team in there.  I think it’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one.

The press reports that I’ve seen from the Chinese Foreign Ministry this morning was that they were working with WHO and that they’re looking for a smooth visit.  We very much hope that that will happen.

Question:  And I have a follow‑up to something I said at yesterday’s briefing on the technical issue of translations.  During the Security Council meeting today, if you were watching it on WebTV, the first half when all the presidents spoke, if you had on English, everything was on Eng… in English.  But, suddenly, when the UK started speaking, if you were listening to English, you never heard the English, and you had to switch to “original.” [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Right.  So, it’s the same issue that you had yesterday.

Question:  Right, back to that issue again.

Spokesman:  I will make a call as soon as we’re done here and check.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  Unless somebody waves their…  put their hands in the air…  I see nothing.  I wish you…  Brenden [Varma]is boycotting our briefing today, but I hope he’ll be back tomorrow, and we shall see you tomorrow.

Correspondent:  Happy New Year.

Spokesman:  Happy New Year to all of you.

Correspondent:  Happy New Year.  Bye‑bye.

For information media. Not an official record.