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7 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.

Good afternoon.  My understanding is that Brenden [Varma] will join us from his undisclosed location for his briefing.  As promised, I have a trip announcement.  In fact, an announcement of a virtual trip.

**United Kingdom

This Sunday, 10 January, the Secretary-General will begin a virtual visit to the UK to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first Session of the UN General Assembly, which took place in London’s Central Hall in Westminster.  The visit will begin at noon, New York time [5 p.m. in London], with a commemorative event entitled “We the Peoples”, which will also be the main event of the Secretary-General’s first virtual official visit.  In his remarks the Secretary‑General is expected to highlight the achievements of the UN’s 75-year history and will also call for a renewed global partnership to address the many challenges we face.  The event aims to reach a global audience, and especially… all right.  Let’s try this again.  I’ve been forced to sit, so I will sit.  Where was I?

The SG will be in London for a virtual visit.  During his remarks on Sunday at the “We the Peoples” event, he will highlight the achievements in the UN’s 75‑year history and will also call for a renewed global partnership to address the many challenges that we currently face.  On Monday, the visit will focus on climate change.  As you know, the United Kingdom is hosting the next climate change conference, now scheduled to take place in November in Glasgow, in Scotland.  The Secretary-General will deliver remarks at the “COP26 Virtual Roundtable on Clean Power Transition”.  The event is designed to showcase and generate more commitments and action to accelerate the transition to renewable, affordable and resilient power systems in Africa and European countries, as well as the importance of a just transition to ensure green job [opportunities].

He will be joined by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, and COP26 incoming President, Alok Sharma, as well as representatives from several countries.  During the virtual visit, the Secretary-General will also have bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as well as the COP26’s Alok Sharma.  In addition to these meetings, the Secretary-General will have a conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, who is also, as you know, a member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.  All of the public events will be watchable on the UN Web TV webcast page, as well as, I imagine, a number of UK platforms.

**Guest Tomorrow

In relation to that, tomorrow, we will be joined by Fabrizio Hochschild, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Preparations for the #UN75.  He will brief you [virtually] on the commemoration event scheduled on Sunday, as well as on the UN75 final report.  And we will try to share that with you either later today or early tomorrow, so you have a chance to look at it before the briefing.

**Yemen

Edie, I think you were asking me yesterday about Martin Griffiths.  He just concluded today a visit to Aden, which included meetings with the Yemeni Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, members of the Cabinet, as well as the Governor of Aden.  During his meeting with Prime Minister [Mueen] Abdulmalik, Mr. Griffiths once again stressed his strong condemnation of the heinous attack on the Cabinet ministers when they arrived at the Aden Airport.  As you will recall, that attack killed 25 civilians.  He also said the attack was devastating, not only due to the tragically heavy civilian toll, but also because it has political implications that could stir deep distrust.  Mr. Griffiths congratulated the Prime Minister on the formation of the Cabinet and its arrival in Aden and commended the resolve of the Government in the aftermath of this attack.  He further expressed hope that the arrival of the ministers will mark the beginning of recovery after a perilous year.

**Central African Republic

 A quick update from the Central African Republic, where the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has increased its patrols in Bossangoa, in the Ouham Prefecture, after two anti-Balaka factions clashed yesterday over the issue of tax collection.   UN peacekeepers are continuing their work to protect civilians and we are maintaining a robust posture, that includes daily patrols, to secure the Bangui-Beloko axis.  The Mission’s military troops and police are also working in close coordination with national defence and security forces to secure the capital, including through joint patrols.

**Ethiopia

A quick update on Ethiopia from our humanitarian colleagues on the findings of the two joint Government-interagencies’ needs assessment missions that deployed in Tigray late last year, on 20 December.  According to the Southern Tigray mission, life in Alamata, Mehoni and Mekelle is gradually returning to normal, with the resumption of some basic services, including electricity and telecommunications.  Most of the displaced people have returned or are in the process of returning to their homes in those areas.  However, most of their belongings have been looted or destroyed.  Regional authorities estimate that at least 90,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.  According to both missions, food supplies are very limited, and only locally produced food items are available and at increasing prices.  Infrastructure also needs to be urgently restored as many buildings, including schools, hospitals and administrative offices, have been looted and damaged.  Our colleagues continue to engage with the Government for the unrestricted and safe passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to all parts of the Tigray Province.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you saw that in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General said he was shocked by the massacre of civilians, during recent attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the villages of Tingwe, Mwenda and Nzenga, near Beni territory in the Province of North Kivu.  He strongly condemns such violence against the civilian population and calls for the perpetrators of these atrocities to be swiftly brought to justice.  He offers his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call for a global ceasefire and calls on all armed groups to lay down their weapons.  He encourages the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take concrete steps to address the drivers of conflict in the eastern part of the country.

**Food Prices

And lastly, our regular food price index from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Our friends in Rome today said that world food prices rose for the seventh consecutive month in December 2020.  The FAO Food Price Index averaged 107.5 points last month, that’s 2.2 per cent higher than in November 2020.  This increase was led by high demand in dairy products and concerns that drier and warmer conditions would impact milk production in Oceania.  Concerns about short supplies of palm oil, as well as prolonged strikes in Argentina, also led to an increase in the vegetable oil price index.  More information available on the FAO website.  And I now turn to you.  Celhia?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, Leila Zerrougui is due to terminate her contract, I guess, on 15 January.  Do we know if she will get a new job here, or do we know anything about her?

Spokesman:  Well, I'm sure people know.  Do I know?  No.  There… as you know, the personnel announcements are rarely chatted about until things are confirmed.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of follow‑ups.  On Tigray, it's now been well over a month, maybe even longer, that the United Nations has been trying to get humanitarian aid into Tigray.  What's the holdup?  I mean, you said they're still negotiating.  Is it on… obviously, there's something on the Ethiopian Government side that's blocking this.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we managed to get the two assessment missions in, which is obviously critical to the start of humanitarian operations.  Our colleagues at WFP [World Food Programme] last month managed to get, I think, two convoys into various refugee camps.  We continue to try to overcome some administrative hurdles, but I think the most important thing for us at this point was to get those assessment teams in so we can then go in with larger‑scale operations.

Question:  And a follow‑up on Martin Griffiths.  So, he's now been to see both sides.  What's the next step?

Spokesman:  I mean, it's a continuous step in a way.  He will continue the dialogue, continue to press the various parties and continue his work with the same vigour and energy that he's been putting into it for the past months, if not a year… more than a year.  All right.  Sorry.  I'm just… I'm a little discombobulated by where I'm sitting.  James Bays, please.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I have a few questions.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  I have a few questions.  The first one is about what happened in Washington, D.C., yesterday.  I know you put out some language on this subject, but can you just tell us more about what the Secretary‑General's view was when he watched those pictures?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I think, as we've said in what we put out yesterday, he was saddened by what he saw.  And his reaction, his message, which in a sense is one that he's given in many other situations, is that political leaders need to impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence and to respect the democratic process and respect the rule of law.  I mean, it's a very important message that political leaders need to give to those who listen to them.

Question:  Okay.  Couple of follow‑ups.  Political leaders, let me ask you specifically about President [Donald] Trump.  It was President Trump who told his followers to march on Capitol Hill, and that's where the problem started.  What's the Secretary‑General's view on the President's role in all of this?

Spokesman:  I think he and… [inaudible] and so what I said would apply to all of them, to all people who have…

Question:  Sorry, Steph.  Once again, your sound cut out.  Could you repeat that once again?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Can you hear me?  Okay.  The President and others are political leaders, and I think… so, the Secretary‑General's message applies to all those who have political responsibilities.

Question:  Follow‑up on that, and then I have one other question if it's okay.  The follow‑up is about the media.  Once again, the media were targeted during the protests.  "Murder the media" was even one of the placards being carried by the protesters.  What's the UN's view on that?

Spokesman:  Attacks on the media, whether they are targeted, whether they are spontaneous, are unacceptable, full stop.

Question:  And a different subject.  You've given us the details of the virtual visit to London coming up this weekend.  Can I ask whether the Secretary‑General will be doing any virtual media while he's in London?  I'm sure there might at least be one UN correspondent based in London at the moment.  Just asking.

Spokesman:  I'm always happy to have the correspondents meet face to face, so it's just unfortunate that you're not in New York, James.  You're just… right time, wrong place.  What can I tell you?  But, no, there is… joking aside, there is no… we will focus on the public events.  There are two main public events.  Those will be webcast, and we'll share the remarks, but he's not doing any interviews or any such thing at this point.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, a follow‑up on the US election and the presidency.  We know that the Secretary‑General had a conversation with President‑elect Joe Biden.  What are his plans… the inauguration is less than two weeks away.  What are his plans on following that up, since the United States is not only a major Power, but, of course, a major funder of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Well, we look forward after the inauguration on the Secretary‑General speaking with the man who will be President at the time, President Biden, and to start working with the rest of his foreign policy and national security team.  All right.  Toby?

Question:  Hi.  Good afternoon.  Thank you, Steph.  It's another follow‑up on Washington, D.C., actually.  Sorry.  There's a terrible echo.  I need to plug my ears.  The situation in Washington, D.C., yesterday has resulted in a social media ban of the President by the major social media platforms in the US, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  I'm wondering if the UN has any kind of policy guidance on governance and social media and what, if any, policy frameworks or recommendations that the UN has put out in the past might apply to this unusual situation.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think, in general terms, we have spoken out at the risk… and not only the risk but the fact that social media platforms have been used to propagate violence, to propagate hate speech.  I mean, there have been studies, UN studies, on how they've been used in various conflicts and various civil wars, and that is… I think it just increases the responsibility of the people who manage those platforms to ensure that they are not misused to do physical harm to people.

Question:  Has the UN ever recommended any sort of public oversight for the use of platforms, given their increasing importance in world politics and governance?

Spokesman:  There are what we would call multi-stakeholder conversations going on with the private sectors, with Member States, about the digital space, but we are not advocating for a public oversight of private companies.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In light of yesterday's disaster in Washington, D.C., are there any extra security measures planned for the United Nations in New York or for the Secretary‑General, in particular, since zealots do not have any stop signs?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  As you know, we don't comment on specific security measures, but we are constantly in touch with the host country, with the host city, who we rely on to provide security outside of the UN walls.  And they have always done a terrific job in ensuring that the building is safe, that all of us, which includes you who work in this building, are safe and that the Secretary‑General and senior UN officials are safe.  Okay.  Philippe?

Question:  Hello, Stéphane.  My question is on Mali and [audio gap, inaudible] killing several civilians during a wedding in Bounti.  Some people suspect French or Malian forces.  When do you expect a resolute of the investigation launched by MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali]?

Spokesman:  I don't have an end date for when that will happen.  I know the Mission, especially the human rights office in Mali, is looking into it.  And as soon as we have some sort of visibility on when that will be ready, I will let you know.  I was given a… just an update on Cameroon and to say that the Secretary‑General condemns the attack of the convoy of the prefect of the department of Momo in the north‑west region of Cameroon.  He reiterates his call to end violence in the two regions, particularly violence against civilians.  The Secretary‑General strongly urges the parties to heed his global call for a ceasefire.  The UN is available to support efforts of the parties in this regard in an inclusive dialogue process leading to a resolution of the crisis.  Okay.  Unless I see somebody else waving their hands in the air… Abdelhamid, yes?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I don't have a question.  I just want to pay tribute to our colleague from the Department of Global Communication who passed away, Maha Fayek, who was working in UN Radio and UN social media.

Spokesman:  I was not aware, but I will share…

Correspondent:  Ms. [Melissa] Fleming issued a statement on her death.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We send our condolences to her family.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you, all, and we will see you tomorrow.

 

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For information media. Not an official record.