8 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest and Virtual Trip Reminder

In a few minutes, after I am done with you and you are done with me, we will be delighted to be joined virtually by Fabrizio Hoschchild, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on preparations for UN75. 

He will brief you on the findings of the UN75 final report, which was launched a few hours ago.

The report was also shared with you this morning.

Mr. Hochschild will give you a preview of “We the Peoples”, the event planned in London for Sunday, to mark the 75th anniversary of the first UN General Assembly session. 

As mentioned yesterday, this event will kick off the Secretary-General’s first virtual official visit to the United Kingdom. 

In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to highlight the importance of the work of the General Assembly throughout the UN’s history, as well as its relevance now, as the world is struggling to address challenges such as climate change, the pandemic and conflict. 

We will share the remarks with you under embargo as soon as we get them. 

**Senior Personnel Appointments

Late last night, you saw we issued three senior UN personnel appointments.  I just want to read those quickly into the record. 

The first, the Secretary-General is appointing Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal as the Special Coordinator for development in the Sahel.   

This follows calls by the Security Council, as well as the Economic and Social Council for strengthening collective and integrated engagement across the Sahel region.  In response, the Secretary-General is appointing the Special Coordinator who will lead efforts, including financing, to implement the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel and its Support Plan — for a scaled-up UN development response for the Sahel, drawing on all the UN’s assets in the region, engaging and supporting efforts of the G5 Sahel, the Sahel-Alliance, the Ministerial Coordination Platform, ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank. 

You may know Mar Dieye from his 35 years of experience.  He is currently the Special Adviser for the Administrator of UNDP.  And we congratulate our friend Mar for this appointment. 

Also appointed was Volker Perthes of Germany as the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, which has a new acronym, UNITAMS.  Mr. Perthes brings to this position over 25 years of experience in academia, research, international relations and diplomacy, including with the United Nations, as well as expertise in conflict resolution and regional geopolitics.   

And lastly, we appointed, rather, not we, but the Secretary-General appointed Mette Knudsen of Denmark as his new Deputy Special Representative for the UN Mission in Afghanistan.  She will focus on political issues.  Ms. Knudsen succeeds Ingrid Hayden of Australia, to whom the Secretary-General expresses his gratitude for her dedicated service.  Ms. Knudsen brings to the post over 28 years of experience in diplomacy, international cooperation and economic development.  Most recently, she served as Denmark’s Ambassador in Kabul. 


An update on Ethiopia, to some of the questions that were raised by Edie yesterday.  Just to tell you that we, along with our partners, have been able to access areas that have been previously inaccessible.  Localized fighting and insecurity continues, with fighting reported in rural areas and around Mekelle, Shiraro and Shire.  That is all, of course, in the Tigray province. 

Access to most parts of north-western, eastern and central Tigray remains constrained due to the ongoing insecurity and bureaucratic hurdles, and two of the four refugee camps in the region (Hitsats and Shimelba) are still not accessible. 

Our colleagues at OCHA, as well as the World Food Programme, which as you may know, leads the logistics efforts coordinated approach, continue to work with the authorities to streamline the cargo clearance mechanism and ensure safe and secure access to Tigray and bordering areas. 

We estimate that 2.3 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, including 1.3 million additional people due to the conflict and over 950,000 people already there, including refugees. 

These figures are likely to change in the coming period as further information continues to become available. 

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic tells us that the three-day period to appeal provisional results of the presidential elections to the Constitutional Court ended yesterday. 

The Constitutional Court reportedly has until 19 January to examine the appeals and proclaim the election’s final results. 

The Mission continues its work to protect civilians and is deploying reinforcements to its Temporary Operating Base located in the town of Grimari, in the Ouaka Prefecture.  This is happening as a coalition of armed groups, which includes UPC and Anti-Balaka, are continuing their attacks on Central African armed forces positions.  Yesterday, in this area, some national security forces personnel as well as civilians have sought shelter at UN premises. 

In Bouar yesterday, peacekeepers and soldiers from the Central African Forces exchanged fire with armed elements prompting the displacement of hundreds of civilians.  UN peacekeepers are continuing robust patrols in Bouar and other areas of deployment. 

**Central African Republic

And also flagging that from the Central African Republic, UNHCR says that violence and insecurity surrounding the elections forced over 30,000 people to flee into neighbouring Cameroon from the CAR.  They also fled into Chad, the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), as well as the Republic of Congo. 

Most of them — that’s over 24,000 people — have crossed the Ubangui River into the DRC’s provinces of Bas Uele and North-Ubangui. 

Obviously, UNHCR remains concerned about reports of human rights violations taking place inside the country and urges governments in all neighbouring countries to continue granting access to asylum and supporting local authorities by registering new arrivals. 


Our human rights colleagues said today they are deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for January 14th. 

Between 18 and 20 November, at least 54 people were killed during riots and protests in at least seven districts across the country over the arrest and detention of two opposition presidential candidates and members of the political opposition. 

The UN Human Rights Office called on authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to ensure a free and peaceful election that guarantees the right of the people of Uganda to participate in their country’s public affairs, including by taking measures to prevent instances of electoral violence. 

And I think I will stop there, take a few questions, and then we’ll go to our guest. 

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir. 

Question:  Good morning, Stéphane.  Oh, sorry.  Today, the [United States] Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on the Iraqi militia leader Falih Al‑Fayyadh, and I’m quoting here from the treasury statement.  It’s for his connection to a serious human rights abuse.  Any comments on this?

Spokesman:  No, I have to see the report.  I have no comment on this at this time. 

Edie.  Oh, sorry.  Go ahead.  Then we’ll go to Edie.

Question:  The Military Staff Committee is now in a closed meeting.  The situation in Libya is on its agenda.  Can we have more highlights on this?

Spokesman:  I’ll see what we can get.  Okay.

Yes, Edie. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the Indonesian release of the cleric who inspired the Bali bombings where several hundred people were killed?

Spokesman:  I don’t have information on exactly how he was released.  What is clear, let me look into that.  What is clear is that there needs to be accountability and continued accountability for that horrific bombing.

Question:  And I think several of us are wondering why the announcement of a major UN envoy posting for a new mission in Sudan was made last night as opposed to by you today.

Spokesman:  It’s an extremely valid question.

Can I leave it at that?  Today’s not a day for me to give answers clearly.

Erol.  Erol, I see you.  I see you waving, but I don’t hear anything.

Question:  Now do you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I do.  Go ahead. 

Okay.  I don’t hear you.

Question:  Do you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Okay.  First of all, happy New Year.  Let’s not waste the time.  How many people, as of your best knowledge of…  with what capacity, actually, UN is working now?  How many people do we have on the daily basis to “comparisments” with the last year before the pandemic?

Spokesman:  Well, if you’re asking me how many people come into the building every day…

Question:  Yes.

Spokesman: I think it’s about 1300 or so usually, but that is not a reflection of the number of people who are actually working, because, I mean, you may be at home, but I assume you’re working. 

So, the UN continues to work.  Some of us from our offices, others from our kitchen tables, our backyards.  A lot of colleagues I know are juggling duties with their children, making sure everybody’s on Zoom, taking care of families.  Like any other organization, we’re continuing to work and, frankly, we’re working full steam, just in different ways. 

Question:  Why Secretary‑General so far didn’t receive the vaccine?  And how many of the senior staff did receive the vaccine?  And when the Secretary‑General is going to get the vaccine?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of senior staff getting the vaccine out of turn.  We plan to follow the protocols of our host city, of our host State.  I think the staff that works in large duty stations, like New York or Geneva or Vienna, will rely on national health authorities for the vaccine. 

The Secretary‑General and some senior leaders are of a certain age category.  They will get it when it is proper for them to get it.  And I think, if I recall properly, in his last time he was here in front of you, he also said he would have no objections to doing it publicly.

All right.  Let’s change things around a bit.  Let’s go to James Reinl first.

Question:  Hi, Steph, and thanks so much.  I’ve got a couple of questions on Yemen.  You’ve given us some updates about Mr. Griffiths’ trip to Riyadh to meet President Hadi and then to meet the new government in Aden.  Can you tell us a little bit about those meetings and the feeling that Mr. Griffiths got from the new government in the south there?  What are his expectations now that he’s left Yemen and continues his work?

Spokesman:  Look, I would say that Mr. Griffiths remains as determined as ever to continue to push for a nationwide ceasefire, to push for peace, and also with him and his colleagues to push for much greater humanitarian access.  This has been a long road, and it will continue to be a hard push, but I would say he continues to be very determined.

Question:  And part deux to that question, we’re about 12 days out from a new US Administration, which is, obviously, going to have implications for the peace process in Yemen.  Are there any communications with the new Administration? And are there any expectations for changes moving forward?

Spokesman:  Whether it’s in the US or anywhere else, we deal with one Administration at a time.

Let’s go to Mr. Bays.

Question:  Hello.  Put my cup of tea down.  Right.  These are questions about Secretary‑General and his virtual visit.  So, I know I may also direct these to the USG when he comes on in a bit.

First question, does…  I know that the event on Sunday is the anniversary of the General Assembly.  Clearly, seven days later is the anniversary of the first Security Council meeting, also held in London.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to take part in any event?  Is there any event planned for that…  that date?

Spokesman:  My understanding from our discussions with our UK colleagues is that there will be some event but at a later date.

Question:  Okay.  We’re expecting the Secretary‑General, as you have made clear, to make a speech on Sunday, and it’s an important anniversary.  One, can you supply an embargoed copy?  I’m sure you will. 

But secondly, are we now going to start seeing a new tone from the Secretary‑General?  He’s been looking over his shoulder for the last four years at President Trump.  He only had 20 days in office before President Trump took office. 

Those…  you never say it from the podium, but those close to the Secretary‑General say he never wants to criticize President Trump in public.  He now has a US President who’s committed to multilateralism, who’s committed to climate change.  Are we going to see a Secretary‑General untamed coming up from now on?

Spokesman:  Well, I will leave it up to you and your colleagues to do the compare‑and‑contrast and do a tone analysis.  I think you and I are maybe slightly on different wavelengths on this.  I think the Secretary‑General’s tone on issues of climate, on issues of human rights, on hate speech have been very strong and very direct.  But as I told Mr. Reinl, we will deal with one Administration at a time, whether it’s in the US or anywhere else.


Question:  And the final question…  the final question, if I can, on the Secretary‑General, Steph, when will we hear from him?  When is he planning to give a press conference?  because he’s not doing one as part of this virtual visit… 

Spokesman:  No, we have… 

Question:  And there, clearly, is one very important question now four years into his term, which is a second term.  He’s dodged the question until now, only a year to go.  Is he going to seek a second term?  And if you’re not going to answer us, which I’m sure you’re not, when is he going to tell us?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, yes, James, your predictions are correct.  I’m not going to answer that question.  We’ve pencilled in a press conference for the last week of January, so it may happen around then.  I mean, I spoke to him about it before he went on leave.  He’s committed to doing a full‑blown presser in this room in either early January or very early February.  So, that’s not an issue.

All right.  Mr. Toby, I see you gesticulating.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I just wanted to ask if there’s been any contact yet with the incoming Administration at all.  We had some announcements today about a…  the Climate Envoy office.  Has there been any contact with relevant offices at the UN?

Spokesman:  I mean, as we’ve said to you, the Secretary‑General has spoken to President‑elect Biden, but I think, the incoming Administration is focused on the work it has to do.  The Secretary‑General was very pleased with the announcement of the incoming Permanent Representative, someone he’s known for a long time and his work for a long time.  And it bears mentioning again that he’s also had a very good and productive relationship with Kelly Craft. 

And this organization has been through transitions in our host countries before, and we will go through this one, and we will look forward to working with the next Administration.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  [inaudible] I have also questions [inaudible].  My first is that I heard on a TV station that the UN issued a statement welcoming the blocking of the social media for President Trump.  I haven’t heard that statement.  Is that true?  Can you confirm there was a statement of such nature?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, someone asked me about social media yesterday, so you can look at the transcript, but there was no official statement. 

And I just want to say, I think to James Reinl’s question — or I can’t remember who asked me the question — we had about 650 people come into the building yesterday.  But before the holidays, it had been about 1300.  But yesterday, just to give you an example, it was 641.

Okay.  Any other… 

Question:  Can I continue? I have more questions.

Spokesman:  Go ahead. 

Question:  Yes, I didn’t finish my question. 

Spokesman:  Go ahead. 

Question:  Okay.  My second question, yesterday…  yesterday, doctors in Gaza issued a very strong appeal for medical assistance, especially with newly born babies.  They’re running out of certain important medications.  However, we haven’t heard any word from any UN official since the last report to the Security Council about what’s going on in the occupied Palestinian territory.  And Israel is now going…  getting used to do anything they want without being checked by any statement.

Spokesman:  We will try to get you an update on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

Okay.  Unless there are any questions in this room… 

Question:  And my last question…

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Do you have a list of all the special envoys being appointed by the Secretary‑General?  I want to do the compare‑and‑contrast myself to see how many Arabs have been selected as special envoys out of a nation of 400 million compared to other countries.

Spokesman:  I mean, the senior team, the special envoys, special representatives, heads of departments, that’s all on our website.  We can guide you to that.


Question:  Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Can I confirm just…  can I confirm just what you said?  Just to confirm what you said, is that…

Spokesman:  I said 641 people swiped into the building yesterday.  We had been… 

Question:  And 13…

Spokesman:  1300 was about the daily average in the fall and before the holidays.

Correspondent:  Okay. 

Spokesman:  Yes, Benno, please, go ahead, and then we’ll go to Fabrizio, who’s been very patient.  Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  And happy New Year to you, as well.  So, as you know, the calls in the US grew louder for “removement” of President Trump from his position, as many people think he might be a threat to international peace and maybe even using nuclear weapons.  So, does the Secretary‑General think that a US President which… who is unstable is a threat to peace?

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary‑General will not opine on that question, much to James Bays’ sadness. 

All right.  Fabrizio, welcome.

For information media. Not an official record.