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12 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.

**United Kingdom Virtual Visit

The Secretary-General is wrapping up his first virtual visit to the United Kingdom today.  In a few minutes, he will be meeting with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.  The meeting is expected to focus on the issue of climate change.  This morning, the Secretary-General also had bilateral meetings with Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as well as with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, who, as you know, is also a member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.  And, yesterday, during their meeting, the Secretary-General thanked Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his country’s support to the United Nations, as well as for the UK’s political and financial leadership in the fight against the pandemic.  A readout of that meeting was shared with you.  And also, just wanted to flag to you that earlier this week, in London, the lawn situated at the front of Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in Westminster, has been renamed United Nations Green in commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary.  Next time you to go London, go visit the UN Green.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council held a ministerial-level meeting to mark the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Committee; that was established through resolution 1373 (2001).  Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the Counter-terrorism office, began his remarks by noting how quickly the Security Council acted to establish the committee in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks.  Throughout the last two decades, he said, the threat of terrorism has persisted, evolved and spread, causing unspeakable human suffering and loss.  Over the years, he added, the Council has provided critical impetus and guidance for Member States, which has led to important successes, helping Member States to bring terrorists to justice and disrupt additional attacks.  Mr. Voronkov said the Security Council’s leadership remains critical to ensure a unified front against terrorism, adding it is essential to reinvigorate international counter-terrorism cooperation during and after the pandemic, with a focus on emerging threats and challenges.  Also speaking at this session was Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), and she said that the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated an already challenging threat landscape.  She added that we must ensure that future counter-terrorism policies respect the rule of law and are both human rights-compliant and gender sensitive.  Their remarks have been shared with you.

**Yemen

Just to say that we, of course, continue to be extremely concerned about the potential impact of the US designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization.  And that is the impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen — particularly on the risk of famine.  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.  The situation on the ground continues to worsen as 50,000 Yemenis are already living in famine-like conditions with 5 million more just one step away.  Preventing famine remains the top priority right now.  To do so, we need to increase humanitarian funding, support the economy, and push for an end to the violence.  By the end of 2020, Yemen’s 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan had only received 50 per cent of the $3.38 billion needed for the aid operations, meaning they basically only received $1.7 billion of the $3.38 billion needed.  That’s less than half of what had been received in 2019.

**Libya

The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s Advisory Committee will be meeting this week at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, from 13 to 16 January.  The Committee was recently established to discuss outstanding issues related to the selection mechanism of a unified executive and to put forward concrete and practical recommendations upon which the Political Dialogue Forum’s plenary shall decide.  The 18 members of the Committee represent a broad geographical and political diversity and includes the participation of women, youth and cultural components.  The first meeting will begin tomorrow morning with opening remarks by the Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams.

**South Sudan

Quick note from South Sudan, where the latest report on children and armed conflict found that there has been a significant decrease in violations against children since the peace agreement was signed in 2018.  However, the report says that grave violations continue to be committed against children by all parties to the conflict.  The UN has verified more than 700 grave violations against children across South Sudan, with the Central Equatoria State being the most impacted region.  The majority of violations are attributed to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO), and Government security forces, including the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces.

**Madagascar

Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) are warning that three years of consecutive drought in Madagascar, coupled with a sharp recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, will leave a third of the population in Madagascar’s south struggling to put food on the table.  Some 1.35 million people — or 35 per cent of the region’s population — are projected to be food insecure.  This is nearly double the number of people in the same period last year.  WFP currently provides food assistance to nearly half a million severely food-insecure people in the nine hardest‑hit districts in Southern Madagascar.  By June of this year, the agency intends to scale up its assistance to reach almost 900,000 of the most vulnerable people.  WFP urgently needs $35 million.

**Ebola Vaccine Stockpile

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced the establishment of a global Ebola vaccine stockpile.  This will allow countries, with the support of humanitarian organizations, to contain future Ebola epidemics by ensuring timely access to vaccines for populations at risk [during] outbreaks.  Ebola vaccines have made one of the most feared diseases on earth preventable, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the head of WHO, said.  The effort to establish the stockpile was led by the International Coordinating Group on Vaccine Provision, also with financial support from Gavi, which is the Vaccine Alliance.  UNICEF will manage the stockpile, stored in Switzerland and ready to be shipped for emergency use.

**Children

Lastly, UNICEF today said that as COVID-19 cases continue to soar around the world, no effort should be spared to keep schools open or prioritize them in reopening plans.  The number of out-of-school children is set to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not yet seen in years and have fought so hard to overcome.  UNICEF said that too many countries have opted to keep schools closed, some for nearly a year, despite evidence that schools are not a driver of the pandemic.  I will stop there.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Ugandan opposition leaders talking about unprecedented and untold violence ahead of Thursday's presidential election?

Spokesman:  Short answer is yes.  We've been following the situation in the country very closely, including the reports of violence.  We've seen multiple arrests and detention of candidates.  The Secretary‑General urges the Ugandan authorities, particularly the security forces, to act in a manner that respects international human rights standards.  He also encourages all political actors and their supporters to publicly commit to conduct their political activities peacefully and refrain from incitement to violence or hate speech.  Sorry.  Go ahead, and then I'll…

Correspondent:  No, I was just going to ask whether the UN has any involvement in election monitoring.

Spokesman:  No, we have no election… involvement in the election monitoring.  However, we have been, with our human rights colleagues, in the lead monitoring closely the situation on the ground.  The… I think you saw… the Human Rights Office says they were deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation, which we… obviously, it's a concern that we very much share.  They've noted that, in the run‑up to the elections, there have been arrests, including limitations of right, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and so on.  What our… what we have been doing on the ground in support of the process is supporting the inclusive electoral process by better informing women and other categories of voters disadvantaged by a digital or online campaign, capacity‑building and advocacy on human rights among security operatives, media professionals and civil society.  And we're, of course, as I've said, reporting on the human rights situation.  Yes, Benno, and then we'll go…?

Question:  Thank you.  Also a question about elections and violence but for the United States.  So, as you know, the FBI warned that there might be attacks in 50 states and armed unrest and so on.  So, does the Secretary‑General have a message to those parts of US society who try to over… over… to topple the government, incoming government?

Spokesman:  Look, our message is a universal message in terms of… let's say we talk about elections; we've been talking about elections in different parts of the world, is encouraging political leaders… calling on political leaders not to encourage their followers to commit violence or to incite violence, to have… for people who have disagreements to go through established constitutional processes.  We say this over and over again, and these are messages that are universal for all our Member States.

Question:  What I don't understand is that, when it's about Uganda, then you say it, like, definitely about Uganda; and you…?

Spokesman:  I mean, you've asked me a question about the United States, and I tell you our message for the United States is the same that we've delivered in other places.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions related to Iran.  My first question, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today that Al‑Qaida has established a new home base in Tehran.  What's the UN reaction on that?

Spokesman:  Your second question?

Question:  Last Saturday, an Iranian lawmaker said Tehran will expel UN nuclear inspectors next month unless the US lifts its sanctions on the country.

Spokesman:  Look, on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], we continue to believe that it is a strong agreement that is worth supporting, and we call on Iran to respect its obligations, not only under the JCPOA but also under the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].  I have no comment on your first part of your question.  Toby, and then we'll go to the screen.

Question:  Thanks very much, Steph.  What… do you expect any differences in the election of the next Secretary‑General this year due to… or exceptions or anything unusual due to COVID and how this might affect the schedule of the election?

Spokesman:  Listen, I think that's… I see Brenden [Varma] will brief after me.  I mean, that's a question for him.  I mean, I think we've… the Member States have managed elections in the past year for different bodies, and different bodies have been voting.  And I have no doubt that… listen, I have no doubt that it will be the same for this.  The only thing I can say, from the Secretariat's side, is that we will support… give the administrative and logistical support to anything that the Member States require for this process.  And Brenden's actually turned on his camera so… all right.  Anyone on the screen?  Wave.  Okay.  Carla, you're not on the screen, but you're waving, so go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  But one of the issues raised about the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is the question as to what might provoke some kind of nuclear exchange, and I'm not taking a position on my own country, but there are people in the Government of my country who feel that the Head of State is equally unreliable in dealing with nuclear weapons.  So, what would the UN have to say about the situation?  Because it is… I don't have the impression from the press conference that he gave that he's crazy, but there are many people who think so.

Spokesman:  Carla, our message is the same, which is we're calling on all the parties involved to work for a complete and full denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

Question:  The risk, if something…?

Spokesman:  I will leave that to analysts such as yourselves.  Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, do you know if the Secretary‑General will give us a press conference?

Spokesman:  I do know.

Question:  Yeah?  Oh.  When?

Spokesman:  Oh, when.  Likely for 28 January.

Question:  Okay.  Here?

Spokesman:  He'll be sitting in this chair right here.  Okay? And we'll do a hybrid as usual.  Benno?

Question:  I apologize if you answered that question already in the last weeks.  I was not there in every noon briefing.  It's about vaccinations, how the UN fits into the US vaccination scheme and if UN employees will be vaccinated in the same way you… like, for example, New York citizens are vaccinated.

Spokesman:  Yes, the short answer is yes.  For those of us who work and live in New York, we will rely on the local health authorities, city, state, wherever you live in the tri‑state area or beyond, for access to the vaccines, and obviously, respect the regulations put in place about who gets access to it first.

Question:  Does that mean that no employees of the United Nations, like senior officials or so on, won't be vaccinated before others?

Spokesman:  If senior officials get vaccinated is because they have reached — and I'll try to be respectful — a certain age which puts them in the category [for] which they have access to the vaccine.  I'm heading that way, but I'm not there yet.  Hold on.  Let's go to Alan and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  I also have a question regarding Iran.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

Question:  Yeah.  Senior adviser for Supreme Leader of Iran, Mr. [Ali Akbar] Velayati, said that if there are any negotiations… further negotiations on JCPOA, the snapback mechanism should be abandoned as just, as he said, irrational, irrational.  So, do you have any comment on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  This is an issue for the parties to discuss amongst themselves.  I think we've been very… we've already talked about where we stand… we've used words regarding to snapback as to where… the Secretariat's own position, but I think those are issues that will need to be negotiated among the signatories to the JCPOA.  And as… I think, as I answered to your colleague, this is an agreement that we feel was a very important achievement.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Israel this morning decided to go ahead and construct 800 settlement units, and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said we should start today and not wait for next week, which means they want to take advantage of the last few days of the [Donald] Trump Administration.  That is one question and, as I always, ask why there is no reaction from the UN immediately and… because of this transition between the two coordinators.  So, the Israelis are expediting their operation.  The second question, which is related also, B'Tselem, which is the Israeli human rights group, said in a report that, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, there are about 12 million, and only Jews are entitled to be considered Jewish citizens, and that is called apartheid, and it has no other name but apartheid.  Do you agree with their analysis?  And if you don't, can you please define what that kind of system is?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, on your second question, I have no comment on B'Tselem's own analysis.  Our analysis of the situation is laid out extremely clearly on a regular basis to the Security Council on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  We report and we denounce measures regularly, including the building of illegal settlements.  Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just one more question, this one on Yemen regarding the terrorism designation of Ansar Allah and the Houthis.  Will the UN's Counter‑Terrorism Office provide any methodological or ideological analysis on Ansar Allah in its own capacity?  And how does the UN's analysis of terrorism groups break down when…

Spokesman:  We condemn acts of terrorism when they occur.  Right?  There are groups that are designated by the Security Council, by Member States.  It's also important to note that we speak… in order to achieve peace in a country wracked by conflict, you have to speak to all the parties involved and all the parties who have guns in their hands, so to speak.  And we need to continue to do that, whether it's in Yemen or any other place in the world.  That freedom to be able to speak to who we need to speak to, to achieve peace, is critical to our peacemaking work, so to speak.  That does not stop us from denouncing violence or acts when they occur, which we've done regularly in the Yemen context.  I'm not aware of any special action that will be taken by the Counter‑Terrorism Committee.  I will ask you, though, to focus on the briefing planned on Yemen in the Security Council, which is, I think, either tomorrow or Thursday, in which both Mark Lowcock and Martin Griffiths will speak.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Steph, going back to vaccinations, whatever happened to the offer from President Vladimir Putin about free vaccinations for all UN staff?

Spokesman:  It's still being studied, I think, and we're also in discussions with WHO on that.  All right.  Brenden, anything else?  Oh, sorry.  Iftikhar.  Before we go to Brenden, let's go to Iftikhar.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question is a follow‑up to the question about the planned violence by 50… in 50 states by Trump supporters.  Since Mr. Trump did not very much like the UN, do you expect them to come to the UN if they went through this [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I don't know what to tell you, Iftikhar.  I don't… we're not in contact, obviously, with these organizations.  On a serious note, we very much hope that there will be no violence, either before or during the inauguration on 20 January.  As for the security of the UN, we continue to be in constant contact with the city authorities, the federal authorities, who have done, to this date, in the 75 years that we've been here, an incredible job in protecting UN staff and protecting UN premises.  Brenden Varma, you will not ask a question.  You will answer them.  Thank you, all.

For information media. Not an official record.