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13 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. 

Apologies for the delay but there were all sorts of breaking things going on. 

And I will start off with a statement on the situation in the Central African Republic. 

**Central African Republic

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s attacks near Bangui by unidentified armed combatants on Central African national defence and security forces, as well as UN peacekeepers.  A UN peacekeeper from Rwanda was killed and another injured in today’s attack. 

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased peacekeeper, as well as to the people and Government of Rwanda.  He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. 

The Secretary-General recalls that attacks against UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime.  He calls on the Central African authorities to take all the necessary measures to ensure accountability for these heinous attacks. 

The Secretary-General remains very concerned over continued destabilization efforts by armed groups in the Central African Republic and calls on all parties to stop violence and engage in meaningful dialogue.  He commends the continued engagement of the UN peacekeepers in their efforts to protect civilians and preserve national stability. 

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the UN, working closely with national, regional and international partners, to support the cause of peace in the Central African Republic. 

And more operational updates:  Following this morning’s attack, the UN Mission (MINUSCA) tells us that the overall situation remains under control, although tensions are continuing. 

UN peacekeepers have reinforced their posture in Bangui and in areas surrounding the capital, in coordination with Central African defence and security forces, as well as other security partners.  And this is to prevent further infiltrations towards the capital of armed groups aiming to destabilize national institutions.   

The security of UN personnel and premises have also been reinforced.

**Mali

And another sad and tragic note from our peacekeeping colleagues.  Following an attack today against a UN convoy in Timbuktu, in Mali, the peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) reports that one peacekeeper has died and seven others were injured. 

The UN Mission has secured the area, provided casualty evacuation and launched an investigation into the incident. 

And as soon as we get more details on that incident in Mali, we will share that with you. 

**Security Council

And as you know Mali was the subject at hand at the Security Council this morning, and they heard from Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, who reiterated that the transition period represents a real opportunity for the country to break out of the vicious circle of political crises followed by coups d’état. 

He noted that despite a lack of consensus throughout the process that led to the designation of members of the Government and the National Transitional Council, we should welcome the fact that all transitional bodies are operational today.  Mr. Annadif told Council members that the success of the transition depends on the successful completion of reforms, leading to inclusive and credible elections.  He warned that the process will only be viable if it is the product of the will of the Malian political actors. 

As Special Representative for Mali for nearly five years, he concluded with his hope that this window of opportunity will not be a missed opportunity.

**Uganda

I also have a statement on the situation in Uganda:  As Ugandans prepare to take part in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 14 January, the Secretary-General calls on all national stakeholders to ensure that the polls are conducted in an inclusive, transparent and peaceful manner.  He is concerned about reports of violence and tensions in parts of Uganda ahead of these polls and calls on all political actors and their supporters to refrain from the use of hate speech, intimidation and violence.  Any electoral disputes should be resolved through legal and peaceful means. 

The Secretary-General further calls on the Ugandan authorities, particularly the security forces, to show restraint during this period and to act according to established human rights principles.  

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the country’s efforts to promote sustainable development and build a prosperous future. 

That statement will be shared with you.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, where our humanitarian colleagues are telling us today that they are deeply concerned about the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who have still not received assistance in Tigray more than two and a half months since the conflict began in that region. 

We continue to receive alarming reports of civilians being injured and killed in rural areas of Tigray, as well as of violations against civilians, including gender-based violence.  It remains challenging to verify these reports. 

As we told you last week, aid workers have been able to deliver assistance in some areas, mainly in cities, where access has been granted by the authorities.  However, the number of people reached is extremely low compared to the 2.3 million people we estimate are in need of life-saving assistance. 

Our humanitarian colleagues stress that the situation is particularly critical for newly displaced people and refugees, especially those who were living in the Hitsats and Shimelba camps, which remain inaccessible. 

Our colleagues also warn that the closure of banks in most parts of rural Tigray before the fighting started have left most of the 270,000 direct beneficiaries of the Government’s Safety Net Programme without assistance.  These are extremely vulnerable people who rely on monthly cash transfers to meet their basic needs. 

Humanitarian assistance continues to be constrained by the lack of full, and safe, unhindered access to Tigray caused by both insecurity and bureaucratic delays. 

We and our humanitarian partners in Ethiopia urgently call on all parties to allow the immediate safe passage of humanitarian personnel and their supplies to the Tigray region to make sure we are able to reach all people who desperately need assistance. 

**Malawi

Turning to Malawi, I just wanted to say that the Secretary-General has learned with great sadness of the untimely passing of the Minister of Transport and Public Works, Sidik Mia, as well as the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Lingson Belekanyama.

The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of the Ministers, all Malawians who have died due to complications related to COVID-19, President Lazarus Chakwera, the Government and the people of Malawi. 

And just to tell you what we are doing on the ground in Malawi in relations to the pandemic:  The UN team, which is led by the Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, continues helping with national and local efforts to tackle the pandemic.  WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and other partners have installed an oxygen plant to generate more than 1 million litres of oxygen per day to support COVID-19 case management in one of the country’s main hospitals. 

The UN team is also working to improve access to clean water and sanitation, as well as working to save lives and livelihoods, reaching 1.7 million people through cash transfers. 

The UN continues to help with communications campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus, through door-to-door efforts, mobile vans, community drama sessions and social media efforts.  Through the Spotlight Initiative, we are also tackling gender violence and we are concerned by an increase in girl pregnancies and child marriages.

**Death Penalty

I’ve been asked about the reports of the execution by lethal injection in the United States of Lisa Montgomery.  

As we have said many times, the Secretary-General stands categorically against the imposition of the death penalty.  

He urges all Member States that have not yet done so to embark on a moratorium on capital punishment and the progressive abolition of the death penalty.  

**International Labour Organization

In a new report, that I think concerns all of us, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that those working from home need better protection. 

In low- and middle-income countries for instance, ILO says that almost all home-based workers, that’s 90 per cent of them, work informally. 

They are usually worse off than those who work outside the home, even in higher-skilled professions.  Homeworkers earn an average of 13 per cent less in the UK; 22 per cent less in the US; 25 per cent less in South Africa and about 50 per cent less in Argentina, India and Mexico. 

Homeworkers also face greater safety and health risks and have less access to training than non-home-based workers.  This can affect their career prospects. 

As working from home is likely to take on greater importance in the years to come, ILO calls on Governments to work in cooperation with workers’ and employers’ organizations to ensure that homeworkers move from invisibility to decent work. 

**Food and Agriculture Organization

And a quick update from our friends at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in Rome, who are telling us that the number of outbreaks of Peste des petits ruminants — which is known in English as sheep and goat plague — fell by two thirds in recent years.  This, they say, shows the commitment of the international community to combat this highly contagious animal disease and raises hopes of meeting the goal of global eradication by 2030. 

The decrease in outbreaks of the disease is attributed to the impact of vaccination campaigns in more than 50 countries.  In just 12 of these countries, over 300 million goats and sheep were vaccinated between 2015 and 2018. 

Shortage of vaccines, livestock movement, and mostly logistical challenges in carrying out vaccinations continue to remain the main obstacles to eradication. 

**Honour Roll

And this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for — at least, we have, on this side of the podium, Ukraine has officially become the first Member State to pay its dues in full for 2021, making it on the Honour Roll. 

We say a big “Thank You” to our friends in Kyiv for this full payment. 

I need to earn that pay now.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A few follow‑ups on the attack in…  near Bangui.  Were there any other deaths or just this Rwandan peacekeeper?  And does the UN believe that this is election related?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  I can’t speak to casualties from groups outside of the UN.  I will ask, but that’s the information that I have, which is one peacekeeper killed and another one wounded.  I think it clearly comes within the context of the elections, and I think it bears reiterating the urgent need for all political leaders in the Central African Republic to ensure that everyone follows the constitutional process.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is that the head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, did a virtual press conference with the Geneva press corps, and he said during that press conference that the Secretary‑General’s term “hasn’t been great” when it comes to human rights.  He faulted him for not naming perpetrators and speaking more often to condemn rights abusers more broadly.  “The real test of the Secretary‑General’s effectiveness is, does somebody feel the heat from his commentary on human rights?  And the answer generally is no because he doesn’t name anybody.”

Can you respond?

Spokesman:  We always appreciate Mr. Roth’s frank and open dialogue that he has with us.  First of all, on the selection process, that will be up to the Member States to decide on the candidacy of António Guterres. 

I think the Secretary‑General’s record on human rights is a strong one in which we differ, obviously, from Mr. Roth.  I think he has been very direct, and he’s been very outspoken. 

And I also think it’s important to step back and look at the…  all of the…  we all have a different role to play, the Secretary‑General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), such as Human Rights Watch, and I think it’s all…  we’re all working towards the same goal.  We have different tools to get to that goal.

Yes, Madame Saloomey?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Follow‑up on Uganda elections, as well.  Some human rights groups are concerned about the crackdown on social media there.  What’s the Secretary‑General’s position on that, ahead of an election?  Obviously, it’s an issue in other countries, as well.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, this is an issue that our own Human Rights Office has expressed concern about, our folks on the ground.  It’s important that there is ability for people to communicate and express themselves freely.

Okay.  Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  It segues neatly, because it’s another question on the elections in Uganda.  You’ve given us a lot of information already, but one of the issues that seems to be emerging over there — and concerns — is that there aren’t going to be any monitors, international monitors.  The Americans can’t get in.  European Union can’t get in. 

You said you’re concerned about what’s happening there already.  Are you concerned about that in particular?

And also, does the UN have any monitors on the ground in Uganda?

Spokesman:  No, the UN does not…  I mean, unless we have a direct mandate to do so, but we haven’t been doing it in quite some time, we don’t monitor elections.  We often, if we’re asked, do a coordination of the different monitoring groups. 

My understanding, at least from media reports that I’ve seen, is that the East African Community (EAC) has monitors, so there is some international monitoring.  But obviously, we will be, I would say, monitoring with a small “M” —looking at and keeping a close eye on the elections.  Then we’ll have more to say afterwards. 

But I think our concerns have been raised both locally; they’ve been raised from here.  The UN Human Rights Office in Geneva has also raised concern, notably around the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda in the run‑up to the elections.

Correspondent:  Great.  Thanks.  Steph.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me go to…  no, I don’t…  any other…  wave if you have another question on screen. 

Stefano, and then I’ll go to you, Edie. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  One is about freedom of expression.  Lately, because [Donald] Trump has been…  I mean, he’s being kicked out practically from social medias.  There’s been some concern around the world and some Governments, even European Governments, that this was not something appropriate.  What does Secretary‑General thinks about that?

Also because…  at least myself, I always thought that freedom of expression is the citizen be free to express towards the Government, not really vice versa.  It’s not really to protect the Government, because the Government has other way. 

And then my last question is about today is six months…  sorry.  I think there is a problem with volume, but six months from — maybe like this better — six months from Mario Paciolla’s found dead in Colombia.  I know that there was an investigation by the United Nations.  Can you share with us what the United Nations came up with about the death of Mario Paciolla?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any update on that tragic incident.  I will try to get one to you.

On social media, this is a debate going on the world over and one that we have been talking about, that different parts of the UN have been talking about.  The issue of social media as being a tool for spreading disinformation, spreading hate speech has been the focus of the work of different parts of the UN, from UN Women to UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) to the “Verify” campaign that our colleagues in the Department of Global Communications (DGC) are running. 

I mean, what…  there is a basic principle, as you said, that all measures to contain harmful, hateful speech should be strictly compliant with international human rights norms.

Now, obviously, Governments have responsibilities under treaties they have signed to, charters they’ve signed to, including the UN Charter, regarding international human rights.  Private corporations are a different thing. 

There is a…  UN guiding principles on business and human rights that says that companies have a responsibility to prevent, mitigate and remedy human rights violations where they occur.  There is a need and there has been dialogue within the UN system to bring different key stakeholders together to discuss those issues.

Okay.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission today said it had received information that over 80 civilians were killed early Tuesday in western Benishangul‑Gumuz, that region, not in Tigray.  This is outside Tigray.  Does the UN have any comment?

Spokesman:  I have…  it’s the first I’ve heard of it, so I will look into it.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask about the consult…  Libyan consultative committee meeting in Geneva.  I’m sorry if you mentioned something before I joined the press conference but if you have any update.  And what is the mandate of this consultative committee?

Spokesman:  Yesterday it’s starting off…  I think it started off today in Geneva, if I remember what I said yesterday, and we’ll send you the details. 

It’s part of this ongoing political process which our Mission has been working very hard with the various Libyan actors.

Okay.  That’s it.  Thank you very much.  Hasta luego?  Hasta mañana?  Hasta jueves?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Hasta la Victoria.  Hasta la vistaHasta something, right?

For information media. Not an official record.