14 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.

**Personnel Appointments

All right.  Good afternoon.  I have a few senior personnel appointments I want to start with and then some new Resident Coordinators.  The Secretary-General is appointing Bintou Keita of Guinea as his Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She will head up the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  Ms. Keita succeeds Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who will complete her assignment next month.  The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Ms. Zerrougui for her important contribution and service to MONUSCO.  Ms. Keita brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in peace, security, development, humanitarian and human rights, working in conflict and post-conflict environments.  Much more in her bio, which has been sent.  We congratulate our friend Bintou for this very important assignment and also express our thanks to Leila Zerrougui, with whom we have worked here quite a bit and whose work we appreciated deeply.

**Resident Coordinators

Our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that that we have three new UN Resident Coordinators - in Benin, Egypt and Nepal.  The Secretary-General has appointed Salvator Niyonzima of Burundi to serve in Benin; Elena Panova of Bulgaria will lead the UN team in Egypt; and Sara Beysolow Nyanti of Liberia will head the UN office in Nepal.  This follows confirmation from the respective host governments.  As you know, Resident Coordinators are the Secretary-General’s designated representatives for development at the country level.  They lead UN teams in supporting countries to respond to and recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic.  We remain happily with full gender parity and North-South balance among all our Resident Coordinators, who cover 162 countries and territories around the world.


In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned yesterday's attack by unidentified armed combatants against a UN convoy in the Timbuktu region of Mali.  This morning, we have learned from the Mission that sadly, a fourth Ivorian peacekeeper has died from his injuries overnight in Bamako.  Five peacekeepers were injured in the attack; three of them are being evacuated to Dakar for further medical treatment.  The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families as well as to the people and Government of Côte d'Ivoire.  He wishes speedy and full recovery to the injured peacekeepers.  The Secretary-General said that attacks against UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime.  He calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort in identifying and promptly bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous attack.  The Secretary-General reaffirms the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Government of Mali.

**Central African Republic

And an update from the Central African Republic, following yesterday’s attacks by armed combatants near the capital, Bangui, that, as you will recall, left one UN peacekeeper killed and another injured.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has conducted additional operations on the outskirts of Bangui in coordination with national defence and security forces.  Dozens of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, ammunition, magazines, radio chargers, telephones and some military uniforms were seized from armed groups.  The Mission says that this operation further prevented armed groups from marching to the capital with a view to destabilizing national institutions.  Our colleagues report that, today, the situation in the capital and the countryside remains calm, but unpredictable.  MINUSCA also announced that it will assist Central African authorities, including by providing security, to facilitate the reopening of the Bangui-Douala axis, Douala being in Cameroon, of course, which is currently closed — due, of course, as you can imagine, to issues of insecurity.  This supply road is essential to ensure continued availability of food and other provisions in the Central African Republic.


Back here, or virtually here, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told Security Council members that the most urgent priority in Yemen right now is to prevent a massive famine, with the data showing that 16 million people will go hungry this year.  [Already], he warned, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine.  He noted that on Sunday, the United States announced that it will designate Ansar Allah as a specially designated terrorist entity and foreign terrorist organization under US domestic law.  Mr. Lowcock said that aid agencies have unanimously opposed this designation because they believe it will accelerate Yemen’s slide into a large‑scale famine.  And he said that Yemeni families are terrified that no more food or other supplies will now make it into the country.

Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, also expressed his concerns about the designation, adding his fear that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on the efforts to bring the parties together.  He also warned that the recent attacks at Aden airport cast a shadow over what should have been a moment of hope in the efforts to bring peace to Yemen.  The Special Envoy said that we need to maintain our focus and that of the parties on the primary goal, which is to resume an inclusive political process designed to comprehensively end the conflict.  Also briefing was David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), and he said that 11 million people in Yemen are already at a crisis level for hunger, of whom 5 million people are at an emergency level.  With the US designation, he said, the situation will be catastrophic.


Regarding Libya, I think one of you was asking me for an update on Libya, the Advisory Committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum continued its deliberations in Geneva for the second day.  We are encouraged by the seriousness of the discussions and the commitment of its members, who are working long hours with the active facilitation of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya  (UNSMIL) to agree on a common proposal for the selection mechanism of unified executive authority, in line with the Tunis road map.


Speaking of Tunis, I wanted to say in response to a couple of questions I got asking about Tunisia that the Secretary-General congratulates the Tunisian people and their leaders on the tenth anniversary of the 14 January revolution.  In the years since, Tunisia has achieved significant progress in consolidating democracy and promoting socioeconomic development.  The Secretary-General encourages the Tunisian people to further advance democratic reforms, build consensus on national development priorities and promote dialogue to address inequalities that have increased following the COVID-19 pandemic.  He reiterates the firm commitment of the United Nations to support an inclusive democratic process that meets the aspirations of all Tunisians.


Turning to Ethiopia, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said today he continues to be extremely troubled by the plight of civilians, particularly Eritrean refugees.  He said while there have been some positive recent developments, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners have not had access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps, stressing that Eritrean refugees in these camps have been without aid for many weeks.  The agency is also distressed that it is unable to help the thousands of Eritrean refugees who continue to flee camps in search of safety.  Some of these refugees have arrived by foot to the town of Shire in Tigray are emaciated and begging for aid that is just not available.  Mr. Grandi said that refugees who reach Addis [Ababa] are being returned to Tigray, some against their will.  He reiterated the UN-wide call for full and unimpeded access and for exploring all options to safely provide desperately needed assistance.

**Climate Adaptation

In a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), they warn that if countries don’t step up their actions to adapt to the new climate reality, they will face serious costs and damages and losses.  The UNEP Adaptation Gap Report found that, while nations have advanced in planning, huge gaps remain in finance for developing countries to get adaptation projects to the stage where they bring real protection against climate impacts such as droughts, flood and sea-level rise.  Almost three quarters of nations have some adaptation plans in place, but financing and implementation fall far short of what is needed.  Annual adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion.  This figure is expected to reach between $140 billion and $300 billion in 2030 and up to $500 billion in 2050.  More information from UNEP.

**Briefings Tomorrow

And Brendan [Varma] is not here today, but he has asked me to give you the following message — it’s that his boss, the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, will be holding his press conference at 11 a.m. tomorrow in this very room.  And then at noon I will be joined by guests from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, John Wilmoth, whom you know well, the Director of the Population Division; and also Clare Menozzi, Population Affairs Officer, will join us virtually.  They will discuss the release of the International Migration 2020 Highlights report.  I’m in your hands.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Three top UN officials dealing with Yemen today, Martin Griffiths, Mark Lowcock, and David Beasley, all called on the United States to reverse its designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization.  Does the Unite… does the Secretary‑General also support this call?

Spokesman:  Of course.  I mean, they speak on his behalf on Yemen — on issues of humanitarian, on political issues.  I think we have spoken from this podium, I think — I can't remember what day it is — on Monday or whenever the designation happened, expressing our concern about the decision and the impact it will have.  I think what you heard today [were] not only very passionate remarks but very detailed remarks about the consequences of what the designation could have on the people of Yemen.

Question:  Thank you.  I have one follow‑up question on Libya.  Is there any time frame on when we might hear about a new SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]?

Spokesman:  Next year in Jerusalem.  I've… I hope… all joking aside, I very much hope soon, first and foremost so you stop asking me about it, but that we have some clarity, though, obviously, as you can see, under Ms. [Stephanie] Williams' leadership, the Mission has been doing a tremendous amount of work.  Let's go to who I'm told to go to, Michelle Nichols, and then we'll… Michelle?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Excellent.  A follow‑on from Edie's question.  What conversations has the Secretary‑General had with anyone in the US Administration about the Houthi designation?  And just a second separate question on Cameroon.  Any reaction to the weekend attack?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Look, we've seen repeated cases of violence in Cameroon, which are very disturbing.  I think it is important that there is the proper dialogue between all the parties to get… to find a way out of this violence and this suffering.  On your first question, nothing that I'm able to share with you.  Obviously, contacts have been had at various levels.  Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Good morning.  I've got a few questions, another one on this… the US designation of the Houthis.  Obviously, that designation of terrorist organization comes into effect on 19 January, the day before the administration changeover.  So, all these comments we're hearing from all these UN officials, including the SG, are they messages that you feel that the successor administration should be cognizant of, also?

Spokesman:  These appeals are being made in public.  I have no doubt they're being heard.  Your other question?

Question:  Yeah.  Yesterday, you told us that with the Ugandan elections that you guys will be keeping a close eye on this.  Is there any update you can give us today?  And is your ability to keep an eye on things being impaired by the Internet blackout over the landlocked African country?

Spokesman:  No, I have… listen, I have no reports from the field.  We should probably have something either later today or early tomorrow.  I mean, we have folks on the ground.  I have not heard that we're being… that it has impacted our work in any way, though it is important to stress that we are not official Monitors with a big "M", but obviously, we would be in the country, and we're keeping an eye on the process.  Let's go to…

Question:  Sorry.  Can I do one more, Steph?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may.

Question:  Thanks so much.  You got asked by Edie a minute ago about the Libya envoy.  You get asked about it loads.  Every time we ask you, you kind of say the same thing; you can't say the answer right now, and then you say what a great job Stephanie Williams is doing.  Why not just give her the job?

Spokesman:  Well, there is a process ongoing, but I will take your recommendation and send it to those people who are making the choices.  Ibtisam and then Rick Gladstone.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  Two question on Yemen.  Mr. Lowcock talked — and I think you read part of his statement — about 50,000 people are officially starving today in what is essentially a small famine.  Could you say more on that?  What does that exactly mean?  Are you talking about if you are expecting 50,000 people to die if things do not change, or what exactly…?

Spokesman:  These are people who are in very grave conditions.  It's… I think… I would just urge you to go back and look at what he said and look at what… and listen to what Beasley said.  If you have more granular questions on numbers, then we'll get those answers to you.  Mr. Gladstone?

Correspondent:  I have another one.

Spokesman:  Please, please.  Go ahead.  Sorry.

Question:  So, the British ambassador, regarding the attacks on Aden, he talked about… she welcomed the UN Panel of Experts investigating into the incident.  Could you say more on that panel?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Well, the Panel of Experts work separately from the Secretary‑General.  I'm sure they will report in due time to the Security Council… the relevant Security Council committee.  Mr. Gladstone?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  Thank you very much.  I also have a question about Yemen.  And forgive me if I… this news has been covered and I missed it, but how does the US designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization complicate at all, if anything, the effort to salvage the Safer oil tanker and avert an environmental disaster there?  And maybe you can just tell us what progress, if any, has been made since the Houthis said that they would allow a UN inspection team to go aboard the ship.

Spokesman:  It's a very good question, Rick.  As we've been told a few days ago is that we're still — and this was before the designation — looking for a February date… early February for the arrival of the first team.  Overall, our concern… one of our many concerns with the designation is the impact it would have on the commercial imports and the private sector in Yemen, given that Yemen, overwhelmingly, even in better times, relies on the private sector for food importation.  And we were afraid that certain parts of the private sector may not want to deal with getting the waivers and the extra paperwork and the real danger of coming across and violating US sanctions.  What direct impact it will have on the Safer oil tanker operations and the private sector companies the UN is dealing with, it's a very pointed question.  Let me make a call right after and see if that's… if there is any impact on that.  Okay.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Same question of yesterday about Mario Paciolla.  It's been six months since his death and the investigation.  You told me yesterday that you were going to look and tell me something.  How long we have to wait for the UN conclusion on this matter?

Spokesman:  Look, the UN is working with the relevant authorities in Colombia, in Italy, who have the primary responsibility for this criminal investigation, and we are continuing to work with them, making information available to them, and that's what I can tell you.

Correpsondent:  Just a quick follow‑up, because the Colombian… they came up with the conclusion; for the Colombian, is a suicide.  For the Italians, it's not yet.  So, that's why everybody's waiting for the UN to come up with its own conclusion so at least that we can… this could help.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  All right.  As soon as I have anything more, I will share it with you.  I was also asked about the latest reports that Iran was increasing its production of uranium metal, and all I can say is… which, I think, what I said yesterday is that we would encourage Iran to abide by its IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] responsibilities.  And that's it, unless there are other questions?  Thank you, all.  See you tomorrow, 11 a.m. for the PGA [President of the General Assembly] and 12 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.