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15 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.

All right, good afternoon, and again, apologies for being late and apologies to our guest, John Wilmoth, who will join us in a short while, with his colleague, Clare Menozzi, from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  They will be here to brief us on the release of the International Migration 2020 Highlights report.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

Two senior personnel appointments to share with you.  Today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Nicholas Haysom of South Africa as his Special Representative for South Sudan.  He will lead the UN peacekeeping mission there, otherwise known as UNMISS.  He will succeed David Shearer of New Zealand, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his exemplary leadership of the UN Mission during the time of critical developments and challenges for South Sudan.  Currently the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Southern Africa, a position he has held since October of last year, Mr. Haysom is a lawyer with a long international career with a focus on democratic governance, constitutional and electoral reforms, reconciliation and peace processes.  We congratulate Fink — he’s a good friend of all of us here, and also say thank you to David for his service.

Also, the Secretary-General is also announcing the appointment of Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir of Iceland as his new Deputy Special Representative for Political [Affairs] and Electoral Assistance in the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).  Ms. Gísladóttir succeeds Alice Walpole of the United Kingdom, who will complete her assignment at the end of February.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms.  Walpole for her dedicated service since 2017 for the UN in Iraq.  Ms. Gísladóttir brings a wealth of diplomatic and political experience to the position, including from her recent role as the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE), and most recently as the Head of its Election Observation Unit.  So welcome.

**Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says there has been significant progress made in the ongoing talks of the Advisory Committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, which is under way in Geneva.  The Mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection mechanism proposals.

**Lebanon

Just a quick note from Lebanon: Today, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) held a ceremony in Naqoura in south Lebanon to mark the transfer of authority of its Maritime Task Force from Brazil to Germany.

**Mali

Moving on to Africa, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, will be in Mali from this Sunday.  He will be there until 21 January.  In Bamako, Mr. Lacroix is expected to meet with the Transitional Government, other national stakeholders, regional and international partners as well as leadership and staff of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  During his visit, Mr. Lacroix will also travel to field offices to interact with Mission personnel.  He will express his gratitude and support for their work in very challenging circumstances, as we know.  He will also be able to see first-hand the work involved in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate.  Sadly, while in Mali, Mr. Lacroix will participate in a ceremony to pay tribute to the peacekeepers killed in this week’s attack in the region near Timbuktu.

**Cameroon

A note on Cameroon:  The Secretary-General is indeed concerned about the persistent violence in the north-west and south-west regions, in which civilians continue to pay a terrible price.  He takes note of the willingness of the Government of Cameroon to launch an investigation into the 10 January incident in Mautu in the south-west region.  That incident reportedly left at least 10 civilians dead.  He also condemns the attack on the convoy of the prefect of the department of Momo that took place last week and extends his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and also wishes a speedy recovery to the wounded.  The Secretary-General urges the Cameroonian authorities to take all necessary measures to swiftly bring the perpetrators of both attacks to justice and enhance the protection of civilians.  The Secretary-General further reiterates his call on all parties to cease hostilities and engage in a political dialogue to end the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions.

**Yemen

I also just want to add some words on Yemen and I want to make clear that the Secretary-General fully backs the call expressed by his envoys yesterday in the Security Council for a reversal — on humanitarian grounds — the designation by the US of the Houthis of a foreign terrorist organization.  I think, as you heard very eloquently yesterday from Mr. [Mark] Lowcock, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths and especially Mr. [David] Beasley, many lives are at stake.

**Central African Republic

Central African Republic: the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, Alice Wairimu Nderitu and Karen Smith, have issued a statement expressing their deep concern over the escalation of violence in the country, as well as attacks by unidentified armed combatants on Government forces and UN peacekeepers.  A week ago, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was telling us that 30,000 people had fled the Central African Republic following election-related violence.  Today, UNHCR says that number has doubled to nearly 60,000 people.

**Ethiopia

A note on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where our humanitarian colleagues tell us that today, hundreds of thousands of people there are facing food and water shortages and lacking health services.  There has also been a reported rise in malnutrition and water-borne diseases.  Meanwhile, humanitarian relief operations continue to be constrained by the lack of full, safe and unhindered access to Tigray caused by both insecurity and bureaucratic obstacles imposed by federal and regional authorities.  Our colleagues say, though, that we have had some progress:  The road between Gondar and Shire has been accessible in recent days and aid partners have helped people in Shire for the first time since the conflict began two and half months ago.  But, delays in clearance processes and the need to engage with multiple people for approval to access certain areas are hampering operations.  We renew our call on all parties to allow the immediate and safe passage of humanitarian personnel and supplies to Tigray, so we can reach all people who need help.

**Indonesia

Just a note from Indonesia, where, as you saw I think this morning an earthquake that struck West Sulawesi Province.  Our colleagues on the ground are in close contact with the Indonesian Government and are ready to support the response to the earthquake.  The Indonesian Red Cross and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are also mobilizing help.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

If you recall, we had talked about the horrendous conditions in a camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I just wanted to update you and tell you that our team there tells us that, following efforts by the UN, the European Union and others, we are pleased that authorities are working to address the situation of migrants and refugees.  Our colleagues there say that life-saving solutions are being put in place at the Lipa site.  People there are being temporarily being accommodated in tents set up by the national armed forces.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR have visited Lipa and say the situation there is becoming more manageable.  However, we are stressing that much more needs to be done, including at Lipa, to ensure all people affected needing safe and dignified shelter obtain better reception conditions and efficient services.  Our colleagues on the ground say there are still several hundred people stranded, mostly in the Una-Sana Canton of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  They said there needs to be more distribution centres across the country to alleviate the burden, since overcrowding is aggravating health and protection risks, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

**COVID-19 Vaccinations

Speaking of the pandemic, UNHCR is telling us that Jordan has become one of the first countries in the world to begin COVID-19 vaccinations for refugees.  The first UNHCR-registered refugee in the country to receive the vaccine was Raia Alkabasi, an Iraqi refugee living in the city of Irbid.  She got her jab yesterday as part of Jordan’s national vaccination drive.  In a statement, Filippo Grandi, the head of UNHCR, appealed to all countries to do the same, and to include refugees in their vaccination drives.  The Secretary-General also wants to thank Jordan for this initiative and joins the High Commissioner in his appeal that others do so.

**Secretary-General — COVID-19

In a video message today, the Secretary-General said that our world has reached a heart-wrenching milestone, with the COVID-19 pandemic having 2 million lives.  The Secretary-General said that, in the memory of those 2 million souls, the world must act with far greater solidarity, stressing now is the time.  The United Nations is supporting countries to mobilize the largest global immunization effort in history and we are committed to making sure that vaccines are seen as global public good.  This, the Secretary-General said, requires full funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and its COVAX facility.  He warned that we are seeing a vaccine vacuum.  Vaccines are reaching high income countries quickly, while the world’s poorest have none at all.  While science is succeeding, the Secretary-General said that solidarity is failing.  He said that our world can only get ahead of this virus one way — together, and that global solidarity will save lives, protect people and help defeat this vicious virus.  The text and the video [are] being distributed to you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  The President of the General Assembly just gave a news conference in which he said that he and his wife, who are over 65, have appointments to be vaccinated and that the Secretary-General also has an appointment.  The PGA gave us dates.  Do you have the date for the Secretary-General?  And will he be doing it in person?  And the General Assembly President also said that he was writing to New York authorities to request that all UN staff be considered essential workers so that they can be vaccinated.  Does the Secretary-General support this?  And has he written himself?

Spokesman:  Let me try to answer all of your questions.  My understanding is that yes, there is an appointment.  I will try to find out the exact date.  And it's important to say that the Secretary-General qualifies because he is over the age of 65.  We're not asking for any special treatment from the City nor from the State for the Secretary-General.  There is… no, the Secretary-General has not sent a letter within the same vein as expressed by the President of the General Assembly.  We have, from the beginning, been involved in discussions with the City during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown — obviously now on the vaccines.  We very much value the partnership we have with the City and the State, who I think have been very good hosts to us in that department, and we will continue to have discussions with them.  Mr. Rater… did you have follow-up? Go ahead.

Question:  Does he support the idea of considering UN staff as essential workers who basically come to the front of the line?

Spokesman:  We… as I said, we are in discussions with the City.  I think… we have not asked… requested for UN staff… Diplomatic Corps is something else, and I mean, "it's something else", I don't speak for them in that sense.  We have not requested any blanket, "go to the front of the line" card for the UN staff as a whole.  Philippe?

Question:   Merci, Stéphane.  Je vais poser ma question en français parce que je ne connais pas l'acronyme en anglais.  Le patron de la CNUCED a démissionné.  Quelle raison a-t-il donné au Secrétaire général?

Spokesman:  I think you're referring to UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development].  Between you and me, entre toi et moi, and the acronyms, I have a hard time enough keeping up with acronyms in English, but I will check on that for you.  Yes, Carla, and then we'll go to the…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Representative of the General Assembly said there will be… [inaudible] parties to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] in a couple of months, and there is an ongoing question about the fact that the five major nuclear Powers are required by Article 6 to eliminate their own nuclear weapons, and instead, they are investing trillions of dollars into upgrading nuclear weapons.  Is there any explanation for the fact that this is tolerated?  Because, basically, the nuclear weapons States are holding the rest of the world hostage, which is why they have this new treaty, which…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General stands firmly on the… for the abolition of all nuclear weapons and obviously, these… Member States to implement a vision that most of them have already accepted.  I expect the SG to get his jab, at some point next week, and as he himself committed, we will have a… we will release a photo and video of that, because I think he was very much committed in doing it… to do it publicly.  Oh, Toby, who's hiding behind the screen, and then we'll go to James Reinl and then, unless there are other questions, we'll go to our guests.

Question:  Just… just a quick follow-up, Steph.  UN video will release material?

Spokesman:  We'll see.  We will have some visuals that will not involve a courtroom artist of the Secretary-General getting his jab.

Question:  Can we come?

Spokesman:  You would like moving visuals?

Question:  Well, can we come?

Spokesman:  No… I don't… I mean, given the fact that it will probably take place in a public health centre, I think the fewer, the better.  Okay.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I'm… at some point next week.  We'll let you know.  Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This issue about your UN mission to repair the decaying Safer oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, and whether or not these new US sanctions under the Houthi terrorist designation is going to make that mission more difficult.  I've read your comments there.  Can you just spell it out for us in public:  Are these new sanctions a problem?  Are they likely to derail your mission?

Spokesman:  Hold on a second.  I'm just… you know, the problem is that people feel they can reach me on WhatsApp during the briefing, and I'm getting a little distracted, which is not a good thing.  You know, obviously, we are looking at whatever impact that could have.  We're still hopeful that this will… we're still hopeful that we will continue with the timeline of early February, but obviously, we're looking at the possible impact on that.  Okay?

Question:  The thing I couldn't get my head around with that is that if the mission is under the UN banner exclusively, isn't the work that you do around the world, by its nature, exempt from these kinds of sanctions?

Spokesman:  I think the issue is not so much us, but the issue is with the private contractors that we will have to… that we are in discussions with.  And I don't want to… we're obviously in discussions with them, but I think, to take it a step back, and I think we talked about this earlier about the… regarding the designation on the impact on food imports, is that private corporations have their own legal departments, they have their own issues, so this creates… this could create some uncertainty for their work.  So, that's where some of the tender points could be.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Have… have you asked the Americans specifically for a carve-out for this mission for repairing the oil tanker?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into discussions that may have been had.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the big fire in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, and especially the larger questions of… to take these refugees, repatriate these refugees, back to their homes in Myanmar?

Spokesman:  Obviously, on the issue of repatriation, our position remains the same, is that refugees should only go back in a way that is voluntary, that is safe, that is dignified, with the conditions on the ground would welcome their return.  I don't believe that's the case currently.  I think our colleagues in Cox's Bazar, humanitarian colleagues, are on top of the situation there, but it shows the vulnerability that children, women, and men who live in these overcrowded dwellings have, and it only underscores the need to find a solution, a long-term solution, to these… for the plight of these human beings.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first one is about Secretary-General's decision to run for a second term.  Can you tell us if [Joe] Biden becoming the President of the United States has contributed to that decision?  And in general, what is the SG hoping for from this administration to be different from the last one?  And my second question is about the access for NGOs.  NGOs apparently cannot access the United Nations Headquarters and I was wondering why is that?  Why… is there anything particularly contagious more about NGOs than the others who have access?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  No, there is nothing more contagious for anyone.  What is… there are no meetings going on in the building.  The access is extremely restricted.  We're trying to keep the building safe.  I think all the meetings that are happening are basically all virtual, and which all partners can also follow.  On your other question, I think as we've said… as I said earlier this week, when we announced the Secretary-General's intention, there is no particular electoral calendar in any particular country that influenced his decision.  He is very much looking forward to working with the new administration, and I think… especially, I would say, on the issue of climate, where we understand there will be a huge emphasis on it, and an active participation by the next administration, so we look forward to working with them on that, and obviously, the myriad other issues that the United Nations Secretariat and the United States work on, on a daily basis.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Has the SG spoken to President-elect Biden?

Spokesman:  Yes, he has.  He has.  A while ago already.

Question:  And can you tell us more about that?

Spokesman:  They spoke.  Okay.  Yes, go ahead.  Sorry, John.  Busy day today.

Question:  A question regarding the border crisis in Sudan.  Sovereignty Council in Sudan said that it might file in a complaint against Ethiopia before… to the Security Council.  Any comments on that?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we will… obviously, Member States are free to do what they want and bring whatever information they need to the Security Council and we'll wait to… I have no other comment.  Yes, Alan?

Question:  Short follow-up on the SG's vaccination.  What exact vaccine is he going to take?

Spokesman:  It will be whatever vaccine the New York City health authorities are distributing.  I mean, he is accessing it as anyone over 65 in the city has the right to access, so which one it is, I don't know.  Sorry, this is not my good day today.  Amanda, who I guess had trouble logging in, had a question on Uganda, and I can tell you that we are indeed concerned by the atmosphere in which the elections in Uganda have taken place.  We take note of the post-electoral developments and urge for calm, calling on all political parties to wait for the official announcement of the results from the Electoral Commission in Uganda, and any electoral disputes should be resolved through legal and peaceful means.  I will end… go ahead, Betul, and then I have one more thing to say, and then we'll go to John.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Should we expect another senior official appointment today from you, as we were told and saw the letter the SG sent to the Security Council, and he plans to appoint Ján Kubiš as his Special Envoy for Libya?

Spokesman:  I already gave one Torah reference to Edie, so I will stick to my religious references, and we'll wait for the Messiah to come and when he comes, we'll know.  I don't want to predict.  We've been waiting for him for a long time.  We can wait a little bit longer, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof.  Okay.  On a completely different register and a sombre note, we have been advised that we've sadly reached the 2 million death toll mark from COVID-19.  And in a video message that is being released right now, the Secretary-General said that our world has reached a heart-wrenching milestone with the COVID-19 pandemic having claimed two million lives.  [Reads note; see above.]  The text and the video are being distributed to you.  And John, I think you've been patient, and we welcome you to have a seat at the desk.  Part two.

For information media. Not an official record.