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18 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.  I really apologise for the delay, but I’m, as you can see, not working from the office, so things are a little bit more difficult.

**Libya

I will start off with a news that is of no surprise to you, but that we’ve been waiting for for quite some time.

The Secretary-General is appointing Ján Kubiš of Slovakia as his Special Envoy on Libya and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

The Secretary-General is grateful for the commitment and outstanding leadership of the Acting Special Representative Stephanie T. Williams of the United States in moving the political process forward in Libya.

Mr. Kubiš, who you all know, has served as the Special Coordinator for the UN Lebanon since 2019.  He also led the UN mission in Iraq, and he brings with him many years of experience in diplomacy, foreign security policy, and international economic relations, both internationally and at home in Slovakia.

I just want you to know that Mr. Kubiš will take up his function in early February.  Ms. Williams will continue as Acting Special Representative through January to ensure a smooth transition.

Staying in Libya, or on Libya rather, the Secretary-General commends the Advisory Committee of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum for its constructive discussions during its meeting in Geneva, that took place from 13 to 16 January.  The Secretary-General commends in particular the decisive role played by women representatives and the Southern members to forge a consensus on a recommended mechanism for the selection of the executive authority, in accordance with the road map adopted in Tunis last November.

The Secretary-General calls on the members of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to participate constructively in the vote on the selection mechanism and press ahead on the path to national elections on 24 December this year.

He reiterates the support of the UN to the Libyan people for their efforts to advance peace and stability.

And Stephanie Williams also told the press on Saturday that she was pleased that the Advisory Committee members had risen to the occasion.  They met their responsibility with a constructive spirit, cooperative efforts, and a great deal of patriotism, she said.  She congratulated them on reaching an agreement on a recommended selection mechanism, which is being voted on today.  They have taken a decisive step towards meeting the goals that were set in Tunis, she added.

And yesterday, on Sunday, Ms. Williams logged in to a virtual chat with 1,000 Libyans, the majority of whom hailed from all regions of the country.

**Central African Republic

A quick update from the Central African Republic where, sadly, we have to announce that two United Nations peacekeepers lost their lives today.

This happened on the Bangassou-Gambo axis, after peacekeepers came under fire.  We should have more details for you shortly, including a statement from the Secretary-General.

The Mission (MINUSCA) also reported in a statement that combatants had left the city of Bangassou, in Mbomou prefecture, on Friday and that UN peacekeepers are now fully in control of that city.  The Mission also reports that it escorted a convoy of 30 commercial vehicles from Bangui to the border with Cameroon yesterday; that’s the first since the free movement of vehicles was halted on 19 December due to the security situation along that route.

And finally, as you may have seen in the news, the Constitutional Court in Bangui confirmed President [Faustin-Archange] Touadéra’s victory in the presidential elections that were held on 27 December.  We expect a joint statement from the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the European Union on this issue very shortly.

**Mali

Turning to Mali, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Head of Peace Operations, has arrived in Mali yesterday and will be there until Thursday.

You will have seen that the Secretary-General strongly condemned another attack against a UN convoy in the country.  That attack took place on Friday, near Tessalit in the Kidal region.  It resulted in the death of one Egyptian peacekeeper and serious injuries to another.

The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the bereaved family, as well as to the people and Government of Egypt.  He wishes a speedy and full recovery to the injured peacekeeper.

He added that the UN will spare no efforts in supporting the Malian authorities in identifying and promptly bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous attack.

And just to note, if you have not been keeping track, between the events in the Central African Republic and Mali in the last week, we have lost nine UN peacekeepers, who have been killed in hostile incidents.  And that is just in the last seven days.

**The Sahel

Staying in the Sahel, where the situation continues to deteriorate, our humanitarian colleagues report that at the end of last year, 31.4 million people needed humanitarian assistance.  This included 22.2 million who were targeted for assistance by aid agencies.  COVID-19 is compounding that crisis.

Food insecurity has doubled in just one year.  More than 14 million people are now acutely food insecure.

As we have reported before, the people in central Sahel — which includes Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger — are fleeing growing insecurity.  The number of internally displaced people in this region has increased twentyfold in the past two years.

In the Lake Chad Basin region, violent incursions continue to push internal displacement and humanitarian needs.  Currently, north-eastern Nigeria and Burkina Faso are also facing a risk of famine.  This is according to early warning analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Despite the massive level of humanitarian needs in the Sahel, less than half, that is 46 per cent, of the $6.3 billion required to respond to immediate needs — including the pandemic response — was funded last year.

This year, our humanitarian colleagues expect needs to increase yet again.

**Burkina Faso

We also have an update on the situation in Burkina Faso.  Insecurity and conflict there have forced a million people to flee their homes in the past two years.

About 10 per cent of the population, that’s over 2 million people, are struggling to feed themselves.

OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) said that this year, 3.5 million people will require humanitarian support to maintain basic living conditions.  $607 million will be required for the response, targeting 2.9 million people.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, where we continue to be deeply concerned that the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation of the Houthis will push Yemen into a large-scale famine.  As we told you last week, given the dangerous situation right now with the risk of famine, the policy should be reversed. 

Details on planned licences for aid agencies have not been published yet, although the designation is to take force tomorrow, on 19 January.  Given this uncertainty, we are expecting major disruptions to the world’s largest aid operation just as famine starts to take hold in the country. 

Even if licences come through for aid agencies, these won’t address the main problem, which relates to commercial imports.   Nearly all of Yemen’s food, medicine, fuel and everything else is brought in by commercial importers. 

The long-standing UN Security Council position is that commercial imports to Yemen must be protected and must continue to flow through all ports in the country. 

We will also need to review the potential consequences of the designation for the Safer tanker mission.

**Sudan

And as you saw yesterday evening, we issued a statement on Sudan, where the Secretary-General said that he is deeply concerned about clashes in West Darfur that took place over the weekend.

Escalating intercommunal violence has resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, the displacement of nearly 50,000 people and the destruction of property.

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

The Secretary-General also calls on the Sudanese authorities to expend all efforts to de-escalate the situation, bring an end to the fighting, restore law and order and ensure the protection of civilians, in accordance with the Government’s National Plan for Civilian Protection.

**Palestine

In a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the presidential decree issued by President Mahmoud Abbas to hold legislative, presidential and Palestine National Council elections later this year, beginning in May.

The Secretary-General hopes that the holding of the elections will contribute to the restarting of a process towards a negotiated two-State solution based on the pre-1967 lines, and in accordance with relevant UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and international law.  The full statement is online.

**Secretary-General — Group of 77

And earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke live at the handover ceremony of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China.

He congratulated the Republic of Guinea as it assumes the Chairmanship, stressing the UN Secretariat’s continued support for the G-77 and China.

The Secretary-General also thanked the entire G-77 membership for the crucial role it played in responding to the immediate COVID-19 health, humanitarian and development emergencies, while maintaining a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We’ve shared those remarks with you.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

And a quick update from Brazil, where our UN team there, headed by Resident Coordinator Niky Fabiancic, is supporting the health system in the northern state of Amazonas to address the pandemic.

A team from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is in the capital city Manaus.  They are supporting efforts to tackle COVID-19 with local, state and national authorities.  This week an expanded PAHO/WHO (World Health Organization) team is also arriving in Manaus to boost support, following the extensive work from the entire UN team focusing on the northern region.

For its part, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) purchased 60 oxygen cylinders last Friday, in response to local authorities’ requests.  The aim is to care for newborns and women admitted to maternity hospitals and in dire need for oxygen there.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has delivered 250 hygiene kits and 250 food baskets to indigenous people in Manaus.  UNICEF has also delivered more than 60,000 hygiene kits, 101,000 masks and 575,000 soap bars.  They are destined for vulnerable people, people living on the streets, riverside dwellers, indigenous people, elderly people and those living in shelters.  Venezuelan families of refugees and migrants in the state of Amazonas are also benefiting from this distribution.

For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been working to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 between indigenous and riverside communities.  Since the beginning of the year, 2,600 hygiene and cleaning kits have been distributed to health networks in two Amazon regions of Amazonas and Roraima.

**Martin Luther King

This morning, our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, took part in The King Center’s Beloved Community Global Summit in celebration of Martin Luther King Day, which is marked here in the US today.  In a video message, she said that even before the pandemic, the world was facing a surge of hate speech, racism, xenophobia, neo-Nazism, white supremacy and other forms of discrimination.  And now we see that the pandemic has impacted racial minorities disproportionately.

Ms. Mohammed stressed that to recover, we need unity, solidarity and compassion.  Dr. King embodied the ideals of the UN:  peace, social justice and human rights, she said.  He lived and died defending human dignity and believing in the equal worth of every human being.

The Deputy Secretary-General also told the King Center that the United Nations will continue to be a strong partner in this essential mission of the important work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will be joined virtually by Dominique Burgeon and Keith Cressman, both experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization.  They will brief you on the current desert locust situation, as well as on FAO’s response.

**Honour Roll

You know one thing we like about January, and that’s money coming in.

We are delighted to thank our friends in Ottawa and Riga.  That’s Canada and Latvia, for those of you who were wondering, who have paid their regular budget dues in full.  This brings us to three members of the Honour Roll.

Okay.  Let’s go back to old times and see… figure out how to make this work.  Bear with me two seconds.  Let’s go to the chat, if I can figure out the chat here.  Yes, there we go.

**Questions and Answers

Majeed, go ahead.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to ask you about Syria.  Is there any update about the Constitutional Committee, any recent update, any details you could tell us what’s going to happen from Geneva?

Spokesman:  On… I know Mr. [Geir] Pedersen is working towards that end.  I don’t have a… oh, no.  Sorry.  I apologise to you.

What I can tell you is that the Fifth Session of the Syrian Constitutional Small Body will convene in Geneva later this month, from the 25th to the 29th — of course, COVID‑19 restrictions permitting.

And in advance of that, Mr. Pedersen will continue to engage with the Committee Co‑Chairs, as well as members of Civil Society and the Middle Third Group.

And just… you’ll have a much better update from Geir himself, I think, on the 20th — that is Wednesday — when he briefs the Security Council.

I can’t hear you but… you’re muted.

Question:  Can you hear me now?  I unmuted.

On the same topic, just a follow‑up on that, with the — I’m hoping to get your analysis on this, official analysis — with new Administration in Washington, do you think this will impact positively on the discussions?  This time, maybe we will have some results in Geneva?

Spokesman:  You know, I think you are… journalists and analysts are better at predicting than spokespeople.  We, obviously, hope that, with every meeting, we move forward.  But I will leave it at that.

Edie and then Maria.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have two questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to Russia’s arrest of Alexei Navalny on his return from Germany, where he was being treated by poisoning that happened in the Russian far east?

Spokesman:  I think you will have seen, Edie, the remark… the statement put out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in which she said she was troubled by the arrest and called for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law.  I mean, I would refer you to her full statement, which the Secretary‑General supports.

Your second…?

Question:  My… yeah, my second question — excuse me — is on Uganda.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the Ugandan election and opposition leader Bobi Wine’s claim and his supporters’ claim that security officials have surrounded his home, their office, so they can’t go and even file a legal challenge to the election results?

Spokesman:  Look, I think a couple of things.  First, it is important that any challenge to the electoral results be done through the established legal and institutional mechanisms.

And it’s also important for security services to ensure that they act with established human rights principles, that they show restraint.  And frankly, anyone who is cert… who needs to file an appeal through the existing channels should be allowed to do so.

Now, the electoral process in Uganda, as you know, is continuing with upcoming local elections.  And I think, in light of that continuing elections, it’s important for all national stakeholders to ensure that the remaining polls are conducted in an inclusive, transparent and peaceful manner.

I think it’s very important that political leaders ensure that there is no hate speech, that there is no violence, that there’s no incitement to violence or no incitement to hate speech.

And we, of course, remain committed to supporting the country’s efforts to promote sustainable development and build a prosperous future for all Ugandans.

Okay.  I will go to Maria and then Erol.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question was kindly asked by Edith.

I just have a technical detail to ask you.  Do we know… are we now, like, back to this virtual format for some time, or is it just one day?

Spokesman:  It is due to the fact that it’s a national holiday here… I mean in the US, not at the UN, and so I had child… my children were out of school and so needed to deal… and I appreciate you understanding my flexibility.  But we will be back in the office tomorrow, okay, and on Wednesday.

So, Erol.

Question:  Yes, hi, Steph.  Two quick questions.  What is the position of the Secretary‑General and the people around him actually on the ongoing discussion whether to introduce the COVID immunity passport or not?

Spokesman:  Listen, I don’t think the… that’s a question, I think, for World Health Organization.  I think whatever measures are taken, it is important that basic principles be respected in terms of human rights, non-discrimination and equal access.  But on the technical aspects, I would refer you to the World Health Organization.

Mis… yes, go ahead, Erol, but you’re muted.

Go ahead.  No, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Given the fact that the Secretary‑General was very much involved in the promotion of his measures on hate speech, how to prevent, etc., how he would characterize the rhetoric now of the ongoing… of the raving President of the United States, Donald Trump, whether he would put his… at least some of his statements within that scope?

Spokesman:  Look, I will just say what we say about situations around the world, that it is incumbent on political leaders not to incite violence, not to incite hate speech, and not to incite their followers to commit [either].

Question:  Are you… you don’t specifically like to invoke… Secretary‑General to invoke the name of the President Trump or what?  And why?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that.

Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Reportedly, Israel’s ambassador has filed a complaint with the Training Office (UNITAR) asking that former Egyptian Ambassador Mootaz Khalil be prevented from doing more training sessions over some comments he made that they say are anti‑Semitic.  Apparently, it has to do with the… General Assembly resolution 3379, which was approved in 1975 and revoked in 1991, which stated that Zionism equals racism.  And the former Ambassador from Egypt said that he rejected… or regretted that that resolution had been revoked.

Is there any opinion of the Secretary‑General on this and whether or not he should be allowed to continue…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Listen, that’s the first I’ve heard of the case.  Let me look into it, but I would say, for the record, because it always needs to be re… that is not… that would not be the Secretary‑General’s or the Secretariat’s position if that was, in fact, comments that that person made.

Question:  But should he be allowed to…

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  Let me check.  I just want to say that for the record.  Let me look into this case, because this is the first I’ve heard of it, not that I don’t trust you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is about blacklisting of Houthis by the United States.  You may have noticed that the incoming… some of the senior officials of the incoming [Joe] Biden Administration have also called for withdrawal of this measure.  But has the Secretary‑General or any one of his officials directly contacted the Trump Administration to withdraw this measure?

Spokesman:  Yeah, discussions have been had for some time between the current US Administration and the UN at various levels on this particular issue, and our position was made privately and publicly.

You’re muted, Iftikhar.

Question:  But do you expect the incoming Administration to move in that direction and withdraw the… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Time will tell.  We deal with… whether it’s in the US or anywhere else, we only deal with one Administration at a time, but we very much hope that this decision will be reversed as soon as possible.

Okay.  Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I hope you’re well.  And the question is, Mr. Kubiš has been appointed by the Secretary‑General as a Special Envoy on Libya.  Who will be replacing him?  Who will be serving as the Special Coordinator for Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Well, we hope… [cross talk]

Question:  Do you have any name?

Spokesman:  No, I can’t… I mean, without making light of the situation, this has been quite a saga to get to where we are.  Mr. Kubiš has done a fantastic job in Lebanon.  We very much hope to have an announcement as soon as possible, but I have no names to share with you.

Question:  He’s… he’ll be leaving in February, right?

Spokesman:  The end of… yes, he’ll be starting his new post in early February.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Okay.  James Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks so much.  I’ve got a question about Darfur and the clashes over there in western Sudan over the weekend, close to 100 people dead.  Obviously, the UN ended its Mission at the very end of last year.  Are you guys conducting an assessment today about whether or not it was the right time to end the peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) and whether or not those 80‑odd people didn’t have to die?

Spokesman:  Look, it’s not… it’s an interesting exercise.  We, obviously, condemn the violence.  We’re very saddened by the people who were killed during this violence.

As you know, the withdrawal of the Mission was a decision taken by and approved by the Security Council because we serve these missions… especially this one, which was joint UN‑AU mission.  We serve… we operate under the mandate of legislative bodies.

I mean, I will leave it to you to do the analysis of what could have been, what shouldn’t have done.

The Government of Sudan has the responsibility for the security of its own citizens.  We now have a political mission in place with a Head of Mission, who should be getting to Khartoum very soon, and we will support the Government of Sudan in its effort to bring peace and reconciliation in all of Sudan, including Darfur.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There have been a number of Israeli raids conducted against Syria in the last few days.  There was no mention of these raids.  Russian Federation issued a statement saying that they don’t want Syria to be a battleground between Israel and Syria.  Do you have any comment?  Are you fol… is somebody following this situation?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We’re, obviously, following the situation.  We do not have the forensic capability of certain Member States to determine who did what and where.  Our focus is on the political process, because we believe that political dialogue can bring peace to the people of Syria.  More weapons, more fighting from any quarter will not solve the [situation].

Question:  I have another question, Stéphane.  In Tunisia, there were riots going on for couple of days.  Number of people had been arrested, now exceeds 800.  Are you following the situation in Tunisia?

Spokesman:  Yes.  And we’ve definitely seen those reports of the violence that took place over the weekend.  We’re very much monitoring these developments closely.

It’s important that there be restraint, and we urge demonstrators to express their views peacefully.  We are committed to continuing to support the Tunisian people and their leaders on building consensus on national development priorities, to promote dialogue to address the inequalities that have emerged in Tunisia, as in many other countries, following the COVID… as a result of the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Mr. Sato?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Good afternoon.  I have a question about the Davos conference upcoming, and what topics will be the centre for the Secretary‑General’s speech, at Davos conference?  The timing is just after the new US Administration.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the Davos… the Secretary‑General will speak at the Davos summit on… the virtual summit, I think, early next week, on Monday or Tuesday.  I have to check the date [he later clarified it would be on Monday].  It’s a message, obviously, addressed to world leaders but to the business community at a time of pandemic, at a time of growing inequalities and to seize the moment to address these issues of inequality, to address this moment in time to also deal with climate change, which we can’t do without the business community.

All right.  Unless somebody else has a question, I will turn it over to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.