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21 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined virtually by Marc-André Franche, the Head of Financing for the Peacebuilding Fund.  He will brief you on the forthcoming high-level Replenishment Conference of the Peacebuilding Fund, which is scheduled to take place on 26 January.  And, after that, we will have our regular briefing from Brenden Varma on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.

**United States

As you saw, late yesterday afternoon, we issued a number of statements last night, responding positively to the decisions issued by the new United States President, Joseph Biden.  The Secretary-General warmly welcomed President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on climate change and join the growing coalition of Governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis.  We look forward to the leadership of the United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero, including bringing forward a new nationally determined contribution with ambitious 2030 targets and climate finance in advance of COP26 (twenty-sixth Conference of Parties) in Glasgow this year.

And in relation to that, I just want to clarify and say that, yesterday, the US notified the Secretary-General of its acceptance of the Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015.  The US signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016 and expressed its consent to be bound by the Agreement by acceptance on 3 September 2016, before withdrawing from the Agreement as of 4 November 2020.  A new instrument of acceptance of the Paris Agreement by the US was signed by President Biden on 20 January and deposited with the Secretary-General on the same day — that is, yesterday.  The Paris Agreement will enter into force for the US on 19 February 2021, in accordance with article 21(3) of the Agreement.  That’s just sort of the legal notice and the new instruments of acceptance by the US have also been posted on the UN’s treaty section website.

The Secretary-General also welcomed the US’ stated re-engagement with the World Health Organization (WHO).  Supporting the WHO is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts for a better coordinated response against COVID-19, the Secretary‑General said.  Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.  With vaccines being a critical tool in the battle against COVID-19, the US joining and supporting the COVAX facility will give momentum to efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries.  And, regarding that, on the legal aspects of that, yesterday, the US formally informed the Secretary‑General of the revocation of its notification of withdrawal of 6 July 2020 from the Constitution of the World Health Organization, which would have been effective, under certain conditions, on 6 July of this year.  Accordingly, the United States remains a party to the WHO Constitution, and without interruption, a Member of the World Health Organization since 21 June 1948.  Lastly, we also welcomed the positive steps announced by the US administration relating to migration and refugees.  The Secretary-General looks forward to working with the new US Administration to strengthen multilateral cooperation in these areas and hopes the US will join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

**Iraq

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) strongly condemned today the suicide attacks which targeted civilians in Baghdad today, causing scores of casualties.  The Mission says that such a despicable act will not weaken Iraq's march towards stability and prosperity.  They offer their sincere condolences to families of the deceased and wish the injured a speedy recovery.  We expect a formal statement from the Secretary-General on that.

**Syria

A couple of items to flag for you on Syria.  In a joint statement, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Muhannad Hadi, have expressed serious concerns over the deteriorating security conditions at Al Hol camp, in the north-east.  Between 1 and 16 January, we received reports of the murders of 12 Syrian and Iraqi camp residents, including one woman Iraqi refugee.  Another person was critically injured in a violent attack.  These disturbing events indicate an increasingly untenable security environment at Al Hol.  They also jeopardize the UN and the UN’s humanitarian partners’ ability to safely deliver critical humanitarian assistance to its residents.

And I have an update for you, a statement, rather, on the Independent Senior Advisory Panel on humanitarian deconfliction in Syria.  As you may recall, last year on 6 April, the Secretary-General submitted to the President of the Security Council a summary of a report by the UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry to investigate certain incidents that had occurred in north-west Syria since 17 September 2017, in which facilities on the UN’s deconfliction list or supported by the United Nations were destroyed or damaged as a result of military operations.  In his letter transmitting the report to the Council, the Secretary-General wrote at the time:  “The Board has made a series of recommendations, which I am considering carefully.  Some of the issues raised are complex, including the question of which parties to a conflict should be given information intended to support deconfliction.  In order to help to determine how best to address the recommendations of the Board, I am planning to appoint a senior independent adviser with expertise and experience in this area.  I will also be open to receiving views from Member States on this matter.”

As a result and following consultations, the Secretary-General has decided to appoint a three-person Independent Senior Advisory Panel on humanitarian deconfliction in Syria composed of the following members:  Jan Egeland of Norway, who will Chair; Erika Feller of Australia; and Radhouane Noucier of Tunisia.  The Panel will conduct its work independently and will provide the Secretary-General with advice on how to strengthen the deconfliction mechanism operated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Syria; on the recommendations related to the deconfliction mechanism presented by the Board of Inquiry; and on lessons that can be learned for the future.  The Panel began its work on 11 January of this year and is expected to report back to the Secretary‑General with a final report by 10 May of this year.

**Security Council

In the Security Council this morning, the head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Mankeur Ndiaye, said that the country faces the grave risk of a setback.  In remarks delivered by video, he said this could undermine everything that the Council and the partners of the Central African Republic have helped to build.  He made a forceful appeal for additional support.  Ongoing violence against civilians, authorities, security forces and peacekeepers is testing the capacities of the Mission, he said.  To cope with the new threat, and to avoid that it takes a lasting hold on the country’s territory, the response of the Mission and especially of the Force must be frank, clear and robust.  He added that the situation remains tense following the creation of a new coalition of armed groups — the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, the CPC — whose alliance with political actors, in particular former President François Bozizé, is now established.  Their initial goal was to disrupt last month’s elections.  Most recently, they are attempting to unseat President [Faustin Archange] Touadera.  The head of the Mission said the only sustainable answer to today's challenge is political.  During this crisis, Mr. Ndiaye said that Central Africans have demonstrated they are no longer willing to tolerate the use of violence to deprive them of their fundamental rights, such as the right to vote.

**Guatemala/Honduras

A quick update from Central America, where our UN team in Honduras, led by Resident Coordinator Alice Shackleford, is working with local and national authorities to address the needs of migrants returning from Guatemala.  Since yesterday, [national] authorities, with support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have provided care to over 100 children.  Over 80 per cent of them are traveling alone or are without the company of a guardian or adult.  In Guatemala, the UN team, led by Rebeca Arias, continues working with authorities to support migrants.  Around 3,000 women, men and children have reportedly returned to Honduras.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there continues monitoring a small group of up to 100 people who are currently in shelters.

**Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Tomorrow, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is set to enter into force.  You may recall that, on 24 October 2020, the Treaty reached its fiftieth ratification, fulfilling the conditions of its entry into force.  At the time, the Secretary-General said the Treaty represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.  We will have a statement, as well as a video message recorded by the Secretary-General, to mark the Treaty’s entry into force.  I think it’s been shared with you under embargo in many, many languages.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has received reports of sporadic intercommunal conflict caused by cattle raiding in Greater Tonj, in the Warrap State of South Sudan.  Fighting there has reportedly led to deaths, injuries and population displacement.  The Mission is monitoring the situation closely and is preparing to intensify patrols to deter further violence.  UNMISS is also working with State authorities to establish a temporary operating base in the Tonj area to reduce tensions and build confidence.  Additionally, the Mission is stepping up its community sensitization activities in Warrap through peace campaigns.  Those campaigns are intended to raise awareness among residents on the need for social cohesion as well as the benefits of a peaceful cattle migration season.

**Ethiopia

Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that she is greatly concerned by serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray in Ethiopia.  This includes a high number of alleged rapes in the capital of Mekelle.  She said that there are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.  Some women have also reportedly been forced by military men to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.  In addition, there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls.  This is happening in a number of refugee camps.  She called on all parties involved in the hostilities to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual [violence].  She also called on the Government to further exercise its due diligence obligations to protect all civilians from sexual and other violence.

**Advisory Board

Today, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs announced the members of its second High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.  The 20 members of the Board will closely collaborate with the Department to provide guidance and focused recommendations for the Secretary-General to respond to current and future socioeconomic challenges in the post-COVID-19 world and to advance the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals.  The list is online.

**Honour Roll

More good news, more money coming in.  We thank our friends in Germany and in New Zealand for their full payments to the 2021 regular budget.  We now have 12 members of the Honour Roll.  I think I've spoken enough.  Your turn.  Edie, and then Célhia.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Can you just confirm what time the nuclear treaty comes into effect?  Is it midnight New York time?  Is it GMT time?  ?Does…

Spokesman:  It is… I will try to speak from memory here.  It's a strange… where it is a minute after midnight in each time zone, but we've released the… the statement will be ready to go as of a minute after midnight New York time on Friday.

Question:  Okay.  Secondly, does the Secretary… there was a fire at a pharmaceutical… the main pharmaceutical company producing COVID‑19 vaccines in India today.  Five people were killed.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?  And my only other question is, is there any update on a new Special Representative for the Secretary‑General in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  The short answer on Lebanon is no.  We hope that the… I mean, I don't have anything… let me take this seriously, because it is a serious matter.  We are actively… the process is actively moving.  I don't have anything yet to announce to you.  On India, I mean, I would just say we, obviously, are saddened by the loss of life and send our condolences to the families impacted, and we hope the fire is fully investigated.  Célhia?

Question:  Stéphane, can we expect the new US Administration to pay what they owe to the UN anytime soon, now that we have a new President?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think that's a question for my counterparts in Washington, D.C.  We engage with every Member State on payments.  The previous Administration had also paid, and I mean, obviously there remains US arrears, but it's not as if the payments had completely stopped during the last four years.  On the contrary, they had come, but there [are] arrears to be said so…

Correspondent:  But there's still a lot of money.

Spokesman:  Yes, and that's been… but that's been the situation for quite some time with the US, so we will engage with this US Administration.  But, feel free to ask them, and tell me what they say.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In the letter to the Secretary‑General, Pakistan ambassador is urging him to use his influence with India to release a seriously ill Kashmiri leader, Yasin Malik, who is languishing in a New Delhi jail.  The ambassador has also forwarded to the Secretary‑General a personal appeal from his wife, Mashaal, saying that the profound incarceration of her husband has left him in fragile health.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction?

Spokesman:  If… I'm not aware of the case, but send me an email with details, and I will look into it.  But just off the top of my head, I'm not aware of the case.  All right.  If you have a question, wave your hands up in the air.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.  Couple of things.  You said one President at a time.  Now that we have a new sheriff in town… I mean new President in Washington, D.C., Secretary‑General talked an elected president.  Is he planning to reach — Mr.  [António] Guterres — soon to the new President Biden and talk about Yemen situation?

Spokesman:  Well, we have made it… I mean we…

Correspondent:  I don't hear you.  I don't hear you.

Spokesman:  Well, I… others do.  Do you want… can you hear me now?

Correspondent:  Yes, I do.

Spokesman:  Okay.  We look for… obviously, the Secretary‑General looks forward to speaking to President Biden at his earliest convenience.  The Secretary‑General is available whenever, but obviously, we fully understand that the new President has a long list of… to‑do list, and we know he's busy.  But, we do very much look forward to a first phone call, whenever that can happen.

Question:  So, you assume that the UN is not on his priority?

Spokesman:  Not at all.  That's not what I said.  We know… first of all, I think, if you look at the two executive orders… two of the executive orders that were signed yesterday, even three of them, a top priority involved the UN.  So, I think that I would not agree with your analysis on that at all.  We have just… we have made it known to the US Mission here that the Secretary‑General is available and looking forward to speak to President Biden whenever he has the time, but we're not… Secretary‑General has a thick skin.  No one is being slighted in any, way, shape or form, and on the contrary, we're very delighted that some of the first actions that President Biden took when he walked into the White House was a return to the Paris climate agreement, was a return to… or not even a return to WHO, a halt of the withdrawal from WHO.  So, I think that itself sends a very strong signal — more than any phone call could have done.

Question:  Just one more, if I can, regarding the vaccination of the Secretary‑General, did he… he has had already today his vaccination?

Spokesman:  No, that has now been pushed back by a week.  It will take place the 28… on 28 January.  In fact, he will have a press conference with you, and then he will go get a shot to vaccinate himself.  Maybe we should have done it the other way around.  Maybe we should have done it the other way around.  Exactly.

Question:  And when… since you have the new action of US Administration on COVID and vaccination, how soon do you expect… predict that we are going to have open… fully or next stage, open and openness of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Have what open?

Correspondent:  The next stage.

Question:  How soon do you expect there… that we are going to get a new stage for opening of UN or the full opening…?

Spokesman:  I mean, it doesn't… it depends on the virus, and it depends on the situation here and on the decisions taken by the relevant health authorities and the city and the state.  So, I mean, let… we're taking that one day… that's not a political decision.  That is a public health decision with… and we remain in contact with the city on that.  Okay.  Yes, Mr. Sato‑san, who is, I think, in the shadows.  There we go.  But I still recognize you.

Correspondent:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Sato.

Question:  Background is a little bit darker.  So, my question is about TPNW [Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons], which you just mentioned.  I heard that the… there is an online meeting tomorrow, which the Secretary‑General may join.  If you have information, please elaborate.  That is one thing.  One more question is also on the TPNW.  Is it possible or is it probable for Secretary‑General to hold the first meeting of the State party of the TPNW by end of this year?

Spokesman:  That I cannot… I'm not in an ability to predict if there is… if he will be able to do that by the end of the year.  And as of a meeting, I'm not aware… I haven't seen anything on his calendar to that effect, but I will double… I'm just checking now.  We'll double‑check again.  Toby, you had a question, too.  Let's vary the NHK questions here.

Question:  This is a very producorial question.  Which is I'm just double‑checking the embargo timing.  So, it's at 0001 tonight is when the Secretary‑General's remarks will be public?

Spokesman:  It is one minute after midnight so… I mean, we all…

Correspondent:  Eastern Standard Time.

Spokesman:  Eastern Standard Time.  Right.  So after… if you stay up till midnight tonight, stay up an extra minute, and then you can release the statement.  How about that?  Okay.  Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thanks so much.  You told us something really interesting about Al Hol camp in Syria before.  I'm wondering if you… is there anything else you can tell us about that?  For example, what kind of team does the UN have in Al Hol?  Is it doing anything to investigate these deaths, these murders?  And does the UN believe that they are related to remnants of the Islamic State?

Spokesman:  No, we have no forensic capability, investigator capability, nor mandate to do so.  But I'll see what more information I can get for you.  All right…

Question:  And can I do one more, Steph?  It's a… it's a really nerdy question, and I'm a little bit loath to ask it, but Joe Biden signed the re‑entry into the Paris Accord last night.  He was in the Oval Office when he did that, and you say that the instrument was deposited with the UN in New York the same day.  I'm wondering, is it the same document that he signed and it had to be driven from Washington, D.C., to New York, or can you just send a PDF, and then that can be deposited?  How does that work?

Spokesman:  Thanks to the marvel of [inaudible] technology, there was a letter that was signed, and it was scanned and sent electronically to the United Nations here in New York.  Okay.  Unless somebody has another question, we will turn to our guest.  Excellent.

For information media. Not an official record.