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25 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.

**World Economic Situation and Prospects

All right.  You just heard earlier today from Elliot Harris, the UN Chief Economist, about the latest World Economic Situation and Prospects report.  And as you know the report warns that the devastating socioeconomic impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come unless smart investments ensure a robust and sustainable recovery of the global economy.

**Secretary-General — World Economic Forum

The Secretary-General just wrapped up a virtual address to the Davos World Economic Forum.  In his remarks, he said that humanity has just endured a year of tragedy and crisis that we never want to repeat.  But, the Secretary-General added that the tests to our societies are continuing.  He underscored the world’s fragility, pointing to the current COVID-19 emergency, the global economic crisis, the increasing inequalities resulting from the pandemic, among others.  Mr. [António] Guterres said we have reached a moment of truth:  In 2021, we must address these fragilities and put the world on track.  It is time to change course and take the sustainable path.  The Secretary-General once again called for a reinvigorated, inclusive and networked multilateralism.  His full remarks have been shared with you and I think the video is up on various platforms.

**Climate Adaptation Summit

This morning, he also spoke at the Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  He said that as unprecedented climate extremes continue to impact people on all continents, we need a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience.  Adaptation cannot be the neglected half of the climate equation, he added, and said that all adaptation efforts must include developing countries, who are particularly vulnerable to climate risks.  The Secretary-General said that donor countries and multilateral, regional and national development banks need to significantly increase the volume and predictability of their finance for adaptation and resilience, and that all budget and investment decisions must be climate‑resilient.  He reiterated that the UN is ready to assist developing countries in these efforts.  Those remarks were shared with you.  And later this evening at 7 p.m., the Secretary-General will address the annual Park East Synagogue Holocaust Commemoration ceremony.  Those remarks have also been shared with you under embargo and you can watch the ceremony starting at 7 p.m. on the webcast.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, the fifth meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoners and Detainees Exchange Agreement for Yemen got underway yesterday in Amman, Jordan.  The Committee resumed discussions between the parties to the conflict to discuss the release of more detainees, following the release of 1,065 people last October.  The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, urged the parties to prioritize in their discussions, the immediate and unconditional release of all sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees, as well as all arbitrarily detained civilians, including women.  The Committee is also chaired, co-chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

**Saudi Arabia

And I’ve been asked about events over the weekend in Saudi Arabia and I can tell you that we are aware of reports that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s forces intercepted an aerial attack headed towards its capital, Riyadh.  We strongly condemn all attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.  We remind all parties of the need to uphold international humanitarian law, including taking steps to protect civilians.  All potential violations of international humanitarian law should be thoroughly investigated and those responsible for violations must be held accountable.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, where the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us they have reinforced patrols in Bria to counter any possible hostile reaction by armed groups against the civilian population and UN personnel.  This follows the arrest of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani on 20 January in Bria, and his surrender to the International Criminal Court on Sunday, by virtue of an arrest warrant issue by the Court in 2019.  MINUSCA provided support to the Central African authorities, which led to his arrest.  Mr. Said, a national of the Central African Republic, is suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in Bangui in 2013, in his capacity as a Séléka commander at the time.  Two other anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, are currently detained with the ICC for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Meanwhile, the Mission has increased patrols at the entrance of Bossangoa in Ouham prefecture, after peacekeepers on Friday dismantled checkpoints illegally occupied by the combatants of the CPC group.

**Mozambique

In Mozambique, we’re being told that Tropical Cyclone Eloise made landfall on Saturday.  It brought heavy rainfall and flooding to areas affected by Tropical Storm Chalane three weeks ago and which were also devastated by Cyclone Idai less than two years ago.  Preliminary reports indicate that more than 176,000 people have been affected, with more than 8,300 people being displaced.  At least 6 people have died and 12 were injured.  The most recent cyclone destroyed, damaged or flooded nearly 9,000 houses.  It also damaged schools and health centres.  Crops have been flooded, and this could affect the annual harvest period which starts in April.  We, along with our partners are supporting the Government‑led relief efforts.  We are also working quickly to assess the situation and respond to the most immediate needs of the people who have been affected by providing food, health, sanitation and protection services at evacuation centres.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more resources are urgently needed, given they are also responding to the conflict in Cabo Delgado and the recent impact of Tropical Storm Chalane.  And we are trying to get the UN Resident Coordinator for Mozambique to be our guest tomorrow to give you more details on what is happening on that country.

**Sudan

On Sudan, following inter-communal violence in west and south Darfur earlier this month, the number of newly displaced people has jumped to more than 123,000 — that’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  To date, we and our partners have provided food to more than 22,000 displaced people.  We have also provided health services to more than 17,000.  Some 10,000 displaced people have received emergency shelter and other items, while nearly 3,000 people have received water brought in by trucks.  An inter-agency needs‑assessment mission is scheduled for tomorrow to two villages outside Geneina.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, are also preparing to help displaced people in Toweil village in South Darfur, once they have access.  Our humanitarian colleagues led an assessment team to Dereige camp in Nyala, where more than 1,000 people have arrived from Gereida in recent days.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council heard from the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and others who briefed Security Council members on the impact of the pandemic on peace and security.  Ms. DiCarlo said the pandemic has worsened inequality and corruption, bred misinformation, stigmatization and hate speech, and created new flashpoints for tension and increased risks of instability.  Ms. DiCarlo noted that as the wealthier countries get vaccinated, the developing world — including countries already impacted by conflict and instability — risk being left behind.  She called this a catastrophic moral failure, as well as a severe blow to peace and security.  She called on Council members to be part of the global efforts to recover better.  For his part, Mr. Lowcock said the UN estimates 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection this year.  That is 40 per cent more than last year, and almost entirely down to the virus.  He asked the Council for immediate funding for the UN-coordinated humanitarian system, which needs $35 billion to reach 160 million people this year.  Mr. Lowcock called for the international financial institutions to strengthen the support they provide to the most vulnerable members.  He also called for urgent action to ensure vaccines reach the most vulnerable people in the world.

**Lesotho — COVID-19

And an update from the ground in Lesotho on what our UN team, led by acting Resident Coordinator Anurita Bains, is doing to address the pandemic.  The team says that, since last month, COVID-19 cases and deaths have increased [by] 100 per cent in Lesotho, with a severe second wave currently stressing health‑care systems and livelihoods.  Movements and economic restrictions are making the delivery of our essential programmes challenging.  We’ve assisted all of the country’s 193 health facilities to maintain essential services, including maternal health for nearly 200,000 women, as well as HIV support and vaccinations for more than 22,000 children.  We have trained more than 13,000 community health workers to respond to the pandemic.  More than 360,000 people have benefitted from improved access to water and sanitation, with the UN having built nearly 170 permanent handwashing stations.  More than 160,000 people, including returning migrants, have received cash transfers to cushion the impact of the crisis.  We also supported three new apps to monitor community cases of the virus, and also to report domestic violence, and an e-market platform for smallholder farmers.

**Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tells us that last year, [fewer than] 23,000 refugees were resettled through the agency.  Those are the lowest numbers the agency has witnessed in almost two decades.  They say the drop can be attributed to low quotas put forward by States, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed departures and programmes.  On the upside, UNHCR is encouraged that 20 countries still resumed their programmes, processing and receiving refugees throughout the year, despite the pandemic.  The largest numbers of resettled refugees in 2020 originated from Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar.

**Education Day

Yesterday was the third International Day of Education.  In a video message, the Secretary-General said that when education is interrupted, it impacts everyone — especially students, teachers and families.  He paid tribute to their resilience in the face of the pandemic.  All of us pay the price, Mr. Guterres said, adding that education — as a fundamental right and a global public good — must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe.  He called for the full replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education fund, as well as for strengthening global education and cooperation.

**Honour Roll

We thank our very dear friends in Helsinki for allowing us to finish this briefing on good news.  They paid their contributions to the regular budget in full, which takes up the Honour Roll to how many people? How many Member States?  Seventeen.  Excellent. Lenka, if you have a question, you may ask it, or you may yield.  All right.  Iftikhar will take your question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  With regard to Saudi Arabia, does the United Nations know the origin of this weapon that was fired at it?  I mean, is it… which direction it came from?

Spokesman:  No, we do not have that information.  We don't have the forensic mandate or capacity to do that.  So, we have… we know it happened.  We know it needs to be condemned, but we have no information on where it could have come from.  Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There has been some reports from Washington, D.C., that the current administration will reach out to Iran through some European countries regarding a new probable nuclear deal, negotiations and talks.  Has the UN been approached for these kind of talks or not yet?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we… we've seen these reports.  We've… our position on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] has remained unchanged in the last years, is that the Secretary‑General always felt it was a very strong diplomatic achievement.  And I think any dialogue between the parties which may move the situation forward in a positive manner would be welcome.  But again, we need to see… I mean, these are just reports.  Mr. Bays, welcome back.

Question:  Steph, I hope to be in the room with you tomorrow after my COVID test.  Anyway, so, first, any comment from the Secretariat or the Secretary‑General on renewed India‑China border clashes?

Spokesman:  Only to say that we hope that, through dialogue, the tensions that may exist along the border could be dialled down.

Question:  Another quick one, responding to events — clearly, further arrests over the weekend in Russia.  Protesters there protesting the arrest of Mr. [Alexei] Navalny.  The UN… the Secretary‑General's comments, please?

Spokesman:  Regarding the events that took place over the weekend, the Secretary‑General reaffirms the basic right of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  People should not be detained solely for expressing their opinion.

Question:  Another continent and another news story, if I can:  Uganda, and there… there's been a court order saying that those surrounding the house of opposition politician Bobi Wine, the security forces need to stand down.  The latest reports I have is they have not done so.  The response of the UN, please?

Spokesman:  Look, I've seen the reporting on the court decision.  We hope that it is followed through.  We'll… obviously, we're monitoring the situation closely.  It's very important that the security forces do show restraint and also obey… obviously, obey the order.  Célhia?

Correspondent:  More if you can come back to me later.

Spokesman:  No, I… no, no.  It's… Célhia, please.

Question:  Stéphane, what does the Secretary‑General think about [inaudible] China over Taiwan during the weekend? Is he worried? Is he going to say something to China?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, I think, is aware of the press reports, and he would not want to see anything that raises tensions in any parts of the world.  Okay.  If anyone besides James has a question, raise your hand, and I will come back to you, James.  All right.  Mr  Bays, you have the floor.

Question:  We saw the announcement of the Secretary‑General's new technology envoy.  Can you please tell me what qualifications the envoy has, specific expert qualifications, for this job?  Because he himself says he's rather new to technology.

Spokesman:  I think what Mr. [Fabrizio] Hochschild brings to the table is, in fact, first of all, having dealt with this issue for a bit of time within the UN, but I think also the ability to bring different stakeholders together, both the public and the private sector, Governments together.  He fully understands how the UN can be used as a convener to bring these parts together in order to really look and address the challenges of technology and all its facets in the twenty-first century.  Okay.  I will leave you in the hands of Mr.… oh, there he is.  I was… I kept looking at the screen, but he's actually here.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma, you have the floor.

For information media. Not an official record.