The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I have a statement on the Gambia, where elections are about to happen: The Secretary-General welcomes the completion of the work of the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission and the submission of its final report on 25 November to the President of the Republic of The Gambia. The Secretary-General commends the Commission for its tireless work and urges the Government to ensure speedy follow-up action on the recommendations contained in the report. The United Nations remains a staunch partner in the transitional justice process in the Gambia and stands ready to continue supporting national efforts towards the full implementation of the Commission’s recommendations to ensure justice, reparations for victims and closure, as necessary steps towards national reconciliation and social cohesion.
As Gambians prepare to exercise their civic right to vote for their next President, the Secretary-General calls on the electoral management body, candidates, political party leaders and their followers, through their conduct, to ensure a peaceful environment conducive to a credible, inclusive and transparent presidential election. An additional note on The Gambia, just to add that the Head of our Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, and Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa here in New York, have begun a visit to the country. They are there to support the Gambia in its efforts to organize a peaceful, inclusive and transparent presidential election. This election, as you know, is scheduled for tomorrow, as I mentioned. They will meet with the election observation missions deployed to the Gambia, civil society organizations, and the UN country team.
Moving to the other side of the continent in Ethiopia, in the northern part of the country, our humanitarian colleagues have advised us that the conflict there continues to drive large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods and limited access to markets, food and basic services. The latest numbers of people impacted are 3.7 million people in Amhara, more than 500,000 people in Afar, and 5.2 million people in Tigray. Of those, at least 400,000 are believed to be facing famine-like conditions. Our humanitarian partners have limited access to a large segment of the population across these regions, though there have been some improvements in the past week. As the Secretary-General and we have told you, between 24 and 30 November, four convoys with 157 trucks loaded with humanitarian supplies arrived in Mekelle. Those were the first deliveries since 18 October. Fuel, however, has still not arrived in Tigray via the Afar route since 2 August, with eight tankers currently in Semera in Afar waiting for clearance to proceed.
On 24 November, the UN’s Humanitarian Air Service resumed twice-weekly flights between Addis [Ababa] and Mekelle, following their suspension on 22 October. As a result, we along with our humanitarian partners were able to rotate staff in and out of Tigray and transfer a limited amount of operational cash. Despite significantly reduced capacity, our partners in Tigray have continued to deliver life-saving assistance. Water and sanitation assistance was provided to more than 27,000 people with water trucking in Central Tigray in the past week, and health assistance has reached more than 23,000 people. Some 179,000 people have also received food assistance in the current round of food distribution. In Amhara and Afar, our partners are scaling up response, including food, nutrition and health services. More than 35,000 people in Dessie and Kombolcha have received food assistance, and more than 79,000 internally displaced people received health services in the past week. In Afar, more than 86,000 people have received food assistance in the current round of distributions. We will have a funding shortfall of about $1.2 billion remains to respond to the humanitarian needs across Ethiopia, including $335 [million] for the response in northern Ethiopia. Requirements for humanitarian operations in Ethiopia are expected to increase for next year, due to growing needs in the northern part of the country, as well as other parts.
**Central African Republic
Quick update from the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that positions belonging to the Central African army in the Ouaka Prefecture were attacked yesterday by a large number of combatants from the UPC armed group [Unité pour la Paix en Centrafique] Three civilians were injured, and one policeman was killed. The attack also prompted the displacement of over 1,500 people, as well as national army soldiers, who sought refuge in a nearby UN peacekeeping temporary base. The UN Mission deployed a quick reaction force to reinforce security at the base while patrols have been increased in the area to ensure the protection of civilians.
In a joint communiqué which followed the UN/African Union Conference which took place earlier this week, and which was just approved last night, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Secretary-General expressed concern over the emergence of the new Omicron variant. They renewed their call on the international community to scale up the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate vaccine distribution on the continent. The annual conference also reviewed current challenges to peace, security, development and human rights across Africa. On Ethiopia, the Chairperson and the Secretary-General underlined the need for a ceasefire as a matter of urgency and called on the parties to prioritize the welfare of civilians, including by ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance and ensuring human rights protections. And on climate, Mr. [António] Guterres and Mr. [Moussa] Faki emphasized the importance of increasing efforts to integrate climate change considerations into conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. The full communiqué was shared with you.
Update from Myanmar, where the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the country today called on employers in Myanmar to take action and measures to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. This comes as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which started last week. ILO said that violence and harassment in the workplace can constitute a human rights violation and harm the health, dignity and well-being of everyone at work. It threatens equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work. Since the military takeover of the Government in Myanmar in February, ILO is increasingly hearing reports of violence and harassment in the workplace. In addition, since the COVID-19 pandemic, reported cases of violence and harassment in the workplace, particularly among women and vulnerable groups, have increased globally.
From the Solomon Islands, the UN team in the country, led by Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha, stands ready to support the Government to assess needs and the displacement of people following more than a week of political unrest in the country. This turmoil was fuelled by poverty, unemployment, and inter-island rivalries. You will recall that we issued a statement last week in which the Secretary-General urged dialogue and peaceful means to address differences. Our team in the Solomon Islands says that more than 1,500 migrants have reportedly been displaced in the violence, while dozens of buildings were burned and looted, leading to the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. Subject to funding, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is ready to help deliver food and shelter to displaced people, as well as provide technical support to coordinate camps for uprooted people.
Quick update from Malawi, where our UN team there is stepping up its support for surveillance and prevention, following the emergence of the Omicron variant. While Omicron has not been confirmed in Malawi so far, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is training scientists on genomic sequencing to identify COVID-19 variants. It is also working with the Government and the World Health Organization (WHO) to screen travellers. UNICEF has distributed oxygen concentrators, oxygen monitors and ventilators to hospitals, and plans to bring in more oxygen concentrators this month. It is also providing classroom tents to 40 schools across Malawi for 20,000 students. To support Malawi’s new recovery plan, the World Food Programme (WFP) continues to provide insurance payouts for more than 65,000 farmers after last season’s failed harvests. To date, Malawi has received 2.6 million vaccine doses from COVAX, and 1.4 million have been administered.
**International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year the theme is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”. In his message, the Secretary-General says that a disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery should be guided by persons with disabilities themselves, forge partnerships, tackle injustice and discrimination, expand access to technology and strengthen institutions to create a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world. He urges all countries to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, increase accessibility, and dismantle legal, social, economic and other barriers with the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their organizations. Edie and then Mr. Bays.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, starting with Ethiopia, it's all well and good, it seems, that you have 167 trucks that made it to Mekelle, but how are they going to be able to get food to people in need in Tigray without fuel?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think it highlights one of the many challenges that we face. We do have some reserves of fuel in Tigray. We've been getting a little bit, from my understanding, from the authorities there but not nearly on the scale that we need. So, what tends to happen is that those who are concentrated in urban centres have a better chance of receiving aid, much more difficult for those who are further away. And there are a lot of… to paraphrase someone, there are a lot of unknown unknowns. Right? Because of the fuel shortage, we haven't been able to assess the situation in some of the far‑reaching… the areas that are farther away from Mekelle and other urban centres.
Question: And is there any information that the United Nations has received on the state of fighting or where it is or…?
Spokesman: No, nothing more than what we've seen publicly. James?
Question: In Vienna, the talks to try and sort out the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], have ended, and they don't seem to have made any progress. In fact, some participants seem to be saying that things are going backwards. Is the Secretary‑General worried that the window for solving this issue peacefully is possibly coming to an end?
Spokesman: We're not going to make the jump from the talks having ended the way they are to a situation not being dealt with through diplomatic terms. Our position on the JCPOA remains unchanged, and we would encourage all of the parties involved to redouble their efforts to move together towards reimplementation, if you may, of that agreement. Okay. I don't see any other questions, so… I… oh, sorry. Yes. Go ahead. Brittany.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday morning, 181 NGOs [non-governmental organizations] worldwide sent a letter to the Secretary‑General with concerns regarding the International Narcotics Control Board's kind of secretive work on cannabis. The board has pledged transparency but remains silent and still closed to civil society. And my question is, does the Secretary‑General have a comment on this situation? And would he be willing to facilitate a mediation with the INCB and concerned NGOs due to the lack of transparency?
Spokesman: Well, the Narcotics Control Board is a Member State body. They set their own rules. As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General always believes that civil society should be heard and should be given space to express their opinion. Okay. Paulina? Oh, yes, go ahead.
Question: Sorry. Would he be willing to mediate with…?
Spokesman: It's not the role of the Secretary‑General to do that. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Another question. On the International Day of Disabilities, while we're promoting increasing accessibility for people with disabilities, service animals are discouraged from coming to campus because they might interfere with the canine unit. What steps are being taken to rectify that?
Spokesman: I know of a colleague who has a service animal who brings the animal to [campus]. If somebody has… needs to bring a certified service animal because of sight or other issues, I don't see it as a problem because I know there's a colleague who has one, so… thank you. Ms. Kubiak.