The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Starting off, unfortunately, with some tragic news: This morning in Mali, seven Togolese UN peacekeepers died and three others were seriously injured when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Bandiagara region in central Mali. The peacekeepers were part of a logistics convoy travelling from Douentza to Sevare.
We will have a formal statement shortly, but, as you can imagine, the Secretary-General strongly condemns this heinous attack. We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of Togo. We wish a full recovery to all those who were injured. The Secretary-General also calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of this attack so that they can be brought to justice.
We were also informed this morning that a peacekeeper from Egypt died on Monday in hospital after succumbing to injuries he suffered during an attack in northern Mali last month, and we, of course, send our condolences to his family and to the people and Government of Egypt.
Today’s attack comes at a time when peacekeepers and the tools they are given are part of the discussions in the Peacekeeping Ministerial Summit, which concluded a short while ago in Seoul, with Member States reiterating their collective commitment to UN peacekeeping.
Speaking earlier in the day, the Head of Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said that, over the last four years, we made notable progress in improving the safety and security of our personnel. But, speaking on a day when these peacekeepers lost their lives in Mali, he reiterated that more needs to be done, including having the requisite capabilities, a key priority of the strategy Action 4 Peacekeeping+.
Mr. Lacroix also stressed that UN peacekeeping “needs not only more women, but also an environment where they can fully, equally and meaningfully participate so that we can be more effective, meet the highest standards of professionalism and better protect the populations we serve.” A press release will be available shortly and will provide additional details on pledges and commitments made during the meeting.
**Secretary-General — COVID
I also just wanted to read into the record the information we passed on yesterday following the questions we received — just to confirm that the Secretary-General had come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. He has shown no symptoms and tested negative yesterday afternoon. Out of an abundance of caution, he has cancelled all his engagements for today and is working from home until he is tested again tomorrow.
A note on Myanmar: I can tell you that we are deeply concerned by the reports of the horrific killing of 11 people in Salingyi Township in north-west Sagaing region, who were reportedly shot and burnt by the military on Tuesday morning in apparent retaliation for recent militia attacks. Credible reports indicate that five children were among those people killed.
We strongly condemn such violence and remind Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians. Those individuals responsible for this heinous act must be held to account.
The UN has repeatedly condemned in the strongest possible terms the violence by Myanmar’s security forces and armed forces. Such violence is completely unacceptable and [demands] a unified and resolute international response.
As of 8 December, security forces have killed more than 1,300 unarmed individuals, including more than 75 children, through their use of lethal force or while in their custody since the military takeover on 1 February.
Just continuing with bad news — unfortunately, in Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that large quantities of humanitarian food supplies, including nutritional items for malnourished children, have been stolen and looted in the town of Kombolcha in the Amhara region.
The small-scale theft of food escalated into mass looting of warehouses across Kombolcha in recent days, reportedly by elements of the Tigrayan forces and some members of the local population.
The exact amount of food taken is still being determined, but what is clear is that these incidents will further worsen malnutrition and prolong food insecurity in northern Ethiopia. An estimated 9.4 million people across Tigray, Amhara and Afar are now in critical need of food assistance.
The World Food Programme (WFP) teams on the ground were not able to prevent the looting in the face of extreme intimidation, including staff being held at gunpoint. As a result, WFP has suspended food distributions in the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha.
Such harassment of humanitarian staff by armed forces is unacceptable and undermines the ability of the United Nations and all of our humanitarian partners to deliver assistance when it is most needed, particularly as aid workers face growing access challenges.
Also, yesterday and today, three WFP trucks used for humanitarian operations in Amhara have been commandeered by military personnel and used for their own purposes.
We strongly condemn all of these incidents and reiterate our calls to all parties to the conflict to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel and objects, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law. It is prohibited to attack, destroy, misappropriate or loot relief supplies, installations, materials, units or vehicles.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues report that the distribution of food and cash assistance continues across the country. Over the past three days, more than 27,000 people received food assistance under the World Food Programme’s support work in Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. More than 33,600 people received cash as winterization support in Laghman, Samangan, Maidan, Wardak, Baghlan and Kunduz provinces.
During November, OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) undertook 17 field and road missions to various parts of the country to assess needs and monitor response.
With the deepening humanitarian crisis, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan requirements have tripled to $4.47 billion. Continued scaled-up support to Afghanistan is crucial to continue saving lives and the livelihoods of millions of people.
**Central Emergency Response Fund
This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, delivered remarks on behalf of the Secretary-General to the High-Level Pledging Event for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
In those remarks, Mr. [António] Guterres said that the Fund is a success story because it is constantly evolving, applying lessons learned and embracing innovation in response to risks that are more complex, intertwined, and global.
He added that this year has been one of the most difficult on record for humanitarian needs, but the Fund has stepped up to the challenges.
[In] 2020, CERF helped close to 69 million people — twice as many as the year before. The Secretary-General said the scale of today’s crises [demands] a strong Central Emergency Response Fund with the resources it needs to rise to the challenge of responding swiftly at the onset of an emergency. He called on Member States to keep supporting the Fund so it can reach its target of $1 billion.
A note from the Secretary-General regarding the helicopter crash that took place in India today: The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the death of General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff of the Indian Armed Forces, as well as his spouse and 11 other people in a helicopter crash. He expresses his heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased and to the people and Government of India.
As you may recall, General Rawat served the United Nations with distinction and we fully appreciated that work. He was Brigade Commander of the North Kivu Brigade of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUC) in 2008 and 2009.
I have been asked by a number of you for more details about Stephanie Williams’ new role as the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Libya. I can tell you that she will lead the good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks — that’s the political, security and economic tracks — and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Special Adviser will work in close coordination with the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The Assistant-Secretary-General and Mission Coordinator, Raisedon Zenenga, will be responsible for day-to-day management of the UN Support Mission in Libya and will serve as Officer-in-Charge of the Mission until the appointment of a new Head of Mission.
The Security Council today heard a briefing from Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, on the Syrian chemical weapons file.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. A couple of follow‑ups. First, on the deaths in Mali from this improvised explosive device, can you find out for us what kind of a vehicle they were in? Because, obviously, it sounds like it was not one of those reinforced vehicles.
Spokesman: Exactly. Exactly. We're trying to get a bit more detail, as the story was breaking…
Question: And secondly, seven peacekeepers killed, is that a high for this year? It's certainly one of the highest numbers…
Spokesman: It is one of the highest numbers. I will… let me double‑check because we've had… as you well know, our colleagues in Mali have been really on the forefront, and that Mission has suffered tremendously. Togolese peacekeepers, Egyptians and, obviously, Chadians have borne the brunt of it, but let me get… we'll get you those… that rundown.
Question: And secondly, are we going to be getting some kind of a release on the total pledged for CERF?
Spokesman: Yes, we will. They're counting the beans.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Benno?
Question: Thank you. Germany has a new Government, and I have three questions. What feelings does the SG have seeing Angela Merkel go?
What does he expect from the new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz?
And what does he expect from the first female Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, it's… first of all, we want to congratulate the new Chancellor on taking up his post and leading the German Government. As you know, Germany is a critical and pivotal partner of the UN in peace and security, in development, in climate. And we really look forward to continuing to engage with Germany on all those files, and we look forward to Germany's leadership on those files, as well.
Yes, thank you. No, thank you. No, I'm just… [laughter] You know, the Secretary‑General had a… I think, a very close and warm relationship with Angela Merkel, which I had the privilege of witnessing a number of times when they met. And again, I think she exemplified Germany's leadership on the issues that I've just listed, notably on climate. And I think the empathy and the leadership she showed during a number of refugee and migrant crises in Europe is something that António Guterres personally admired.
Okay. Any other questions? Anything in the chat? Oh, Margaret. Let me have your question.
Question: Sorry. Steph? Sorry. Sorry. I'm here.
Spokesman: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Go.
Question: Sorry. I didn't hear you. Steph, when you mentioned Ethiopia, you said 9.4 million now across Tigray, Amhara and Afar? Is that correct? Did I hear you correctly? 9.4…
Spokesman: Hold on. If you weren't listening to me…
Question: I feel like it was 5.2 plus 2 million, so I just want to know where that extra numbers… when I… maybe I missed an update, but I just want to double‑check.
Spokesman: Yes, I did say 9.4, which is higher than what we said before, I believe, but let me check on when those numbers were…
Question: Can you check the breakdown? I mean, has it… because I don't know if it's risen in Tigray or in Amhara and Afar so that's what I'm wondering. Thank you. Thanks.
Spokesman: Yeah. Understood. You're welcome. [He later added that WFP said that an estimated 5.2 million people in Tigray, 534,000 in Afar and 3.7 million people in Amhara are all in urgent need of food assistance, according to the latest target figures from the Food Security Cluster in Ethiopia.]
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. The US President, Joe Biden, announced today that the US and some partners in NATO might meet Russia later this week or maybe later and on the issue of some kind of deal regarding the expansion of NATO to the east. Would the SG or UN welcome some agreement between Russia and NATO which would provide some exit of the situation?
Spokesman: We would… let me put it, we do welcome dialogue as we did… we saw between the Russian Federation and the US. If that is expanded to NATO countries, we welcome that, as well.
I think dialogue that we would hope… dialogue we hope will lead to de‑escalation of the tensions that we are seeing.
Okay. Madame Paulina Kubiak. À vos.