Print
17 December 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Let’s get started.  Good afternoon and happy Friday, everyone.  I have a senior appointment to tell you about.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica as his Chef de Cabinet.

He will succeed Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for her outstanding service and steadfast commitment to the United Nations.  The Secretary-General expresses his profound appreciation to Ms. Ribeiro Viotti.  He particularly admires her exemplary leadership in steering the work of the United Nations through some of the greatest tests in the Organization’s history, including the global pandemic, a potentially crippling financial crisis and one of the Organization’s biggest internal reforms.  Her vision, sound judgment and unmatched integrity inspired and shaped the United Nations and will leave a positive impact on the Organization for the years to come.

Mr. Rattray has been High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States since July 2021.  Prior to this appointment, he served as Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations in New York, during which time he was also Co-chair of the Group of Friends of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

**Lebanon

As the Secretary-General informed you yesterday, he will travel to Lebanon for a State visit, which starts on Sunday.

At this challenging time for Lebanon, this will be a visit of solidarity during which the Secretary-General will reaffirm the support of the entire UN family – from our political teams and peacekeepers to our humanitarian aid workers and development professionals – for the country and its people.

The Secretary-General will meet with government officials, including President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, as well as a number of religious leaders and civil society.

He will pay tribute to the victims of the Beirut Port blast and will also travel to southern Lebanon to visit the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

In a video message prior to the trip, the Secretary-General said that lasting solutions can only come from inside Lebanon.  It is essential for leaders to put the people first, and implement the reforms needed to set Lebanon back on track, including efforts to promote accountability and transparency, and root out corruption.

**Lamp of Peace

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will receive the Lamp of Peace award.  This award, given by the Sacred Convent of Assisi, in Italy, aims to honour those working to promote peace and harmony.  Recent honourees include the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel; the King of Jordan, Abdullah II; and the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella.

The Secretary-General will deliver remarks virtually during the ceremony taking place at the Basilica of Saint Francis, in Assisi.

The Secretary-General was originally scheduled to travel to Italy to attend the ceremony in person.  But as you are aware, following exposure to people who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week, and as a precautionary measure, in accordance with medical advice, the Secretary-General decided to participate virtually.  The Secretary-General continues to test negative for the virus.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at about 6:45 a.m. New York time on Saturday, and you will be able to watch it live on UN Web TV.

**Middle East

Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today that he is alarmed by the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is claiming the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

Last night, he said, Palestinian assailants opened fire towards an Israeli vehicle near Nablus; one Israeli was killed and two others injured.  Since this morning, there have been several retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in villages near Nablus.

The Special Coordinator said that these tragic incidents, and numerous others in recent weeks, highlight the volatility of the current situation and the urgency for all political, religious and community leaders to speak up and reject violence.

Mr. Wennesland condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and appealed to all sides to de-escalate the situation.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Yesterday, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings, launched the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2022.  It seeks $510 million to support 1.6 million of the most vulnerable people in Gaza and the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.

Two in every five Palestinians will require some sort of humanitarian assistance in 2022, according to the needs analysis on which the Plan is based.  Some 64 per cent of these people, or 1.3 million people, live in Gaza, where most of the interventions will be implemented.

The Humanitarian Response Plan aims to protect the rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, to increase access to quality basic services, and to help vulnerable Palestinians cope with the impact of the protracted crisis.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid distributions continue across the country with the response on track to reach more than 17 million people by the end of the year.

In the past week, five mobile health teams, supported by UN agencies and partners, provided basic health care to 7,000 patients, including 650 children under 5, who received routine immunization in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.  Since November, the UN has also supported the COVID-19 hospital in Nangarhar and this month, we have provided health kits to several health facilities in the province.

We, along with our partners, have also distributed certified wheat seed and provided training to more than 2,500 farmers in several districts of Kunduz Province, and distributed relief items to 2,000 people in Takhar and Badakhshan provinces.

Yesterday, 28 tons of emergency relief items, including solar lamps and blankets to keep displaced people warm in winter, were airlifted to Afghanistan with the support of Qatar.  Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that this week, the Kunduz Province received its first fuel shipments from Tajikistan through the Skirkhan border crossing, after almost 10 years of hiatus.  Fuel imports from Tajikistan are expected to lower fuel prices significantly.

Our humanitarian colleagues warn that security remains a concern.  Two children were reportedly killed and eight wounded on 15 December when an unexploded ordnance detonated while a group of children were playing with it in Gizab district, Uruzgan Province.

**Ethiopia

I have some updates from northern Ethiopia on the humanitarian response to the crisis there, which continues despite numerous challenges.

In Tigray, our partners continue to deliver aid, despite cash, fuel and supply shortages.  Between mid-October and mid-December, some 260,000 people received food aid but, as we have told you, 5.2 million people need food assistance in Tigray.

Also in Tigray, more than 44,000 people have received water and more than 32,000 people received health-care this week.

People who recently fled fighting within Tigray have received food, water, and other materials.

In Amhara, humanitarian partners are scaling up their response in areas they can access, but face challenges due to insecurity, bureaucratic constraints, interrupted communications, and a lack of funding.

In the past week, nearly 669,000 people received food in Amhara, bringing to 1.5 million the number of people reached with food aid since October.  Aid agencies are also providing nutrition support, health services, and water, hygiene and sanitation services.

In Afar, our partners are stepping up their activities, which include providing food, nutrition support and health care.  More than 100,000 people received food aid in the past month.  Medical supplies and personal protective equipment for more than 50,000 people were also sent to Afar.

This week, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, visited Afar, where she met with the regional leadership and community leaders on the humanitarian situation.

The humanitarian response in northern Ethiopia continues to face a funding gap of more than $340 million.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Bintou Keita, wrapped up a four-day visit to the eastern provinces of Ituri and North-Kivu.  During her visit, she met with the military governors, local authorities, as well as representatives of displaced communities, civil society and humanitarian organizations to review the state of play in relation to the peacekeeping mission’s mandated activities.  In Beni, she had a working session with the Congolese General responsible for coordinating the joint operations between the Congolese army and MONUSCO to identify additional measures needed to enhance the protection of civilians in the area.

The Special Representative visited the peacekeeping base in Roe, Ituri, where more than 70,000 people currently live under the Mission’s Force protection, after a spate of attacks by the armed group CODECO.  She used the opportunity to strongly condemn attacks against sites for displaced people, schools, health centres and places of worship.  She reiterated the UN’s commitment to improve security, secure the provision of humanitarian assistance and support community reconciliation efforts.

**Deputy Secretary-General

We just have now a trip announcement from the Deputy Secretary-General.  At the invitation of the government of Costa Rica, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart tomorrow evening to San José for meetings with senior government officials on financing for development, climate ambition, COVID-19 recovery and socioeconomic impact and debt.  She will also visit several project sites and meet with the UN country team and other stakeholders including civil society and business.

She will return to New York on 21 December 2021.

**COVID-19

I have some COVID updates for you, today from China and the Philippines.

The UN in China, led by Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee, continues to support the Government’s health and socioeconomic response to the pandemic, with a focus on vulnerable people.

To date more than 1.1 billion people in China have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with ongoing national initiatives to vaccinate younger people and to administer booster doses for priority populations.

While vaccine distribution and administration is undertaken by the Government, the World Health Organization (WHO) is implementing a jointly agreed framework for COVID-19 vaccine communications, together with the China Centre for Disease Control.

In the Philippines, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, recently supported a national vaccination drive that reached 7.6 million people.

To date, 38 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, including 7 million children.  By next week, the Philippines is expected to have received 51 million vaccine doses through COVAX.

The UN is working to strengthen testing, tracing, and vaccination capacity in the country.

In the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where the vaccine rate is one of the lowest in the country, the UN team is setting up testing labs, and has provided cold chain vehicles, sea ambulances, and solar vaccine refrigerators.  It is also providing communications support to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

**COVID-19 — Schools

In a statement issued today, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, noted that COVID-19 cases are again spiking all over the world, fuelled increasingly by Omicron — and amid rising uncertainty, many Governments are weighing whether to keep schools open.  She said that one thing we do know for certain:  another wave of widespread school closures would be disastrous for children.

Ms. Fore stressed that nationwide school closures should be avoided whenever possible.  She emphasized that we know that mitigation measures in schools are effective, and that we must use this knowledge to do everything we can to keep schools open.

**International Migrants Day

Tomorrow is International Migrants Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General says that on this Day, we recognize the contributions of migrants across the world in the face of many struggles including the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General notes that migrants continue to face widespread stigmatization, inequalities, xenophobia and racism.  Yet throughout the pandemic, he adds, migrants have enriched societies everywhere and are often on the frontlines of the pandemic response as scientists, health-care professionals and essential workers.

The Secretary-General stresses that solidarity with migrants has never been more urgent and that we need more effective international cooperation and a more compassionate approach to migration.

And tomorrow is also Arabic Language Day.

**Financial Contributions

We have two fresh payments to the regular budget, this time from Eritrea and Mauritania.  Their contributions take us to 142 fully paid-up Member States.  Our thanks to both.

**Briefing Monday

On Monday, I will be joined remotely by our guest, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, who will brief on the situation in the country.

And that is it for my notes.  If you don’t mind, I will first have a sip of water and then take any questions.

**Questions and Answers

I don’t… okay.  Yes, Célhia, please, go right ahead.

Question:  Farhan, I asked the question already last week, but I did not get an answer, so I’m going to ask it again.  Two months after the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on human right issues in Burundi, the Government closed the door on any field work in the country, even though the rapporteur has not yet been appointed.  Do we have an update on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, what our basic point of principle is is we want to make sure that all of the rapporteurs of the human rights system are able to do their work without obstruction.  Obviously, we will leave it to our human rights colleagues to follow up and make sure that the rapporteur for Burundi is able to go about his work fairly, but we have already pointed out our concerns about the human rights situation in that country and our desire to make sure that all of the officials of the human rights system have the access they need to make sure that human rights standards are being upheld.

Question:  I have a…

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Sure.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  If the Secretary-General is in Lebanon and the Deputy Secretary-General is somewhere else, who is leading the UN?  Or maybe I was wrong.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, right now, today, the Deputy Secretary-General is here in the building today, and she will be departing for Costa Rica.  Again, that will be over the weekend.

While the two of them are away, the Chef de Cabinet would be in charge of the UN, but the Deputy Secretary-General will be back fairly soon, I believe by the middle of the week.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  Abdelhamid, do you have a question?

Question:  In fact, Farhan, I have two, and I hope you are… you will be patient with me.  First a question about the statement you just read about… by Mr. Wennesland.  It is very strange that he issued a statement when an Israeli settler was killed.  However, I’ve been notifying you and Mr. [Stéphane] Dujarric almost every single day about Palestinians killed, including Mohammad Shawkat Salima, who was murdered, who was extrajudicially killed in front of everyone.  There was no statement…

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, although I will be patient with the questions, again, this is a briefing for questions and not for speeches.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  I appreciate your opinion, but please let’s get to the question part.

Question:  Yeah.  My question is, why he issued a statement when one Israeli settler is killed, but he is absent completely when Palestinians are killed.  I need a clear-cut answer.  Does he have a justification to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  The clear-cut answer is he’s not absent when the Palestinians are being killed.  The statement that I read, as you may have noticed, refers to all of the violence, not to violence against one side but against all…

Question:  He said, killing Israelis and Palestinians.  He put Israeli first.  He put the word Israeli killed and Palestinian… [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not going to bicker with you about the order in which the paragraphs are there, but our concern is for all of those who are suffering from the violence, whether Israeli or Palestinian, and Mr. Wennesland has been upholding that.

Mr. Wennesland, as you know, has also regularly briefed the Security Council, and in those briefings, you hear what he says about the violence perpetrated against Israelis and Palestinians alike.

We want to make sure that there’s peace throughout the area, that no one has to live in fear, and we have been pointing out all of the violations against all the individuals on either side of this.

What’s your second question?

Question:  I have a second question, which is related.  Two days ago, Israeli settlers dressed like Arabs, like Muslims.  They infiltrated the Al-Aqsa Mosque, carrying praying carpets, having head covers like Palestinians, and they went into like praying into mosque.

But according to Maariv today, the Israeli paper, they have been training like that, looking like Arabs, praying, even learning some Arabic, learning the Fatiha, a surah from the Qur’an, and in preparation to invade Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t have any further comments on these news reports.  What I would say is we have made clear and will make clear once again today the need for all Holy Sites to remain free of any violations by any side.  They are all sacrosanct, and they deserve to be respected, and the people who are worshipping there should be treated with respect.

And with that, I see no further questions, so I will wish you all a good weekend and turn the floor over to Paulina Kubiak, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Paulina, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.