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21 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.

**Lebanon

The Secretary-General spoke to the press in Beirut an hour ago, and he said that it grieves him to see the people of Lebanon suffering so much.  Despite the strains they endure, he added, the warmth and generosity of the Lebanese people continues to shine.

He said that free and fair parliamentary elections, held on time in 2022, will be an essential opportunity for the people to make their voices heard.  And he added that the international community must be ready to substantially increase its solidarity with Lebanon in the implementation of the needed reforms to stabilize the economy and address the basic needs of the Lebanese people.

The Secretary-General earlier today visited UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) headquarters and met with peacekeepers.  The Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, briefed him on the mission’s work in south Lebanon. 

During the visit, Secretary-General [António] Guterres noted that the parties’ commitment to the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and maintaining the cessation of hostilities across the Blue Line is essential.  He said it is very important that the parties understand that any conflict in this situation could be a tragedy with unpredictable consequences. 

At the same time, he said, it would be important for the parties to negotiate some aspects in which there are still some doubts about the exact position of the Blue Line together with the negotiation about the maritime border, and it is essential that both sides abstain in relation to any violation of the agreements.

The Secretary-General praised UNIFIL’s role in south Lebanon as “the symbol of stability in an unstable region,” and he commended the peacekeepers for their work.

While in south Lebanon, Mr. Guterres held meetings with young peacekeepers, women, and civil society leaders.  He also toured a section of the Blue Line and saw first-hand the work UNIFIL peacekeepers do, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, to maintain stability in the UN mission’s area of operations and along the 120-km Line.  The Secretary-General will leave Lebanon tomorrow morning.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, wrapped up her visit to Costa Rica yesterday.

She reaffirmed that the United Nations belongs to young people, urging States and societies to listen to their voices and ensure their participation in decisions towards protecting the planet.

While in Costa Rica, Ms. Mohammed met with the President, Carlos Alvarado, and other top officials to discuss how to protect the environment, as well as how to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Her visit also highlighted Costa Rica’s commitment to climate action, environmental protection, human rights, social protection and sustainable development and the country's leadership in mobilizing development finance for middle-income countries and achieving debt relief, especially in the context of COVID-19.

**Middle East

Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning and expressed his continued concern over recent developments in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in particular the deteriorating security situation.

If left unchecked, he said, he is concerned that not only may the situation in the West Bank further deteriorate, but these dynamics could also impact the security situation in Gaza and undermine the cessation of hostilities that has held there since May.  It is crucial that all parties take immediate steps to lower tensions and restore calm, he added.

The Special Coordinator said that since 29 September, 12 Palestinians, including one woman and four children, were killed by Israeli security forces.  Thirty-nine Palestinians, including four children, were injured by Israeli settlers or other civilians.  And two Israeli civilians were killed and 39 Israelis, including civilians and security forces, were injured by Palestinians.

Mr. Wennesland said that the rising levels of violence we have seen in recent weeks should be a clear warning to us all.  If left unaddressed, he said, they will drag us into yet another destructive and bloody round of violence.  We must act now to prevent that from happening. 

**Libya

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is concerned about the unfolding security situation in Tripoli.  The current mobilization of forces affiliated with different groups creates tensions and increases the risk of clashes that could spiral into conflict.

Any disagreements on emerging political or military matters should be resolved through dialogue, particularly at this stage when the country is navigating through a difficult and complex electoral process that should usher in a peaceful transition.

The developments in Tripoli do not bode well for the ongoing efforts to maintain stability and establish security and political conditions conducive to peaceful, credible, inclusive, free and fair elections. 

The Mission calls on all Libyans to exercise restraint at this delicate moment and to work together to create a security and political atmosphere that preserves Libya’s progress and enables peaceful elections and a successful transition.  The Special Adviser on Libya, Stephanie Williams, is currently engaging Libyan stakeholders to facilitate achievement of this goal.

**Ethiopia

On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation in the northern region of the country remains highly fluid and unpredictable, despite some reported improvements in the security situation in areas where fighting has recently erupted, such as the border areas between Afar and Amhara.

In Amhara, some internally displaced people have returned to their place of origin.  However, it remains difficult to verify these numbers due to access constraints.  People also continue to be displaced in Afar and Western Tigray.

Our humanitarian colleagues say they have heard of airstrikes reportedly carried out on Alamata town and nearby areas in the Southern Zone in Tigray between 15 and 17 December.  Dozens of casualties were reported, including several deaths.  Humanitarian partners have not been able to independently verify these reports, due to the security situation and access constraints.

No trucks carrying humanitarian aid have arrived in Mekelle, in Tigray, through Afar, since last week.

As of today, a 20-truck convoy carrying food and nutrition supplies remains in Abala town, the last entry point in Afar into Mekelle, due to operational and security issues.

Aid operations in northern Ethiopia are still facing multiple challenges, including the inability to bring in sufficient supplies, fuel and cash to Tigray, as well as the rapid increase in the number of people in need due to conflict and displacement in Amhara and Afar.

We remain concerned about the dire humanitarian situation and any further deterioration in northern Ethiopia.

We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to urgently and immediately facilitate free, sustained, and safe movement of humanitarian workers and supplies into Tigray, Afar and Amhara.

Meanwhile, parts of southern and south-eastern Ethiopia are currently experiencing drought, which is significantly affecting livelihoods, livestock production and water availability, with the humanitarian situation likely to deteriorate rapidly.

Humanitarian operations throughout Ethiopia face a funding gap of $1.2 billion.

**Yemen

Yesterday, multiple airstrikes struck at least six areas of Sana’a International Airport in Yemen.  A UN team visited Sana’a airport today to assess the damage.

Prior to the attack, the airport was degraded but remained operational for humanitarian emergency use.  Three buildings were destroyed.  However, the team today assessed that UN flights can continue as there was no damage to the control tower, runway or taxiway.

We call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, the UN country team there remains deeply concerned over increasing internal displacement and more people needing humanitarian assistance as a result of conflict, political instability and COVID-19 since the military takeover on 1 February.

Fighting between and among the Myanmar army, ethnic armed organizations and local people’s defence forces continues unabated.

The UN teams says that, since February, more than 1,300 unarmed people — including dozens of children — have been killed across Myanmar.  In addition, more than 295,000 people have been uprooted, with more than 1,200 houses having been burned down.

Humanitarian partners need urgent access to people in need to deliver assistance and prevent suffering.  There is particular concern over the lack of access to Mindat township in north-eastern Myanmar, where there has been heavy fighting and displacement in recent months.

With only 58 per cent of the $385 million in funding requested, the UN and its humanitarian partners have been able to reach at least 2.4 million out of the 3 million people in need of assistance in 2021.

For 2022, it is estimated that 14.4 million people will need humanitarian aid in Myanmar.  Among these, 6.2 million people will be prioritized for urgent assistance.  To meet these needs, $826 million will be required.

**Iran

Today, at the end of a three-day visit to Iran, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, urged the international community to scale up its support to the Government and people of Iran, who are receiving Afghans fleeing a deteriorating situation in their country.  According to preliminary estimates by the Government of Iran, up to 500,000 Afghans have arrived in Iran this year.

During the visit, Mr Grandi met with Afghan officials and with families who fled to Iran and also visited a new construction site to temporarily host newly arrived Afghans, with the view to meet their immediate needs and facilitate their regularization.

UNHCR is discussing with the Government the extension of assistance to new arrivals in urban areas and will also seek greater opportunities for tertiary education for Afghan students, while also facilitating more resettlement from Iran.

**COVID-19

I have some COVID-19 updates for you:

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Barbados, Bolivia, Dominica, Grenada, Guatemala, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines recently received doses through COVAX, which were donated by the United States and Spain.

Some 56 per cent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.

Namibia is facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, with the recent detection of the Omicron variant contributing to this increase.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Sen Pang, continues the support to the national response, including on contact tracing and genomic sequencing tests.

To boost the vaccination rate, the UN team is working with the Government on a national campaign to tackle misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.  The team is also engaging communities at the grassroots level on risk communications and COVID-19 prevention support.

As of 17 December, nearly 390,000 people had received their first vaccine dose, while more than 230,000 people were fully vaccinated.  Namibia has received 108,000 doses through COVAX.

And, as I had said, you will hear from Paulina Kubiak [the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly].

And I'm just going to take a little sip of water, so wait one second, and then I'll take your questions. 

**Questions and Answers

All right.  I have a question from Stephanie Fillion from PassBlue.  Stephanie, over to you. 

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you.  I have a few questions, actually all about Jane Holl Lute.  So, first of all, considering she started as a board member at Shell in May and she stayed at Cyprus for at least a few months after that, and she even travelled to Cyprus during that time and that natural resources are currently at the heart of the negotiation in Cyprus, so, can you tell me what the UN did at that time to ensure that she did not share any privileged information that she had access to on the eastern Mediterranean and…  with her new bosses at Shell?

Deputy Spokesman:  All UN officials are to maintain a close hold on all of the privileged information they receive in their jobs as UN officials.  They are not, under our rulings and our ethical guidelines, allowed to share that with other employers after they leave UN employment, and that is expected of Jane Holl Lute just as it is for everyone else.  And we have no reason to expect that she would abuse the normal guidelines at the United Nations. 

Question:  Perfect.  And just follow‑up on that and just maybe a broader question about ethics considering that she's still a Coordinator on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  Can you tell me if you think that, in general, if any UN official on the level of Under‑Secretary‑General should be on the board of a company, such as Shell?  In general, is it good practice, do you think, and how does this reflect on the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have comment on the future employment of people once they're no longer in the employ of the United Nations.  Certainly, we expect all UN staff and all UN officials to uphold the ethical guidelines of the United Nations while they're in our employ.  Their future employment is their own business.

Question:  But she's still employed…  she is still Coordinator on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  Correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  She works with the UN on a when‑actually‑employed basis at present.

Question:  And she's still on…  she's on the board of Shell currently.  So, how…  what…  is it…  does…  is it a good look for the UN to have a…  an employee, Under‑Secretary‑General, doing both?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't really comment on that.  Different people who are…  work on a when‑actually‑employed basis have other employment.  We expect them, certainly, to uphold ethical guidelines while they're doing their job.

Evelyn?

Question:  Perfect.  And if I may, just one last question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  Just going back to 2018 when she was…  Jane Holl Lute, she was already part time in her role as Coordinator.  She had only done one trip in her role, and she was always doing a lot of other…  she had already a lot of other gigs in the private sector.  So, can you tell me what she did to deserve a promotion, to get the Cyprus role at the time?

Deputy Spokesman:  For the senior appointments of the Secretary‑General, as you know, there are hiring processes, and you go through panels and go through interviews.  And the best person for the job is selected, and that was the case in this particular circumstance. 

Evelyn Leopold?

Question:  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Right.  On Yemen, the BBC and others have said that Saudi Arabia's re…  and its partners, mainly Saudi, is responsible for the attacks on Sana’a Airport.  Has the UN spoken to the Saudis?  They may have a reason for it.  And if they don't, why are they just sort of not condemned?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on this, what I can tell you is that we call on all parties to keep the airport open for humanitarian operations.  Any equipment needed to maintain humanitarian flights should be supported to keep it operational.

More broadly, the UN reiterates…  we reiterate our call for the airport to be open for regular civilian and commercial flights and call for the port of Hudaydah to be fully operational, and we encourage the re‑opening of the airport to civilian commercial use. 

And of course, for this, we call on all parties who have been involved, since at different times, different parties have had different roles to play regarding the issues we've had keeping different ports and airports open. 

Kristen?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Given UNSMIL's concerns in Libya, how confident is the Secretary‑General and his Special Adviser that the elections are going to go through as they are supposed to this coming weekend?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the date for the elections is three days from today, so you are as good a judge as I am on how likely it is that everything can be done in the next 72 hours.

Having said that, Stephanie Williams is in touch with different Libyan parties.  It's very clear that if there is to be any sort of adjustment, any sort of technical adjustment to the electoral programme, that it's something that needs to be agreed and that since this is a Libyan‑led and Libyan‑owned process that it's the Libyan parties who will agree to take that step. 

Ms. Williams is talking to them, and we'll see, at the end of the day, what is agreed to.  And, of course, you saw…  you heard what I said at the start of this briefing about the concerns that she had expressed and that the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had expressed.

Question:  We, in fact, are hearing from our sources and reporters in Libya that some of the election workers have been told to go home, essentially.  Is that concerning?

And also, just as a follow‑up, will Ms. Williams be briefing us this week?  I believe that was suggested as a possible…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes.  Yes, we're in touch with her team.  They know how eagerly we want to hear from her, and we'll try to set it up as soon as we can get that from her. 

In terms of the developments, like I said, obviously, things are moving on the ground, and we'll see where we are at the end of the day.  You can see as readily as I can whether any of this means that things will be held on 24 December, which is Friday.

Correspondent:  Yeah. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Dulcie Leimbach, can you un‑mute, or should I read out your question?  Tell me in chat if you're not able to un‑mute. 

Okay.  Dulcie is muted, so her question is, will there be only two women Under‑Secretaries‑General in the Executive Office as of 2022?  The Deputy Secretary‑General and Ana Maria Menéndez?

And they are… as… at the start of 2022, they are the senior people in the Executive Office.  It's true.  The Chef de Cabinet, her term will end at the end of this month.  And, of course, we express our extreme gratitude to Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti for the work that she's done over the past five years as the Chef de Cabinet. 

Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  Kristen asked the questions I wanted to ask about Libya.  Thank you. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, thank you very much.  Then Stefano Vaccara, you have a question?

Question:  Yes.  Kristen asked the question I wanted to ask, but I have a small follow‑up after you answer. 

You said that the Secretary‑General of the UN, in particular, just… you know, it's to the parties in Libya to decide, but shouldn't the Secretary‑General, the United Nations, give advices for what is wise in this moment to do?  So, shouldn't… my question is, what the Secretary‑General advise those parties of what to do at three days far from the election, away from them?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what the Secretary‑General had to say.  The entire purpose of the Libyan elections is to bring the Libyan people together.  If it doesn't serve that purpose as currently managed, we might need to make some form of an adjustment.  And the Secretary‑General made clear, including in his remarks to some of the reporters in Lebanon, that there may be some need for some sort of technical adjustment. 

How that will happen, what the format will be, these are the sort of things Stephanie Williams is discussing with the parties right now.  She has been having productive discussions, and we certainly hope that, at the end of it, we will have some clarity on the way to proceed in the future.  But right now, we're going to let her do her work, and we'll see where we are at the end of that. 

And with that, I'm going to turn the floor over to Paulina Kubiak.  Paulina, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.