Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 December 2020
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
On Ethiopia, we have seen the reports of a UN convoy being shot at in Tigray province. These are alarming reports, and we are engaging at the highest level with the Federal Government to express our concerns and avoid any such incidents in the future. You will have seen from the statement we issued yesterday afternoon that the Secretary-General is very concerned about the current situation in Tigray.
We also told you he'd been on the phone with a number of regional leaders, UN representatives on the ground, and of course with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, with whom he spoke early yesterday afternoon. For us, we remain steadfast in our call that it is essential that the delivery of public services be re-established, and unfettered humanitarian access be guaranteed, among others. The UN remains totally committed to supporting the African Union initiative, and we remain fully committed to mobilizing the full capacity of the UN to provide humanitarian support to refugees, displaced people and all populations in distress.
Our humanitarian colleagues are reporting to us that the dire shortage of food, water, fuel and cash in the Tigray region is seriously affecting people, including humanitarian workers. In many areas, people have been living for more than a month now with no electricity, running water, banking or communications. Our colleagues have raised concern regarding the lack of essential medical supplies, which is hampering health-care workers' ability to support the population and disrupt critical services, including for women who are pregnant or giving birth.
In Afar, preliminary findings from our teams carrying out assessment missions indicate that water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as medical supplies, are among the immediate priorities of people newly displaced or affected by the conflict. Power and fuel shortages have forced health facilities to close, while telecommunications remain down in the areas neighbouring the Tigray province.
**Central Emergency Response Fund
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Pledging Conference for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The Secretary-General called CERF unique, adding that it is quick and non-bureaucratic. CERF also reaches the underfunded emergencies that have fallen off the world's radar – or were never on it.
With this being a year like no other due to the pandemic worsening crises caused by conflict and climate change, the Secretary-General called the CERF a resounding success. In 2020, it gave more than $820 million to fund life-saving assistance to people in 52 countries, which is the highest amount ever allocated in a single year. The General Assembly in 2016 endorsed the target of raising $1 billion annually for the Fund.
But this year, the Secretary-General said that, while the world faces its worst humanitarian crisis in many decades, we are only halfway to our target, with $495 million received. If all Member States and partners allocate a small percentage of their humanitarian funding through the CERF, he said we can reach our target. An investment in the CERF is an investment in humanity.
This morning, the Security Council met in a virtual platform on the UN Integrated [Transition] Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS. The Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, noted that Sudan is at a critical juncture, stressing that the country can move forward decisively in its transition, but that the process can still be derailed by the many challenges it faces. She said the new Mission began to deploy to Khartoum in October and is continuing its consultations with transitional authorities.
As the Joint UN-African Union Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, draws down, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said he believes that its presence averted large-scale violence in the difficult terrain and operating environment it faced. [He said] that it is the responsibility of the Transitional authorities of Sudan and the parties to the Juba Peace Agreement, with the support of the international community, to safeguard the gains made in the history of UNAMID.
This morning, the Secretary-General addressed, in a pre-recorded video message, the Caring for Climate High-Level Meeting which is convened by the Global Compact, UN Environment, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN High-Level Climate Champions. He said that it is encouraging to see how businesses are responding to the twin crises of the pandemic and climate change. Through the "Business Ambition for 1.5" initiative, more than 340 CEOs are aligning their companies' emissions targets with a 1.5-degree future and the goal to reach net zero well before 2050.
The Secretary-General said that much more needs to be done and added that he looks forward to further ambitious commitments being announced at the Climate Ambition Summit this Saturday. And I also want to flag that on Thursday, his Special Adviser on Climate Change, Selwin Hart, will be here to brief you on the Summit. And uh, I will get to you, Edie.
Just turning to Ghana, I want to tell you that the Secretary-General is closely following the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana. He is encouraged by the peaceful manner unfolding in the process so far. He commends the commitment of national stakeholders to preserve Ghana's status as a beacon of democracy in the region by conducting peaceful, transparent, and credible elections. The Secretary-General is also encouraged by the signing of the peace pact on 4 December by the two main presidential candidates, committing to peaceful elections and recourse to exclusively peaceful means to resolve any disputes emanating from the process.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that a contingent which is part of the Mission's Force Commander Reserve unit distributed some 4,000 educational kits to 30 schools and started necessary renovations to school buildings in southern Lebanon. These initiatives, together with other donations of school supplies at the request of local authorities, facilitate the continuity of education during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
**COVID-19 - Moldova
Quick note from Moldova. Our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Simon Springett, has supported national efforts to address the pandemic with technical expertise, while providing equipment for the health system, including front-line workers. The effort has totalled $12.8 million, backed by more than 16 donor countries. The UN team has also reprogrammed its own measures to address the impacts of the pandemic.
We have delivered more than 1 million surgical masks, half a billion N95 masks with respirators, nearly 180,000 body shields, almost 1,000 thermometers, and more than 50 ventilators, among other items. These were distributed to authorities for use in prisons, border points, schools, shelters and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) assisting vulnerable groups. [The UN Population Fund] provided personal protective equipment for a network of more than 40 youth-friendly health [centres] from all over the country. We, along with our partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), GAVI, and the World Bank Group, are also supporting the Government to undertake the Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool.
**COVID-19 - Education
UNICEF today warned that the number of schoolchildren affected by COVID-19-related school closures surged by 38 per cent in November. The agency says that this is placing significant strain on the learning progress and well-being of an additional 90 million students globally. In contrast, in October, the number of schoolchildren impacted by school closures decreased nearly threefold. UNICEF pointed out that when schools close, children risk losing their learning, support system, food and safety, with the most marginalized children paying the heaviest price.
**Campaign - Tobacco
The World Health Organization today launched a year-long global campaign for the World No Tobacco 2021 Day. The theme this year is "Commit to Quit". To mark the start of the campaign, WHO released a new Quit Challenge on WhatsApp and a publication entitled "More than 100 Reasons to Quit Tobacco". Ms. Lederer, you've been itching to ask a question.
**Questions and Answers
Question: That's true. [Laughter.] Thank you very much, Stéph. The senior official in Ethiopia said the UN staffers were trying to reach areas where they were not supposed to go, that they broke two checkpoints and were trying to go through a third when they were fired on. He said the staffers have since been released. Surely, if they've been released, the UN has information about exactly what happened. So, when did this take place? Where did it take place? Were these staffers national or international staff? And were they breaking UN guidance on where they were and were not supposed to go?
Spokesman: My understanding is that there were four people in the convoy. They were… as far as I understand, they were trying to kind of do an assessment of roads before… obviously, and this needs to be done before larger UN aid convoys go in. As to the exact details of what happened, those are still being looked at, and I can't really go into more detail at this point.
Question: Could you tell us whether they were national or international staffers or both? And exactly when… what day did this happen?
Spokesman: It was two and two. And I'm trying to get the exact timing. James, yep.
Question: So, follow-up on Edie's question just now. The official, Redwan Hussein, who spoke to reporters as… he said so they were… they were going where they were not supposed to go. Under the deal signed last Wednesday, are there restrictions on where UN humanitarian teams can operate?
Spokesman: Look, the operationalization of the agreement is still being worked on, sometimes at the local level in Tigray with local officials. The situation on the ground is complicated, and there's… I hear your questions but the answers are not as simple as the question.
Question: Okay. A related question, Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, someone who clearly knows a great deal about the international humanitarian system, talking about the situation in Tigray, "We've been standing ready to deliver food, emergency shelter and other essential materials for weeks, and we expected this deal to clear the way. Aid is being left at a standstill." Can you give us your… because he clearly doesn't see much flowing; can you give us your assessment of how this deal - because it was Wednesday last week, so it's almost a week this has been in place - how this deal is operating? Because it doesn't seem to be operating at all.
Spokesman: Listen, to be clear, if the question is, are we getting unfettered, clear, humanitarian access at this point, no. All right. And that's why we're still in discussions with the Government to try to get to where we want to be. We do have a number of humanitarian workers that stayed behind, I think most of them, if not all of them, nationals. They're trying the best that they can, but clearly, we're not able at this very moment to get the aid in that we want to get aid in.
Question: And a final question on Tigray, there are fresh reports - this isn't the first time we've had reports - that there are troops wearing Eritrean uniforms operating in the area, and the fresh reports apparently are quoting UN Security teams operating in Tigray. So, are there any reports coming in from the field from your security teams, whether they're working for humanitarian parts of the UN or other parts of the UN, that are confirming this trend?
Spokesman: Reports are coming in. I'm not able to confirm them at this point. The incident happened yesterday, Edie. [He later corrected the record to say it happened on Sunday.] Okay. Mr. Sato?
Question: My question is different, from different thing. Today, US Government impose sanction on shipping companies engaging in illicit ship-to-ship… coal ship-to-ship transfer in North… South… East China Sea. And also 1718 Panel of Experts report made it clear that there is still rampant illicit ship-to-ship transport near the Chinese sea…
Spokesman: You're talking about relating to DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea].
Question: Yes, DPRK. So, what can Secretary-General say to these violations of Security Council resolution?
Spokesman: Look, every Member State has the responsibility and the duty to respect sanctions put in place by the Security Council. Abdelhamid. And then Maggie.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Recently, a Spokesperson from the United Arab Emirates, I think from the Foreign Ministry, said that "we had not been involved in the war in Yemen for the last one year and a half". Can the UN confirm that? Is the United Arab Emirates, as we speak, still involved in the war in Yemen?
Spokesman: I didn't see that particular comment. What is clear is that there are warring parties in Yemen, and there are those who have influence over them, but I didn't see the comments. I'm not going to get into that. Abdelhamid, did you have another question? They usually come in twos.
Correspondent: No, thanks.
Spokesman: Wow, okay. Maggie, and then Toby. Sorry. And then Philippe. I see you.
Question: Hi, Stéph. Sorry. On Ethiopia, could you just clarify? You said you've seen the reports of the convoy being shot at, but you… the Secretary-General spoke with the Prime Minister yesterday, you said. So, wouldn't he have gotten some sort of confirmation of what happened in this incident?
Spokesman: That… I think the… I'm not sure the news of that had reached us by…
Question: But you say he spoke to him yesterday afternoon, and James was asking you about it at the Noon Briefing. And from the reports I read, the incident happened Sunday, not Monday.
Spokesman: Okay. I mean, that's all I can… I've really nothing more to add than what I've said.
Question: So you know something…?
Question: So, to understand you, you know something took place, but you do not know if shots were fired? Is that what your bottom line is?
Spokesman: I'm… I do not have here all the operational details of exactly what… in as much granular details as I would like to have and like to be able to share with you.
Correspondent: All right.
Question: Hi. Thank you, Stéphane. I had the same question basically as Maggie, but just moving on, I'll ask about the 340 CEOs who are aligning their goals with the climate goals of the UN. What sector of the economy are these CEOs from? Are these the important sectors of the economy, like energy, transportation, or are these more peripheral industries to what the problem is?
Spokesman: They come from a cross-section. We can give you the list of companies. Our colleagues at the Global Compact can do that for you. Okay. Sorry. Philippe, I think you had a question and then Evelyn.
Question: Yes, just about the Tigray, because it's not clear for me. When you say concern was take place at the highest level, it was yesterday between [António] Guterres and the Prime Minister, or it was today?
Spokesman: I can't go into exactly when that happened, but I will try to get some clarification.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Evelyn, and then Stefano. Evelyn? Okay. Mr. Vaccara.
Correspondent: Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Stefano, go ahead. Evelyn, we'll come back to you. I can't hear you.
Question: Okay. Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Okay. It's about the fishermen in Libya. There is this news. The bishop of Mazara, Domenico Mogavero, just few hours ago, say that Italy should go ahead and rescue the fishermen by force, if necessary. So, now I have a question for the Secretary-General. Does he thinks… does he recognize that those fishermen were captured in international water? And if this is the case, does a country like Italy, in an operation… in a military operation of rescuing those fishermen, does he thinks that they… there will be… the operation will be covered by international law? There is a possibility that if somebody take…
Spokesman: Stefano, you're asking me a question, even for a Friday, I can't answer. I don't have the operational details of where these people were captured. We would like them to be freed. The UN Mission on the ground is helping in whatever way we can, and we'd like to see their freedom come through a peaceful process.
Question: So, just a quick follow-up. You telling me you don't know… so, for whatever information you know, the question if they were captured in international law or not, you don't know.
Spokesman: Stefano, this is a very important case. The amount of information on just about every topic that I don't know should now be clear to all of you. I just don't know. Doesn't mean that we don't know. It's just I don't know. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Stéph. At today's Security Council meeting, several Council members expressed concern that the Secretary-General has not appointed a Special Representative for UNITAMS, and it's been six months. Can you update us on what's happening with that selection process?
Spokesman: Given the amount of time the Secretary-General spends on trying to fill senior posts, he could open up an employment agency. He spends a lot of time on it. The approval of these post is a… one could say a double-key process, like the launching of nuclear missiles. The Secretary-General holds one key. Others hold another key. So, I think the Secretary-General is as frustrated as anyone else that a lot of these senior posts are vacant, but it is not through his lack of trying. Mr. Bays. I should have switched to decaf today.
Question: Yes. So, just a little… I've got a couple of other questions, but little follow-up on Ethiopia. Given everything that's going on and the enormity of the situation, the humanitarian… in terms of the humanitarian dimensions, we were promised a briefing on that by the top official in the field. And it seems a very timely moment that perhaps we could get that briefing this week?
Spokesman: I'm… yes. I'm trying.
Spokesman: Like the Secretary-General, it's… I don't hold the only key but…
Question: Okay. And moving back to maritime issues off the coast of Libya, a Turkish ship, which apparently was under Jamaican flag, heading to the port of Misrata, has been intercepted by the LNA [Libyan National Army], it seems, Turkish sources saying it was carrying medicine and other medical products. Any response from the UN?
Spokesman: No, I'll look into that case.
Question: And one final question. Monitoring social media as we do, on various social media accounts related to permanent representatives, there've been plenty of holiday parties, farewell parties, pictures of prominent PRs with no social distancing, wearing no masks, sitting around tables less than six foot apart, gatherings of more than 10 people. I know permanent representatives of countries do not work for the Secretary-General, but they do interact with the UN. The GA is open. They are coming into meetings. Is the Secretary-General concerned that some of these missions are not following the UN guidelines, the host country guidelines, the city guidelines?
Spokesman: Look, I can't tell you that these photos have gone unnoticed, and I think it is incumbent on all of us who are part of this community to follow the guidelines that are in place by our host city and, frankly, are also promulgated by the WHO. Mr. Sato?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question is about the atomic bomb survivors' testimony. This week, several atomic bomb survivors' supposed to make a lecture to the UN tour guides through online. So, what does security… Secretary-General see the meaning of this kind of interaction between hibakusha and the UN tour guides?
Spokesman: I think they're tremendously powerful. The hibakusha have a voice that is unique, a voice of standing up against the use of nuclear weapons. It is a voice that is sadly disappearing, and I think we need to ensure that all the hibakushas that are survivors have a platform from which to speak and, most… more importantly, people need to listen. Thank you, much. Carla, yes, and then I will go, because…
Spokesman: Okay. I'll come back to you, Evelyn. Carla and then Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: In view of the fact that distinguished humanitarian law experts and human rights rapporteurs appointed by the Secretary-General have pointed out the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the Security Council sanctions against the DPRK, China's trading with North Korea will make it possible to save lives because it's freezing cold; cutting off oil and gas is condemning the innocent civilians. I'm not suggesting the Government isn't innocent, but… why would the Secretary-General criticize China?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is doing two things. One is that he calls on Member States to follow the sanctions put in place by the Security Council, which is pretty basic messaging from a Secretary-General. He has also said on repeated occasions that sanctions should not be a blunt tool and that humanitarian concerns need to be taken into place when putting in these sanctions. And the UN remains… the UN continues to do whatever it can from within the DPRK with the humanitarian team that is there. Evelyn?
Question: Two quick questions. One James' follow-up… follow-up to James' question, will the Secretary-General speak to the diplomatic party folks and ask them to obey New York, what everyone else…
Spokesman: We have had a number of briefings with Member States in which we've asked them to follow the guidelines put in place by the City of New York, and our colleagues from the City of New York and the host country have also passed on that message. Majeed, and then I will pull…
Correspondent: Wait. I'm not finished.
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Has any further thought been given by the Secretary-General or the peacekeeping chief about the draw-down in Darfur? The Janjaweed still seem to be operating with impunity.
Spokesman: I mean, I think everything's been contained in the reports and in the briefing to the Security Council.
Correspondent: Yes, I know.
Spokesman: Majeed? I know. That's what we have. Majeed? [Silence.] All right. I think Majeed's disappeared. Okay. I'm sure he will reappear. And in the meantime, I will ask Brenden [Varma] to appear.
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