24.12.2020 – Briefing and Conference of the Spokesperson of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Noon Briefings.

United Nations, Office of New York, the 24th of december 2020

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right. Good afternoon.
**Central African Republic – Peacekeeping.
I will start with an update on the Central African Republic. Just confirming that the Security Council has approved on 23 December the Secretary-General’s proposal for the temporary redeployment, for a two-month period, of two infantry companies and two military utility helicopters from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to assist the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic. This is to reinforce the operational capabilities of the Peacekeeping Mission in the CAR (Central African Republic) during this electoral context. And on the security front, the peacekeepers are continuing to actively engage in mitigating growing threats from armed groups throughout the country.
The Mission is also continuing to provide support to the preparations of the presidential and legislative elections. The Peacekeeping Mission also reported that the deployment of sensitive elections materials to all prefectures was completed yesterday, while voter card distribution continued all over the country. The Mission reported that 85 per cent of voter card distribution centres were open and had high turnout, despite the security challenges. And yesterday, the Peacekeeping Mission also contributed $500,000 to the UNDP-managed fund to further help financing the elections.
**Central African Republic.
Also on the Central African Republic, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the CAR, Denise Brown, today issued a statement expressing her concerns for the escalation of violence in several parts of the country ahead of the elections on Sunday. Ms. Brown condemned the acts of violence that have led to increased insecurity and more than 55,000 people leaving their homes. She calls on armed groups to comply with the International Humanitarian Law and immediately stop all attacks against humanitarian personnel and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
**Ethiopia.
And an update also on the humanitarian situation on Ethiopia, where [there are] two inter-agency assessment missions in Tigray province, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that one of the teams is now in Mekelle waiting to proceed to Adigrat. The other team however had not, by yesterday, proceeded to Shire as planned due to additional permissions requested by the authorities. The Ethiopian Ministry of Peace is expected to facilitate the clearance as soon as possible. Health, nutrition, food, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as non-food items are the priority needs.
**Ukraine – Delivery of Aid.
Turning to Ukraine, where we, along with our humanitarian partners, have now delivered 315 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid and refrigeration equipment to non-Government controlled areas in Eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, 25 trucks of shelter materials, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, water, sanitation, hygiene and non-food items were delivered for further distribution in Luhanska province. Today, 100 refrigerators from UNICEF – required for the storage of medical supplies – were transported to Donetsk province for further distribution to health-care facilities. We, along with our humanitarian partners, have been on the ground in eastern Ukraine since 2014, providing relief and protection assistance worth more than $1.2 billion. Each year, humanitarian organizations have reached more than a million people on both sides of the ‘contact line’.
**Mozambique.
Turning to Mozambique, the World Food Programme today said that they are extremely concerned about the dire humanitarian and food security situation in Northern Mozambique, brought on by escalating violence and displacement from Cabo Delgado. According to WFP, more than 900,000 people in Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula are now facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. With limited supplies reaching markets, the cost of food and household items has skyrocketed. Despite significant operational challenges, WFP plans to reach 750,000 people in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces. The UN agency said that $117 million is required to provide support for the next 12 months in Mozambique. In the absence of enough funding, food supplies will be compromised leading to a reduction in rations or potential suspension of food distributions. As we have seen in other countries.
**Madagascar.
Turning to Madagascar, in advance of a tropical depression that is moving towards the country, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the Government is coordinating preparedness activities for a possible response. We, along with our partners, are also identifying emergency supplies available in support of the Government. OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) is also identifying an assessment team for potential deployment. They also warn that the depression, which is being called Chalane, could hit the Mozambique coast next week. And that is where Cyclone Idai hit nearly two years ago. And this relates obviously to Cabo Delgado, which we’ve just spoken about. Responsible government agencies are putting preparedness measures in place.
**International Day of Epidemic Preparedness.
This Sunday is the first observance of the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General notes that the Day falls at the end of a year in which a scenario many had feared came tragically true. The Secretary-General points out that COVID-19 having now killed more than 1.7 million people, devastated economies, upended societies and exposed the world’s vulnerabilities in the starkest ways, the value of health emergency preparedness has hit home like never before. The Secretary-General stressed that as we strive to control and recover from the current pandemic, we must think about the next. He adds that preparedness is a sound investment, costing far less than emergency expenditures, and that science must be our guide. For him, solidarity and coordination are crucial, within and among countries. No one is safe unless all of us are safe, he adds.
**COVID-19 – Thailand.
And speaking of COVID, in Thailand our resident coordinator Gita Sabharwal, is leading the UN team’s work, with the government, private sector and civil society to address the impacts of the pandemic. WHO (World Health Organization) is supporting the government to pilot a new healthcare model which will boost access to tele-medicine. UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) is monitoring the impact of Thailand’s economic stimulus package on people’s livelihoods and in partnership with the UN Environment Program and the International Labour Organisation, the green aspects of the recovery. Our team in Thailand is also engaging in the private sector for green, climate-friendly investments to recover better together with the pandemic. UNIDO, the UN Industrial Government Organization, is providing technical assistance to introduce regenerative furnaces and scrap processing machines to reduce dioxin and carbon dioxide emissions in steel and aluminium factories. For their part, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the International Telecommunications Union are working with authorities to identify schools and communities lacking internet access and to support e-learning.
**Climate.
WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, said today that the past decade, that is 2011 to 2020, was the warmest on record and this year remains on track to be one of the three warmest on record. The exceptional heat of 2020 is despite the cooling of La Niña, which is now impacting weather patterns in many parts of the world. According to WMO, 2020 will most likely end up being the second warmest year to date, behind 2016 and ahead of 2019.
**Briefings.
A reminder that we will not brief tomorrow, obviously, and we will not brief next week, though we will be putting highlights on the web at about noon. So, I want to take this occasion to wish you all a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas. If you don’t, go get some Chinese food, and enjoy the day off, as we do in New York. And just thank you for all your cooperation, and a big shout-out to all our technicians who helped us put this briefing together each and every day. So, on that note, I will take your questions. Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers.
Question: Hey, Stéphane. I have a question about the Sustainable Development Goals. We know that, even last year, before the pandemic, people here at the UN were lamenting the fact that interest rates were too low to move the goals forward. Can you tell us a little bit about where do we stand right now with regard to those goals at the end of this pandemic year?
Spokesman: Well, let me start with the good news. I think on the good news is that we’ve seen the needle move in the right direction on climate change and with pledges by so many countries to be carbon neutral or carbon zero by 2050, by 2030. We’ve seen different dates. So, it’s a very positive movement. We hope that these pledges will turn into real commitments ahead of the next COP (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Glasgow. And, obviously, climate impacts the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) across the board. On the bad news, I think we have seen the pandemic hit all of the SDGs in a negative way, whether it’s on issues of women, on gender, on education and health. And I think this next year and the years following will need to see a redouble of effort or redouble of investment so we can get the SDGs back on the correct track. Yes, Ray.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The leader of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, just declared minutes ago that there would be a war against Turkey and its mercenaries. And he said also that there is no choice for Turkey either… they have either to leave peacefully Libya or in other way. And also, two days ago, as I mentioned, the Turkish Parliament renewed the mission of their troops for another 18 months in Libya. Just we need to know any comment or statement on that. Thank you.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, I haven’t seen the statements made by Marshal Haftar, General Haftar. What is clear to us is that it is important that all the parties in Libya redouble their efforts and participate actively in the different dialogue tracks that they are working on, supported by the UN Mission. I think, as this year comes to a close, it is important that the people of Libya can see tangible signs of hope with leaders pledging peace instead of war and that all those countries that have influence over the parties in Libya exercise that influence in a positive way. The last thing that the Libyan people need now are more weapons, more soldiers. What they need is peace, a chance to strengthen and rebuild their political institutions and to restart their development and peace, as well as dealing with the pandemic.
Question: You see that the Turkish military presence in Libya is just an influence or is an occupation or troops?
Spokesman: Look, there are… if you look at the various reports published by the UN experts, there are a number of countries that have military presence, either directly or indirectly, in Libya. As I said, it is important that Libya be left to the Libyan people in a way they can freely choose through democratic means their leadership. Okay. Ibtisam, apparently, you’ve been waiting to ask a question.
Question: Thank you. Happy holidays. My question is on the fact that the US President recently pardoned four security guards from the private military firm Blackwater [inaudible] Iraq. Do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: I would first refer you to the statements made by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I think, on the broader issue of paid mercenaries, paid military contractors, the Secretary-General, I think, has spoken out very forcefully on the negative influence that they have. It is also very important that accountability be registered when civilians are killed that people are held accountable.
Correspondent: But I have a follow-up.
Spokesman: Joe Klein. Yes, please.
Question: May I have a follow-up? So… I’m aware that the comment… yeah. I’m aware of comments of the Commissioner for Human Rights, but my question is whether the Secretary-General… or how do you think that this could influence also future tries to bring people to justice, people who committed war crimes? And if you could just say something specifically on this case or in Iraq, the crimes that were committed there. Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, we support what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said. It’s… this development is not a positive one for accountability of crimes against civilians, and I think that’s clear. Sorry. Who… I was calling… Joe Klein, Joe.
Question: Yeah. Thank you, and happy holiday. Two questions. The first, in light of the formal contagious strain of the coronavirus that’s broken out in the UK, what is the current status of the Secretary-General’s plans previously announced to go to the UK, I believe, in the middle of January? Where is he now? And when will he plan to come back to the United States? That’s my first one.
Spokesman: He is on leave seeing his family in Portugal. I expect him to be back in New York on the 4th of January, and he’ll be working from the residence during the time that he is required to be in isolation as per the health regulations of our Host City. I have no official travel plans to announce for next year as of now.
Question: So, UK trip may still be on? Is that what you’re saying or…
Spokesman: As I said, I have no official plans to announce as of now.
Question: Okay. My other question relates… it’s really an end-of-year question as to how the Secretary-General… what he regards as his most serious shortcoming in terms of what he wanted to achieve in 2020 at the UN and what he’s most proud of in terms of his accomplishments in that regard.
Spokesman: Look, he’s not one to toot his own horn, but I guess that’s my job. I think one of the things that I think he would deserve to be most proud of is seeing that needle move on climate; right? This is an issue he has spoken about to audiences in China, in Japan, in India with a strong message, and we have seen the needle move. I think you saw during the Climate Ambition Summit, which I think we all agreed was not enough, but very important Member States made pledges towards carbon neutrality, lowering emissions. And I think that’s a reflection of the intense work he has put in on this issue over the past year. In terms of regret, I think simply the lack of real international cooperation we have seen on dealing with the pandemic and all the offshoots of this pandemic that we would have liked to have seen much stronger coordination, cooperation from the first days that the pandemic hit. Toby.
Question: Hi. Thanks very much, Steph. I have a couple of questions today, two short ones and then a more substantive one. The first short one is, concerning reports yesterday, today, of many civilians killed in Ethiopia, is the UN aware of these reports? And is there any independent mechanism of the UN to be able to verify these reports of many civilians dead?
Spokesman: No, the short answer is that we don’t have a presence in the area to confirm it, and I think this is one of the things that Michelle Bachelet was lamenting yesterday in her statement is that we’ve seen all these reports of human rights violations, of death, but we have no access; we have no way to implement it. Obviously, we’re very concerned. We’re saddened over the reports of these reported killings by… of at least 100 people in Metekel Zone of Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region. I think it is very important that the perpetrators of these crimes be brought to justice.
Question: Thank you. Second question has to do with the… today as the day of Epidemic Preparedness. You said this was the first day that we’ve observed this. So, is this day… was it put into place… I’m not exactly sure how these days come to be, but was it put into place as a result of COVID-19 or this is [inaudible]?
Spokesman: This is the first time we’re marking this day. These days, as you know, for the vast majority and, I think, maybe all of them are the result of resolution passed by the General Assembly. This resolution was passed earlier this year. The significance of the date is that it is the birthdate of Louis Pasteur, the renowned French scientist. Gloria, and then we’ll go to James Reinl. Okay. James? And Evelyn, are you waving for a question? Okay. So, we’ll… James Reinl, and I see Mr. Sato, as well. James.
Question: Hi there. Yeah. On the SG’s [Secretary-General] travel to Portugal, flights between the US and Portugal, it’s only permitted for essential travel. Was the SG able to get around these travel restrictions because he’s got such great connections?
Spokesman: No. The Secretary-General, as you know, flies commercial. He flew commercial from Berlin to Portugal, and he will fly commercial back. And he’s following all of the requirements and regulations. Evelyn, and then we’ll go to Mr. Sato. And I see Santa’s helper there with the hat.
Correspondent: Sorry, Stéphane. The flight… so, because he flew internally within Europe from Berlin to Portugal, that means that the flight that he took from New York to Berlin beforehand isn’t counting him as a passenger who’s travelled from the US, because that would be in breach of the travel restrictions.
Spokesman: Listen, you probably know more about the travel restrictions between New York and Portugal, as it seems you’ve done some research. I can tell that you he’s also following the required guidelines of what is requested of people coming into Portugal. So, I know he was tested on arrival, as well.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: Evelyn, and then Mr. Sato.
Correspondent: And happy holiday to you, Stéphane, and thanks for all your work this year, which wasn’t easy.
Spokesman: You as well.
Question: I had a technical problem when Ibtisam was speaking. Did she ask about the… President Trump’s pardon of the killer in Iraq and the reaction to it? If so, then don’t respond to it, but if that wasn’t the question, could you…
Spokesman: No, that was addressed, and it was addressed in the statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and that’s… I answered that question already.
Question: All right. I have another question on the CAR. There’s violence there that everyone reports. You have Russia, Rwanda and now the French sending planes overhead and the UN reporting on the misery and chaos there. Why must the elections go ahead? It doesn’t sound like they’re going to act in the peaceful nature of the country.
Spokesman: Well, I think, as you saw, I think, from what we’ve been reporting that there’s an intense yearning from the people of the Central African Republic to be able to participate in these elections. It is our aim in support and working with the Government to ensure that there is security for people to express themselves through the ballot box peacefully. And I think it is the responsibility of the international community to do whatever it can so the people of the Central African Republic can express and exercise their right to vote. Mr. Sato.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Thank you for your tireless work this year. And my question is about the SDGs. You raised both good news and bad news about SDGs development. So does Secretary-General think the need to adjust or enhance the Decade of Action for SDGs?
Spokesman: Well, I think what the Decade of Action of the SDGs needs to show is increased action. It’s not about adjusting the decade, but it is to ensure that as Member States put forward recovery packages from the pandemic that these recovery packages enhance the SDGs and enhance our goal of reaching them instead of setting them back. All right. Gloria, did you have a question? All right. I’m sorry, Ray. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you again, Stéphane. There is a Nigeria…
Question: [Inaudible] the High Commissioner for Refugees for the… COVID-19… hello?
Spokesman: I’m sorry. Gloria, your connection is very bad. I cannot hear you. Your screen is somewhat frozen. Go ahead, Ray. Okay. Go ahead, Ray.
Question: Okay. There is a Nigerian journalist… his name is Khaled Drareni. Soon, on January 9th, he will be in… on January 9th, he will be in jail for like… first year he’s going to be in jail. He’s accused of endangering the integrity of national territory through social media posts, and he’s sentenced for two years for this accusation. Any comment or statement on that?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of the details of this case, but what I can tell you is that we have, very often, expressed our concern about the state of journalism throughout the world and the need for journalists to be able to do their work free of harassment, which, obviously, includes incarceration, and that really no one should be in jail for expressing an opinion. Okay. On that note, I wish you all a wonderful holiday. Yeah. We need it. So, turn off your computers. Throw your phones away for a day or two or three. And we will see you on the other side on January 4th 2021.