Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

(un)–The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary‑General — Climate Change

This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the Global Climate Action High-Level Event at the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) ongoing in Glasgow.

He said the announcements made in Scotland are encouraging — but they are far from enough.  He underscored that the emissions gap remains a devastating threat and the finance and adaptation gap represent a glaring injustice for the developing world.  He called for more ambitious future revised Nationally Determined Contributions and for implementation of the countries’ pledges.  He also said that he was inspired by the mobilization of civil society, the moral voice of young people and the dynamism and example of indigenous communities.

Governments need to pick up the pace and show the necessary ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance in a balanced way.  He said we cannot settle for the lowest common denominator.

And he also met with more leaders on the sidelines of COP26, including Frans Timmermans, the Vice-President of the European Commission; a group of mayors; and ministers from Russia and China.

**Secretary-General — Paris Peace Forum

The Secretary‑General is also about to speak, via pre-recorded video [message], to the Paris Peace Forum.

He will say at a time when fractures are greatly threatening the world, he will encourage leaders to engage in dialogue and conflict prevention.  He will also call for greater solidarity as the only way to heal the great fractures of this world.

**Ethiopia

A quick update, or a not-so-quick update, on the situation in northern Ethiopia:  our humanitarian colleagues say that people in Amhara need shelter, food, and water, as well as medicines and protection, as fighting in Amhara has led to many people being newly displaced from Dessie, Kombolcha, Baati, Kamissie and other areas in Amhara.

Tens of thousands of internally displaced people have reportedly registered in the city of Debre Berhan, with many people taking shelter in two schools there.

Thousands of people are also reportedly displaced from Chifra and Ada’ar in Afar as well.  The majority of these people are women and children, once again.

As you know, the delivery of urgent humanitarian aid has been hampered by lack of access due to insecurity.  Electricity and telecommunications have also been cut in Dessie and Kombolcha in Amhara province since 30 October.  In Amhara, some 915,000 people have received food assistance and nearly 160,000 people have received shelter and other items since August.

No UN-organized humanitarian supplies have arrived in Tigray through the Semera-Abala-Mekelle route since 18 October.  In Semera, 364 trucks are on hold, pending authorization from the authorities to proceed.

The continuing fuel and cash shortage is significantly affecting our partners’ ability to transport supplies, including food.  The lack of essential medical equipment, supplies, and vaccines across the whole of Tigray is also seriously impacting the availability of health care.

Humanitarian partners remain in Tigray and aim to deliver assistance with available resources.

Between 28 October and 3 November, some 112,000 people received food in Tigray, which is well below the average of 870,000 people who should be assisted each week.

Throughout the country, humanitarian operations face a funding gap of $1.3 billion, including $350 million for the response in Tigray alone.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, our Special Envoy, briefed the Security Council’s closed consultations this morning on his recent work, including his travels in Yemen.  He participated by video teleconference.

Mr. Grundberg concluded yesterday a three-day visit to Taiz governorate, where he held meetings in Taiz city, Turbah and Mokha, where he discussed, with a wide range of stakeholders, the urgent necessity for an end to the conflict.

Mr. Grundberg underlined in his meetings the need for comprehensive solutions and inclusive political dialogue.  He called for all stakeholders to engage in constructive discussions on political, military and economic issues that concern everyone in Yemen.

Earlier today, Mr. Grundberg condemned the assassination of Rasha Abdullah, a journalist who was killed in Aden — and I would add she was also pregnant — [and] the attempted killing of her husband, Mahmoud Al-Atmi, who is also a journalist.  Mr. Grundberg said journalists everywhere must be able to work without fear of retaliation.

Also on Yemen, the Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations on the humanitarian situation.

Regarding that, our colleagues are telling us that fighting continues along nearly 50 front lines, including in Ma’rib, where at least 35,000 people have been forced to flee since September.

The humanitarian community is scaling up assistance, but is quickly getting outpaced by the increasing scale of humanitarian needs.

We are also deeply concerned that the conditions could quickly get much worse; if fighting enters the city, agencies estimate it could displace another 450,000 people.  The UN continues to call for an immediate end to the Ma’rib offensive and a nationwide ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Yemen still needs a massive aid operation.  So far, aid agencies have received about 55 per cent of the funding they require this year.  This has helped to keep famine at bay and achieve other important results, but money is quickly running out.  Humanitarians also need to be able to do their work safely and without interference.

**Afghanistan

A quick note from Afghanistan, where our colleagues at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have today alerted about the risk of catastrophe if agriculture collapses in the country.  FAO stressed that, without a massive uplift in humanitarian support, many farmers and herders will be forced to abandon their livelihoods and resort to rural migration.

The FAO warned that this will further aggravate the dire situation in urban areas, severely damage Afghanistan’s food production capacity and contribute to worsening the already staggering food insecurity.  FAO urgently needs $90 million to deliver humanitarian assistance to farmers and herders in 2022, and I think you will recall what our colleague David Beasley [the Executive Director of the World Food Programme] has also been saying about the increasing risk of famine in Afghanistan.

**Guinea

From Guinea, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mahamat Annadif, and the Foreign Minister of Guinea, Morissanda Kouyaté, yesterday launched a new initiative to promote inclusiveness and social cohesion in the country.

The initiative seeks to help facilitate a peaceful and inclusive transition in Guinea by fostering reconciliation at the national and community levels.  It also aims to strengthen infrastructures for peace and the promotion of human rights, as well as to increase the participation of women and all communities in reinforcing social cohesion.

Mr. Annadif called on all Guineans, especially the [youth] and students, to work to build a culture of peace and to resolutely turn away from voices that call for violence, confrontation, discrimination and hatred.

**Belarus-Poland Border

Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said today in Belarus, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), together with the Belarus Red Cross, delivered assistance to people stranded at the border.

Mr. Grandi stressed that priorities now are to prevent loss of life and move people to safer locations in Belarus.  He noted that UNHCR and IOM appreciate the access and are ready to assist in finding solutions.

**COVAX Update

A quick COVAX update for you from Peru and Nicaragua:

Yesterday, Peru received 1.2 million doses of COVID‑19 vaccines through COVAX.  Since March, COVAX has delivered over four million doses to Peru.  The Resident Coordinator, Igor Garafulic, said that this has been crucial in supporting the national vaccination plan, showing that an equitable global response is possible.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) is working with vaccine producers and donors, in the Americas and beyond, to accelerate vaccine development and production in the region.

This week, Nicaragua received more than 320,000 doses from COVAX which were donated by Canada; we thank Canada.

This brings the total number of doses that have arrived in Nicaragua from COVAX to more than 2.8 million.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean, COVAX has enabled the delivery of more than 66 million doses to 33 countries, and more doses are on their way.

**FAO Food Outlook

FAO, again, today released a report showing that global food trade has accelerated and is poised to hit an all-time record in both volume and value.

FAO expects the global food import bill to reach an all-time high in 2021, surpassing $1.75 trillion, marking a 14 per cent increase from the previous year and 12 per cent higher than earlier forecast in June 2021.

The increase is driven by higher price levels of internationally traded food commodities and a threefold increase in freight costs.

More information online.

**UN Refugee Agency Mid-Year Trends Report

UNHCR today released its Mid‑Year Trends report showing that the rising trend in forced displacement continued into 2021.  According to UNHCR, global numbers now exceed 84 million, as more people fled violence, insecurity and the effects of climate change.

The report, for January to June, shows an increase from 82.4 million at the end of last year.  This resulted largely from internal displacement, with far more people fleeing multiple active conflicts around the world, especially in Africa.

Also, the agency notes that COVID‑19 border restrictions continued to limit access to asylum in many locations.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we will be joined in this room by the Police Adviser and Director of the United Nations Police (UNPOL) unit, our friend Luís Carrilho.  He will be joined virtually by Police Commissioners from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Mody Berethe, and the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), Violet Lusala.  They will of course be here to brief you on this week’s UN Police Week events.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, we are thankful for this Member State, which becomes the 136th Member State to pay its dues.  This Member State has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites within…

Correspondent:  Italy?

Spokesman:  Nope.

Correspondent:  Albania.

Spokesman:  One of… I’ll give you a hint.  One of these sites is known as the “Land of Frankincense.”

Correspondent:  Romania.

Spokesman:  Definitely… I mean, not… not definitely not.  Not in that… what?

Correspondent:  Ethiopia or Somalia?

Spokesman:  Nope.  Frankincense.  I will give you another hint.  The capital city of this country has the same name as a spice that we use quite often in food.

Correspondent:  [Off mic, inaudible]

Spokesman:  Oman! Muscat!

Correspondent:  Oh!

Spokesman:  Oh!  All right.  Thank you.  See you tomorrow.  No, sorry.

**Questions and Answers

Edie?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  On Ethiopia, can you give us an update on the number of UN staff detained, the truck drivers, what conversations are being held?  And there are reports now out of the capital that some foreigners have been caught up in the roundup of non-UN people.

Spokesman:  There is no change in the numbers.  We remain, as far as I was told not too long ago, nine… at least nine UN staff members continuing to be in detention.  No change in the detention of the more than 70 truck drivers.

We are continuing to actively engage with the Government to try to undo this situation.  I mean, we want to see our colleagues released as quickly as possible.  We want to see those contractors who’ve been hired by the UN and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) also freed as quickly as possible.  Yes, sir — Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There is a new ruling council in Sudan appointed this morning.  Any comment on that?  Also, a source from this new council said that they wish Hamdok Abdalla was part of this change.  Any comment also on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, we’re, obviously, taking a look at these developments.  I would say they’re very concerning.  We want to see a return to the transition as quickly as possible.  We want to see the release from house arrest of Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok, as well as all other politicians and leaders that have been detained.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, one on Syria.  News reports say that five civilians were killed in the vicinity of Idlib by Russian air raids.  Three of the victims were children.  You… can you confirm that and if…

Spokesman:  No, I have not seen that report, but I will check.

Question:  Yeah.  My second question, about the primary responsibility of those refugees on the border with Poland, who is primarily responsible, the country that manipulating the issue of refugees for political means or the country that is slamming the door before the refugees?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I think we were very clear in expressing the Secretary‑General’s concern about the lack of respect for these men, women and children.  Refugees and migrants should never be used as pawns in any way.

Every state has a responsibility to take care of refugees or migrants that are on their territory.  We are thankful for the access that we’ve been given right now to the people in Belarus, but obviously, this is part of a broader political issue which needs to be dealt with on the political level as opposed to the sights that we’ve been seeing that are incredibly moving and sad.  Benno and then…

Question:  Thank you.  I ask on a regular basis about the investigation in tech envoy Fabrizio Hochschild, and here we go again.  So, when are you telling us what the conclusions are?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to report to you on that.  As soon as I do, I shall, but there’s a process that is taking its course.  We need to respect that process for the benefit of everyone involved.

Correspondent:  If I may follow up about the process, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) completed the investigation like on 3 August.  That’s like three month ago and 100 days.  Like, the Secretary‑General said… he, in January, had said he hopes it goes all quickly.  It doesn’t seem so quick right now.

Spokesman:  Listen, I… our… there is a process outlined in various administrative guidance which… in which people have rights.  People who have filed complaints have rights.  People who have had complaints against them also have rights, and we need to let that process play out.  Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, is it true that the UN people, part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), did not get enough dose of vaccine to get vaccinated?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware, but I will… in terms of UN staff?  I will check.  I know we are… our colleagues at the Department of Operational Support (DOS) have done a great job in trying to reach and send vaccines to as many people as possible because our front‑line workers, in a sense, those who are in peacekeeping missions and humanitarian missions, need to be protected, but I will check on the status.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Three quick questions.  The first is on the Secretary‑General’s comment about life support, which was — it is a nod to Edie; it was AP — that the goals are on life support.  He was a little more muted in his actual address.  Do you think that we’ll hear if he feels like it has been… any of these goals have been met by tomorrow, will he do a wrap when COP ends?

Spokesman:  You can… I think we can all expect the Secretary‑General to express himself clearly at the end of this COP.

Question:  Okay.  Number two is just on the Linda Thomas‑Greenfield trip — I’m sorry — Ambassador Thomas‑Greenfield trip.  She will be going to Ramallah.  She’ll be going to Jerusalem.  Do you expect her to interact with UN agencies?  She’s going to refugees in Oman.  Do you expect her to interact with UN agencies on the ground in the Middle East?

Spokesman:  I assume so, I but I think you need to get… I can check with our colleagues on the ground, but I would encourage you to get her programme from the Mission here.

Correspondent:  All right.  That would be helpful.  And I think that was it.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Great.  Evelyn.  Sorry.  I’ll come back.

Question:  Yes, Steph.  Thank you very much.  On Belarus, you anticipated my question on that, but anyway, is… does anyone know whether the… whether Belarus is continuing to push migrants over the border to increase the work of UNHCR and other UN agencies?  And has anyone spoken to Minsk about this?  And I have another.

Spokesman:  Our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR are in touch with the authorities, both in Minsk and in Warsaw.  And as I just flagged, they’re also on the ground in Belarus, trying to bring support to the families that are at the border.

Question:  Thank you.  One more question.

Spokesman:  Sure, go ahead, and then Dulcie.

Question:  On Ethiopia, one assumes people from Tigray are working for the United Nations also.  Are they being hunted because of their ethnicity?  And has this come up in conversation with Addis?

Spokesman:  The authorities in Addis Ababa, [whatever] motive they are using and criteria they are using to detain people that work for the UN, from our standpoint, they are Ethiopians.  They are colleagues.  They are staff members.  I don’t… regardless of whatever ethnicity may be listed on their national identity cards, and they need to be released.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Dulcie and then back to Edie.

Question:  Okay.  That’s interesting you said that there are actually national identity cards that show Ethiopians’ ethnicity?

Spokesman:  That’s my understanding of Ethiopian identity cards — not ours.

Question:  Okay.  Yeah.  To your knowledge, is this the first time that UN staffers have been prisoned and jailed or detained in recent history?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  In Ethiopia or anywhere?

Correspondent:  Anywhere.

Spokesman:  Well, we’ve seen, sadly, harassment and arbitrary detention of UN staff in many places around the world since the founding of the organization.

Question:  But on this scale?

Spokesman:  I would say, in my recent memory, it is unprecedented in terms of numbers that we’re seeing.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the death of F.W. de Klerk, the former President of South Africa, who freed Nelson Mandela?  And they shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

Spokesman:  Yes, of course.  I mean, we… first of all, I will say that we are working on… we will have a more formal statement shortly, but we’re, of course, very saddened to learn of the death of President F.W. de Klerk, who will be remembered for his… really, his key role in the dismantling of the apartheid regime, something that the United Nations had been working for for a long, long time prior to that date.  But I… as I said, I expect a fuller statement very shortly.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you again.  Steph, [Staffan] de Mistura took his post on 1 November. Do you know where he is physically now?  Is he in the region or…

Spokesman:  Well, physically, he was in my office yesterday, so I had discussion with him.  He is doing his normal onboarding discussions with his colleagues here.  As soon as he has travel announcements, as I’ve… undoubtedly he will, we will share them with you.  Benno?

Question:  I’m just seeing a Bloomberg story that the US is raising alarm that Russia may potentially invade Ukraine.  I just wanted to know if you have a comment on that.

Spokesman:  I… this is asymmetrical warfare because I don’t see the story.  I’ve… so, let me… I mean, your question is.  I’m not talking… I’m not reacting to what you’re saying.  Let’s just be clear.  I don’t know.  I will see when I get back to my desk.  Okay.  What else is on the wires, Michelle?

Question:  President [Joseph] Biden and President Xi [Jinping] are due to meet… well, have a virtual meeting on Monday.  The Secretary‑General has spoken a lot about the relationship between these two superpowers.  What message might he have for them ahead of their bilateral meeting?

Spokesman:  Well, we firmly believe that constructive, open and positive cooperation between China and the United States is critical to the world on so many levels.  One clear one was on climate, and that’s why we were so happy, and we welcomed the agreement that was announced yesterday between the US and China but, obviously, on the issues of trade and technology.  So, we are very happy and… that there will be a dialogue, and we hope it will continue to be a dialogue at the highest level.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  If the… this might sound like a strange one.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to go to the Winter Olympics in China?

Spokesman:  I have no announcement on that.  Thank you, all.

Question:  One very quick one, Steph.  I… did the Secretary‑General meet with other people, other world leaders, at the Paris Peace Forum, like… maybe you said it; I missed it but I…

Spokesman:  No, no, I… no, he did not because what I said is he would… he did not because what I said is he was speaking by pre‑recorded video message given that he is currently in Scotland, in Glasgow, in the United Kingdom.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Okay.  It said Paris.  Okay.  Thanks a lot.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

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