10 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.

**Guest Today

Good afternoon.  We will be joined very shortly by our friend Selwin Hart, the head of the Secretary-General’s climate team.  He will be here to brief you on Saturday’s Climate Ambition Summit.  But before we get to him, a couple of things I want to flag.


First, on Ethiopia, according to our humanitarian colleagues, the full extent of the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region remains unclear.  The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has received worrying reports of refugees leaving camps in Tigray due to the violence and lack of food and services.  Food rations for displaced people have run out.  The UN and our partners have not had access to the four camps that were hosting 96,000 Eritrean refugees.  The situation will become even more critical if humanitarian workers do not have access to the camps to deliver food rations.  For his part, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, reiterated that regaining access to refugees and other people in need in Tigray is urgent and critical.

The delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to the region by the UN and our partners depends on a security risk assessment of the roads leading to Tigray and a humanitarian assessment of basic needs.  With our humanitarian partners, we have prepared a three‑month humanitarian preparedness plan for $100 million from November of this year to January of next year.  It targets an additional 1.1 million people likely to be impacted by the current crisis in the Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions.

And also, we obviously want to reiterate our urgent call on all the parties to the conflict in Tigray to allow unconditional, unfettered and safe humanitarian access to the whole region, where people are now in their fifth week without food aid, water and power.  As you know, people have fled Tigray for Sudan, and UN Refugee Agency colleagues us that the number of refugees who have entered Sudan stands at 49,500.

**Human Rights Day

“Recover Better: Stand up for Human Rights” is the theme for this year’s Human Rights Day.  In a pre‑recorded video message, the Secretary‑General said that the pandemic has reinforced two fundamental truths about human rights.  First, human rights violations harm us all.  And second, human rights are universal and protect us all.

The Secretary‑General said that COVID‑19 has thrived because poverty, inequality, discrimination, the destruction of our natural environment and other human rights failures have created enormous fragilities in our societies.  At the same time, the pandemic is undermining human rights, by providing a pretext for heavy-handed security responses and repressive measures that curtail civic space and media freedom.

He reiterated that an effective response to the pandemic must be based on solidarity and cooperation.  Mr. [António] Guterres concluded his message with a call to action that spells out the central role of human rights in crisis response, gender equality, public participation, climate justice and sustainable development.

**Nobel Peace Prize

And this morning, David Beasley, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his organization.  In pre‑recorded video remarks, he thanked the Nobel committee for acknowledging WFP’s work, adding that he believes that food is the pathway to peace.  But, Mr. Beasley added, the Nobel Peace Prize is a call to action.

Because of so many wars, he said, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global health pandemic that makes all of that exponentially worse, 270 million people are now marching toward starvation.  Yet, he added, even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days, an additional $2.7 trillion dollars worth of wealth was created.  We only need $5 billion dollars to save 30 million lives from famine, he said.  In the spirit of Alfred Nobel, as inscribed on this medal - “peace and brotherhood” - let’s feed them all, Mr. Beasley concluded.

Tomorrow, there will be an annual Nobel Forum, at which the Secretary‑General will speak by recorded message.  We will release his remarks to you under embargo later today.


Turning to Yemen, representatives of Yemeni Civil Society working on issues related to prisoners and detainees, met virtually today with the Office of Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, our Special Envoy.  They shared their views and recommendations on ways to move the detainees file forward.

The Deputy Head of the Yemen Mission, Muin Shreim, opened the meeting by paying tribute to the vital role that civil society, including women’s groups, has been playing in releasing detainees in Yemen in an often‑dangerous environment.   Mr. Shreim stressed that the recent release of over a thousand detainees brought renewed hope to thousands of Yemenis who have been agonizing to welcome back their family members, friends and loved ones.   The participants at the meeting discussed priorities, efforts and ways to keep the momentum and evaluated the current status and situation of detainees in different areas of Yemen.  The Mission has a press release with more on it.

**Venezuela Refugees

And just to flag that today, the UN Refugee Agency, and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) launched a $1.44 billion regional plan to respond to the needs of some 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela and the communities hosting them; that’s across 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of both organizations for this issue, said that lockdown measures put in place to tackle the pandemic have had a detrimental impact on refugees’ and migrants’ capacity to maintain livelihoods and access to basic goods and services.  The Plan will support efforts to provide health services, shelter, food, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as access to education and protection.  More online.  [I will get to you.]

**Association of Southeast Asian Nations

The head of the UN Department of Operational Support, Under‑Secretary‑General Atul Khare, took part virtually in meetings yesterday and today with Defence Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, otherwise known as ASEAN.  In his remarks, he thanked countries of the region for their steadfast commitment to regional solidarity and international cooperation in their response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  He also welcomed opportunities to strengthen the partnership with ASEAN on peacekeeping.

**Champions of the Earth

Just a quick note that our friends at UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) today announced the winners of the Champions of the Earth award, which this year recognizes laureates in the categories of Lifetime Achievement, Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation.  The Secretary‑General congratulated this year’s laureates, saying that “in the middle of a global pandemic, with societies struggling, economies stretched to their limits and an escalating biodiversity and climate crisis, we need to act boldly and to urgently to repair our relationship with nature.

**Financial Contribution

And lastly, importantly, I want to thank Yemen for paying its full payment to the regular budget, bringing us up to 136.  James, would you happen to have a question?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  I’d like to ask you about the announcements made recently, first by tweet by President [Donald] Trump, to do with Israel, Morocco and Western Sahara.  I have a number of questions, but maybe I should take it, because it’s in two parts, to two parts.  So, the first part, what is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to Morocco and Israel normalizing relations?

Spokesman:  Let me have your second question, as well.

Question:  The second part is, some would call it, the quid pro quo.  Which is:  this was done by the US.  And the second part is that Moro… that the US is going to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, overturning the existing US position and going against UN Security Council resolutions.

Spokesman:  Well, on the issue of… the sovereignty issue, the Secretary‑General’s position remains unchanged.  He remains convinced that a solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible, and that’s in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions 2440 (2018), 2548 (2020), to name two.  I must say that we found out about these developments at the same time that you did.  And on the issue of the… and I can’t speak to… you mentioned a quid pro quo.  That’s a question to ask the parties involved.  We’ve just seen the announcements on Israel and Morocco.  I may have a bit more on that as the briefing proceeds.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General feel this is unhelpful, coming from a permanent member of the Security Council?  And given that it goes against existing Security Council resolutions, is the US, by taking this position, in breach of international law?

Spokesman:  Look, I’ll let you do the compare‑and‑contrast.  I mean, the Secretary‑General has a position, unchanged, which he believes it… the solution to the question can still be found based on Security Council resolutions.

Question:  Would the Secretary‑General be in a stronger position if he actually had a representative dealing with this issue, given that it’s over 18 months since that job has been unfilled?

Spokesman:  It has… [background sound] sorry, if we could mute whoever’s mic is open.  Fully aware of the time lag.  We can’t go back in hindsight to see if things would have been different had we had one.  I will say, once again, it is not from lack of trying from the Secretary‑General’s part that we do not have yet an announcement on this position.  Ms. Lederer?

Question:  A follow‑up question, Stéph.  Thank you.  The succeeding Security Council resolutions have called for the UN peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara [MINURSO] to carry out a referendum on the territory’s future.  Does the Secretary‑General still support those resolutions and a referendum on self‑determination of the future of Western Sahara?

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t want to go too much into this, because, again, we’ve just learned of this through a Twitter post.  We do not pick and choose from resolutions what we approve, what we don’t approve.  The situation is resolutions are approved by the Security Council.  The Secretary‑General and his team work to implement them.

Correspondent:  Can I follow up?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Stéphane, I have one follow‑up on this, and I have a question about UNITAD [United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL].  Yes, the news about Morocco was just announced, but this normalisation is not new between Israel and other Arab countries.  Does the Secretary‑General think this is a positive or a negative… the normalization?

Spokesman:  Look, on the issue of normalization, it is clear that we are always for… the more countries have relation, bilateral, the better is for multilateralism for the international community.  We hope that this can also lead to positive developments in issues in the Middle East, notably between Israelis and Palestinians.

Question:  And on UNITAD, there’s another meeting about what’s… about the ISIS investigation. It’s been years since the Security Council authorized this.  It’s been six years since the genocide or the mass killing of the Yazidis happened.  But according to Amnesty [International] and various reports, thousands of the victims are still homeless.  Thousands of the victims are still… cannot return to their home in Shingal, in dire situation, the Yazidis.  And we hear all this support and speeches from the Secretary‑General, other leaders.  Why these… why the international community, based on what you know, didn’t do enough to return these people back to their home, to Shingal, which is, ISIS is not there anymore?

Spokesman:  I think we have… as you said, there’s been not only words of support but actions of support by the United Nations in terms of humanitarian assistance to the populations that have suffered tremendously through acts of barbarism and other… many other adjectives we can use.  But there are also responsibilities that Member States have to take, including Iraq, and we continue to work with the Iraqi Government in that direction.  Okay.  Ibtisam.  [Silence.] Okay.  Ibtis… we’ll go to Maggie then.

Correspondent:  Sorry.

Question:  Hey, Stéph.  They pretty much covered all my questions, but would you just like to repeat for the cameras what the Secretary‑General’s position on the sovereignty issue is on Western Sahara?

Spokesman:  The issue… for the Secretary‑General on sovereignty needs… is a question… the solution to that question remains possible, and that needs to be in accordance with the Security Council resolutions.  Okay.  We’ll try Ibtisam again.  I can see you, but I can’t hear you yet.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, I want to go back to… you said that you hope that all these normalization agreements between Israel and the other countries will help Palestinians and Israelis get closer to a peace agreement.  My question is, as a matter of fact, on the ground, the opposite is actually happening.  There are more settlements that have been built.  There is more Palestinians that are killed.  Even now, there is some news reports about some export from the settlements to the United Arab Emirates, etc.  So, how can it be that your office is totally saying things that are not connected to the facts on the ground?  And the same goes also to the Western Sahara.

Spokesman:  I think, if you read the numerous reports, either published by the Secretary‑General or presented by Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, I think they are anchored in reality.  And I think they give a pretty clear picture of the reality.  I think… you could do two things at once.  You could actually paint a pretty clear picture of the reality on the ground and then hope for more positive developments.

Question:  Yeah, but I have to push back.  It is true that the reports of the agencies of the UN are anchored to reality, but the actions and the words of the Secretary‑General has nothing to do with that reality and just to say “we hope”, it’s not good enough.  It’s not good enough for victims on the ground.  It’s not good enough for people who are being killed.  And you cannot just say, oh, we just have hope, because as a matter of fact, this goes against UN resolutions.  He is the head of the UN.  He has to have a stand, a clear stand, on things that go in your resolutions, including the Western Sahara…

Spokesman:  Ibtisam, I think our stand on Western Sahara is unchanged.  I mean, people… different Member States have expressed different opinions.  Look at the conclusions of the latest report on Western Sahara.  That… his position is unchanged.  On the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, I mean, I think he’s been very clear in calling out violations, and he will continue to do so.

Question:  I have another question for you.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  No, go ahead.  Go ahead.  If James can ask 50 questions, you can ask 20.

Question:  Oh, thank you .  And Yemen, if you have any updates regarding the humanitarian situation [inaudible] - also the aid and the money shortage.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn’t hear what you were asking for about on Yemen.

Question:  Whether you have any updates on the humanitarian situation and the shortage of money that you are having.

Spokesman:  The short update that I have is that the humanitarian situation is not getting better and the money situation is not getting better.  Toby?

Correspondent:  I have a follow‑up on that.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, let me come right back to you.  Let me just go to Toby, and then I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Different point.  The New York State Pension Fund yesterday announced a commitment, not a divestment, but a commitment to divest from fossil fuels.  It was only $2.6 billion out of a fund that is 10 times… or 100 times bigger than that, but it is a significant step, you could argue.  What’s the Secretary‑General’s reaction to this?  And does he think that the United States, in particular, needs to do more with regard to climate change?

Spokesman:  You know, Toby, it’s great that you asked this question, because it gives our guest, Selwin Hart, a few minutes to think about an answer, and he will answer on behalf of the Secretary‑General so… [Laughter.]  Selwin says thank you.  Abdelhamid, and then we’ll go to Maria.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a follow‑up to the question that James, Ibtisam and others had about UN resolutions and the permanent member of the Security Council that comes back again and violates international law.  This Administration have violated international law on the issue of Jerusalem and [inaudible], many other issues and now on Western Sahara.  And we hear again and again that the UN position, the Secretary‑General position has not changed.  Is that enough?  When… in these kinds of cases, I always like to compare, as you know, and when some nations violate international law, there are sanctions.  There’s Serbia, Somalia, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone.  I could give you… Iraq.  When they violate international law, there is meetings, and there are sanctions, and there are threats and there are emergency meetings.  How about when this country comes back and violates, not granted, international law?  Yet the muted sound of the Secretary‑General is [inaudible] an apology instead of boldly saying this is a violation of international law.  Why is not this bold voice comes out clearly and forcefully against the violations of international law?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, Abdelhamid, you and I will, I think, have a precipice between us in how we interpret the Secretary‑General and his voice.  I think he has spoken out strongly.  I think if you read… if you take the time to read the reports that he sends to the Security Council, you will find the language that is strong.  What I am saying to you is that Member States’ positions change or… and you can do the compare‑and‑contrast, but his position remains anchored in principle and anchored in Security Council resolutions.  Okay.  Maria Khrenova, and then we’ll go to James Reinl, and then James‑James.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I have a question on Nagorno‑Karabakh again.  As I understood, the needs assessment mission should have been there by the beginning of December, but as far as I understand, it’s not still there, though I’m not getting enough updates on that.  So, is there… are there any obstacles for UN employees to go there?

Spokesman:  I would not use the word “obstacles”.  Details are still being worked out.  As we’ve said, we are prepared to respond to the humanitarian needs in all areas impacted by the conflict.  That includes scaling up assistance in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as required.  Our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and other relevant UN agencies and entities are working with all concerned to undertake an initial independent inter‑agency assessment in Nagorno‑Karabakh and surrounding areas in order to get a clear picture of the humanitarian needs and any other needs on the ground.  I think it’s very important that all the relevant actors cooperate fully with us to ensure unfettered access and to make sure the mission can go ahead.

Question:  So can I follow up?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  So, there will be OCHA representatives.  Will there be UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] staffers…?

Spokesman:  I can find out the list of other relevant entities, but it will be under the coordination of OCHA, as they have the word “coordination” in their name.  Mr. Reinl?

Question:  Hi, Stéph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Oh, great, Stéph.  Listen, another question on the US‑Israel‑Morocco deal, and obviously, it’s got big knock‑ons for the Palestinians and the Sahrawi people, two groups that want - and have done for a long time - autonomy, self‑determination of some sort, and they look to the United Nations as a fair hand in a world that, perhaps, doesn’t have many fair hands in it.  Is there any message that you can give to those two peoples today who have been watching the news and are maybe disheartened by their current position?

Spokesman:  Look, I would say that our efforts to find a solution to both of these issues remains unchanged and will remain unabated.  Mr. Bays, Mr. You, yeah, and then Ray.  Sorry.  I didn’t see… and then Ray in the back.

Question:  Yeah, so I’ve got two questions, one more… is one more on the situation with regard to the… what’s been announced in this new deal.  And as you’re aware, in the last month, we’ve seen tensions with regard to Morocco and Western Sahara.  So, what’s the message of the Secretary‑General to those on the ground right now?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s to avoid any action that could make the tense situation worse.

Question:  And last question is on Ethiopia.  You read out a new statement on humanitarian access.  The Secretary‑General, when he sat here yesterday, told us there had been a second deal, suggesting the first deal was not a success.  But he also said there would be joint assessments.  Can you explain how this will work and whether it means the UN is now going to be constrained and not have unfettered access, constrained by the Ethiopian authorities in its operations?

Spokesman:  Well, we… the two are not mutually exclusive; right?  We continue to call and, obviously, need unfettered humanitarian access, access to the people in need.  I mean, food aid hasn’t come in in weeks.  We’ve had electricity issues, water issues.  But we will work in cooperation with the Government.  Ray, and then we’ll go to our friend Selwin.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It has been reported that United Nation analysis of photos of four anti‑tank guided missiles in Libya found one that is Iranian‑produced anti‑tank missile.  My question is, how involved is Iran in Libya?  And also to which militia belong these anti‑tank Iranian missiles?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the report that the Secretary‑General has submitted or has submitted on the implementation of the… on this issue to the Security Council.  There’s a whole paragraph in it, and I think what you’ve read out is the only thing the Secretary‑General said.  There’s no other information that we have to share.  Okay.  Am I glad to see Selwin.  Your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.