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18 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Happy Friday to everybody.

**Nigeria

I am going to start today with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General on Nigeria.  The Secretary‑General welcomes the release on 17 December of some of the children who were abducted from a secondary school in Katsina State, Nigeria, on 11 December.  He commends the swift action taken by the Nigerian authorities to rescue the children and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those who remain abducted.  He stresses the importance that the released children and their families are provided with the necessary health and psychosocial support.  The Secretary‑General calls for increased efforts to safeguard schools and educational facilities in the country and reiterates the solidarity and commitment of the United Nations to supporting the Government and people of Nigeria in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime.  And we also have a statement today from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concerning the release of the children.

**Germany

This morning, the Secretary‑General addressed the members of the Bundestag.  In his speech, which the Secretary‑General delivered in German — a first for him — he stressed how German thinking, leadership and vision have helped to shape his political life.  He praised Germany for being a pillar of multilateralism, saying that it is clear that global challenges require global solutions.  However, he noted that we face a deficit of international cooperation, and in many places, people are closing their minds.  As we look ahead, he said, we need multilateralism that delivers — and a reform of governance structures that is based on present realities and future‑focused, not one stuck in the world of 75 years ago.

And a few minutes ago, the Secretary‑General spoke to the German press after his virtual meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.  He said that international cooperation has been tested this year like never before — but through decisive action, the Chancellor and Germany helped show the world what global solidarity looks like.  He praised Germany’s leadership, both domestically and globally, in taking on the COVID‑19 challenge as well as for their generous support for the Access to COVID‑19 Tools Accelerator (ACT‑Accelerator) to develop tools to fight the pandemic.  He also thanked Germany for guiding the European Union towards enhanced climate ambition as well as a greener budget.  The Secretary‑General said he discussed a number of crisis situations with the Chancellor, including Libya — where she and Germany have played a pivotal role in forging peace.  “Across the board, we have come to rely on Germany’s principled stance and leadership,” he said.  Those remarks have been sent to you.

**Ethiopia

On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, more than six weeks since the start of the conflict in Tigray, many people in the region have still not received assistance, despite some limited recent deliveries by some UN agencies.  As we have told you this week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has delivered aid to Tigray border areas and the World Food Programme (WFP) has sent some food into camps in Tigray.  We continue to call for immediate and unfettered access to all areas where people have been affected by the fighting.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, although electricity and telecommunications are intermittently working in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, people in many other parts of the region are still lacking access to food, water, cash, power and telecommunications.  In neighbouring Sudan, between 200 and 300 refugees continue to arrive from Ethiopia every day.  As of yesterday, nearly 51,100 refugees had crossed the border in search of safety and assistance.

**Libya

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) condemns the recent threats made by armed groups against the National Oil Corporation and its subsidiary, the Brega Petroleum Marketing Company based in Tripoli.  The National Oil Corporation is and must remain a unified, independent and apolitical institution that works for the benefit of all Libyans.  These actions may constitute a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and those responsible could be subject to sanctions.  The Mission adds that Libya’s oil production has already suffered serious setbacks in 2020 due to the protracted oil blockade, which was lifted only three months ago, and which resulted in the irretrievable loss of $11 billion in sales.

**Somalia

The United Nations has airlifted supplies for thousands of people in Somalia’s Puntland region who have been affected by Cyclone Gati, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the country.  Cyclone Gati made landfall late last month and brought two years’ worth of rainfall in just a few days.  More than 180,000 people have been affected, with some 42,000 people displaced from their homes.  Over the last three and a half decades, Somalia has experienced 15 tropical storms and cyclones, together with flash floods.  Extreme weather events are part of a global pattern of stronger storms caused by climate change and warmer ocean temperatures.  In Somalia, Cyclone Gati is resulting in a humanitarian emergency, which compounds existing challenges, including conflict, the COVID‑19 pandemic and desert locusts.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing supplies — including mosquito nets, solar lamps and blankets — for 36,000 people in the hard‑hit Bari region.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, wrapped up a week‑long mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo today with a visit to Sake, close to Goma.  In this location, the mission has built an isolation camp to enable contingent rotations in the context of COVID‑19.  While in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Lacroix visited two remote localities in the East of the country.  He went to Pinga in North Kivu, where the population is affected by fighting between two factions of an armed group, the Nduma Defense of Congo‑Renovated (NDC‑R).  He also went to Roe, in Ituri, where thousands of displaced people have gathered around a temporary United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) base to flee intercommunal violence.

Mr. Lacroix reiterated the Mission’s commitment to protect Congolese civilians, while noting the need to continue working on the root causes of conflict and community reconciliation.  In his meetings with the Governors of the two provinces, local authorities and civil society, he said that MONUSCO would continue supporting the Congolese people in their initiatives to restore State authority and to build a more stable and peaceful country.  Prior to visiting the East, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations was in Kinshasa, where he met President Felix Tshisekedi and representatives of the political parties, as well as civil society, human rights, women’s and religious groups.  In the context of the current political situation and the global COVID‑19 pandemic, Mr. Lacroix reiterated the need to expeditiously identify solutions for stable and functioning institutions.

**Central African Republic

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports there is a tense security and political situation in the country ahead of the general elections, scheduled for 27 December.  Early this morning, armed combatants, including suspected members of the armed group 3R, simultaneously attacked the towns of Bossembélé and Yaloke, both located northwest of Bangui.  Our colleagues on the ground have received initial reports of ongoing exchanges of fire between combatants and national defence forces.  Peacekeepers have deployed several Quick Reaction Force personnel from Bouar, Bangui, and Paoua towards the area.  The UN Mission also met with former President François Bozizé yesterday.  He reiterated that he is not instigating violence in the country.  The UN Mission denounces any alliances between political actors, parties and armed groups that could threaten national stability and the holding of peaceful elections throughout the country.

**Mozambique

Turning to Mozambique:  The UN and its partners today launched an appeal for $254 million to provide urgently needed assistance and protection to 1.1 million people affected by violence, conflict and insecurity in Cabo Delgado and neighbouring provinces in 2021.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the crisis in Cabo Delgado rapidly escalated in 2020, with attacks and fighting forcing people from their homes.  Nearly 530,000 people are now internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa, almost five times the number registered in March.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, raised concerns about the plight of children and women.  She warned that women and girls are at risk of abduction, gender‑based violence and exploitation, while boys are at risk of being killed or recruited by armed actors.  For its part, the UN refugee agency today said it is working to identify and address the main needs of the displaced people and host communities, as well as to ensure that basic international humanitarian principles are upheld.  UNHCR’s assistance for displaced populations, in support of the Government of Mozambique, includes shelter materials and core relief items such as sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen sets and solar lamps.

**South Sudan

Turning to South Sudan, new analysis shows that 60 per cent of the people in the country — or some 7.2 million people — will face severe acute food insecurity and will need urgent assistance.  According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report, some 1.4 million under the age of five are expected to be acutely malnourished in 2021, the highest number in three years.  The Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Alain Noudéhou, said that it has been a truly difficult year for the people of the country, which has been hit hard by a second consecutive year of major flooding, widespread violence and COVID‑19‑related restrictions.  Related to this, three UN agencies today called for immediate access to parts of Pibor County in Jonglei State, where people have run out of food and are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme — together with their partners — are scaling up their response.  They stress that humanitarian assistance is needed to save lives and avert a total collapse of livelihoods in hard‑to‑reach areas.

**Fiji

We have an update on the situation in Fiji following yesterday’s landfall of Tropical Cyclone Yasa, the strongest to hit the country since 2016.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that at least two people were killed and nearly 23,500 people are seeking shelter in evacuation centres.  There are reports of heavy destruction to infrastructure, buildings and agricultural areas.  The UN and our partners are supporting the Government’s initial assessments of what is needed.  The World Food Programme is supporting emergency telecommunications, UNICEF is providing nutrition supplies, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working with authorities to support information management.

**UNICEF ‑ Vaccines

UNICEF is working to transport up to 850 metric tons of COVID‑19 vaccines per month in 2021, should such quantities of vaccines become available.  This is more than double the average weight of vaccines that UNICEF transports every month.  The agency’s new assessment looked at global airfreight capacity and transport routes.  It found that commercial airlines will be able to deliver vaccines to nearly all 92 low- and lower‑middle‑income countries, which are among the 190 economies participating in the COVID‑19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, at an estimated cost of up to $70 million.  More on this on UNICEF’s website.

**Locusts

Early this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization launched a campaign to raise awareness as well as funding to help control the Desert Locust upsurge in the Horn of Africa.  So far, our colleagues at FAO say the response has been very good, with $200 million raised and more than 1.3 million hectares of locust infestations treated in 10 countries.  However, widespread seasonal rains have caused extensive breeding of locusts in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia, and a new generation of Desert Locust swarms is now threatening to affect food security in these vulnerable areas.  Breeding is also under way on both sides of the Red Sea, posing a new threat to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and Yemen.  In response, FAO is now seeking an additional $40 million to increase surveillance and control activities in the most affected countries — that is, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen — where more than 35 million people are already acutely food insecure.  FAO warns that we shouldn’t consider the Desert Locust crisis resolved.  If we let up, the new swarms will undo all previous progress made.

**World Arabic Day

Today is World Arabic Day, which is intended to raise awareness of the history, culture and development of the language by preparing a programme of special activities and events.  On this day, the Secretary‑General said in a message, we appreciate the Arabic language, which has been a catalyst for the production and dissemination of knowledge and helped transfer scientific and philosophical knowledge of Greek and Roman to Europe in the Renaissance.  It also allowed the establishment of intercultural dialogue along the land and sea routes of the Silk Road from the coast of India to the Horn of Africa.

**International Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  In his message, the Secretary‑General said that because of the COVID‑19 pandemic, millions upon millions of people have experienced emotions felt by migrants:  the pain of separation from friends and family, the uncertainty of employment and the need to adapt to a new and unfamiliar reality.  He added that we have also come to appreciate our dependence on those who are too often invisible within our communities.  The Secretary‑General said we must ensure that migrants, irrespective of their legal status, are included in every country’s pandemic response, particularly in health and vaccination programming.  He called on the international community to seize the opportunity of the recovery from the pandemic to implement the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, reimagine human mobility, enable migrants to reignite economies at home and abroad and build more inclusive and resilient societies.  And that is it from me.  I will now turn to your questions.  Iftikhar, you have a question?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  According to the Pakistan Foreign Office, Indian troops today specifically targeted a UN vehicle carrying two UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] officers from across the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region.  The officers, according to the report, escaped unhurt but the vehicle was damaged.  Do you have any information or comments on this incident?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  At this stage, yes, I believe that the details we have are, in fact, that there was no one hurt, but there has been a vehicle damaged in an incident.  And the Mission is currently investigating the incident, and that is what I have for you for now.  Are there any other questions?  Please send any questions into chat if you have anything.  Yoshita, you have a question?

Question:  Can you hear me, Farhan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you.

Question:  Okay.  So, just on the question asked by Iftikhar, the Indian Government sources have said that Pakistan is saying that it was an Indian… hello? Sorry.  It’s my… sorry.  So, yeah, the Indian Government’s reaction has been that the reports that are emerging from Pakistan regarding the attack on the UN vehicle is completely false and factually incorrect, and there was no firing from the Indian side in this sector.  And the sources also said that since movements of UN vehicles are known in advance, the question does not arise.  So, is the UN there aware of this Indian reaction to what the Pakistanis are alleging?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re aware what both sides have been saying.  At this stage, we’re simply aware that a vehicle was hit by an unidentified object.  Like I said, no one was harmed in this incident, but a vehicle sustained some damage, and we are investigating the incident.  All right.  And Toby from NHK.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Farhan.  I just want to ask if there’s any more specific logistical information on the… or just technical information on the UNICEF vaccine deployment.  Is there anything… what is that information… is it a formal report, or is it just a statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s a formal report.  If you go to the UNICEF website, you can get some more information about this.  But they have been looking into this, and there is a press release out, and you’ll find some more details there.  James, you have a question, James Reinl?

Question:  Yeah, sure, Farhan.  Thanks so much.  My question is about this big cyberattack.  Some people say it’s the biggest one ever on the US Government… few federal agencies, not just US systems, Canadian, Mexican, some Europeans, Israel, UAE [United Arab Emirates] and so on.  Might have come from Russia.  There’s evidence to that, suggest[ing] that, but we don’t know for sure.  What’s the UN position on this?  I’ve looked through the records.  I don’t see a single General Assembly, Security Council resolution related to cyberhacking.  Does the UN think that cyberhacking… is it just fair game?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not at all.  We believe that there’s an importance that all nations preserve cybersecurity, and the Secretary‑General has made that clear.  This is also an issue on which different parts of the UN, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), have weighed in.  And they’ve made clear the need to protect different countries’ facilities from cyberattacks.  And, so, that’s a general policy across the board.

Question:  So, the responsibility, as you put it, is on defence.  It isn’t on the nation sort of backing the attacks themselves.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously, we are trying to discourage any nations from compromising the cyberfacilities of other nations, and so that is their responsibility.  Thanks.  Dulcie is not able to un‑mute, but she asked, “I would like to know what the UN plan is to distribute [the] vaccine to UN personnel in New York City.”  And we are in touch with local authorities, including city authorities and state authorities, and we’ll see what we can do once there is a vaccine available.  In general, of course, what we’ve made clear is that the Secretary‑General has called for a “people’s vaccine,” as he did today in the Bundestag.  We’re continuing to study the situation in regard to vaccines.  In major UN duty stations, we expect that UN staff and their dependents will rely on national vaccination programmes and adhere to established prioritisation policies in each nation.  We’re in the planning stages of this, but in places where it’s not possible for staff and their dependents to obtain the vaccine through national programmes, we will endeavour to make the vaccine available.  And Evelyn says she also has a question but can’t un‑mute.  Evelyn, please text me your question, and I’ll try to answer that.

BCSS Tech:  Evelyn’s un‑muted.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, okay.  Evelyn, go ahead.  I can’t hear you.  What are you saying, Evelyn?

BCSS Tech:  She’s having connection issues.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Dulcie asked how we’d make the vaccine available to duty stations.  That’s something… we’ll have to see what happens as we go ahead.  Again, that would be in places where it’s not possible to obtain the vaccine through national programmes.  In general, UN staff throughout… in each nation will do this following the policies of each individual nation, but we’ll have to see how we make it available otherwise.  And with that, I wish you all a happy weekend.  Have a good one.  Take care.  And now you’ll stay on the line, and Brenden Varma will be here to answer your questions.  Brenden, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.