22 January 2021

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.

**Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Good afternoon.  As you will have seen, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has entered into force today.  This is the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 20 years.  In a video message issued early this morning, the Secretary-General said that the Treaty is an important step towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and a strong [demonstration] of support for multilateral approaches to nuclear disarmament.  He commends the States that have ratified it and welcomes the instrumental role of civil society in advancing the Treaty’s negotiation and entry into force.  The survivors of nuclear explosions and nuclear tests offered tragic testimonies and were a moral force behind the Treaty, he said.  Entry into force is a tribute to their enduring advocacy.  The Secretary-General looks forward to carrying out the functions assigned by the Treaty, including the preparations for the first Meeting of States Parties.  Just to add that nuclear weapons pose growing dangers and the world needs urgent action to ensure their elimination and to prevent the catastrophic human and environmental consequences they would cause.  The Secretary-General calls on all States to work together to realize this ambition to advance common security and collective safety.

**New START Treaty

Also on nuclear disarmament, I just wanted to make some comments relating to the latest developments surrounding the “New START” treaty.  The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the United States to seek a five-year extension of the New START treaty, as well as the Russian Federation’s reiteration that it also seeks a five-year extension.  A five-year extension will not only maintain verifiable caps on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, but it will also provide time to negotiate new nuclear arms control agreements to grapple with our increasingly complex international environment.  The Secretary-General encourages both States to work quickly to complete the necessary procedures for New START’s extension before the 5 February expiration and move as soon as possible to negotiations on new arms control measures.

**Mozambique/Southern Africa

Turning to Mozambique in Southern Africa, our humanitarian colleagues tells us they are supporting governments across the region to prepare for, and respond to, the approaching Tropical Cyclone Eloise.  According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the cyclone is expected to make landfall near Beira, in central Mozambique, early tomorrow, local time.  As you will recall this is the same area that was hit by Cyclone Idai less than two years ago and the Secretary-General had visited Beira in July 2019.  We are obviously concerned about the prospects of significant flooding, particularly in Mozambique, where rivers are already at alert levels and flooding has been reported in several locations ahead of Eloise's landfall.  The Government of Mozambique is carrying out evacuations and we and our partners have deployed personnel and supplies in advance, to be ready to respond quickly.  After landfall in Mozambique, the cyclone is expected to weaken but could bring heavy rains to neighbouring countries, including Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana.  Humanitarian organizations in the region are already overstretched by ongoing operations, especially in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  It is expected that more funding will be urgently needed.


And an update on Tigray, where while we have been able to send some supplies, mainly to refugee camps; the assistance to date is insufficient in the face of the rapidly rising needs generated by the conflict.  Constrained humanitarian access continues to limit much-needed aid to get to people in Tigray, nearly three months since the conflict began.  This includes basic medical supplies.  We urgently need blanket clearances to send more staff and supplies to Tigray, so that we can ramp up the response and ensure it is commensurate with the needs.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, ended his visit to Mali, where he took stock of recent political and security developments, and discussed progress made to implement the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the political transition currently under way in Mali.  In Bamako, alongside the Head of Mission, Mr. [Mahamat Saleh] Annadif, Mr. Lacroix met with a number of Malian senior officials, including the President and Vice‑President of the transition, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the President of the National Transitional Council, all this with the aim of strengthening partnership between the UN and transitional authorities during this crucial period.  He also visited the new headquarters of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) joint force in Bamako, which was built by the UN Mission with financial support from the European Union. Mr. Lacroix also took part in a ceremony to honour the memory of peacekeepers killed in last week’s attacks.  He then also travelled to Timbuktu and Niafunké, where he was briefed by peacekeepers on the operations there.  Mr. Lacroix also went to Menaka before returning to Bamako, where he met with the President of the Regional Youth Council and civil society members.  Mr. Lacroix welcomed efforts that are key to peace and security in Mali.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Humanitarian Coordinator there, David McLachlan-Karr, is condemning recent massacres, abductions and other human rights violations committed against civilians by armed combatants in North Kivu’s Beni Territory.  In a statement, he said the situation is alarming and unacceptable.  More than 150 people — most of them women and children — have died because of violent attacks between 11 December 2020 and 10 January 2021.  At least 100 people were kidnapped and injured over the same period.  Looting of health facilities, natural resources, and burning down of homes have also been reported.  Since November 2019, violence in Beni Territory has increased and spread to the Irumu and Mambasa Territories in the neighbouring Ituri Province.  And as of last week, more than 67,000 people have been displaced as a result of this violence.  Humanitarian assistance is being provided but the needs are immense, and more funding is needed to scale up the response.


And sadly, a new grim milestone has been reached in the Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.  More than 2 million people have now been forced to flee violence and are displaced within the borders of their country.  Needs are surging across the region, where multiple crises are converging.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today the communities hosting the displaced have reached a breaking point.  The humanitarian response is dangerously overstretched.  UNHCR is urging the international community to redouble its support for the region.


And just to note that in Darfur, UNHCR and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today expressed their concern over recent deadly intercommunal clashes in the region.  Of the more than 200 people that died, three of them were humanitarian workers.  OHCHR fears that the lack of security and chronic impunity in the region leaves it vulnerable to further serious violence.  And UNHCR said the recent violence has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes, including across the border into Chad.  UNHCR is of course mobilizing resources.  Some 3,500 Sudanese have arrived in Ouaddaï Province in eastern Chad.  And they are living in four very remote locations that lack basic services or public infrastructure.  UNHCR is rushing supplies to respond to their needs.  Before this latest round of clashes, Chad was already hosting more than 360,000 Sudanese refugees.


And you saw that yesterday afternoon we strongly condemned the deadly double suicide bombing targeting civilians at a market in Baghdad.  The Secretary-General appealed to the people of Iraq to reject any attempts to spread fear and violence aimed at undermining peace, stability and unity.


The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced the start of a one-week period for the submission of candidacies for the positions of a three-member Presidency Council and of Prime Minister.  That period ends on 28 January.  The Mission also developed and released technical guidance and related forms for the submission of candidacies, in accordance with the eligibility criteria adopted by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in mid-November 2020.  Following the end of the nomination period, the UN Mission will convene the Political Dialogue Forum in Switzerland for the voting process from 1 to 5 February.

**Press Briefing Monday

On Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be a virtual press briefing here by Elliot Harris, the Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.  He will brief you on the launch of the latest World Economic Situation and Prospects report.  I think you were briefed on that this morning.  Also just to flag on Monday, the Secretary-General’s three major remarks:  one to the Davos Forum, the second to the Climate event hosted by the Netherlands, and in the evening he will partake in the annual Holocaust Remembrance ceremony in the Park Avenue East Synagogue.  We will share all those remarks under embargo a bit later today.

**Honour Roll

And I want to end on a good note.  Four more Member States have joined the Honour Roll, taking it to a healthy 16.  They are Bulgaria, Ireland, Nauru and Singapore.  We thank them very, very much.  I will take some questions.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  The Security Council held an Arria‑formula meeting today on press freedom in Belarus, and almost but not all speakers were highly critical of the lack of freedom of the press in Belarus.  Does the Secretary‑General have an opinion on the state of freedom of the press in Belarus?

Spokesman:  Look, we have… I think the Secretary‑General has repeatedly expressed his concern at lack of freedom of the press in many parts around the world.  And if you will recall, during the demonstrations that took place in Belarus, we had expressed our concern at the arrests of journalists, Belarusian journalists, foreign journalists, hampering their [ability] to report on events.  Yes, Lenka?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question on what is the number of people coming these days into the UN?  And are you planning to ask of those vaccinated to come back?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Are we going to ask the people who were vaccinated to come…?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  No, listen, I think it's important to note that vaccines are critically important, but there are also other measures still need to take and it's not a… need‑to‑be‑in place.  So, we will be guided in terms of re‑opening the building, more guided by the City of New York and how they… we don't want to get ahead of the city.  We don't want to get ahead of the state.  The Secretary‑General has been extremely cautious from the start.  He will continue to approach this with caution.  And in terms of UN staff, obviously, those who have… in New York right now, if I'm not mistaken, it is people over 65, so there aren't that many UN staff over 65.  The Secretary‑General is one of them.  There are others, but I won't name them.  And obviously, people with pre-existing conditions.  So, it's not that many people.  But, to give you a shorter answer, the re‑opening will… of the building will be guided by public health policies decided upon by the Secretary‑General upon advice, and obviously, by the City and the State of New York.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  And what is the footprint?

Spokesman:  Right now, we're at about… I mean, I'm looking at the swipes every day… about 600 to 700 every day, people coming in.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Can you explain what is the relationship between the Committee on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Security Council?  Because I know reference is constantly being made to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] at the Security Council.  Is there any actual connection between the two?

Spokesman:  I think you'd have to look at the language of the Treaty.  Obviously, the bodies… there are different bodies in the UN dealing with disarmament, the Conference on Disarmament, of the Committees of the General Assembly.  But, you'd have to… that's a question you need to answer yourself by looking at the Treaty.  Okay.  Any other… Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In view of the eruption of deadly violence in Darfur, is there any thinking going on to somehow reactivate the [African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)] there because the… because of the… to control the violence?  The mission is now in the process of being withdrawn from Darfur.

Spokesman:  The withdrawal of the joint UN‑AU mission was a decision taken by the Security Council.  Iftikhar, you and I have been here quite some time.  We know that peacekeeping missions do not… cannot be materialized or rematerialized overnight.  There is no discussion of that that I'm aware of in any way.  We're, obviously, very… we now… the UN is represented through a political mission, UNITAMS, which is there to support the people and the Government of Sudan during this period of transition.  We've, obviously, taken note of the efforts by the Government to try to respond to the violence.  As far as we can tell, the situation in both… in West Darfur and in South Darfur is calm but remains tense.  We are also in contact with the Government.  The Secretary‑General spoke yesterday with Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok to discuss the situation and express his concern at the escalation of the intercommunal violence.  I think it's very important that the transitional authorities continue every effort to de‑escalate the situation.  It's also very important to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with the Government's National Plan for Civilian Protection and also to strengthen its efforts to address the root causes of these persistent intercommunal and resource‑based conflicts.  Ms. Saloomey?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you know anything about… apparently, there's been a petition submitted for Tanzania [sic; Zanzibar] to be recognized as an independent state to a UN sub-office.  Do you know anything about that and what the process is and where that might stand?  Has the UN received this petition?

Spokesman:  What did you say?  Sorry.  I… what did you say, for Tanzania?

Question:  Yes, Tanzania.  Apparently, there's a petition with… that's been lodged about the legality of the union between mainland [sic] Zanzibar and Tanzania, and a petition was filed at a UN sub‑office today calling for a self‑determination of sovereignty.

Spokesman:  Okay.  The short answer is… and the prelude to your question is, do you know anything?  And the short answer is no.  So, I have not heard of this at all, but I'm happy to try to find out.

Correspondent:  Yeah, if we could… we would like to confirm that that has been received…

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  Okay.  If you could send me something on that, that would be useful.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I think we have, but I'll…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, Ibtisam.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Is there any update regarding the issue of Houthis and designating them as a terrorist organization?  Do you see any move from the new administration to lift that?  Have you been in contact with them?

Spokesman:  No, there's been nothing that I'm able to… that I'm aware of.  Obviously, it's early days.  I think the US Administration knows firmly where the UN stands.  I will also take note that, in his confirmation hearing, the Secretary of State‑designate said they would take a hard look at the designation and also, I think, acknowledge the humanitarian impact that that decision has had or can… will have.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  I think Brenden [Varma] should be on the line, if he hasn't… if he's not already.  Yes.  I'll pre‑emptively wave.

For information media. Not an official record.