10 February 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.

And if you bear with me, we’ll now go quickly to the second phase of our briefing.

**African Union Summit

The Secretary-General has headed back to New York, after being in Addis Ababa over the weekend, where he attended the thirty-third Assembly of the African Union.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke at the official opening ceremony of the African Union Summit.  He told the gathered African leaders that the United Nations’ strategic partnership with the African Union is of paramount importance.  He said that stronger ties now exist between the UN and the AU, based on shared values, mutual respect and common interests and he expressed his deep conviction that Africa’s challenges can only be solved by African leadership.

On Saturday, he attended a breakfast on gender equality and women’s empowerment, where he noted that, in Africa, girls’ access to education and health care continues to increase and that Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs.  However, he added, progress still falls short of commitments made during the Beijing conference in 1995.

In a press conference on Saturday, the Secretary-General discussed Libya, the Sahel, coronavirus, and South Sudan.  He made a passionate call to the leaders of South Sudan, telling them:  You do not have the right to continue a confrontation when your people are suffering so much.  It’s time for South Sudanese leaders to agree to cooperate and to deserve the wonderful people they have, he said.

The Secretary-General also participated in the meeting of Heads of State and Government of the African Union Peace and Security Council, during which the situations in the Sahel and Libya were discussed.  Supporting peace and stability in Libya and the Sahel is a priority for the United Nations and the African Union, he told the members of the Council.  He also outlined a framework to ensure a greater cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations efforts in Libya.

And you received over the weekend the many readouts we issued of the Secretary-General’s bilateral meetings with African leaders.


Next week, the Secretary-General will be in Pakistan, where he will speak at the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which is being organized by the Government of Pakistan and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).  He will also hold meetings with high-level Pakistani officials.

The Secretary-General will arrive in Islamabad on Sunday, and he will hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi that day and speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change.

On Monday, the Secretary-General will speak at the International Conference, along with High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and will participate in a high-level panel discussion and other events at that conference.  The Secretary-General, the High Commissioner and the Foreign Minister will also speak to the press.  The Secretary-General will also meet with the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, on Monday.

The Secretary-General will be in Lahore on Tuesday, where he will meet with students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign.

He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit a holy site, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.

The Secretary-General will return to New York on Wednesday, the 19th.


The United Nations remains deeply alarmed about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib and surrounding areas, over half of whom are internally displaced, as reports of air strikes and shellings continue in Syria.

The UN Human Rights Office verified that at least 49 civilians, including 14 women and 17 children, were killed in incidents between the 1st and the 5th of February.

In January, the UN Human Rights Office verified that at least 186 civilians, including 33 women, 37 boys and 30 girls, were killed.

Since the 1st of December, some 689,000 civilians have been displaced due to the hostilities, around 80 per cent of them women and children.  This constitutes an increase of over 100,000 civilians in less than a week.

Over the weekend, rain and snow and freezing temperatures across north-west Syria worsened the already harsh conditions for internally displaced people and host communities.  Among the worst affected are people sheltered in camps, informal settlements or unfinished buildings.

Food, shelter, water and sanitation, hygiene, health, education and protection assistance are all urgent priorities.

The humanitarian community has an operational plan to address the needs of up to 800,000 people in north-west Syria over a six-month period.  The requirements of this plan amount to $336 million.


The first round of talks of the Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), which had started on the 3rd of February, concluded on Saturday afternoon in Geneva.

In a press release, the UN Support Mission in Libya, UNSMIL, expressed its appreciation to both sides for coming to Geneva, for upholding in earnest the responsibilities they had been entrusted with, as well as for the professional and positive spirit that characterized their discussions.

UNSMIL takes note of the existing consensus around the importance of maintaining the truce that had been announced on 12 January this year, of the necessity to respect it and refrain from violating it.

As both sides agreed to the need to continue the negotiations in order to reach a comprehensive ceasefire agreement, UNSMIL has proposed 18 February 2020 as the date for a new round of talks in Geneva of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.


The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that it is convening a global research and innovation forum in Geneva tomorrow to mobilize international action on coronavirus.  And an advance team of experts has just arrived in China, to lay the groundwork for a larger international team.

WHO is also working to equip laboratories with the capacity to rapidly diagnose cases.  So far, the agency has sent diagnostic kits to 14 countries and has identified more than 160 laboratories around the world with the right technology to diagnose coronavirus.

The agency said that as of today, there have been 40,235 cases of coronavirus in China and 909 deaths.  Outside China, there are 319 cases in 24 countries, with one death.  WHO said the overall pattern has not changed, with 99 per cent of reported cases in China.  Most of them are mild, and about 2 per cent of cases are fatal — this is still too many, WHO stressed.


And also on health:  Today, the World Health Organization and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) announced a new collaboration agreement to strengthen medical diagnosis and disease surveillance in resource-poor countries.

Global health challenges such as the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak demonstrate that without these essential elements, we cannot hope to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General.

This strategic collaboration agreement will initially run for a period of five years.


In Vienna today, over 57 ministers and more than 2,000 experts meeting at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a declaration to enhance global nuclear security and counter the threat of nuclear terrorism and other malicious acts.

In the declaration, IAEA Member States reaffirmed the common goals of nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and recognized that nuclear security contributes to international peace and security.

The Conference continues until Friday and you can find more information online.


And today is the International Day of Pulses, also known as legumes.

Pulses are packed with nutrients and have a high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein, particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible.

Pulses can also contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on the synthetic fertilizers used to introduce nitrogen artificially into the soil.

You can learn more about pulses on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) website.

**Honour Roll

And today, we would like to thank Austria and Croatia for their full payments to the regular budget.  The total number of fully paid-up Member States is now 44.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

And last, tomorrow at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here organized by the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the United Nations on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  Participants will include the Permanent Representative of Montenegro to the United Nations, Ambassador Milica Pejanović Đurišić; Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, Executive Director of The Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT); and Dr. Amal Qattan, Editor of that group.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  I think about every day for the past week, we’ve been getting these more and more dire reports about fighting in Idlib.  Has the Secretary‑General tried to speak with the Presidents of Russia and Syria to see if his personal intervention might make some impact in ending this escalation in fighting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, we have had contacts with a number of nations at various levels.  The Secretary‑General’s message has been very clear and has been made in public, including, as you know, last week, where he very strongly called for a de‑escalation in Idlib, and we will continue with those efforts.  But, yes, we’ve reached out through our officials… with our counterpart officials in a variety of countries.

Question:  I had a question on another subject.  I understand there has been some kind of contact between the Houthis and the Government in Yemen on prisoners and a possible prisoner swap.  Can you confirm that… that there are… there is some kind of talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can confirm that the third meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoners’ Exchange Agreement is scheduled to convene today, Monday.  The meeting is closed and is hosted by Jordan in Amman, and we’ll have to see how that meeting goes.  Any updates on that meeting will be issued in due course, of course.


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On the Palestinian stuff in the Security Council that’s happening tomorrow, is it the understanding of the Secretariat that Ehud Olmert is going to be taking part in some way in the building?  That’s the ex‑Israeli Prime Minister.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any confirmation of his presence in the building.  I’m aware that he is in town, but you would have to reach out to his team.  We don’t speak for him.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks.  And am I right in thinking the Secretary‑General is going to be speaking at the session?  And, if he is, could you just give us a taste of what kind of message he’s going to be bringing tomorrow?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re aware of the messages that we have on this particular issue, and they’ve been very clear and consistent.  I can confirm that he intends to speak.  I believe that Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator, also intends to speak.

And with that, have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.