4 March 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.

**Security Council

Good afternoon.  The Security Council is meeting today on South Sudan.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, David Shearer, highlighted the positive developments that have moved the country further along the road to sustainable peace.  He paid tribute to the political willingness of President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar for putting the interests of their country first in their agreement on a Transitional Government.  Mr. Shearer added that relief was the overwhelming feeling expressed around the country, with the consensus being that the priority is to form the Transitional Government so that the peace agreement — and the country — can advance.  He noted that the new Government can prompt positive change, with internally displaced people and refugees being able to return.  The first joint statement from the new presidency last week urged people from protection‑of‑civilian sites and neighbouring countries to return to their homes.  For its part, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has stepped up its protective presence to build confidence in the areas of return.


Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to the foreign ministers of the League of Arab States in Cairo today, and he warned that the immediate danger in that country is one of more escalation, more war and more death and displacement — as we see in Idlib.  He said that, in north-west Syria, more than 900,000 people have been displaced since 1 December 2019.  Women and children together comprise 81 per cent of the newly displaced population.  The Special Envoy noted that tomorrow, Presidents [Vladimir] Putin and [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan will meet in Moscow, and he urged them to find an immediate diplomatic solution that could spare civilians further suffering and ensure some stability, promote cooperation in Idlib, and create more conducive conditions for a political process.


On the north-east of Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a total of 7.9 million people — that’s more than 1 out of every 2 people in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States — need aid in 2020.  Humanitarian organizations have faced increased access constraints and security-related incidents which are hampering a more effective response in those three states.  With the upsurge in attacks over the past year, aid agencies have been forced to scale down their work and temporarily withdraw staff in some areas.  Across the three states, some 1.2 million people are out of reach [for] humanitarian workers.  All parties to allow and facilitate safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid by people in need.  We also stress the urgent need for greater respect of international law and protection of civilians who are trapped in a crisis that is not of their making.


In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General expressed concern at the institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau provoked by the ongoing electoral dispute.  The Secretary-General encourages all stakeholders to await the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice, exercise maximum restraint and take all necessary measures to prevent any acts that could undermine peace and stability in Guinea-Bissau.  The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ commitment to continue to accompany Bissau-Guineans in their efforts to consolidate peace, democracy and development.


In a new report, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that, despite progress over the past two decades in the fight for gender equality, and against violence against women and girls is still not [only] common but accepted in many parts of the world.  The report, released ahead of the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, notes that the number of out-of-school girls has dropped by 79 million in the last two decades.  In fact, girls became more likely to be in secondary school than boys in just the last decade.  Yet, violence against women and girls is still common.  In 2016, women and girls accounted for 70 per cent of detected trafficking victims globally, most for sexual exploitation, and 1 in every 20 girls aged 15 to 19 — that’s about 13 million girls — has experienced rape in her lifetime, one of the most violent forms of sexual abuse women and girls can suffer.  The report also points to concerning negative trends for girls in nutrition and health and growing concerns about poor mental health, fuelled in part by excessive use of digital technologies.

**Press Briefings

Today, our guest in a short while will be Bruno Lemarquis, who is the Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti.  Tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by UN‑Women on the upcoming International Women’s Day.  Speakers will include the Executive Director of UN‑Women and UN‑Women Research and Data Specialist Silke Staab.  That’s it.  Edie?  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Greek authorities firing teargas and stun grenades at migrants from Turkey trying to cross the border?

Spokesman:  You know, like, I think, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. [Filippo] Grandi… the Secretary‑General is very concerned about the situation on the border.  It is important that people's rights and dignity be respected.  But, for the Secretary‑General, Mr. Grandi, as the current High Commissioner, is very much in the lead on the situation.  But, that being said, he continues to watch the situation closely.  Pamela?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  That's all right.

Question:  I apologize.  Thanks, Steph.  On coronavirus, or COVID-19, I… is the UN doing anything about testing its own staff coming back?  Do… can you confirm that diplomats have diplomatic immunity, in terms of any kind of restrictions that the US has put on people coming in?  And are there any cases that you have had on any of the UN staff?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  On whether the restrictions apply to diplomats, permanent missions coming in, I have to check.  I don't know that off the top of my head.  We are… in all our duty stations, we are very careful to follow the instructions and guidance given by the host authorities.  As I've said before, we're in constant touch with our New York City colleagues, especially the New York City Health Department.  Our head of Medical Service is in touch with them regularly, and we will follow the indications and the recommendations by our hosts in order to… for testing.  We do not… as far as I know, we do not have the capacity to test, so we will rely on the host country.

Question:  And sorry, the [Commission on the Status of Women], the Secretary‑General told people to stay home with this curtailed meeting on Monday.  Has the… have… has the Sec… have you or the Secretary‑General advised any delegations, the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] or any other delegations, where meetings where there would be large delegations coming in to stay home?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All the meetings will be looked at on a case‑by‑case basis, especially… you know, for the period from now probably through May, we will be looking at making recommendations for all these meetings.  Obviously, it will depend on the situation.  The situation itself is very fluid, whether it's in New York, in Geneva or in Vienna.  But, we will be looking and are actively assessing the risks on a daily basis in close coordination with the New York City authorities, as well as the federal authorities here.

Question:  And no cases for UN…?

Spokesman:  Not… there are no cases that I'm aware of in New York.  Yeah?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  There was a report from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] today on Iran, basically saying that they've not provided access to two locations, and I guess, are not engaging as much as they should be with the IAEA.  Does the SG have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  I mean, we still believe in the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], and we believe that Iran should live up to its obligations under the JCPOA.  Maggie?

Question:  You said to Pam that you don't know of any cases in New York.  Do you know any among staff elsewhere?

Spokesman:  I'd have to check with some of our colleagues.  All right.  I will get our Haiti colleague.  Do not move.

For information media. Not an official record.