Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

9 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.

**Commission on the Status of Women

This morning, the Secretary-General of these United Nations spoke at the sixty-fourth Commission on the Status of Women.  Mr. [António] Guterres said that he was truly saddened that the extraordinary circumstances ushered in by the spread of the COVID-19 virus led to the postponement of the full session, but he added that he takes heart in knowing that all participants remain committed to the cause of gender equality.  He said that “centuries of discrimination, deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny have created a yawning gender power gap in our economies, our political systems and our corporations.  This simply has to change,” he said.  The Secretary-General added that he was particularly heartened to see a new generation of inspired young activists across the globe taking forward the spirit of constructive action and fearless resilience started in Beijing 25 years ago.  He reiterated the UN’s commitment to keep working with women across the world, to ensure that women and girls everywhere have equal participation in all areas of life.  His statement is online.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, marked International Women’s Day yesterday in Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea, where she spoke about the Spotlight Initiative, a partnership launched by the UN and the European Union in 2016 to support Governments, communities and civil society organizations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030.  She said that Spotlight is the world’s largest effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls.  The Deputy Secretary-General warned that around the world, there is an epidemic of violence against women and girls.  One in three women will be affected by violence at some point in their lives she said, adding that a recent survey by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that around the world, nearly three people in every ten think it’s acceptable for a man to beat his partner.  Her remarks have been shared with you.

**Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) today expressed its deep regret, shock and sadness at the assassination attempt against Sudan’s Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok.  The Mission’s Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, said that this serious incident shows that the perpetrators aim to derail the transitional period, adding that the hopes of the Sudanese people for a transition to peace, freedom and justice must prevail.  And, of course, the Secretary-General was shocked and saddened to learn of the assassination attempt.  He stands in full solidarity with the Prime Minister and the people of Sudan at this difficult time.

**COVID-19

Turning to COVID-19, over the weekend, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the global number of confirmed cases now topped 100,000.  WHO noted that some countries are demonstrating that the spread of the virus can be slowed and its impact reduced through the use of universally applicable actions, such as working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, and following up on contacts.  Regarding the situation in-house in the building, the Secretary-General is following the matter very closely.  The health and safety of staff is a matter of his utmost priority and concern as well as all of those who use the building.

Here in New York, following internal meetings over the weekend, taking into account the declaration of a state of emergency for New York State, it was announced today to all staff that it is recommended that UN personnel who have recently returned from countries identified by the host country should remain and home and self-monitor for 14 days.  Telecommuting and flexible work arrangements are also being recommended for UN personnel, taking into account business continuity requirements.  Over in Geneva, UN personnel were also notified today of how the UN in Geneva aims to maintain essential activities, while postponing or cancelling other activities.  The Palais des Nations is also considering how to put the latest recommendations on telecommuting issued by the Swiss authorities into practice.  We will update you if there are any further details on the front in-house.

**Cameroon

I’ve been asked about a reported bomb attack on Sunday during the celebration of International Women’s Day in Bamenda, in the north-west region of that country.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns this and all attacks against civilians.  He also emphasizes the need to seek a durable political settlement to the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions.

**Iran

This morning, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, briefed IAEA Member States on nuclear verification and monitoring in Iran.  He said that the Agency has identified a number of questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations that have not been declared by Iran.  Mr. Grossi called on the country to be more cooperative in granting access.

**Yemen

The Head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA), Lt. General [Abhijit] Guha, expressed alarm at the aerial strike that took place in Al Salif early yesterday.  He stressed that such aerial strikes hamper the peace process and jeopardize the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement.  Meanwhile, on Saturday, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy concluded a one-day visit to Marib, in northern Yemen.  He said afterwards that the military adventurism and quest for territorial gains that we have seen since mid-January in northern Yemen are leading us away from peace.  Mr. Griffiths said that the only way to save Yemen from slipping back into large-scale conflict and [another] humanitarian tragedy is a return to calm through a comprehensive, inclusive and accountable de-escalation process.

**Briefings

Couple of things to flag:  Tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m. in this very room, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, will be joined by the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas.  They will be here to brief you on the latest WMO report on the State of the Climate.  So, I will be big-footed by not one, but two Secretaries-General tomorrow, so we will not have the briefing.  Mr. Taalas will present the report, the Secretary-General will make some opening remarks, he will take a few questions and he will leave, and Mr. Taalas will continue on.

**Honour Roll

We want to thank the European Principality that paid $308,587 as its full budget dues, bringing us up to 66.  What is the name of that principality?  [Monaco.]  Bingo.  San Marino is not a principality, as far as I know.  Andorra is a principality.  Liechtenstein is a principality.  But, yes, anything regal, Maggie will get… yes, you do get the first question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I saw that Ursula Mueller is leaving.  Is that just a scheduled departure, or is there something… did I miss a personnel announcement or…?

Spokesman:  No, it's a… scheduled.  We are, of course, extremely grateful to Ms. Mueller's work.  I think the Secretary‑General thinks very highly of her and the work she has done, and we will announce a replacement in due course.

Question:  And then on corona, of course, we can't let that go by without ten questions.  I saw that UNIS [United Nations International School] is closed today.  Is there a suspected case at the school?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  You'd have to check with the school.  I don't have that information.

Question:  And as part of your preparedness that you were mentioning earlier for UN Headquarters, are you going to conduct some sort of teleworking drill?  A lot of companies are doing that.

Spokesman:  Well, we're… you know, we will implement… we will move to telecommuting for some staff.  I mean, we'll see what we can do in terms of our own office.  I would have to say that a lot of UN staff are already used to working while travelling or telecommuting.  We just want to make sure that everyone has the equipment they need and understands the rules, so managers will be briefed throughout the day as kind of a refresher on how telecommuting works and the responsibilities of both the manager and the staff, but I think we will move fairly quickly on that front.

Question:  And just one more, if you'll indulge me.  What about suspending travel, non-essential travel of staff?  A lot of companies are doing that.

Spokesman:  I mean, as… the rule remains in place that it's really about… that only essential travel should take place.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just a couple more COVID follow‑ups.  So, there are no confirmed cases yet associated with anything to do with UNHQ.  Is that right?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any cases at this point that we have been… you know, that the Medical Service has been notified about.

Question:  And then do we have an idea about how many UN staffers or contractors are self‑quarantining, having travelled to the relevant countries…

Spokesman:  I will try to get you a number on that.  We're trying to harvest UN system‑wide numbers on that.  It depends a lot… it depends also a lot of self‑reporting from agencies and everything.  So, we're trying to harvest that global number for you.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on the same issue, has… we know that the Conference on the Status of Women had been cancelled.  Are there any other conferences that the Secretary‑General or the UN is particularly concerned about?  Are there large meetings, perhaps, that are being cancelled?

Spokesman:  Well, there are a number of… just talking about UNHQ, there are a number of Member State meetings that are on the calendar.  I mean, the calendar of conferences is public.  Some are more visible than others, like CSW.  Others are more technical meetings.  I think each meeting is being looked at on a case‑by‑case basis, as either a cancellation, a postponement or descaling, if that's a correct word, of just kind of scaling down the participants.  That happen, we will let you know, but we're looking at it on a case‑by‑case basis.

Question:  But have there been any other conferences besides the CSW that…?

Spokesman:  In New York, not that I'm aware of at this point.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes.  Another subject is the border between Greece and Turkey and the refugee programme over there.  Is… did the Secretary‑General have any contact in the last few days with either government or any… any… you know, about this situation that is getting always worse?

Spokesman:  No, we have been… that is really at this point in the hands of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and IOM [International Organization for Migration], who are taking the lead.  The Secretary‑General has been kept up to date, I know, by Mr. [Filippo] Grandi on the situation.  I think we expressed our concern on Friday on the situation and the use of force that we had seen.  And we're, obviously, keeping an eye on it.  We know Mr… President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is, I think, going to Brussels today.  We'll see what comes out of it.  What remains for us a bedrock principle is that people, whether they be migrants or refugees, be treated with dignity, that there should be no use of force, and of course, that the international community do whatever it can to solve the conflicts that are forcing people to move and that also address the underlying causes that are forcing people to move, notably the situation in north‑west Syria.  Maggie, and then we'll go back to Linda.

Question:  We saw on Friday that Department of [Peace Operations] said that they're trying not to rotate some troops now because they don't want new troops coming from hot‑spot countries to peacekeeping missions.  How else has this outbreak affected your operations on a tangible basis like this?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, for the Secretariat, it really is… I mean, the largest impact is on the movement of troops and rotation of troops for peace operations.  That's our largest kind of chunk of people that are on the move.  A number… you know, I think, as I said, both the Department of Peace Operations, Department of Operational Support, under the very… or with the guidance and technical expertise of the medical division here at Headquarters, are reviewing all troop and police rotations for the next six months for a timeframe.  Some countries have been asked to delay rotations by three months and… because we also need to make sure that the missions are able to continue their operations, their… all the troops that are in the field are needed.  Right?  Anytime you take out a contingent [that] is now replaced, that has an impact on the operations.  And then, of course, on the ground, the peacekeeping operations are putting together… putting in mitigation measures to promote the safety and health of the UN personnel and also the ability to conduct the operations and, obviously, to protect the health of the local population.

Question:  Are you having any supply chain issues yet, particularly with peacekeeping?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of, no.

Question:  And the WHO director is briefing now, and he's saying that it looks like… I don't want to misquote him.  He said the threat of coronavirus pandemic now is "very real".  If he elevates it to a pandemic level, does that in any way change how you operate or your assistance to Governments?

Spokesman:  Well, you… it's kind of a… I'm not sure exactly what he's saying, not that I don't trust you.  Obviously, if and when that declaration happens, we will take whatever measures WHO recommends.  I mean, they are in the lead in terms of not only globally but within the UN system and how we adapt.  So, we'll have to see if and when that happens.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you.  Following up on COVID‑19, we know there are many, many NGOs [non-governmental organizations] who come to the building.  I was wondering if the NGOs are also subject to the same regulations here at UN Headquarters.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, whether you're an NGO, whether you're a staff member, whether you're a visitor, whether you're a journalist, we all have personal responsibilities, right?  And we all need to live up to those personal responsibilities.  That's really kind of a key building point.  We operate and live in a Host Country.  We're following the Host Country guidelines, the host city, New York State, as well.  I mean, the basic guidelines, encouraging people to wash their hands frequently, to disinfect, should be followed by everyone.  Yeah?

Question:  Steph, also a follow‑up on COVID‑19.  It seems that there's a lack of test kits in the US.  So, do UN personnel have access to UN test… to… to…?

Spokesman:  No, we do not… we are not equipped nor are we qualified to do testing at UN Headquarters.  We rely on the Host Country for testing.  Yes, Margaret?

Correspondent:  I promise, last one, last one.  Not on COVID.

Spokesman:  Don't ever make a promise you can't hold.

Correspondent:  Not on COVID.  On [resolution] 1325 (2000), on the CSW, there was no reference to 1325… Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), peace and security, and several del…

Spokesman:  In the Secretary‑General's remarks?

Question:  No, sorry.  In the political declaration.  And several delegations commented on the… they were regretting that there was no mention of it.  Have… that was sort of news to me.  Have you heard anything why it wasn't in there?

Spokesman:  No, that's a question to address to those Member States who drafted and agreed on the political declaration.  For his part, the Secretary‑General has always underscored the importance of that resolution, notably in events, recent events, notably the one in Addis Ababa where he marked the twentieth anniversary.  Doctore?

QuestionGrazie.  A… the coronavirus, because Governments around the world are being… acting… reacting in different way, we saw how China did in the beginning, now Italy, for example, but we see that France, Germany, they act differently, also this country.  So, what is the opinion of the Secretary‑General?  I mean, is too… like, does he have any advices around that, means is somebody exaggerating, or are there's not taking this seriously enough?

Spokesman:  Look, we have the WHO and Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], who is in the lead on how the UN system deals with it, on the sort of guidance and advice they give governments.  We encourage all Member States to follow the advice of the World Health Organization and, if they need assistance, to ask for assistance from WHO.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Also about coronavirus, so, do you know anything about refugees population, the one that UN, you know, involved with, let's say, with UNHCR are also those in Bangladesh and Syria?  So, are they, you know, aware of about hand sanitization or if they have them, or is UN doing anything about it?

Spokesman:  You know, it's a very valid question.  I have no doubt that our colleagues at UNHCR and the entire UN family that is there to support refugees in the various camps and settlements is doing its utmost, but we can check with UNHCR as to exactly what they're doing.  Yep?

Question:  Was there a readout from the Secretary‑General on [Michael] Pompeo on Friday?

Spokesman:  Yes, we issued something by email, and I've literally blanked out everything that's happened last week so… we start again on Monday.  We'll send it to you.

Question:  Based on your COVID‑19 contingency plans, what would it take for UNHQ to shut down?

Spokesman:  I think we're, obviously, going to be guided by the city authorities, by the state, but I'm not going to go into details of what it would take.  We're, obviously, ready for any contingency.  We've not… but no one has indicated for the need for this building to shut down.

Question:  If it were shown that the virus had spread within the building, would the building shut down?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm not… I think it's dangerous to speculate on these sorts of issues.  What I will tell you is that we are ready for any eventuality.  You see? You already broke your promise.  It take… took about 3 1/2 minutes.

Correspondent:  It's Toby's fault, because he asked a very valid question.  And I have a follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Yeah, blame somebody else.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  On this… on the readout of the SG Pompeo meeting, the State Department had a longer one than you.  They explicitly referred to Mr. Pompeo expressing his displeasure to the Secretary‑General about the OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] settlements list about companies doing business in the territories.  Your readout made no mention of it.  Also, I thought it was interesting neither readout made mention of the coronavirus, that no one was discussing this threat to the planet.  So, could you expound on both of those, please?

Spokesman:  On your first… you know, the readout is the readout.  I… we speak for one side of the table, for the Secretary‑General.  I… it's not for me to comment on the readout that others put out.  I mean, it's not… so, that's… I'll leave it at that.  On [coronavirus], I can only go by the readout.  I'll see if there's anything else I can tell you on that.  Madame?

Question:  Yeah.  It's just to understand, to… it's a follow‑up on my colleague's question, on Kevin's question, not about what it's going to take you to shut down the building, but it seems that, compared to some private companies, the UN is a bit slower in reactions, like, for example, in imposing self‑quarantine to employees or to screen visitors or people who are not, like, tied to the building.  For example, like, we know for a fact that… and it was actually experiments made in Asia, that if you increase the rotations of cleaning of the building and especially in the bathrooms and areas and everything, it actually slowed down the contagion.  So, have you changed anything in the routine…?

Spokesman:  Yes, so, there is an increased frequency in cleaning and disinfecting during the overnights and during the day.  We have… you know, I think we have… I mean, I don't fully agree with your assessment of the velocity of the way we're dealing with this.  There are the… I'm sharing with you information.  The issue… a number of… this… what is critical and what we have told staff from day one is that they need to follow the guidelines and the requirements and the instructions from the Host Country, whether we work in Geneva, whether we work in New York, Vienna or Nairobi.

Correspondent:  So, this country's clearly not having enough test kits [inaudible] so maybe…

Spokesman:  I didn't hear a question mark, so I won't answer that.  Evelyn?

Question:  Has the SG commented or reacted to the fact that the majority of Member States have delegations that are led by men or all men or almost all men?  And when one listened to today's CSW, it was amazing; there must have been no more than three women speaking.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is fully aware of the gender gap, whether it's at national level, in parliaments or within the permanent representatives.  On that note, we will not shake hands, and we shall see each other tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.