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20 April 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.

Good afternoon.  As a reminder, please mute your microphones.  And as we said on Friday, unless you are sending out video, as well as audio, we cannot take your questions live.  The system won’t handle it.

**Small Island States

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will take part in the virtual Placencia Ambition Forum organized by the Alliance of Small Island States.  The event shows that efforts to increase climate action are still ongoing even during the current pandemic.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General will stress that even though all eyes are on fighting the virus, we must not lose focus on climate change, as its effects are still being felt around the world, most recently in the South Pacific, which was hit by Cyclone Harold.

The Secretary-General will stress that now is not the time for retreat and that we must commit now to building back better from the pandemic to secure a more sustainable and resilient future.

He will also reaffirm the UN’s support for small island States and their efforts to lead the way on sustainability.

**One World Concert

On Saturday night, no doubt, you will have seen that the Secretary-General took part in the “One World:  Together at Home” concert, organized by Global Citizen and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In his message, he said that to overcome the current health crisis, we must unite and remember the most vulnerable.  He also appealed to the audience to join the call for a global ceasefire to focus on our common enemy — the virus.

“Together, we will defeat this virus and rebuild a fairer world — as united global citizens and united nations,” he said.

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, was also one of the figures who spoke during the event.  She said that we must leave no one behind and accelerate in our race to find a vaccine.  She thanked citizens around the world for their solidarity and support for the life-saving work of the World Health Organization and the whole United Nations family.

**Joint Humanitarian Appeal

The UN’s humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian organizations issued a joint call today to the donor community to urgently support the global emergency supply system with an initial $350 million to enable a rapid scale-up of logistics common services.

The groups said that, in countries where the world’s most vulnerable need humanitarian aid and supplies to beat back the pandemic, cancelled flights and disrupted supply routes hit disproportionately hard.  It is in everyone’s interest to stop the virus from spreading unchecked, destroying lives and economies, and continuing to circle around the world.

To get more deliveries off the ground, the World Food Programme (WFP), which runs the humanitarian air service, is setting up the vital logistics backbone that will help save lives and help halt the spread of the virus.  WFP now urgently needs additional funding to establish the necessary transport hubs, charter vessels and provide aircraft for cargo, health workers and other essential staff.

All elements of the $2 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan announced by the Secretary-General are crucial and need continued funding, but without these logistics common services, the global response could stutter to a halt, the groups said.  Now is not the time to slow down.  No one is safe until everyone is safe.

**UN75

Turning to the ongoing outreach related to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN:  As you may recall, in January, the Secretary-General launched a global listening exercise to gather public views on global challenges and solutions, as the United Nations marks its seventy-fifth anniversary, this at a time of upheaval, which has been intensified due to the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

Today, the UN75 Office released preliminary findings from the first batch of data from 186 countries, providing an insight into people’s hopes and fears for humanity’s future, with an overwhelming majority agreeing on the need for global cooperation to manage global challenges.

Some 95 per cent of those who have responded agreed on the need for countries to work together to manage global trends, with a noticeable uptick from late February, as the disorder caused by the virus spreading around the world.

Climate and environment topped the list of issues that respondents said will most affect humanity’s future, with more than double the responses [compared to] any other issue.

The top five future priorities that emerged from the survey were environmental protection, protection of human rights, less conflict, equal access to basic services, and zero discrimination.

To date, more than 60,000 have completed the one-minute UN75 survey, and over 330 future-focused dialogues have been held in 87 countries.  The report released today is based on data collected between 1 January and 24 March 2020.  We’ve shared the press release on this new report with you a short while ago.

**European Immunization Week

Today, in a joint statement to mark the beginning of the European Immunization Week 2020, the World Health Organization and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) noted that the urgent need for a COVID-19 vaccine underscores the pivotal role immunizations play in protecting lives and economies.

WHO and UNICEF also emphasized that national routine immunization programmes are more critical than ever before.

In 2018, approximately 527,000 children missed their first dose of measles-containing vaccine in the WHO European Region.  One year later, in 2019, the measles virus exposed immunity gaps in Europe, infecting over 100,000 people across all age groups.

The UN agencies added that if local COVID-19 response measures cause temporary interruptions of routine immunization services, countries should plan to resume immunization services as quickly as possible after the situation stabilizes.

**COVID-19 — Children

Also, in a joint statement, the heads of UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today cautioned that millions of children around the world have been driven from their homes and across borders by conflict, violence and other forms of harm.  This includes 12.7 million refugees and 1.1 million asylum seekers.

With the rapid spread of the pandemic, they warn that the needs of refugee children have become even more acute.  Meeting those needs is key to safeguarding both their well-being today and future potential.

The statement stresses that displaced children are among those with the most limited access to prevention services, testing, treatment and other essential support.  In addition, the pandemic and containment measures are likely to have negative consequences for safety and education.

UNICEF and UNHCR have pledged to work together to transform the quality of life for refugee children and their families by doubling the number of refugee and returnee children with access to education; ensuring that they can access clean, sustainable and environmentally sound water and sanitation services; addressing protection concerns and ensuring quality, child-friendly response services; as well as identifying barriers to inclusion in national systems.  The full statement is online.

**Global Learning Platform

Also related to children, UNICEF and Microsoft have announced today the expansion of a global learning platform to help children continue their education from home during the pandemic.

The programme, called Learning Passport, was originally designed to provide education for displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform.

It was scheduled to start as a pilot programme this year, but it has now been scaled up to become available in all countries with a curriculum that can be taught online.

Timor-Leste, Ukraine and Kosovo will be the first areas to roll out their online curriculum through the Learning Passport.  The content available to schoolchildren includes online books, videos and additional support for parents of children with learning disabilities.

According to the latest data from UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], over 1.5 billion students have been impacted by school closures in more than 190 countries.

Additional online educational resources are also available on UNESCO’s website.

**Displaced and Stateless Women and Girls

And UNHCR warns today that displaced and stateless women and girls are at heightened risk of gender-based violence in the coronavirus pandemic.

Confinement policies, lockdowns and quarantines adopted across the world have led to restricted movements and reduced access to support and health services exacerbating the risks of intimate partner violence.

UNHCR said that women without documentation or those who have lost their precarious livelihoods may be forced into survival sex or child marriages by their families.  More information is also available online.

**Agricultural Development

And from our colleagues at IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, in Rome — they announced today that the actor, filmmaker and humanitarian Idris Elba and actress, model and activist Sabrina Elba were today designated as their Goodwill Ambassadors.

Idris and Sabrina Elba launched a new global coronavirus relief fund on behalf of IFAD.  With $40 million in seed money from IFAD, the multi-donor COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility aims to raise at least an additional $200 million to prevent economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic from triggering a global hunger and food crisis.

This is part of the Secretary-General’s call for urgent and coordinated actions across the UN system.  It seeks to help rural, small-scale farmers and producers to continue to grow their crops, keep their businesses open and maintain access to financial services and markets as their countries go into lockdown and movements are restricted.

Rural areas are home to nearly 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people, as well as the majority of the world’s hungriest people.

**Syria

And a few country specific issues we want to mention:  We continue to be concerned about the impact of the pandemic on people across Syria, millions of whom are vulnerable after more than nine years of war.

To date, the Syrian Government has confirmed a total of 39 COVID-19 cases, including three deaths.  Five people have recovered from the virus.

With around half of Syria’s pre-conflict health infrastructure out of service, depleted water and sanitation infrastructure in many parts of the country, and over 6 million people internally displaced — including 1.4 [million] people living in camps and other last resort sites — the World Health Organization assesses Syria as being at high risk from the virus.

The UN is stepping up its efforts to mitigate the virus’s spread, focusing on enhancing the capacity to detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus to the extent possible, and also to ensure adequate surveillance of entry points, and provide protective equipment and training to health workers.

**Nigeria

From Nigeria, the Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator from the country, Edward Kallon, has expressed his deep sorrow following the deaths of several people in fires in camps sheltering internally displaced people in Borno.

He said that these tragedies unfortunately come during the dry season, with some 15 fire incidents having been recorded in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps since the beginning of the year, affecting more than 15,000 people.

Mr. Kallon also called for urgent measures to decongest overcrowded camps to address the root cause of the problem, expressing concern for the 1.8 million IDPs and nearly 8 million vulnerable people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states as the COVID-19 virus spreads across Nigeria.

Together with the state and federal authorities, the UN and its partners are working to expand the IDP camps to mitigate the risk of incidents and the rapid spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

**Chad

In Chad, where there are 33 confirmed cases of the virus, the UN Resident Coordinator has reiterated the UN’s continued support during all steps of the response to the pandemic, from addressing the immediate health needs to the medium- and long-term social and economic impacts.

The UN team, led by the World Health Organization, has been working with the Government to provide immediate support to contain the spread of the virus.

The UN team has helped with emergency purchases of lab and other medical equipment, as well as setting up safe isolation sites and to adapt health structures to manage cases.  The World Health Organization has trained medical personnel to test and analyse exam results and care for COVID-19 patients.

The UN team has also trained journalists, community leaders and tribal chiefs, while also providing computers and internet connection for medical teams doing surveillance and contact-tracing.

We have contributed more than $8 million at country-level so far, in line with the Government’s contingency plan.

**Peacekeeping Operations

And a few notes from our peacekeeping operations.

In South Sudan, the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMISS) says there has been a worrying surge in intercommunal violence in parts of the country, with violent clashes related to cattle-raiding and revenge attacks taking place.

It is reported that at least 90 people have been killed and 54 injured in a series of incidents in the Upper Nile, Jonglei and Warrap regions in recent weeks.

UN peacekeepers are working to deter the violence through military-led patrolling, but the Mission is having difficulty accessing some areas due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The delay in appointing new governors and country commissioners has also created a power vacuum at the local level which may be emboldening those responsible for the violence.  The UN Mission will continue to engage with political actors and community leaders on the ground to prevent further violence and encourage reconciliation.

The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) provided logistical and operational support in preparation for yesterday’s second round of legislative elections, and secured polling stations on election day.

The Mission reports a number of security incidents in the Timbuktu region.  In addition, a number of polling stations in the Mopti region reportedly failed to open, due to insecurity.

The peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) also responded to several incidents affecting civilians in three locations over the weekend.

On Saturday, the Mission reports that one of its patrols responded to fighting among self-defence groups in Bangui’s 3rd District, while in the Vakaga prefecture, peacekeepers have increased patrols following the reported killing of three ethnic Goula civilians; that’s some 30 kilometres south-west of Birao.  This incident is prompting concerns of revenge attacks.

Finally, 15 kilometres south of Kaga-Bandoro, in the Nana-Gribizi Prefecture, assailants in a robbery fled after a joint UN-Central African Army patrol intervened.  There are no reports of casualties.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, MINUSCA remains committed to delivering on its Protection of Civilians mandate.

And lastly, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Saturday called on Lebanon and Israel to exercise restraint to reduce tensions along the Blue Line.

On the evening of 17 April, UNIFIL radars detected the launch of flares over different parts of the Blue Line in southern Lebanon.  The flares were also seen and reported by UNIFIL troops on the ground.

Peacekeepers were deployed in the area and UNIFIL commander Major General Stefano Del Col was immediately in touch with the parties.

All right.  That is it for me.  Let’s see… let’s take out our glasses and see what questions we may have.

**Questions and Answers

Edie, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  And hi, everybody.  Hope everybody’s well.

The UN75 report, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the preliminary findings?

And the Watchlist on Children had a briefing today on what they would like to see in the Secretary‑General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict.  When is that expected?

And any update on when the Secretary‑General might be talking to us this week?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Taking your questions last, no, I don’t have an update but I’m try… when the SG would speak, but I’m trying to get you something.

I hope to get some language on Children and Armed Conflict before the briefing is over.

And, you know, this, obviously, are preliminary measures, but I think it’s fantastic to see that there is a global… I mean, the answer to the question is, in fact, more global cooperation, more solidarity and for all people to work together to expand… or to tackle the global problems that we’re facing, especially the one that we’re facing currently.

Majeed.  Somebody has their microphone on.  Only Majeed should have his microphone open.  Majeed?

Okay.  I’ll move to Iftikhar.  Whoever has their microphone on, could… there we go.  Iftikhar, Associated Press of Pakistan, asks:  Do we have any… do I know what the amount of money raised by One World Concert for WHO?

No, I don’t have that number, but WHO should know.  [Global Citizen added that the concert raised a total of $127.9 million.]

Dulcie asks:  What has been the response to the Secretary‑General’s request weeks ago for sanction waivers?  Have they been lifted?

Well, I think there are two different issues.  One is on Security Council‑related sanctions.  My understanding is that the sanctions… there’ve been some exceptions given by the Sanctions Committee on the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).  The rest… I think the Secretary‑General’s call is really one on the issue of unilateral sanctions, and that’s where we need to see progress.

Okay.  Let me see who else.  Majeed, have you been able to join?

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, perfectly.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  I want to ask about the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire or universal ceasefire.  And, first, I want to ask, has he had any discussions recently with any of the world leaders?

And the second question about that is, does the Secretary‑General think the scope of the ceasefire should include any military operation under the name of counter-terrorism?  Because, as you know, most of the military operation in the world, arguably, are under the name of counter-terrorism.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, I think the Secretary‑General chose his words very carefully.  He called for a global ceasefire, and that’s what we’re asking for.  We’re, obviously, interested to see what comes out of the Security Council, but I think we have been… the Secretary‑General has really been very much heartened by the number of leaders, armed groups and others, who have come out in support of his call for a global ceasefire.

His envoys are aware; they have a mandate and are working on the ground trying to move the process forward.  Obviously, in challenging circumstances, as we all know, if these problems could have been solved quickly, they would have been solved quickly.

On the question about the Children and Armed Conflict, the Secretary‑General’s own report is expected midyear, and we have no comment at this point on the shadow report that was issued.

Pam says:  The new Learning Passport initiative from UNICEF and Microsoft is part of Generation Unlimited.  Does that mean the UN Secretariat is partnered with this programme?

This is about… UNICEF is in the lead on issues of children and learning, especially in some of the displaced and refugee camps, and so they’re the ones who are on lead on this issue.

Abdelhamid:  As General [Khalifa] Haftar is losing the battle with legitimate Government, does the SG see a better chance for peace?

I think the chance for peace in Libya would be when the fighting stops.  We’ve been saying this over and over again — we’ll continue to say it — that there is no military solution to this conflict.  We encourage all the parties to work with the UN leadership, with our acting SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), Ms. [Stephanie] Williams, to come around the table and find a true path forward for a political solution.

In the meantime, as the fighting continues, Libyan civilians are continuing to pay the price.  We’ve seen the number of health facilities that have been destroyed, the number of civilians that have been killed, all this as Libya risks… like every other country, to suffer very hard from the pandemic of the COVID‑19 virus.  Excuse me.  [coughs]

Make sure I drink from the right cup.

Maria, I see your name pop up here.  Maria?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Hi.  Hi, everyone.  Yeah, I have a question regarding the vaccine development, as SG tweeted two days ago about the coalition… global coalition which should develop a vaccine and that it should be available to everyone.  Do you, by any chance, have a broader comment on that?  Is SG in touch with several scientific institutions which are developing the vaccine?  Because, for now, it seems like a race between different countries which develop it, and are there any chances that it really will be available for everyone when it’s finally achieved?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been staying in touch with the World Health Organization, who’s in the lead on this.  I think, as you said, there is competition, which is good.  There is cooperation, which is even better, but what will… I think the critical part is when we do have a vaccine that works, that the vaccine is available to all, that the vaccine itself doesn’t make the gap between the haves and the have‑nots even greater.  It’s a matter… it needs to be available for all for, obviously… I think for moral reasons but also that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe.

So, we want to make sure that the vaccine does not exacerbate the issues of inequality when it actually arrives and that it is shared for the benefit of all.

Mr. Bays of Al Jazeera English.

Question:  Hello.  Another question on Libya.  You may have seen the Financial Times’ reporting of further breaches of the arms embargo and highlighting that it was companies from the UAE (United Arab Emirates).  What is the response from the Secretary‑General to fresh breaches of the arms embargo?

And a completely separate question, just a clarification, and I probably think you’ll send me to WFP, but you mentioned in your thing about the WFP that they’re setting up a transportation hub.  Where is that?

Spokesman:  Right.  They’ve… you may have seen, there was a transportation hub set up in Addis [Ababa] for the solidarity flights.  You know, WFP runs the Humanitarian Air Service.  I think they have a number of different hubs, but I will now do as you expect and send you to WFP.

Second, you had asked me about Libya and arms embargo.  We’ve seen the reporting.  We have no independent… you know, I’ve not been briefed on any independent confirmation.  What is clear is that there are no good violations of the arms embargo.  Libya does not need more weapons.  Libya does not need more bullets.  It does not need more drones.  It does not need more bombs.  It needs more peace.

Again, I’ll refer you to what I just said to Abdelhamid.  At a time of high risk for the people of Libya due to the virus, we’re seeing an increase in destruction of health‑care systems and health‑care facilities.  That’s just not going in the right direction.

Ibtisam.  Ibtisam?  All right.  I can’t…

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep, perfectly.

Question:  Okay.  So, I have two questions.  The first one about Yemen, if you have any updates regarding the political talks and then, also, the cash and the donors, if there… since last week and the briefing, Mr. [Mark] Lowcock talked about the fact that there is a shortage and… of money by donor countries and maybe the UN will have to close security…

Spokesman:  The shortage continues.  The risk of paring down of our humanitarian programmes on the ground continues, and we will try to get you some hard numbers.

Question:  I have another question.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  Shukran.  So, it’s about Israel.  So, Israeli police raided a coronavirus testing clinic in East Jerusalem, in Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, and arrested organizers on last Tuesday because the clinic was operating in collaboration with the PA (Palestinian Authority).  That’s according to Haaretz and other media organizations… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  You know, I think… we owe you an answer because I think Abdelhamid brought up the same case.  We’ll try to get you some answer on that.

Samira asks about the UNICEF and Microsoft partnership.  Looks like it requires access to the Internet, but only 30 per cent of low‑income countries have digital access.  Is UNICEF working with Governments in these countries to improve Internet access?

I think that’s a question to ask UNICEF.  Thank you.

Okay.  Any more questions?

Question:  Yes, from me.

Spokesman:  Oh, go ahead, Evelyn.  Go ahead.  Evelyn?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you now.

Question:  Okay.  On Syria, considering the destruction of health facilities, how are the people who have come down with the virus being treated?

Spokesman:  Well, I… that’s the challenge, exactly.  I mean, we’re working with local partners… with the Government and local partners on the ground through the World Health Organization and others to try to either rebuild or create some facilities where people can be treated, but it is clear that, in this kind of environment, it is challenging, to say the very least, to try to test and treat people with the virus.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  And, Ibtisam and Abdelhamid, I can tell you that Mr.… we’re not… Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov will not comment on the case you raised until he reports to the Security Council later this week.  And, obviously, you’ll have those briefing notes.

All right.  On this Monday, any more questions?  Going once, going twice.  I think we are sold.  Take care and thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.