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22 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.  I will start with my usual friendly reminder to please mute yours microphones and make sure that you are sending both video and audio if you want to speak.  Otherwise, the system will not be able to handle it.

**Mother Earth Day

Today is, as you all know, the International Mother Earth Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General says that all eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic and we must work together to save lives, ease suffering and lessen the shattering economic and social consequences.  But he also said that we must remember another emergency — the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis.  Greenhouse gases, just like viruses, do not respect national boundaries, he says, adding that we need to turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.  The Secretary-General has also proposed six climate-related actions to shape the recovery.  These include delivering new green jobs, funding sustainable sectors and incorporating climate risks into the financial system and policymaking.  That message has been shared with you already.

And the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today released a report which says that while COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it is not a substitute for sustained climate action.  In fact, the pandemic will make it more difficult to tackle weather, climate and water-related hazards which are becoming more acute because of climate change.  The report warns that we need to flatten both the pandemic and the climate curves and stresses the importance of post-COVID-19 stimulus packages that help the economy grow back greener.  You can find the full report online.

**Earth School

Staying on the same topic, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with Ted-Ed today launched an online “Earth School,” which provides free educational content to help students, parents and teachers around the world who are currently at home.  Built for children and youth from the ages of 5 to 18, it spans 30 school days that run between Earth Day and World Environment Day, which is on 5 June.  The content features videos, reading materials and activities, which will be translated into ten languages.  This will also help students gain an understanding of the environment while considering their role within it.  UNEP will also be exploring how this content can be adapted and shared with children who aren’t able to access the Internet.  Now, I want to highlight some UN activities on the ground around the world, focusing on the pandemic.

**COVID-19 — Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, there are seven confirmed cases of the virus.  The Resident Coordinator there, Gianluca Rampolla, has mobilized the humanitarian country team to assist with the national health preparedness and response plan.  The UN team is also helping the Government in areas including water and sanitation, social protection, education, food security, supply and logistics, as well as information management and risk communication.  The UN on the ground quickly brought development partners, such as the World Bank and the European Union, together with donor Governments like Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, as well as local authorities, to all work together to fund essential equipment to fight the disease.

A million sets of personal protective equipment, as well as ventilators, ambulances and tents, are being procured.  The UN team is also helping to set up isolation and quarantine wards and pre-triage facilities for the whole of Papua New Guinea.  We are also closely coordinating with the Government, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to carry out a socioeconomic impact assessment to identify priority needs to save livelihoods and lift the economy.

**COVID-19 — South Sudan

And in South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the already-dire food security situation there could worsen due to the pandemic.  Markets are under significant stress, as evidenced by sharp price increases.  For example, the price of a 50 kg bag of maize increased by 36 percent in March alone.  The removal of non-essential staff from the workforce and the closure of nonessential businesses, coupled with the lingering impact of the devastating 2019 flooding, as well as the desert locust invasion and rapidly rising food prices, will likely increase food insecurity and humanitarian needs.  Prior to the pandemic, 6.5 million people- that is 55 percent of the population - were already expected to face severe food insecurity at the height of the May to July annual hunger season.  Humanitarian partners have been adapting their response to deliver safely, responsibly and effectively in this COVID-19 environment.

**COVID-19 — Darfur

And in Sudan, in Darfur, where the UN [and African Union] Mission (UNAMID) continues to support the Government of Sudan to combat the pandemic, the head of the Mission, Jeremiah Mamabolo, has donated five all-terrain vehicles, four high-capacity power generators and a refrigerator container unit to the Federal Minister of Health.  At the virtual handover ceremony in Khartoum, Mr. Mamabolo reiterated his call on all parties to the Sudan conflict to see reason to join the peace process in Juba for a comprehensive agreement that would foster genuine and speedy nation-building.

**COVID-19 — Mozambique

And in Mozambique, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19 in the country.  The reason is the return of Mozambican migrants from South Africa.  The UN migration agency noted that, according to Mozambique’s National Migration Service, over 14,000  Mozambican migrants returned from the neighbouring country within a span of a few days, as South Africa declared lockdown due to the virus. 

**Great Lakes

And back here in New York, this morning, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Huang Xia, told the Security Council members that with a growing number of COVID-19 cases, the countries of the region are facing significant challenges.  On the economic front, the measures taken to address the pandemic, combined with the reallocation of resources to address the health crisis, are likely to weaken already fragile economies.  This, the Special Envoy said, could have implications for peace, security and development.

He welcomed the debt moratorium announced by the G20 (Group of 20) and called for support from the international community to help Great Lakes countries deal with and recover from the pandemic.  And turning to the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Envoy said there is still a sense of optimism.  However, he added, the greatest challenge undoubtedly remains the activities by armed groups, including the illicit exploitation of natural resources.  Insecurity caused by armed groups, especially in eastern part of the country, also, of course, fuels the humanitarian crisis.  His remarks have been shared with you.

**COVID-19 — Global Food Security

And the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) spoke yesterday with agriculture ministers of the G20 on behalf of the UN food agencies.  Qu Dongyu warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a major public health concern but also a threat to global food security.  This threat can be mitigated by avoiding measures that disrupt food supply chains.  He urged G20 ministers to include long-term goals in their policy frameworks.  He said that the crisis opens an opportunity to accelerate food system transformation and cited e‑commerce tools as a way to enhance local resilience and bolster direct links between producers and consumers.

**Pangolins

And the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna today released new research on pangolins which, despite an international trade ban, are the most trafficked mammals in the world.  The research shows that between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally, suggesting that millions have been trafficked and killed.  As you know, the COVID-19 outbreak has been linked to a coronavirus originating in wild bats that jumped to people via an intermediary animal.  Pangolins are among the leading suspects.  The Executive Director of the UNODC, Ghada Waly, said that said that “for the sake of preserving biodiversity and preventing the next public health emergency, the illegal wildlife trade must stop”.  The research from the UNODC will be included in their Office’s World Wildlife Crime Report, which is expected to be published in June.

**COVID-19 — Myanmar

And you will have seen in a statement we put out yesterday afternoon that the Secretary-General strongly condemned an attack earlier this week in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on a WHO (World Health Organization) vehicle transporting COVID-19 surveillance samples.  That attack resulted in the death of a WHO colleague and serious injuries to a Government official.  The Secretary-General calls for a full and transparent investigation into the incident and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

**Iran

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today condemned the second execution of a child offender in the space of just four days by authorities in Iran.  Shayan Saeedpour is reported to have been executed in a prison in the Kurdistan Province on Tuesday.  He had been sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed when he was under 18.  The execution followed a judicial process that appears to have been deeply flawed, according to Ms. Bachelet.

This came after another person, Majid Esmailzadeh, was reportedly executed in Ardabil Province on Saturday.  This also followed a conviction on a charge of murder allegedly committed when he was under 18.   “The executions of these two child offenders are absolutely prohibited under international human rights law,” Ms. Bachelet said.  She repeated her call on Iranian authorities to honour its international human rights obligations, immediately halt all executions of juvenile offenders and commute all such death penalty sentences.  The Secretary-General supports the High Commissioner’s views and reiterates his opposition to the death penalty — particularly in cases involving child offenders.

**Yemen

And turning to Yemen, heavy rains have caused more flooding over the last 24 hours.  The Government yesterday declared Aden a disaster zone.   Our humanitarian colleagues have received reports that more than 14,700 people have been displaced across 21 sites for internally displaced people in Aden.  The UN agencies and our humanitarian partners are working with Government officials to assess needs and will provide relief based on these assessments.  Heavy rains were also reported in Raymah, in Taizz and in Ibb provinces over the past 24 hours, and UN agencies are working with local authorities to assess the needs in these areas. 

**Regular Budget

For the second day in a row, I can end with good news.  Thanks to a full payment from Cambodia, 85 Member States have now paid in full for 2020.  And thank you to our friends in Phnom Penh.  Let's now go to our questions, if I could put on my glasses.  James, why don't you go ahead.  James Bays?  All right.  James, can you hear… I can't hear you.  All right.  Let's try Evelyn.  Evelyn?  All right.  Hello?  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  James or me?

Correspondent:  Yes, Steph.  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  All right, perfect.  Let's go with James and then Evelyn.

Question:  Steph, I have three questions for you, if I may.  I can do them one by one.

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  First, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said the decision to annex the West Bank will be an Israeli decision alone.  Many are interpreting that as a green light to the new coalition to annex the West Bank.  How worried is the Secretary‑General about that prospect?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not in the analysis business, but what I can tell you is that we have… in the past, both the Secretary‑General and his envoy, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, have expressed great concern about possible annexation and unilateral moves, and I… and that remains our position.  And I do expect Mr. Mladenov to take this… to brief… to say more on this at his briefing this week in the Security Council.  Your second question, James?

Question:  Second question, you're probably aware there is a new draft by Tunisia and France for a resolution to do with COVID‑19 and the call from the Secretary‑General for a ceasefire.  We've asked you this before, but how important is it that the Security Council come up with a united voice on this?

Spokesman:  It's very important that the Security Council speak with one voice on the current crisis that is gripping the whole world.  Obviously, it's up… it will be up to Council members to decide what's in the text and even to adopt a text, but we would… I think we would greatly appreciate a strong voice from the Security Council.  And your third question while you're at it.

Question:  My third question is about the Security Council, the way it's operating.  How happy is the UN with the technology that it's providing to the Security Council?  If tech… if UN Security Council members can't hear each other, how are they supposed to speak to the world?

Spokesman:  Look, I was not aware that there'd been issues.  We are all… I think our… we are all trying our best to accommodate the Security Council and all Member States, and we will continue to work through whatever technical hitches there may have been.  The system is really… is adapting.  It is improving on a daily basis, and we will continue to work in that direction.  Evelyn?

Question:  The US says Iran launched a military satellite, and President [Donald] Trump then said he told the Navy to shoot down and destroy any Iranian fast boats that may harass US naval ships.  Do you have any more information on this?  And how worried would the SG be about this seeming escalation?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we've always called… the Secretary‑General, I think, has used one of his favourite expressions for that region, which is “nerves of steel”, and always called for all parties involved to avoid any sort of escalation.  Hold on a second.  We're… Benno, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Thank you to colleagues.  Today, in five months, the high‑level week is scheduled to begin.  When will you call it off due to COVID?

Spokesman:  We are looking now, obviously, first at events that will take place in June.  Whatever decision is taken by… whatever decision is made on the high‑level week will be a decision taken by Member States with the support of the Secretariat.

Question:  Can I just add?  Can you imagine the normal high‑level week this year in any circumstances?

Spokesman:  Look, I think what we can imagine or not imagine about anything is… I mean, we now have to imagine the unimaginable, and I think that's what we're all doing in our everyday lives and the way we work, in the way people are suffering all around the world, so we just have to take it one day at a time, and I think the… as often people say, really it will be the virus that will dictate the decision… the direction in which we take.

Before we go on, I failed to read one note that I had, which was on Cameroon, and I want to say that we welcome the conclusion of the investigations by the Cameroonian authorities into the horrific killing of civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, in the north‑west region of Cameroon, on 14 February.  We also welcome the decision of the Government to proceed with the arrest and prosecution of the alleged perpetrators, as well as the offer of reparation to the victims.  We reiterate the Secretary‑General's appeal of 17 February to armed actors to refrain from attacks against civilians and respect human rights.  We also underscore the urgency of the Secretary‑General's call for an immediate global ceasefire in light of the COVID‑19 pandemic, and we acknowledge the commitment of the President of Cameroon to resolve the conflict in the north‑west and south‑west regions through peaceful means, as indicated in a communiqué of the Government dated 21 April.  All right.  With that out of the way, I'll go back to your questions.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I was also going to ask about Iran, but I'm also going to ask about North Korea.  Have you had any update at all from the UN people in Pyongyang about the state of Kim Jong‑un's health?  And I would like to re‑enforce what James said about the technology.  I don't know if anybody else was trying to listen to the Security Council on WebTV this morning, but it was basically unintelligible because the voices were playing over each other.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well…

Question:  The person's voice was being repeated.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well… let me try to find out, and we'll get back to you.  What was your question on Iran?

Question:  No, my… my question was, basically, what the Secretary‑General's reaction was to the Iranian satellite and the US reaction, which you answered from Evelyn…

Spokesman:  I didn't hear Evelyn ask about the satellite.  What I can tell you about the satellite is that we've, obviously, taken note of the announcement by Iran on the launch of a space launch vehicle that took place on the 22nd, today.  It's up to the Security Council to interpret whether or not it's a violation of resolution 2231.  The Council is there to interpret its own resolutions and to determine how this particular launch of a satellite vehicle relates to the resolution.  The Secretariat stands ready to assist the Security Council in carrying out its tasks in relation to the implementation of resolution 2231.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Wait.  I… on North Korea.

Spokesman:  Oh, North Korea.  No, we have no special insight on the situation regarding Kim Jong‑un.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Libyan Interior Minister just announced that the Russian mercenary company Wagner has used nerve gas in southeast Tripoli.  Can you confirm that?  And if not, can you verify it with UNSMIL?

Spokesman:  We will ask.  I had not seen the report, but we will ask.  I have a… go ahead.

Question:  I have a second… I have a second question regarding Palestine also.  I mean, this is unusual development.  I mean, their coalition Government for Israel, based on an agreement of a land grab from Palestine, which could equal one‑fourth of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley is included, why the Secretary‑General does not issue a clear statement condemning this development? This is not an easy… it's not a daily incident.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, two things.  One, on the formation of the Government, it went through dem… you know, a political process, a democratic process, which is not for us to comment how Member States form their Government.  On the issue of annexation, we have been very clear, if you look back at the Secretary‑General's briefings, at Mr. Mladenov's briefings on this issue, it being clear in black and white, and those positions, those statements, still stand.  Go ahead.

Question:  I mean, just… Russian Federation issued a statement.  Even the US Secretary of State commented on that, not the Secretary‑General.

Spokesman:  As I've said, I think a couple of times today and yesterday, Mr. Mladenov will be briefing the Security Council this week, and I think he will be very clear in his statement.

I have a question from Luiza at CNN Brazil:  What is the Secretary‑General's comment on President [Jair] Bolsonaro's joining a rally to end quarantine measures and cheering on protesters who called on the military to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court?  And I think that took place this Sunday.

Look, what I will say is that, for the Secretary‑General — and this an issue… a basic principled position — we've always emphasised the importance of listening to scientists, to the World Health Organization to guide public policy on social distancing, on re‑opening, on anything having to do with the virus.

And, on this matter, we will… we adhere and we encourage Governments around the world to follow the guidelines given by the World Health Organization.  Alan from RIA Novosti, I think you have a question.

Question:  Yeah.  Can you hear me, Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Secretary Pompeo said that China still has not shared the virus samples with the outer world.  Can you please elaborate on whether the WHO get… got these samples or not?

Spokesman:  I think that's a question for WHO.  We are not… I mean, I have no specific information from them on their technical cooperation they have with their Member States.  So, that's an issue to check with WHO.

Martin Wang asks:  We're concerned about the safety of our UN staff.  Can you give us an update on the latest confirmed cases?

Yes, I can.  And this is as of yesterday, Tuesday, 21 April, 249 confirmed cases among the UN worldwide, 30 at the Secretariat, and 53 total in… within the US, and three… very unfortunately, three fatalities within the UN system.

Pamela Falk:  Any comment by the Secretary‑General on the Trump announcement on migration?

No, we have no specific comment on the policy announced.  And Abdelhamid wants to take the floor again.  Please, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, again.  If we notice that President Trump, in the beginning, he withdrew from the climate change agreement.  He withdrew from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  He withdrew from Human Rights Council.  He also stopped the financing of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), and now he is stopping the financing of WHO.  Does that damage that caused by President Trump, could it be reparable? Do you think that he… his presidency will leave a legacy of destruction of international system?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not about to start analysing legacies of leaders who remain in office.  What I can tell you is that the United States remain a very important partner of the United Nations, and the Secretary‑General continues to work constructively with the US side.

Iftikhar Ali has a question: Apart from issuing public appeals, is the SG also in contact with world leaders on coronavirus and key internal questions?

The Secretary‑General keeps… is spending quite a lot of time on the phone focused on issues of public health, also very much focused on the issue of his global call for a ceasefire.  And, so, he continues to speak to Member States through their Permanent Representatives, Foreign Ministers or Heads of States.  Okay.  Florencia, do we have any more questions?  Going once, going twice.  And I can smell my lunch in the kitchen.  So, I will leave you all here and thank you once again for tuning in.

For information media. Not an official record.