1 May 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.  Bear with me.  We have quite a few updates for you today that we had held since yesterday.  But, once again, please remember to mute your microphones and make sure that you are sending both video and audio if you want to speak at any of the briefings to come.

**Virtual Press Briefings

Immediately following my briefing, Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you.  And then, at 1 p.m., Ambassador Sven Jürgenson, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Estonia, and President of the Security Council for the merry month of May, will be here to brief on the Council’s programme of work for this month.  Both briefings will take place on the same virtual platform, so you do not need to hang up and redial.  Just do please stay connected.  All right.

**Older Persons

Today, the Secretary-General launched a policy brief on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting older persons.  The brief provides analysis and recommendations to address the challenges older people across the world are facing, such as a higher fatality rates, risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation.  The Secretary-General said he is deeply concerned about this, also on a personal level, not just because he’s an older person himself, but because he is responsible for an even older mother.

The brief has four main messages.  First, that no person is expendable, regardless of their age.  Second, that we need improved social support to reach older people.  And third, that all social, economic and humanitarian responses must take the needs of older people fully into account, from universal health coverage to social protection, decent work and pensions.  And finally, that we should not treat older persons as invisible or powerless.  The Secretary-General added that as we look to recover better, we will need ambition and vision to build more inclusive, sustainable and age-friendly societies that are fit for the future.

**International Day of Labour

And today is, of course, May Day, known officially in the UN as the International Day of Labour.  In his message for the day, the Secretary-General is pointing out that this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding around us, we are truly seeing workers who too often toil unseen.  Perhaps as never before, he said, we recognize the role that essential workers play in keeping our societies functioning — getting food to the tables and markets, keeping public transportation running, and of course, ensuring the operation of our hospitals and health systems.  The Secretary-General noted that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has reported this week that the global workforce will be hit with the equivalent of the loss of more than 300 million jobs.  As we seek to build back better in the wake of this pandemic, Mr. [António] Guterres said, the well-being of people must be at the centre of economic and social policies — with a special focus on those who are being furthest left behind.

**Humanitarian Flights

Turning to the UN response to the spread of the virus, as you know, logistics is an essential element of the pandemic response, especially in a context where commercial flights are disrupted, and aid agencies, as well as health authorities struggle to get supplies to fragile settings.  Last night, a Boeing 757 cargo plane, contracted by the World Food Programme (WFP) on behalf of the humanitarian community, was the first flight to leave the new Global Humanitarian Response hub located in Liège, Belgium.  The plane was loaded with almost 16 metric tons of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, to be used in Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Republic of Congo.  This is part of a global logistics network being set up by the World Food Programme.  Humanitarian Response hubs in Belgium, Dubai and China — close to where medical supplies are manufactured — will link to regional hubs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malaysia, Panama, Dubai and South Africa.  In these locations, a fleet of smaller aircrafts will move cargo and personnel into priority countries.

Over the next six weeks, WFP, which runs the UN’s Humanitarian Air Service, expects to transport the equivalent of 37 Boeing 747s from China and Malaysia to 130 countries around the world.  WFP is also mounting a regional passenger air service to ferry humanitarian and health workers across East and West Africa to overcome disruptions to commercial air services.  The first flights are expected in the coming days.  Once the service is fully up and running, as many as 350 cargo and 350 passenger flights could be flying every month.  And as you can imagine, funding is required, and WFP is appealing for an initial $350 million as an initial donation to kick-start the global common logistics network.


For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called today for support to unblock a massive backlog in vaccine shipments.  This is being caused by the unprecedented logistical constraints related to COVID-19 mitigation measures, including lockdowns in some countries.  Since the week of 22 March, UNICEF has seen a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in planned vaccine shipments due to the dramatic decline in commercial flights and limited availability of charters.  Compounding the challenge is the exorbitant cost of securing flights, with freight rates at 100 to 200 per cent above normal and charter flights even more costly.  UNICEF has added that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, measles, polio and other vaccines were out of reach for 20 million children below the age of one, every year.


And Our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed alarm at the increasingly desperate situation of those forcibly displaced by conflicts and violence, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, which shelter more than 85 per cent of the world’s refugees.  Across all major refugee operations and despite challenges, UNHCR is working to provide emergency assistance, such as cash-based assistance, shelter spaces and the inclusion of refugees in national public health responses.  Urgent action is required to help the most vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons, especially where they have no access to State-run social protection schemes.  Turning to some country issues…

**Central African Republic

Patrols are continuing today in the city of Ndele, in the Central African Republic, following violence earlier this week in which 25 civilians died and dozens more were injured.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) continues to engage community leaders and armed groups to ease tensions and promote social cohesion.  In a joint statement issued yesterday, the African Union, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and MINUSCA strongly condemned the attack.  They added their concern that this week’s violence could trigger a humanitarian crisis, as several hundreds of people have fled their homes.  As we mentioned earlier, many of them have sought protection around the peacekeeping compound.  The African Union, ECCAS and the UN are calling for investigations and accountability for the perpetrators, adding that this attack is even more reprehensible because it occurred only a few days after a Government initiative to foster reconciliation and relief for the Ndele population.


And the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is aware of the Libyan and international calls for a ceasefire, including the Libyan National Army's constructive statement announcing a truce during Ramadan and the response of the Government of National Accord.  The Mission calls upon both parties to seize this opportunity to immediately halt all military operations and resume the 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks — on a virtual basis, if needed — with the goal to reach a permanent ceasefire based upon the draft agreement proposed by the Mission on 23 February.

The Mission welcomes initiatives that will allow the Libyan people, who have borne the brunt of the conflict, to observe the holy month of Ramadan in peace.  The Mission urges all parties to refrain from any provocative acts or statements that threaten the prospects of a genuine truce and its sustainability.  This includes attempts to use periods of calm by one side or the other to reinforce positions.  The UN Mission believes that the ultimate guarantee of a lasting ceasefire rests not only on the goodwill of the parties to the conflict, but the commitment of the international community to abide by its obligations to pursue and preserve peace and security in Libya.

**South Africa

From South Africa, the UN team there yesterday launched a $136 million emergency appeal to help up to 10 million people in vulnerable communities facing COVID-19-related risks in areas such as health, water, sanitation, food security and gender-based violence.  This appeal comes as South Africa begins a gradual relaxation of a 35-day lockdown and closure of borders.  In addition to the health emergency, the economic shock caused by COVID-19 is heavily impacting livelihoods, especially among women and children.  The Resident Coordinator, Nardos Bekele‑Thomas, said that she was encouraged by the Government’s consistent message that the COVID-19 recovery will usher in a different mode of development, focusing more on inclusiveness to make sure that we leave no one behind.


And in Kenya, the UN team has been supporting the Government’s response even before the first confirmed case of COVID-19.  The UN team has deployed more than 80 of its staff and volunteers to support the Government’s response, including in crisis communications.  The Resident Coordinator, Siddharth Chatterjee, is leading the UN’s comprehensive health, humanitarian and socioeconomic response to support the government’s efforts.  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) analysis of the economic impact of the pandemic led the Government to establish a fund to boost cash transfers, focusing on the poorest people.

And on human rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) partnered with Social Justice Centres to monitor the impacts on informal settlements in more than 1,500 households across eight counties in Kenya.  The Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UNDP are supporting [Kenyan] NGOs to ensure Kenya’s response has a strong human rights focus.  For its part, UN-Habitat is partnering with Canada and Norway to set up hand washing facilities in informal settlements and slums in Nairobi.  UNICEF has also distributed thousands of critical infection, prevention and control supplies, while the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is training journalists to prevent the spread of misinformation and discrimination.


In Sudan, we, along and our partners are helping with the Government-led efforts to respond to the virus.  This includes testing, with the aim of reaching 600 tests per day.  WHO has trained 50 lab staff on sample collection, transportation and testing, and has also provided personal protective equipment.  We and our partners are also working to spread information about the pandemic, with [tips being sent to more than 13.5 million mobile phone subscribers daily]. Alongside the response to COVID-19, aid organizations are also working on emergencies related to conflict and natural disasters, providing some 2 million people with food.  The COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for Sudan calls for $47 million for the next three months.


And in Ukraine, the UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government-led response to the pandemic in strengthening laboratories, detection capacity and enhancing national and regional networks.  The virus pandemic has disrupted limited economic activities in eastern Ukraine, which has already been devastated by over six years of armed conflict.  The UN and our humanitarian partners’ support include procurement of Personal Protective Equipment and test kits, including in the conflict-affected areas on both sides of the “contact line”  The ability to organize humanitarian aid convoys through the “contact line” remains limited and we continue to advocate for unimpeded access to conflict-impacted populations on both sides of the “contact line”.  A COVID-19 Plan for Ukraine is seeking $69 million to reach over 2 million people with life-saving assistance until the end of the year.


In Kosovo, the Special Representative there and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin, has expressed concern over the growing number of reported incidents directed against non‑majority communities during recent weeks.  These include arson and intimidating graffiti.  Mr. Tanin urged Kosovo authorities to act swiftly to respond and find the perpetrators and to publicly discourage such acts.  He called upon all members of society to bear in mind the fragile circumstances Kosovo is facing during the ongoing pandemic and emphasized the need to promote unity and solidarity.


The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that, in the past week, it has donated personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to social and medical centres in Al Qala and other parts of south-western Lebanon.  The peacekeeping mission reports that it has also assisted the establishment of a pre-fabricated triage room in the Tibnin Government Hospital to check patients with COVID-19 symptoms.  And peacekeepers also donated veterinary medicines to shepherds and farmers in 13 villages across south-eastern Lebanon.

**Ozone Layer

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said that depletion of the ozone layer reached unprecedented levels over parts of the Arctic this spring.  The last time similarly strong ozone depletion was observed in this region was during the spring of 2011.  WMO said this shows that the Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities.  It added that the depletion would have been even worse if it had not been for the Montreal Protocol, which led to a phaseout of substances such as CFCs [chlorofleurocarbons].

**Press Freedom Day

I want to flag that Sunday is Press Freedom Day.  This year, the theme is “Journalism without Fear or Favour”.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that journalists and [media] workers are crucial to helping us make informed decisions and that as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, those decisions can make the difference between life and death.  “The press provides the antidote:  verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis,” he said, while calling on governments — and others — to guarantee that journalists can do their jobs throughout the pandemic and beyond.  UNESCO is organizing a free live-streamed event on Sunday to mark the Day.  It’s called the "Difference Day Conference 2020". And from 4 to 6 May, there will be several webinars and online discussions on various social media platforms.  Details are available on the UNESCO website.

**Augustine Mahiga

And I leave on a sad note.  We mourn the passing of Augustine Mahiga.  The Secretary-General conveys his deepest condolences to the Government and people of Tanzania and the family of the late Minister.  Mr. Mahiga, an accomplished statesman and a committed diplomat who served the UN as Special Representative and Head of the UN mission in Somalia from 2010 to 2013.  He played a fundamental role in the advancement of State-building in Somalia, assisting in finalizing the Provisional Constitution and advancing the electoral preparations.  At the time of his passing, he was the Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs of Tanzania, and he’d previously served as Foreign Minister and you must all remember him from his time as Permanent Representative of Tanzania from 2003 to 2010.  And we send our condolences to his family.  Okay.  I'll take some questions, and then we will go to the other two briefings.  Let me put on my glasses so I can see who's trying to ask me questions. I think Pam has the first question.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I… the Secretary‑General gave an interview to BBC.  We wrote about it today.  He talked about lessons learned.  There's been a call to have an investigation of the WHO from a lot of different places.  What is his view of an investigation that would begin on what the lessons learned are?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear a number of times very publicly.  We have… he has said there will be a time to look back to do a lessons learned about how international organizations, Member States and others reacted and dealt with this pandemic.  He does not think that the time to do this is now, but he does strongly believe there will be a time to start such a lessons‑learned exercise.

Question:  Just as… can I just follow up?  His point was, the world leaders have not… their dysfunction has allowed the virus to spread.  Can you be a little more specific about what they've done wrong?

Spokesman:  You know, I would urge you to read back what the Secretary‑General said in his press conference, what he said to… in his latest interview, is that he feels that it was not a coordinated approach, and there was not a global effort to follow some of the guidance from the World Health Organization.  So, I think he was very clear, and he was as clear as he wanted to be.  Evelyn and then Edie.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, hello, Steph.  The Cuban Ambassador to the UN has protested that the Americans are not guarding the embassy in Washington, D.C., which was attacked.  Has she reached out at all to the Secretary‑General?  And secondly…?

Spokesman:  Sorry, who complained about what?

Correspondent:  The Cuban ambassador to the United Nations.  Ana…

Spokesman:  Complained… what was the complaint?

Correspondent:  That the embassy in Washington, D.C., which was attacked, was not being guarded properly.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'm not aware of that.  That seems to be a bilateral issue, but I'm not aware of any involvement of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  And on the leadership… yeah.  On the leadership issue, does the… is the Secretary‑General and WHO… do they think they can fill the gap?

Spokesman:  Neither the head of WHO nor the Secretary‑General is the head of… has the authority of a Head of States.  So, I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in what he was saying.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have a couple of questions.  First, following up on Libya, what is the Secretary‑General's reaction to Libya's UN‑recognized government rejecting the unilateral ceasefire by the forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar for Ramadan?  Secondly, there have been explosions in southern Yemen at a UN… a UNESCO World Heritage Site by southern rebels who are one of the groups that reacted positively to the Secretary‑General's ceasefire call.  What is his reaction to that?  And can you confirm that the Secretary‑General has extended the order for UN staff to work virtually until 30 June?

Spokesman:  No.  I will take it backwards.  I think there was a leak of a… claiming that there was a memo where the SG had asked for UN staff to be extended.  That is… I don't know where that came from, but that's completely false.  There was no such recommendation to continue teleworking… has yet been made.  The order right now stands till the end of May.  The senior emergency management group will be meeting before that.  They will be making recommendations to the Secretary‑General on whether or not to extend it further past 31 May.  On Yemen, I had not seen that report.  We will check.  Obviously, UNESCO World Heritage Sites should be protected, and our message is for everyone to lay down their arms, especially at this time of grave threat from the virus in Yemen.  And on your first question on Libya, I would refer you to what I just said from the Mission, which is that all parties should avoid any confrontation or verbal escalation and ensure that the people of Libya are able to pass a peaceful Ramadan.  Okay.  Let's go next to… hold on a second.  Let me… I have to look at my… Let's go to Maria.  Maria, TASS…

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.

Spokesman:  Hi, Maria.  How are you?

Question:  I'm here.  Great.  So, the question is, does UN monitor the situation with hundreds or even thousands of tourists left abroad far from their homes and because of travel restrictions? And does UN consider their rights to be violated?

Spokesman:  The short answer is I'm not aware we're particularly monitoring the situations of tourists.  There have been cases of UN involvement, notably the High Commissioner for Human Rights, issues having to do with Bolivia and Bolivian citizens who are stranded outside of the border.  I think what's important is that people put in place policies that are humane where people's rights are respected.  And most importantly, I would say that whatever the status of a person in a specific country, whether they're a refugee, whether they're a migrant, whether they are people with [inaudible] status or tourist that they have access to health‑care and health facilities the same as the citizens of this country, especially during a crisis such as this one.

Marisela from Yomiuri Shimbun.  Okay.  I think the question says, I saw there was a petition on that reached 1 million signatures calling for the resignation of WHO Director‑General Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] and wondering if we'd received this petition.

No, we have not received this petition.  I would refer you back to the statement the Secretary‑General made previously, saluting the leadership of Dr. Tedros.  But, obviously, as you all know, WHO is a separate entity from the United Nations with its own governing body.  Yoshita.  Yoshita Singh?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear?  Hi.

Spokesman:  I can hear you, and I can see you.  How are you?

Question:  Thanks.  Thanks.  Thanks.  Steph, India has launched a strong protest with Pakistan over unprovoked firing at the Line of Control.  One Indian national was killed, and Pakistan has been engaging in this unprovoked firing along LoC.  Given the SG's call for a global ceasefire, how does he view these shellings from the Pakistani side along the LoC in these past few days?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  I have not gotten any updates from our colleagues in UNMOGIP [United Nation Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] on this, but what I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General's appeal for a global ceasefire is exactly that.  It is global, and it should be applied everywhere.  Michelle from Reuters, I believe.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you, but I only see a black screen.  So, I'm not sure it's you, but I'll take your word for it.

Question:  Yeah, it is me.  You're not getting video today.  A question slightly… well, no, it's not hypothetical.  There's a lot of discussion… there's been a lot of discussion recently about the Iran nuclear deal and the snap‑back mechanism and whether the US might be able to trigger that in the Security Council.  People are talking about legal opinions, lot of messy legal issues.  In… is there a situation where the Security Council can ask the Secretariat for a legal opinion on something?

Spokesman:  Without getting into, as you put it, the messy situation around this, Member States always have an option, whether individually or as a group, as a body, to ask for a legal opinion from the Secretary‑General.

Question:  So, the… so, technically, the Security Council as a whole could do that?

Spokesman:  In… you know, Member States and legislative bodies of the UN can always put in requests of whatever type to the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Sorry.  Has anyone put in a request for a legal opinion… as to whether…?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of.  Not that I'm aware.  Hussein Ibrahim.

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  All right.  Well, as you know, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has completely ended the practice of punishing of… punishing convicts by flogging.  Is there any reaction from the United Nations about taking them… taking this step?

Spokesman:  I personally have not seen that, but I will… let me take a look.  We've always, obviously, stood against cruel and unusual punishment, and there's been a body of work on the human rights front on that.  But, let me check into that report, and I will get you something a bit more formal.  Okay.  Anything… did I miss anybody?  Florencia?  Florencia's typing.  Nope.  Thank you very much.  Have a happy weekend, and hopefully, it's a little different than our weeks.  And of course, it's now time for Reem to brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, and then she will be followed by the President of the Security Council for May, the Ambassador of Estonia.  So, I thank you, and I leave you with Reem.

Correspondent:  Have a good weekend.

Spokesman:  Thanks, bye.

For information media. Not an official record.