4 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, and apologies for the delay.  We had some technical issues which we needed to figure out, and which were figured out.  You know the drill by now.  Please remember to mute your microphones and make sure that you are sending both video and audio if you want to speak.  That is the only way it will make it work.

**Secretary-General — Press Freedom

Just a few moments ago, the Secretary-General took part in the online high‑level dialogue on press freedom and tackling disinformation in the COVID-19 pandemic context.  That was hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  He said that the media has come under increasing pressure in recent years, with many journalists currently facing threats, harassment and violent attacks.  “When journalists are attacked, societies as a whole pay a price,” he said, adding that no democracy can function without press freedom.  The Secretary-General also said that with the current pandemic, we have seen a dangerous outbreak of misinformation, from harmful health advice, as well as hate speech to wild conspiracy theories.  He stressed that the antidote is a fact-based news and analysis.  And now more than ever, he said, we need the media to document what is happening; to differentiate between fact and fiction; and hold leaders accountable.  You can find his full remarks online and we distributed it to you.

**COVID-19 — Global Response

Before that, this morning he also spoke at an online pledging event for the coronavirus global response.  He thanked the European Commission and its partners for hosting the conference, calling it exactly the kind of leadership the world needs today.  The Secretary-General underlined how comprehensive, coordinated public health measures are critical to slow transmission and save lives, but he cautioned that even countries that have taken such steps remain in jeopardy.  He noted that the virus is likely to strike many countries that are least able to cope.  In an interconnected world, he stressed that none of us is safe until all of us are safe.

The Secretary-General also underscored that new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines must be treated as global public goods available and affordable for all.  For a world free of COVID-19, it will require the most massive public health effort in history.  He added that, with today’s pledging event, [we are taking the next step by] mobilizing resources for this vital endeavour.  The Secretary-General also welcomed the generous contributions announced today towards the initial goal of €7.5 billion, but said that, to reach everyone, everywhere, we will likely need five times this amount.  His full remarks were shared with you, as well.


And here in New York, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations about the situation in that country.  The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, also briefed Council members on the work of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Once consultations have ended, the Security Council President, Ambassador Sven Jürgenson, may read press elements.  Turning to news from around the world related to the pandemic.

**COVID-19 — Eastern and Southern Africa

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that more than 127 million children in Eastern and Southern Africa — who are supposed to return to school this week — remain at home due to the threat of the virus.  In this region, 1 in 5 households have Internet access and 84 per cent of the rural population has no electricity.  UNICEF and its partners are working around the clock to support learning through radio, SMS and printed materials.  However, even with alternative learning measures rolled out by Governments, as well as by UNICEF and its partners, tens of millions of children will not be reached.  These children are often the most marginalized and vulnerable.  They largely rely on schools for their education, health, safety and nutrition.  UNICEF stressed that Governments, businesses and parents must come together to ensure inclusive and realistic ways that reach all children.

**COVID-19 — Air Service

And we also have an update on World Food Programme (WFP) efforts to facilitate logistics for the pandemic response by providing air service for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global humanitarian community.  Today, WFP announced that the United Arab Emirates will dedicate a fleet of three aircraft until the end of the year.  This should enable the movement of life-saving cargo and personnel where they are needed most.  It will help transport millions of medical items and thousands of tons of humanitarian cargo to vulnerable communities and front‑line workers in more than 100 countries in the months to come.  The fleet of three aircraft will operate on rotation between the United Arab Emirates and key locations across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  As we mentioned last Friday, as part of the global humanitarian appeal, WFP has been mandated to provide common humanitarian services, for which it is appealing for an initial $350 million.

**COVID-19 — Somalia

In Somalia, the UN and our partners are supporting Government’s response to the virus.  The Humanitarian Coordinator provisionally allocated funds from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to purchase ventilators.  Funds were also allocated for UN Development Programme (UNDP) to procure generators for the main COVID-19 treatment centre in Mogadishu.  Besides that, UN agencies allocated $2.6 million for responses related to the virus in the country.  As part of that, we are supplying hygiene kits and personal protective equipment to medical staff who are providing health‑care services to 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers.  We are also reaching tens of thousands of people with critical hygiene items, trucked safe water and awareness‑raising materials.  We and our partners continue to respond to conflict and natural-disaster emergencies across Somalia, such as floods and desert locusts.  In March alone, 623,000 people were reached with life-saving assistance.

**COVID-19 — Ghana

And in Ghana, the UN Resident Coordinator ad interim, Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, and the UN country team have re-programmed existing resources to support the Government’s response to the pandemic and its health, humanitarian and social economic impacts.  WHO donated laboratory supplies and testing equipment.  It also deployed a technical expert from its Africa Regional Office to support with coordination and assistance to the health ministry and emergency operation centre.  UNDP is working with the Government of Ghana to measure the impacts of the virus on the economy and prepare a plan, with the UN team, to boost livelihoods.  And the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) helped establish a 24/7 hotline to respond to gender-based violence and WFP is supporting the Government in monitoring food prices.  For its part, UNICEF is working with partners to open testing laboratories at the subnational level, while working with the Government to advance payments for 322,000 households.

**COVID-19 — Cameroon

And in Cameroon, where there are more than 2,000 confirmed cases, the Resident Coordinator there, Allegra Baiocchi, and the UN team have been supporting the Government, even before the first case showed up in Cameroon.  On immediate health needs, 14 UN entities have developed a prevention and response plan to support national initiatives, with a funding gap of $15.5 million.  The UN helped recruit health workers, provided vehicles for contact tracing, assisted in sourcing tests and procured medical supplies and personal protective equipment.  UNDP, the World Bank and the Global Fund are helping to purchase medical equipment, including ventilators.  UN-Women is working with religious leaders, women and youth organizations, while UNICEF and local authorities are installing hand-washing stations and providing face masks to vulnerable groups.

**COVID-19 — Burkina Faso, Mali and Western Niger

Turning to the Central Sahel, where our humanitarian colleagues are telling us there is an unprecedented deterioration in the situation in the border areas between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, also known as the three-border area.  In addition to insecurity, the current COVID-19 pandemic is also spreading rapidly through the region, which has some of the most fragile health systems in the world.  More than 3 million people are now severely food insecure and the number of displaced has continued to rise.  There are now 1.2 million people internally displaced — four times more than a year ago, as well as 107,000 refugees.

The rise in armed violence is not only forcing people to flee their homes, but as schools and health‑care centres have been targeted, vulnerable communities have been deprived of critical services.  The virus transmission risks are also heightened in densely populated areas, such as displacement sites that do not have adequate access to shelter, clean water, hygiene and basic sanitation.  This year, 7.5 million people in the affected regions need urgent assistance.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, remain on the ground to deliver life-saving assistance, but urgent resources are needed.  As of late April, only 12 per cent of the $988 million required for the humanitarian response had been received.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $42 million to the Central Sahel countries since the beginning of the year, mainly to provide food and nutrition, water, hygiene and sanitation, shelter, protection and health.  In Burkina Faso, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tells us that they have condemned violence against Malian refugees that left at least 32 people injured.  The incident took place over the weekend at the Mentao refugee camp, which hosts some 6,500 refugees close to Burkina Faso’s border with Mali.  All those injured are currently receiving treatment in a health centre.  UNHCR has called for an urgent investigation into the incident.

**Financial Contribution

And lastly, on a positive money note, we are most grateful to Beijing for its payment, in full, to the UN regular budget.  This brings us to 88 fully paid‑up members as of today.  All right.  Let's go to our questions, for which I need glasses.  Let's see if Florencia [Soto Nino] has anything for me.  Bear with me two seconds.  Okay.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I wanted to ask a follow‑up to the Secretary‑General's speech this morning on this World Press Freedom dialogue.  He has been asked to establish a Special Representative on freedom of the press, and I wondered where that request stands.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think the… it was for… if I recall, Special Rapporteur on the protection of civilians…

Correspondent:  Journalists.

Spokesman:  Of journalists, protection of journalists.  That would have to be a decision, obviously, by the General Assembly.  We do feel that, whether it's in the Secretary‑General's office, within the human rights architecture in terms of the Special Rapporteurs and the High Commissioner herself, as well as the Secretary‑General, we are very… currently closely monitoring the issue.  We have intervened, sometimes very much below the radar in individual cases, and we are also… and… as you saw from the Secretary‑General's own statement, very vocal on the issue, and so that's where we are as of now.  Toby?

Question:  Hey there, Steph.  Thanks very much, and hope you had a nice weekend.  I'm… I'd just like a little more context on the €7.5 billion ask for the ACT initiative.  That's a lot higher than the other similar pledging fundraising campaigns that are… have been COVID‑19‑related.  Can you… why is this one bigger?  And does it have to do with the nature of… well, I'm… why is it bigger?  I just don't understand that.

Spokesman:  It's a valid question.  I would ask you to ask that question of the European Commission, which is organizing and sponsoring this drive.  Obviously, the scope having to do with therapeutics and vaccine is quite large and very critical.  But in terms of the details, you should ask the European [Commission].

Dulcie asks what the contribution… so, the Government of the People's Republic of China… [inaudible].

Question:  …Habash, a 24‑year‑old filmmaker and singer in Egypt, he was jailed in 2018, and he died in jail last Friday.  And Alaa Abdel Fattah went on a hunger strike, a political activist.  And Mahmoud Hussein, a journalist from Al Jazeera, has been there for three years in jail under detention rules.  So, these countries continue to abuse their journalists and human rights activists, and there is no strong statement.  Wouldn't that encourage them to continue this path?

Spokesman:  Listen, I can't… it's not for me to speak to the motivation… I think you're… mics are open.  Mute them.  Someone has their speakers open.

Correspondent:  Whoa.

Spokesman:  James, you have to… I think, James, it's coming from you.  You have to mute your speaker.  Okay.  All right.  Let me try to answer the… let me try to answer the question.  We have raised our concerns about the human rights and the rights of journalists in Egypt.  We would hope that there is a full investigation into the death of the filmmaker.  Hussein Ibrahim, you had a question?  Okay.  Yoshita, go ahead.  Yoshita?

Question:  Yeah, hi.  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, perfectly.

Question:  I hope you're well.  Steph, there have been terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in which a colonel and a major, senior officers of the Indian army have been killed, and even Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi speaking at the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] Summit said that, while the world is fighting COVID‑19, there are countries who are perpetrating terror and spreading the virus of terror.  What is the SG's message on the situation there where Indian army forces continue to be targeted by terror outlets?

Spokesman:  Look, I… let me… I don't have any particular language on the situation there for now.  Let me see if I can get you something a bit later, if you don't mind.  Oscar, Oscar Bolanos.  Oscar? Oscar, do you have…

Okay.  James had a question, which is:  Can you comment on the deaths of the Afghan migrants who are reportedly being killed by Iranian border guards?  Is the UNHCR planning any role to investigate the deaths?

My understanding from our UNHCR colleagues is that they are look… they are very concerned about what happened and the reported deaths, and they are looking into it as much as they can.  [He later clarified that UNHCR was not itself investigating.]  And we do hope that the national authorities also investigate these very disturbing reports.  Oscar, did you have a question?  Florencia, I don't know if you can try to get Oscar's question in writing.  Okay.  Stand by.  Edie, go ahead, in the meantime.

Question:  Okay.  Steph, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the current situation in Venezuela, where there have been reports of a possible attempted coup against the [Nicolas] Maduro Government?

Spokesman:  We've seen the press reports, which we have no independent information, but we've, obviously, read the press.  It's very… for our part, it's very clear that we stand against any escalation of the situation in Venezuela.  We believe that the way to resolve the situation is through political dialogue, as well as full respect for human rights.  I assume that maybe Oscar had the same question.  So, unless I hear anything else, I want to thank you all and enjoy Monday, because I think it's Monday, and tomorrow should be Tuesday, if we're still on the calendar.  Take care.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.