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8 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.

After we are done with each other, we will have Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  She will be here to brief you and she’s on the same platform, so please do not hang up once I am done.  And just remember, mute your mics and audio and video so we can hear your questions.

**Secretary-General/Hate Speech

You will have seen that the Secretary-General today released an appeal to address and counter COVID-19-related hate speech.

The Secretary-General said the virus does not care who we are, where we live, and what we believe or about any other distinction; and yet, the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate, xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.

He stressed that we must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against this virus of hate.  He called on political leaders to show solidarity with all members of their societies and build and reinforce social cohesion.

The Secretary-General also called on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy.  He called on media companies to do more to flag and remove harmful content.  And he called on civil society to strengthen outreach to people, and he called on religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect.

Finally, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres asked every citizen to stand up against hate, to treat each other with dignity and to take every opportunity to spread kindness.

**Eradication of Smallpox

Today, as you may know, is the fortieth anniversary of the eradication of smallpox.  It is the first and only human disease eradicated on a global scale through the collaboration of countries worldwide.  Until it was wiped out, smallpox had plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, killing 300 million people in the twentieth century alone — that’s 4 million people annually.

Just moments ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) held a press briefing to commemorate this milestone.  Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] said that many of the tools used to tackle smallpox are the same tools that were used to fight Ebola and now COVID-19.  He added that the World Health Organization is working with partners to develop a vaccine, the tool that ultimately helped eradicate smallpox.

Like smallpox, he said, COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity to change the trajectory of global health and to build a safer, healthier world for everyone.

And the UN Postal Administration unveiled a stamp today to honour the millions of people working together, from world leaders and international organizations to rural doctors and community health workers, to eradicate smallpox.

**Remembrance and Reconciliation

At 5:30 p.m. this afternoon, we will release a message from the Secretary-General for the Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for those who lost their lives in the Second World War.  That will be an occasion to pay tribute to the millions of people who lost their lives during the war and remember their sacrifices.  As you know, this year is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the war.

**Iraq

In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the formation of the new Government of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The Secretary-General expressed his support to the new Government.  He called for the implementation of meaningful reforms that make tangible improvements in people’s lives and strengthen Iraq’s democratic institutions.  He also reiterated the importance of acting in the interest of all Iraqis through a political process in which women, youth and all of Iraq’s diverse communities, including ethnic and religious minorities, can participate actively.

That full statement is online.

**COVID-19/United Nations Resident Coordinators

The Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General yesterday afternoon spoke with our Resident Coordinators who cover 162 countries and territories.  As we’ve been telling you over the past few weeks, Resident Coordinators are leading the UN teams working day and night with Governments to flatten the curve and address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General underscored the magnitude of the challenge and the critical role of steering the UN response on the ground as the virus spreads in the global South.

In remarks to them, he stressed that global challenges can only be addressed through cooperation, solidarity and multilateralism.

**ECOSOC

I want to flag that, at 10 a.m. on Monday, the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway, is convening a virtual [informal] briefing on “Joining Forces: Effective Policy Solutions for COVID-19 Response”.  ECOSOC will bring the expertise of the wider UN system to discuss policy solutions that countries can use to combat the pandemic, preserve advances made and get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  You can follow that on the UN Web TV page.

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will be there, as well as various heads of UN agencies and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

And, on a related note, the ECOSOC Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti today issued a statement expressing solidarity towards Haiti during the pandemic.  The Group called on the UN, Member States, donors and international financial institutions to act together with determination and urgency to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate its humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences.

**COVID-19/Pacific Appeal

From the Pacific, two UN Resident Coordinators — Sanaka Samarasinha and Simona Marinescu — who are leading UN teams covering 14 countries and territories, yesterday launched a $35.3 million COVID-19 response plan.

It addresses immediate needs in education, food security, livelihoods, water and sanitation, nutrition, protection, logistics, as well as emergency telecommunications.  Although existing UN resources have been redirected towards the pandemic response, there is still a $19 million funding gap.

Although some Pacific countries have no confirmed cases of the virus, their economies are already deeply impacted, with a massive slowdown in tourism, imports, exports, and remittances.

The Governments, the UN, as well as all of our partners, are focusing on a speedy recovery that protects the most vulnerable, especially women and children, as well as jobs and small businesses.

An additional Pacific health plan, led by WHO, requires $42 million for procurement, training of medical personnel and risk communications.

These funds will complement resources from the Multi-Partner Trust Fund for COVID-19 Response and Recovery which, you will recall, was launched by the Secretary-General to address the impacts in highly fragile, climate-vulnerable and tourism-dependent economies.  Some of these countries of the Pacific are still recovering from the impacts of the recent Cyclone Harold.

**Lebanon

And in Lebanon, the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Claudio Cordone, as well as our humanitarian partners, launched yesterday the Lebanon Emergency appeal, requesting $350 million.

The appeal will address critical areas of humanitarian intervention to people at risk due to the virus outbreak and its immediate socioeconomic impact.

The onset of the pandemic in Lebanon has come at an extraordinarily difficult time, compounding pre-existing vulnerabilities.  The outbreak has added pressure to an already overburdened and under-resourced national health system.

**Syria

Turning to Syria now.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed serious concerns today about continuing human rights violations and abuses and a sharp rise in killings of civilians in the country.  She says that the deteriorating situation is a ticking time-bomb that must not be ignored.

She said that her office is receiving more reports every day of targeted killings and bombings from one end of the country to the other.  Many of these attacks are taking place in populated areas.

**Somalia

In Somalia, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today warned that the safety and welfare of the country’s 2.6 million internally displaced people are being threatened by heavy flooding, conflict, a crippled economy, impending desert locust swarms and the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

UNHCR calls for a strong and coordinated response from the international community, national and local Somali authorities as well as humanitarian actors to meet the massive humanitarian needs.

Earlier this week, UNHCR and the Government airlifted emergency supplies — including soap, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheets — to help more than 8,000 people in Baidoa, Bardheere and Qardho.  A second airlift is set to take place as early as today, with UNHCR’s assistance expected to reach a total 37,000 people.

Continuing with Somalia, the International Organization on Migration (IOM) warned today that hundreds of migrants are stranded in Bossaso in Puntland due to border and sea-crossing closures as a result from the pandemic.  Every year, scores of migrants, mainly from landlocked Ethiopia, pass through Bossaso to cross the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, hoping to proceed onwards to Gulf countries.

**Horn of Africa

Staying in the region and the Horn of Africa, the International Organization for Migration said that the number of internally displaced people there has dropped in the past six months.  This is largely due to 1.3 million Ethiopians who were uprooted by communal violence in 2019 having returned home.  More on this on online.

**Central Mediterranean

Today, our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said they are deeply concerned about recent reports of failure to assist migrant boats in the central Mediterranean.

The central Mediterranean continues to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world.  More on their website.

**Financial Contribution

And ending on some good news.  I am delighted to thank our friends in Port Louis, Mauritius, for their full payment to the UN’s regular budget.  So far, 89 Member States have paid in full for 2020 and all previous years.

That's it for me.  I will take your questions before turning over to Reem. 

All right.  Let's see what the postman says.  Hold on a second.  I need to…

**Questions and Answers

James Bays?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions.  I'll do them one by one, if that's okay by you.  First, you're aware that it's now nearly seven weeks since the Secretary‑General's call for a ceasefire, and ever since then, the Security Council has been wrangling over a resolution.  You're probably aware there's this new version of the resolution, which has compromise language replacing the mention of the World Health Organization with a general reference to specialized health agencies, a resolution that was under silence procedure until 2 p.m.  Russia's asked for more time, but it's also now reported that, even though US negotiators agreed with this wording, higher up in Washington, they've now objected to it.  So, how frustrated is the Secretary‑General?  And is he going to pick up the phone to President [Donald] Trump or Secretary [Michael] Pompeo?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is, of course, awaiting a final decision from the Security Council.  As you know, Security Council members are sovereign states involved right now in deliberations on a resolution.  We, of course, have been saying — and the Secretary‑General and myself — that a strong voice from the Security Council is something, I think, that the world awaits.  These are penultimate negotiations.  Member States are involved.  Let's see what happens.  And the Secretary‑General has been in touch with many Member States over the last few weeks on this issue.

Question:  My second question…

Spokesman:  Your… I'm sorry. 

Question:  Yep.  My second question…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  During a meeting we saw today from Estonia was very impressive and slick in their video presentation, really, I think, showed up the UN and its very poor video conferencing.

We're now seven weeks into this.  We might be in it for months.  Isn't it time for the UN now to stick up its hand, say, we need money; we need expertise to sort out our virtual communications, because they really are stuck in the dark ages?

Spokesman:  Well, I'm not… I'm sure we're way better than the dark ages, because I'm not sure we would have had any communications in the dark ages.  We're working with all the equipment that was… that's been budgeted for us by Member States.  There is obviously a need for greater investment, and I think no one more than the Secretary‑General is aware of that.

Let's see who goes after Mr. Bays.  Majeed.  Majeed?

All right.  We'll come back to Majeed. 

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yeah, go ahead, Majeed.

Question:  Oh, thank you very much.  My question is about Iraq.  I saw the statement of the Secretary‑General; you just read it.  I have two questions about that.  The first one is, given how the core of Iraq's problem, I think everybody agrees, is… mainly is due to corruption, what is the Secretary‑General's message to the new Prime Minister, which there is so high hope for his Government now, with regard to tackling the issue of corruption in Iraq?

And my second question is… I emailed you earlier about is, now there is a new crisis between the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.  Basically, the Federal Government is cutting the salary of its Kurdish employers for what the… the Kurdistan Regional Government is saying it's due to political reason.  They're using the salary issue as a way to basically punish the region.  What is the… where does the Secretary‑General stand on this?

Spokesman:  I don't have any specific information on your last point on the salary issue.  We do hope that these issues between the central Government and the Kurdistan region are resolved, but we'll see if we can get you a bit more.

I think the Secretary‑General's message to the new Iraqi Prime Minister is pretty simple, that there should be meaningful reforms that make tangible improvements in people's lives and strengthen democratic institutions.  I think that… to me, that very much covers the issue you were raising.

Edie?

Question:  Can I ask my question now?

Spokesman:  Sure, Abdelhamid.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, shelling of the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli and the Italian also Embassy took place, and three people were killed near the Turkish Embassy.  Is the Secretary‑General going to issue an official statement condemning this attack on two embassies in Tripoli?

Spokesman:  Look, we're very concerned about the ongoing violence, the shelling of civilian areas.  This is something we have condemned and we will continue to condemn.

I have no particular information if those embassies were specifically targeted, but, obviously, diplomatic missions need to be protected.  Our focus and our continued call is on people to stop harming civilians and to return to the political process.

Iftikhar had a question about an update on a number of UN… a number in terms of COVID‑19, and he mentions the name of a person who would have died. 

I don't… Iftikhar, I don't want to go into names, because that's not information that I have and I want to share or confirm.  What I can tell you, there are a total of 413 cases of people who have tested COVID‑positive in the UN system.  Fifty‑five of those are in New York, and we've had one death of a UNDP… or someone who was working as a… under a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) consultant's contract here in New York who passed away this week.

Edie.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I'm here.  Thank you.  And happy almost weekend to everybody.

Two questions.  First, there's been some upsurge in fighting in Yemen, and I wonder what Martin Griffiths is doing to try and get both sides back on track.

And, secondly, you said that there are now 89 countries that have paid their regular dues.  How does that compare to this time last year?

Spokesman:  That, I have to get back to you right after the briefing on the comparison, because I don't have that number with me, but maybe, if Jane's listening, she'll give me that number.

Your first question on Yemen — sorry, Mr. Griffiths is continuing his phone and video work, putting pressure, as much as pressure can be borne, on the parties, on those who have an influence to the parties. 

I think the continued violence that we're seeing, especially under… in light of the threat of the COVID virus, is yet another reason of why all those who hold the power, all those who have their fingers on triggers, need to go back to the negotiating table to hammer out the political solution as set forth.

Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Yeah.  Okay.  I was listening to the Arria formula this morning, and it turned out to be a debate over the Cold War rather than really drawing lessons from World War II.  Is… does the Secretary‑General intend to speak to this group or not?

Spokesman:  No.  I think the Secretary‑General's statement to commemorate the victims of the Second World War will be pretty clear, and it will be issued this afternoon at 5:30. 

And I think I had another question… sorry.  And I was told, Iftikhar, the UNDP contractor in New York passed away on 29 April.

Joe Klein had a question:  Does the Secretary‑General include with his definition scapegoating in his global appeal against COVID‑19 the attitude… the attribution of the origin to China labelling the China virus, just as Ebola virus takes its name from the Ebola River, where it was first identified?

I think the Secretary‑General's message is for everyone to treat everyone with respect and not use words that will encourage or entice not only hate speech but violence against others.

All right.  Anything from Florencia [Soto Nino]?

No.  I think… if you hold on two seconds, I think Jane [Gaffney] is giving me that information. 

Okay.  This is what live television is all about.  Bear with me two seconds, and that way, Evelyn, you can have your answer.

Okay.  By the… just in terms of the comparison, the data that we have, Edie, is the end of April.  So, by the end of April in 2019, 89 Member States had paid.  At the end of April last… this year, 87 Member States had paid.  So, we'll keep you posted on those statistics.

All right.  Thank you, all.  Don't go away.  You need to hear from Reem.  So, Reem, all yours.  Take it away.

For information media. Not an official record.