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12 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 to you all.  Again, remember to mute your mics.  If you want to ask a question, please send out both video and audio, so I know who I am talking to and I can see you.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Following this briefing, I will be joined by a guest, Joshua Setipa, the Managing Director of the UN Technology Bank, which is based in Turkey.  He will brief you on the launch of the Technology Access Partnership, a new coordinated initiative to strengthen developing countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and increase access to life‑saving health technologies.

**Afghanistan

I want to start off on Afghanistan.  The UN country team expressed its shock and revulsion at today’s attacks at a Kabul maternity hospital, as well as a funeral in Nangarhar.  The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that the attacks caused significant civilian casualties.  The UN in Afghanistan calls for those responsible to face justice and offers condolences to victims and families.  The Secretary-General obviously joins this condemnation, but I expect a more formal statement from him a bit later today.

**United Nations Headquarters

And the Secretary-General wrote to UN staff yesterday evening, noting how he has been inspired by how our work has been able to continue uninterrupted for the past two months.  This, he said, has enabled the UN not only to stay open, but also to play an active global role in helping people cope with the emergency.  He informed staff that, after consulting with senior management and our medical services, he is extending the current telecommuting arrangements at the Headquarters complex through 30 June.  These arrangements will continue to be reviewed.  The Secretary-General said that a plan is also being finalized for a gradual and phased return to the building whenever it is considered safe for us to do so.  The staff’s health and safety are the priorities guiding this process.

**Role of Religious Leaders

And this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a high-level video conference on the Role of Religious Leaders in Addressing the Multiple Challenges of COVID-19.  In his remarks, he stressed that, as the virus wreaks havoc and disruption on a scale not seen in generations, we see a dawning awareness that the differences that so often divide us pale in significance.  For the Secretary‑General, it lays bare our responsibility to promote solidarity as the foundations of our response — a solidarity based on the human rights and human dignity of all.  The Secretary-General emphasized four areas where religious leaders play a pivotal role in delivering solutions to not only address the pandemic but also recover better.  These include supporting his appeal for a global ceasefire and his appeal for peace in the home — regarding the alarming increase in violence against women and girls as this pandemic and the lockdowns spreads.  The event was organized by the Permanent Mission of Morocco.

**Iraq

And this morning, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council by video conference on the situation in that country.  She welcomed the early actions of the new government.  At the same time, she said, the road ahead will be complex, with many challenges, and it is most important to manage public expectations.  To regain public trust, she said, the Government must be able to prove itself and provide law and order and deliver basic public services.  She also stressed the need to have accountability for the many deaths and injuries of innocent protestors.  The Special Representative said that Iraq cannot afford to be used as a theatre for confrontation and different power conflicts.  She told Council members that a more just and prosperous Iraq can emerge from the current crisis and she reaffirmed the UN’s support for the Government of Iraq.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The UN’s Children Fund (UNICEF) today said that is appealing for $1.6 billion for its humanitarian response for children impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is more than double the funds it called for in March, reflecting the devastating socioeconomic consequences of the disease and the increasing needs of families.  As the outbreak enters its fifth month, the UN agency says the costs for supplies, shipment and duty of care are increasing dramatically.  The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, warned that the pandemic is a health crisis, which is quickly becoming a child rights crisis.  UNICEF estimates that more than three quarters of children under the age of 18 — that’s about 1.8 billion of them — are living in one of the 132 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to the pandemic.  More information on UNICEF’s website.

**United Nations Environment Programme

And a new report filed today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that in response to the current pandemic, UNEP will step up its work on mapping threats of diseases transmitted from animals to people and protecting the environment to reduce the risk of future pandemics.  The agency will also focus on supporting nations to “build back better” — through stronger science, policies that back a healthier planet and more green investments.  More information on UNEP’s website.

**UN-Women

Today, UN‑Women, International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Union Commission put forward a series of recommendations for G7 countries to ensure women’s security and economic empowerment in the post-pandemic future.  The recommendations were made at a virtual high-level round table with ministers, CEOs, trade unions and members of civil society.  The recommendations include providing health care and other front-line workers with occupational safety and health equipment; designing economic recovery packages that recognize and place a value on unpaid care work and care jobs.  Another recommendation is to allocate additional resources to address discrimination and violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans.  You can find the full set of the recommendations on the UN‑Women website.

**Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

And today the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), also known as ECLAC, released a report proposing that governments in the region ensure immediate temporary cash transfers to meet basic needs and sustain household consumption, to cope with the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic.  In addition, ECLAC reiterated that these transfers should be made permanent, extending beyond people in situations of poverty and reaching the broad social strata of the population that are very vulnerable to becoming poor.  This would enable moving towards a universal basic income.

**Yemen

And now to the situation around the world concerning COVID-19.  As of this morning, our humanitarian colleagues report that 58 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Yemen.  The UN and our humanitarian partners in Yemen are responding by focusing on case management, risk communications, community engagement and the protection of the wider public health system.  More than 125 metric tons of supplies are already in country while 4,836 metric tons are in the pipeline.  These include 1,000 intensive care unit beds, 417 ventilators, 52,400 tests and 755,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.  More supplies are urgently needed to scale up the response.  None of this work can continue without urgent funding.  Of 41 key UN programmes, 31 are expected to reduce or close down in the coming weeks unless immediate “life-line funding” is made available.  Aid agencies are seeking up to $2 billion to assist millions of people through the end of the year, including on COVID-19 activities.

**Venezuela

Today, the Joint Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)‑International Organization for Migration (IOM) Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, Eduardo Stein, said the pandemic is exposing Venezuelan refugees and migrants to even greater hardship, as many are now struggling to survive away from home.  In response to the crisis, humanitarian organizations have revised the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan launched in November last year from $1.35 billion up to $1.41 billion.  The original plan prioritized activities to address protection, life-saving and integration needs.  The updated plan includes COVID-19-specific activities — like the provision of personal protective equipment, as well as the dissemination of vital information on the pandemic and available services.  Other activities include the establishment of mobile health facilities for the testing and referral of virus cases as well as the upgrading of shelters with adequate physical spacing and improved sanitary conditions.  More on UNHCR’s website.

**Ukraine

And in Ukraine, our colleagues at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that the contact line between the Government‑controlled areas and the non-Government-controlled areas remains closed since 21 March as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.  In practice, almost no one, including humanitarian personnel, are currently able to physically cross the contact line where there are normally about 900,000 crossings registered every month.  According to the Office, this closure of the contact line has limited humanitarians’ ability to send convoys into the non-Government-controlled areas.  Only two UN-organized convoys delivering virus-related supplies have crossed into Donetsk since the beginning of this crisis.  Humanitarian agencies continue their operations on both sides of the contact line with existing stockpiles, targeting some 2 million people.

**Republic of Moldova

And in nearby Republic of Moldova, there are nearly 5,000 cases and 179 confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus.  The UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Simon Springett, with WHO technical know-how, is focusing on risk communications and ensuring that essential equipment reaches people at both the national and local levels.  With the support of development and cooperation agencies — including Sweden, Switzerland, United States, the European Union, as well as the World Bank — the UN team has provided medical equipment and testing kits to State institutions.  This includes more than 140,000 masks and 30,000 items for personal protective equipment, as well as ventilators and other supplies.  The UN team has also ensured there is the medicine necessary for people living with HIV.  The UN has trained more than 1,100 mayors and community leaders and over 9,000 doctors, epidemiologists and hospital managers.  We are also developing an online dashboard to help the Government and people visualize the COVID-19 curve, to help raise awareness and encouraging people to stay at home.  This system will also track needs in terms of essential medical supplies.

**Mozambique

And turning to Mozambique, where there are more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases but no reported deaths, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Myrta Kaulard, is focusing on preventing the spread of the virus and addressing the drastic economic impacts.  WHO, working with the Government, is leading the health response.  The UN is helping to ensure the speedy delivery of essential medical supplies at low cost.  UNDP and UNICEF are supporting the Government to provide connectivity, electronic services and digitalization during the lockdown.  UNICEF is also helping to provide education and protection for millions of children out of school.  The UN and our partners have set up an SMS code so that women and girls can report cases of domestic violence, which have been increasing during the lockdown, as they have in many other countries.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, our colleagues report that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), that their radio station, Radio Miraya, has started to broadcast lessons for students who are out of school because of the virus.  This initiative was launched yesterday in partnership with the Ministry of General Education and UNICEF.  The lessons will be interactive, with children able to phone in with questions and to participate in on-air quizzes.

**Malawi

And in Malawi, the Secretary-General has taken note of the verdict delivered on 8 May by the Supreme Court of Malawi.  The Secretary-General expresses concern over the mounting violence, and he extends his condolences to the families of the three civilians, including a child, that were killed last week.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call for all stakeholders to uphold the rule of law, observe human rights and promote peace, particularly as the Malawian people take actions to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.  The UN country team, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator, continues to actively support the people of Malawi and all stakeholders in their efforts to preserve calm.

**Cyprus

And from Cyprus today, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) said that at, around 3 a.m., a small explosive device was detonated outside of a bakery in the bicommunal village of Pyla.  The explosion caused minor damage to the property.  No injuries to persons were reported.  UNFICYP said it is very concerned by this incident and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  The Mission is monitoring the situation closely and has stepped up patrols by peacekeepers in the area to ensure that calm and stability is maintained.

**Mali

And we are glad to report that the four peacekeepers who were injured this weekend in Mali are now listed as being in stable condition.  They are currently at a peacekeeping hospital in Kidal and will soon be flown to the country’s capital, Bamako, for additional medical treatments.  As you will recall, they were seriously injured on Sunday when their convoy hit a roadside bomb near Aguelhok, in the Kidal region.  Three peacekeepers, also from Chad, were killed in the attack.

**Economic and Social Council

The President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway, has issued a statement to the press on the briefing entitled “Joining Forces:  Effective Policy Solutions for COVID-19 Response”.  In her statement, Ambassador Juul reiterates that we must put people at the centre of crisis response and recovery to achieve better, more equitable and resilient outcomes for all, and we must get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  She is also calling for mobilization and international support for the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

**Press Events

I have a couple of press events I want to flag.  At around 2:30 p.m. today, current and former EU members of the Security Council — Belgium, Estonia, Germany, France, Poland, as well as the United Kingdom — will brief reporters virtually on the Security Council informal interactive dialogue on Syrian chemical weapons.  And tomorrow, following my briefing, Elliott Harris, the Assistant Secretary‑General at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Chief Economist, will have a virtual press briefing on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects mid-year update.

**Nurses

I started with the Secretary-General, and I want to end with his nod to nurses worldwide.  Marking International Nurses Day, the Secretary-General thanked nurses for caring for us, today and every day of the year.  COVID-19 has made more evident that nurses are irreplaceable, the Secretary-General said in a tweet.  The theme for the day this year is “Nursing the World to Health”.  And for her part, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General, paid tribute to all nurses on the front lines of the pandemic, and of course, to her own mother — who was a nurse, whom she described as an amazing one.  WHO reminds us that as the world struggles to respond to the pandemic, there is an urgent shortage of nurses worldwide:  5.9 million more are needed, especially in low-income and middle-income countries.  This year is also the year of the Nurse and the Midwife, and WHO added that now more than ever, it is essential that Governments support and invest in their nurses.

All right.  I guess I now have to take your questions, and after that, we will go to our guest.  I’m just looking for my glass of water and my glasses.  Majeed, I think you have the first question.  Go ahead.  Majeed?  All right.  We'll go to Edie then.  Edie?  I'm not hearing anybody.  Hold on.  Let's talk to our colleagues.  Bear with us two seconds.  We'll try to sort this out.  All right.  They're trying to sort out the technical difficulties.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  I think Yoshita has a question, so I take it you can hear me.  Yoshita Singh of Press Trust of India asks:  Since the telecommuting arrangements have been extended, any decisions on how the Security Council elections will be conducted?

My understanding is that the President of the General Assembly has been consulting — there we are, I can see you now — has been consulting with Member States, but you should ask Reem [Abaza] that question.  [The Spokesman was later informed that consultations are continuing among Member States.]. Majeed, if you're on the line and you…

Correspondent:  Yes, I am.  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Well, I have two question.  The first one, it's about Iraq.  There was a meeting at Security Council today, and we heard Ms. Jeanine Plasschaert about the latest development.  But, one of the things that's happening after the forming of the new Government, Stéphane, is that there are return of thousands of protesters through the streets to demand end of corruption.  And there has been confirmed reports of casualties, death.  We are seeing the same cycle of violence slowly returning to Iraq after going down also because of the pandemic.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction?  And has the SG been…?

Spokesman:  Somebody has children near a microphone, if you could mute them, please.  Well, I… Majeed, I would… Majeed, I would just say that I think the Special Representative provided a pretty extensive briefing.  What I would add is that, of course, you know, demonstrat… people should be able to demonstrate freely and peacefully, and state authorities should respect that right and never use excessive force.  Edie?

Question:  My other question, Stéphane, about Syria?  Yes, yesterday, Amnesty International issued a report basically naming Russia and Syrian Government and accusing them of committing war crimes in 18 attacks on hospitals and schools between May 2019 and February of this year.  I want your reaction for this.  I also want your thoughts about why a non-profit organization like Amnesty can point and basically name parties in Syrian conflicts for… it's been years in committing war crimes while the UN inquiry always… almost always stops short at naming parties like Syrian Government, ISIS, Turkey of committing such crimes in the Syrian civil war.

Spokesman:  Look, everyone has a different role to play.  Everyone has a different mandate.  I think the role of human rights defenders and NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], wherever they may be, is critical in our joint efforts to fight… to find justice for those who have been hurt.  It will be critical for… and the Secretary‑General has always called… spoken out against impunity and for the need for justice to be found ultimately.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  And since you mentioned International Nurses Day, my older sister was a nurse, and when I saw this photo — I don't know whether you can all see it — in The New York Times, I thought it was fantastic.  It's from Montefiore Hospital, honouring nurses… brave nurses now and forever.  My question is that there have been renewed clashes in… between Yemeni separatists and Government forces in the south.  Can you tell us what Martin Griffiths has been doing on that issue?

Spokesman:  Excellent.  Mr. Griffiths, as I mentioned, is continuing his contacts, appealing for calm and for a cessation of hostilities.  He will be briefing the Security Council later this week, I think on Thursday, at which point we'll have a much more detailed and granular view of his activities, but I know he wants to… I will let him… I will ask you to wait a few days and let him speak.  Thank you.  Evelyn?

Correspondent:  Hello, Steph.  Hope everything is okay with you.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Thank you.

Question:  A couple of brief questions.  In Afghanistan, do we have any idea who did that… who was responsible for that disaster?  Taliban says no.  So, was it ISIS or are there any clues?

Spokesman:  I have no more information than you do except to note that it was really a horrendous attack.  I mean, every loss of life is tragic; every attack is tragic, but to attack a maternity ward is… it's truly beyond the pale.  But, as I said, we'll have a statement from the Secretary‑General shortly on that.  Yes?

Question:  A brief question.  The UNICEF… the… yesterday's $1.6 billion that they're asking for, is this tied in any way with the money the Secretary‑General's asking for…?

Spokesman:  Yes, it is.  Part of it is.  It is tied in.

Iftikhar Ali of Associated Press of Pakistan sent in a question:  How does the UN plan to celebrate the annual event marking International Peacekeepers Day on 29 May given the lockdown?

My understanding is that the Secretary‑General will lay a wreath by himself at the monument on the north end of the compound, and there will be a number of events done online, led by our colleagues at the Department of Peace Operations.  And I'm sure locally, every Mission will do whatever it can, whether virtually or whether in person.  Gloria.  Go ahead, Gloria.

Question:  My question was the same as Ev… my question was the exact same as Evelyn.  Which… but can we identify any one power person behind the attack from whatever group it could be, or is it even in those countries a personal grudge?  Except it's unusual.  A maternity hospital and a wedding are completely different situations.  But my question is the same as Evelyn.  Who… who could it be?

Spokesman:  We do not have the forensic capabilities of doing these investigations.  These investigations will be done by the national authorities.  We, obviously, had… you know, there are also… in some of these cases, there are claims of responsibilities, but we will support the national authorities in whatever way we can.  Maria?

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  Hi, everyone.

Spokesman:  Hi, Maria.

Question:  So, my question is about the data they've seen from some of the most concerned countries, like African countries or countries affected by conflicts.  You give us some numbers, like today in Yemen, there are 58 confirmed cases, if I'm not mistaken, but do you have the number of testing… testings made, actually, to… just to understand, like, the real possible amount of cases there?  And… another question on Ukraine.  You mentioned that there is a problem of access of humanitarian convoys to Donbass region, and have Secretary‑General or any other UN authorities been in touch with authorities in Ukraine or in Donbass region to get access there?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sure.  This is… thank you, Maria.  On your second question, this is something our colleagues in Ukraine have been working on and keep at it.  It is very important that we get the access that is needed for our humanitarian colleagues.  On your second question… on your first question, it's a very good question.  Obviously, in conflict places, especially like Yemen, it's very likely that the number of cases [is] actually under‑reported given the state of the health facilities and the destruction it's seen since the war.  I will try to get an answer on testing, but, obviously, access to health care remains very difficult.  So, it would not be surprising that, in conflict situations, the number of cases [is] quite under‑reported.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and I apologize for joining in late.  Yesterday, President [Donald] Trump was giving a press conference, and he was disrespectful to some journalist, and he walked out of the press conference.  As we just celebrated the World Press Freedom Day, do you have any thoughts of the way some journalists are treated and some racist remarks also have been directed against one of the journalists?

Spokesman:  Look, all I can say that, whether it's the Secretary‑General or myself, we have always done our utmost to treat you with respect, and I don't ever recall walking out.  But, I think the point is that we, from our part, have always treated journalists with respect, and that is our principled guidance to everyone worldwide.  All right.  I don't think there are any more questions, unless Florencia [Soto Nino] tells me otherwise.  Nope.  So, I will leave you now with our colleague Joshua Setipa, who you should be able to see on the screen, the managing director of the UN Technology Bank, and he will brief you on the launch of the technology access partnership, which is a new coordinated initiative to strengthen developing countries' response to COVID‑19.  So, Joshua, welcome, and you have the floor.

For information media. Not an official record.