Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

1 June 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.

Good afternoon.  So, we are starting a new month, which is always good.  Hopefully the technology will be with us this month.

**Yemen

And I wanted to flag that tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be addressing the opening of a high-level virtual pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.  Something that we have been flagging here almost on a daily basis.  That event is co-hosted by the United Nations and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  It will start at 9 a.m. New York time and you will be able to watch it on the UN WebTV platform.  Twenty-four million people — that’s 80 per cent of the population in Yemen — need aid and protection.  The humanitarian operation assists more than 10 million people every month.  However, without additional funding, life-saving programmes will soon be forced to reduce or even close in what is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

A press conference will follow the event at 1:10 p.m., New York time.  Media questions should be submitted in advance and up until two hours before the closing of the event on WhatsApp or by email to our OCHA media colleagues.

If you want those numbers, please reach out to us.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, Yacoub El-Hillo, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, said over the weekend that he was shocked by the horrific reports about Wednesday’s shooting at a smuggling warehouse in Mezda, killing 30 migrants and injuring 11 others.

He said that authorities with influence on the ground in the area where this incident took place have the responsibility to ensure that human smugglers and traffickers are not allowed to continue their inhuman and degrading acts.  Such heinous and merciless crimes against helpless individuals should be investigated immediately and those responsible have to be brought to justice.

**Burundi

And on Burundi, I wanted to say that the Secretary-General notes that the relative calm that characterized election day continues to prevail in Burundi.

He reiterates his call to all parties to ensure that their words and actions promote peace and harmony among all Burundians.  The Secretary-General emphasizes that any electoral dispute should be addressed through established legal and constitutional channels under Burundi law.

The Secretary-General reiterates the support of the United Nations to the people and Government of Burundi.

**Middle East

And, a newly published paper, issued by the office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), argues that the COVID-19 emergency underscores the inadequacy of the frameworks governing the economic and administrative relationships between Israel and Palestine.

Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator, welcomed the recent Israeli-Palestinian cooperation to deal with the health crisis.  But the Special Coordinator’s office warns that, if current trends continue, the achievements of the Palestinian Government over the last quarter century will fade, the peace and security situation will worsen, and a hardened and more extremist politics on both sides will inevitably result.

Mr. Mladenov adds, “All sides must do their part in the coming weeks and months in order to preserve the prospect of a negotiated two-State resolution to the conflict, in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”

**Latin America and Caribbean

Turning to Latin America and the Caribbean, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that nearly 938,000 cases and over 49,000 associated deaths were reported as of Saturday across the region, relating to COVID.  That surpasses Europe and the US in daily infections.  According to the World Health Organization, the region is now the new epicentre of the pandemic.  South America — where Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador have the most cases — has over 800,000 infected people and over 38,000 deaths.  The United Nations has been supporting Governments and civil society in the region through its different agencies, funds and programmes, including for the development of national response plans to the pandemic.  In Venezuela, the UN and our partners have been providing assistance to more than 1 million people since mid-March, mostly in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene.  In Colombia, over 750,000 people have been reached since the end of April, mainly with health response.  And in Haiti, the UN continues to support national authorities in strengthening health response capacity and disseminating awareness messaging, while they continue to deliver critical life-saving support in other areas, particularly food.

And just a quick focus today on Guatemala, where there are more than 4,700 confirmed cases of the [virus] and more than 100 deaths.  The UN team on the ground has been supporting the Government’s emergency response to the virus and has provided $1 million from the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund.  As you will recall, this is the fund announced by the Secretary-General for the socioeconomic recovery and response.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Rebeca Arias, is focusing on providing health services, protecting and training health workers and improving surveillance capacities.  This includes improving lab capacity and boosting women’s access to health services.  The UN is working to protect human rights.  This initiative includes guaranteeing decent quarantine locations for migrants who have returned to Guatemala.  Several UN entities are involved in this, such as the International Organization for Migration, the Pan-American Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, the UN’s Children Fund, the UN Refugee Agency, the UN Human Rights Office, as well as UN-Women.  UN entities and our partners have donated an additional $600,000 for medical, hygiene and protection supplies, as well as training, shelters, and communications campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

**Women and Global Ceasefire Efforts

And I want to flag that, in a joint video message released today, the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo; and the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, made a call to ensure women are central to global ceasefire efforts.  The three officials said the pandemic is a wake-up call:  [the world cannot face conflict and a pandemic at the same time].  In their message, they stressed that women need to be fully engaged, and if so, we will emerge stronger from the crisis.  The message is online, and available in eight languages.

**World Health Organization

A new survey released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that prevention and treatment services for noncommunicable diseases have been severely disrupted since the COVID-19 pandemic began.  The survey, which was completed by 155 countries during a three-week period in May, confirmed that the impact is global, but that low-income countries are the ones being affected the most.  WHO warns that this situation is of significant concern because people living with noncommunicable diseases are at higher risk of severe COVID-19-related illness and death.

WHO said that a record number of countries are now monitoring and reporting on antibiotic resistance.  WHO warned that the data they provide reveals that a worrying number of bacterial infections are increasingly resistant to the medicines at hand to treat them.  WHO is concerned that the trend will further be fuelled by the inappropriate use of antibiotics during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Evidence shows that only a small proportion of patients with the virus need antibiotics to treat subsequent bacterial infections.  WHO has issued guidance not to provide antibiotic therapy or prophylaxis to patients with mild COVID-19 or to patients with suspected or confirmed moderate COVID-19 illnesses unless there is a clinical indication to do so.

**Ebola

And a new Ebola outbreak has been identified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This time, the virus is impacting people in the country’s west, in the Equateur province.  The Congolese health ministry has identified six cases, including four people who have died.  On Twitter today, the head of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], said the agency already has staff in the main city in Equateur, in Mbandaka, which is the town impacted.  They are supporting the response to the new Ebola outbreak.  This is happening, as you know, [as] the DRC is in the final phases of battling the virus in the country’s East.  Dr. Tedros added this is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat that people face.  WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many health emergencies, he said.

**Resident Coordinators

The UN Development Coordination Office tells us today that we have three new Resident Coordinators to welcome.  They are to be posted in Ghana, Guinea and the Philippines.  The appointments follow confirmations from the respective Governments.  Charles Abani of Nigeria will serve as the Resident Coordinator in Ghana; Vincent Martin of France will serve in Guinea; and Gustavo González of Argentina will be the new Resident Coordinator in the Philippines.  Unfortunately, as you can imagine, given the new travel restrictions, our new colleagues are working remotely until they are able to physically join their respective duty stations.  As you know, Resident Coordinators lead the development work in our UN family on the ground, which is fundamental to support countries in this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  They are also mobilizing resources to support the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are also proud to announce that we remain with full gender parity among our Resident Coordinators serving 162 countries and territories.

**Press Briefing

And lastly, this afternoon at 3:30 p.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of France to these United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of June.  He will be joined by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of July.  The Ambassadors will brief you on the Council’s programmes of work for June and July.

On that note, let’s see who wants to ask a question.  Let’s see if I can make this system work at this point.  Bear with me two seconds.  Let’s see who’s in the chat.  Let’s see if this… okay.  I’m not getting any, oh:  “May I ask a question?”  James Reinl, yes, you may ask a question, James.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Okay.  Let’s see this.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Oh, good.  Question is, should social media companies be able to vet public statements made by leaders of your Member States?

Spokesman:  Look, there’s, I think there’s a healthy discussion going on about the responsibility of social media companies and platforms and how they manage messages and speeches from different parties, and I think that is an important debate to be had.

All right.  Let’s go to Edie.  I don’t see her, but I’m sure she has a question.

Correspondent:  I was just trying to say that I did have a question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  And then I’ll go to Maria, who does have a question.  So, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the protests, some of them violent, in the United States in the past six days in response to the death of George Floyd?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I think, you know, the situation we’re seeing today, we’ve seen in different parts of the world before, and the Secretary‑General’s message has been consistent.  One is that grievances must be heard, but they must be expressed in peaceful ways and authorities must show restraint in responding to demonstrators.

I think, in the US, as in any other country in the world, diversity is a richness and not a threat, but the success of diverse societies, in any country, requires a massive investment in social cohesion.  That means reducing inequalities, addressing possible areas of discrimination, strengthening social protection, providing opportunities for all.

And these efforts, these investments, need to mobilize national Governments.  They need to mobilize local authorities, the private sector, civil society, faith‑based organizations.  In one word, society as a whole, needs to be mobilized.

I think we’ve also seen, over the last few days, cases of police violence.  And, again, I would just restate what we have been saying in many other cases when we have seen police violence, is that, first of all, cases, obviously, need to be investigated.  We’ve always said that police forces around the world need to have adequate human rights training, and there also needs to be an investment in social and psychological support for police so they can do their job properly in terms of protecting the community.

Maria.

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.

Spokesman:  Hi, Maria.  Your… tiny hands here.  Okay.  I can see you.

[laughter]

Question:  So, yeah, I saw the readout of talk between Russian Foreign Minister and SG, and it says that it was about Syria and Libya and humanitarian in Syria, so I wonder if you have anything to add to this topic.

Spokesman:  No.  The Secretary‑General did receive a call from Foreign Minister Lavrov.  They discussed the situation on the ground in Syria, in Libya, as well as the COVID‑19 pandemic and the need for socioeconomic support for countries facing the pandemic.

Question:  Sorry.  Can I follow up, please?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may.

Question:  Talking about Libya, did the SG mention the United Nations report on mercenaries and Libya, Russian mercenaries?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into the details of what the SG mentioned or didn’t mention, but what I can tell you, separate from the call, on Libya, is that we’ve seen, as I… intensification of fighting, as I just mentioned, which we’re following with great concern.  We saw the fighting over the weekend in southern Tripoli and around Tarhunah, in the south-west of the capital, deliveries of weaponry, military equipment, mercenaries to both parties from abroad have continued by air, by land, by sea, unabated, and that is a blatant violation of the UN arms embargo, the fact that both sides are continuing to receive weapons and equipment from abroad.

I think our particular concern, as we’ve been stating for quite a while, is the fate and the impact on civilians.  We’ve seen a high number of civilians getting killed or injured as a result of shelling, near or inside civilian areas, as well as mines, booby traps, all sorts of other improvised explosive devices.

All of these make us — one more time, as if we needed to — to reiterate our call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and to reiterate the fact that we stand ready to resume the facilitation of intra‑Libyan dialogue, including towards finalizing a ceasefire agreement within the framework of the 5+5 format.

Abdelhamid, I see you looking intensely, which leads me to think that you probably have a question, even though I think…

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  … you… tiny little hand.

Question:  I put my name there anyhow.  Thank you, Stéphane.

Yeah, on Saturday morning, the Israeli army, the Israeli security forces, murdered a disabled Palestinian in East Jerusalem.  He’s 32‑year‑old, and his name is Eyad al Hallaq, a‑l H‑a‑l‑a‑k… q, sorry, al Hallaq.  Eyad al Hallaq was murdered on Saturday morning without any intimidation, and he was a disabled man with a severe case of autism.  So, why is that… have not been mentioned in the statement of Mladenov or in a separate statement?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov did issue language over the weekend on the killing of the, this unarmed young Palestinian man.  He said it was a tragedy that should have been… that should and could have been avoided, adding that the authorities, the Israeli authorities should move swiftly to investigate, make sure such incidents are not allowed to happen.  And he also sent his condolences to the family of Eyad al Hallaq.

Correspondent:  I wish his statement was read in your briefing so…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It was said over the weekend.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  For some reason, the chats are not working for me.  Oh, Alan, you have a question.  I’m starting to see it now.  Alan?

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m sorry.  I have a little issue with my camera.

Spokesman:  Oh, that’s, it’s a great view, Alan.  It’s a great view.

Question:  Appreciate it.  Actually, I have a follow‑up on the protests, United States protests.  My colleague Mikhail Turgiyev now is covering the clashes in Minneapolis.  And the other day, he was pepper sprayed, actually right into his eyes by the police officer after he presented himself.  He had identified himself.  He presented his press card.  He followed all the demands by the police officer, but still, he was pepper sprayed.

So, I would just, would like to ask you to give particular assessment of this particular case, whether such a treatment to media corresponds to the democratic standards in the world, to principles of mass media freedom, if you could.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I hope your colleague is recovering.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don’t have the details of the particular incident, but, obviously, these cases all need to be investigated.  I would also refer you to what the Secretary‑General himself said on Twitter over the weekend, and I quote from his Tweet, “When journalists are attacked, societies are attacked.  No democracy can function without press freedom, nor can any society be fair without journalists who investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to power.”  All right, Alan.

Any other questions?  Just open your mic if you have a question or send me a message on the chat.

All right.  Hearing none, we will conclude.  Thank you all for being here and apologies for the technical issues, and we shall see you tomorrow.  Okay, take care.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.