2 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, everyone.  Happy whatever day it is — I think it’s Tuesday.  Just remember to mute your mics, and hopefully, either raise your tiny little hands or send me a chat and I will turn to you to try to answer your questions.


At the start of today’s Yemen Pledging Conference, the Secretary-General said that more than five years of conflict have left Yemenis hanging on by a thread, their economy in tatters, their institutions facing near collapse.  He also said that 4 people out of every 5, that’s 24 million people in all, need lifesaving aid in what remains the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.  We are in a race against time, the Secretary-General warned, as reports indicate that, in Aden, mortality rates from COVID-19 are among the highest in the world.  He added that we must preserve the major humanitarian aid operation that is already under way — and the world’s largest — while developing new public health programmes to fight the virus and strengthen health‑care systems.

The Secretary-General said that aid agencies estimate they will need up to $2.41 billion to cover essential aid from June until December, and that includes programmes to counter COVID-19.  Unless we secure significant funding, he added, more than 30 out of 41 major United Nations programmes in Yemen will close in the next few weeks.  Mark Lowcock, our humanitarian chief, told the pledging conference that COVID-19 rapid response teams are funded only until the end of June.  Next month, he said, we could start winding down treatment for severely malnourished children.  Support for cholera facilities will also start to reduce.  Mr. Lowcock added that pledges will not save lives unless they are paid, and so far, most of the pledges made remain unpaid.

**Financing for Development

Today, the Financing for Development Forum’s second meeting brought together representatives from banks, funds and financial institutions to mobilize $1.2 trillion in humanitarian and economic relief to developing countries reeling under the impact of the pandemic.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said it is important to find multilateral solutions to address the underlying fragilities that were exposed by the pandemic.  She stressed that the UN’s focus is on developing countries.  Also participating in the meeting were the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank, which are mobilizing $1 trillion — $175 billion and $13 billion, respectively — in COVID-19 relief.  The multi-billion-dollar Green Climate Fund, which has already suspended debt repayments for the next six months, is also being represented.

**COVID-19 and People on the Move

We also have a new policy brief coming out.  The Secretary-General is continuing to look at the many ways COVID-19 is impacting people all around the world.  Tomorrow, just after midnight, a brief will be released that focuses on those who were already in vulnerable situations before the crisis — people on the move.  We will share the report under embargo shortly, as well as a video message recorded by the Secretary-General.


Some positive news coming out Libya:  The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomes the acceptance by the Government of National Accord and the “Libyan National Army” of the resumption of talks on the ceasefire and associated security arrangements.  That resumption is based on the draft agreement submitted by UNSMIL to the parties during the Joint Military Commission talks on 23 February.  The UN Mission hopes that the resumption of the Joint Military Commission talks will be marked by a return to calm and a humanitarian truce to pave the way for a lasting ceasefire agreement.  The Mission wants the resumption of talks to enable the competent authorities to focus on addressing the repercussions and threat of the pandemic and facilitate the response of local and international agencies to urgent humanitarian needs.  The Mission looks forward to starting the new round of the negotiations by videoconference, in light of the current circumstances.  It hopes that the same professional, serious and responsible spirit that characterized the first and second rounds in Geneva will prevail in these talks.


Turning to Syria, the massive UN cross-border humanitarian response continues to provide life-saving assistance to people in need throughout the north-west of the country, and that includes health items to prepare for the pandemic.  The massive scale-up has seen an average of over 1,350 trucks per month crossing from the two Security Council-authorized border crossing points from Turkey in the first five months of 2020.  They carry food, health items and other critical humanitarian support.  In May alone, 1,781 trucks crossed into Syria — that’s the highest number of trucks to go across the border since the operations were first authorized by the Security Council in 2014.

Despite the massive operation, needs remain incredibly high throughout the northwest of Syria, with 2.8 million people in need, including over 1 million people living in camps or informal shelters.  Meanwhile, we remain concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on people across the country, whose health‑care system has been decimated by almost a decade of war.  Yesterday, the Syrian Ministry of Health announced that the total number of cases has reached 123, and that includes 6 fatalities.


Turning to Niger:  more than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a displacement site in the western part of Niger.  This took place on Sunday afternoon.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strongly condemns the targeted killing of two Malian refugee leaders and a local host community leader.  The attacks took place in Intikane, in Western Niger, about 70 kilometres from the Malian border.  Over 50 armed men on motorbikes swarmed the site hosting some 20,000 refugees and 15,000 displaced people from Niger.  In addition to the killings, the assailants torched stocks of relief items.  They also destroyed mobile phone towers, as well as the main water station and pipes.

The Office is working to support the survivors and is providing urgently needed assistance.  As we have mentioned regularly, the past few months have seen a sharp increase in attacks in the Liptako Gourma region, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger share borders.  UNHCR renews its urgent call on warring parties in the Sahel to protect civilians, who of course are bearing the brunt of these attacks.

**Burkina Faso

And staying in the region, about 50 people died in three separate attacks this weekend in Burkina Faso’s northern region — more precisely in the Sahel, North, Centre-North and East.  This, according to our humanitarian colleagues, is the deadliest violence since March, when 43 civilians were killed following two attacks on villages in the north.  Rising insecurity in the country is making humanitarian access more difficult.  Currently, 2.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.  That’s up from 1.5 million last year in December 2019.  More than 860,000 people are internally displaced.  In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, aid organizations are delivering life-saving assistance and reprioritizing their activities to ensure their programmes are safe for the population, as well as humanitarian workers.  The humanitarian community needs $371 million for the humanitarian and COVID-19 response.  So far, only 21 per cent of the funds have been received.


In Somalia, there are more than 2,000 confirmed cases and nearly 80 deaths from COVID-19.  Even before the first case was confirmed on 16 March, the UN team in Somalia has been supporting the Government to prevent and contain the spread of the virus.  The UN has helped the Ministry of Health purchase tests.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has trained health workers and provided medical supplies for the main hospital in Mogadishu treating COVID-19 patients.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has airlifted humanitarian cargo to remote locations across Somalia and is supporting the Government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.  For its part, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reached nearly 560,000 people across Somalia with hygiene kits and emergency water supplies, among other items.  The UN has reached some [10] million people across the country with prevention campaigns over radio.  The UN Support Office in Somalia and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) there are working closely with the UN team on providing logistical support, such as transporting materials and people.


And, in Ghana, there are more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 36 deaths.  As we told you yesterday, there is a new Resident Coordinator for the country, Charles Abani.  The UN team continues support to the Government’s response and recovery.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has helped to ensure that nearly 800 health facilities across the country are complying with health and safety protocols.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has partnered with authorities for a campaign to end Fistula.  The UN team there is also engaging with the youth, who represent nearly 60 per cent of the population.  More than 200 young people from across the country have taken part in online sessions backed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to teach new skills and promote youth engagement and leadership.  To support young artists, an initiative by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union is using street art to share prevention messages, as well as messages of hope and solidarity, with a special focus on the protection of migrants.


Let me just turn to Latin America for a second.  In Bolivia, the Secretary‑General welcomes the announcement today by the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for a new date for holding the country’s general elections.  That is on 6 September.  The Secretary-General calls upon political parties and the authorities to cooperate fully with the Electoral Tribunal to bring about a peaceful, transparent and inclusive election.  At the request of the Tribunal and with the support of the European Union, Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom, our UN colleagues will continue to provide technical assistance to the electoral authorities, including on mitigation measures to ensure that elections are held in the best public health conditions.

**El Salvador

Turning to El Salvador, UNICEF there is working with the Government and its partners to ensure that children are kept safe after the country was hit by tropical storm Amanda.  UNICEF is providing support in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as personal protection to prevent the spread of COVID-19, among other diseases.

**Climate Change

I wanted to flag that the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change today kicked off a series of virtual events to take climate action forward.  The UN “Momentum for Climate Change” events will run until 10 June and will focus on making the pandemic recovery as sustainable as possible to respond to the climate crisis.  The series of online events offers opportunities for Governments and partners to continue to share information to showcase how climate action is progressing under the special circumstances the world is currently facing.  And on World Environment Day, which is this Friday, the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change will launch the “Race to Zero” [campaign] to mobilize leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a zero-carbon recovery.

**Air Travel

Turning to air travel, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) yesterday adopted a new report and recommendations.  It is aimed at restarting the international air transport system and aligning its global recovery.  The COVID-19 report and guidelines contain a detailed situational analysis and is supported by a series of recommendations focused around objectives for public health, aviation safety and security, as well as aviation economic recovery.  The content is supplemented by the report’s special “Take Off” document which contains guidelines for public health risk‑mitigation measures and four separate modules relating to airports, aircraft, crew and air cargo.  For those of you interested in planes, the report is available on ICAO’s website.

**Financial Contributions

And to end on a positive note, I am delighted to thank our friends in Côte d’Ivoire, Guyana and Myanmar — all three Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full, which takes us up to 95.  So, I will leave it at that.  Apologies.  I had some technical problems with my prompter on my end, but I should be able to hear and see you, hopefully, so let's go.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Philippe asked, reactions to the elections in Bolivia.  I think I read that… I read out a note on Bolivia.  Pam, why don't you go ahead?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  My question is about racism around the world.  Several international diplomats, experts, the UN High Commissioner have commented on it.  Does the SG have any comment on racism and the events in the United States?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I think yesterday, I answered that pretty extensively.  I would also encourage you to look at the tweets the Secretary‑General put out on Saturday on the very topic of racism.  I think, in the US, as in any other part of the world, for us, diversity is a richness, not a threat.  We've said that over and over again, but the diverse… the success of diverse societies needs to include investments in social cohesion, which also includes the need to address possible areas of discrimination and of racism.  But, it must be… the answer to that, it must… national Government must be mobilized.  Local authorities must be mobilized, civil society, faith‑based organizations, the private sector, basically society as a whole.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just one follow‑up.  Do you expect this SG to make any comment of this on camera?  It would be helpful to some of us.

Spokesman:  I understand.  If something happens, I will definitely let you know.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have a couple of questions.  First, on the resume talks in Libya, do you have any details on where, when, how, how long this might take?  And who will… will the UN be taking part? Will Stephanie Williams be there?

Spokesman:  Both the acting SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary‑General], Stephanie Williams, and the Mission are remaining in direct contact with the parties to figure out the next steps and the logistics about the resumption of the talks.  So, we're taking it one step at a time.  I think the announcement was very welcomed, and I will be in touch… Ms. Williams and others will be in touch with the parties on how to actually get the resumption of the talks going.  And obviously, I would add that the Secretary‑General adds his voice in welcoming what we heard from Libya.  And I think what will be important is that the Libyan parties in power, the representatives at the Joint Military Commission negotiations and that they engage constructively, and of course, in good faith in these discussions.  But, we do expect the… we'll be in touch with the parties for the talks, but we expect things to get moving in the next few days.

Question:  Okay.  My next question is that there has been a call for a G20 meeting by 225 former and present global leaders, including the Secretary‑General's predecessor, to agree on a $2.5 [trillion] plan to help developing and medium‑income countries tackle both COVID‑19 and the economic recovery from it.  Does the Secretary‑General support this appeal for a G20 meeting to agree on that package?

Spokesman:  Well, clearly, whether or not to meet is up to the members of the G20 and the chairmanship.  What I would say is that the G20 plays a critical role in defining the post‑COVID recovery and the resources that will be needed.  I think we were very happy to see a large number of G20 and G7 countries participate in the UN meeting on Thursday that the Secretary‑General chaired along with the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada, but the G20 has a big role to play, and we would, obviously, welcome that role.

Question:  And my final question is that the first… there's been the first reported deaths of a Rohingya refugee in camp in Cox's Bazar and wondered if the Secretary‑General had any comments on it.

Spokesman:  I mean, it's, obviously, a very worrying development.  I do know that our humanitarian teams on the ground are working very diligently with the refugee community, with the host community, and of course, the Bangladeshi communities to try to contain the outbreak as quickly and as effectively as possible.  But, obviously, refugee camps, especially the various camps around Cox's Bazar, are a very, very high‑risk area, and that's why we're working very quickly to try to contain it.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  Benny, and then we'll go to Nabil.

Question:  Steph, just a quick question about UN security in coordination with NYPD [New York Police Department].  Is there any action to prepare for possible breach of the compound, looting or anything like that, that is happening all around New York?

Spokesman:  Our security chief — in fact, I spoke to him this morning — is in close touch with the US Mission and with the NYPD to ensure the safety of the UN compound, but we're not aware of any specific targeting of the UN.  But, we're remaining in close and constant touch with the federal and the local authorities on the security front.  Okay.  Who… Nabil.  Nabil?

Question:  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep, yeah, yeah.  I'd like to see you, as well.

Question:  Okay.  I have a question… I heard that the SG sent a letter… excuse me?  Say it again.

Spokesman:  I'd like to see you, as well, but I can hear you.  But, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  That's… the video is on now, if you can see me.  I'm outside.

Spokesman:  Yep.  Go ahead.  Perfect.

Question:  So, I have a question on the SG's letter to the Emir of Qatar.  I heard he sent a letter, I think, about a humanitarian bridge between Doha and Kabul in Afghanistan.  Also, what's happening in Yemen?  Have you repositioned UN personnel in Yemen?  Did Qatar have anything to do with this?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  A couple of things.  So, yes, indeed, the Secretary‑General wrote to the Emir of Qatar, I think, really to express his thanks and appreciation that Qatar has had for the UN during this pandemic, notably with the air bridge, as you mentioned, between Doha and Kabul; also with the Emir's facilitation in repositioning some of the UN personnel from Yemen.  The flights by the UN's kind of, you know, air transport, the UN Humanitarian Air Service, enabled critical deployments of emergency aid and assistance to Afghanistan, as well as the rotation of UN personnel.  And as I mentioned, Qatar also provided essential and timely support for the transit of personnel from the [United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement], which is a temporary adjustment to our operations in Yemen, so basically a message of appreciation.  I can't hear you.  I can't hear you.

Question:  Can you hear me now?  The destination, where did you move your personnel to, what destination?

Spokesman:  They were moved to different locations.  I can't go into those operational details.  Okay.  James Reinl and then Evelyn.

Question:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay, great.  Two questions.  First one is, obviously, there's been a Yemen pledging conference earlier today.  Do you have any idea of when we're going to get an update about what numbers, how big the donations were, how much we've gotten?  And just as a side note, obviously, aid funding comes up quite a lot here.  Sometimes it can be quite hard to work out exactly what numbers… what the numbers mean and, so, whoever's putting the numbers together, if they could have a simple headline number that we could follow.

Spokesman:  That message will be passed on.  I think it is always… it's complicate… the numbers are always complicated because the numbers are complicated.  I would also encourage you to look at the various web pages where the trust funds are updated on a daily basis.  We hope, by the end of the day, we'll have some sort of preliminary figures.  We'll get our OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] colleagues to share those.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs later issued a note saying that $1.35 billion had been pledged.]

Question:  Thanks so much for that.  I had my own question, as well, which was the African Development Bank over in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, there's a controversy at the moment related to an investigation into the president of the bank, Akenwumi Adeshina, for bad organization and some financial irregularities.  It's kind of like spiralling, and other countries are getting involved.  For example, the US has said it doesn't want… it doesn't think that the investigation that cleared the president should stand.  The UN, are you involved?  Is the [AfDB] a formal partner of yours in any way, and do you make any comment on this investigation?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any formal administrative links between the United Nations Secretariat and the African Development Bank.  I assume they have their own procedures to follow on these sorts of things.  Of course, we do work with the African Development Bank.  They participate in our meetings and on projects, but their internal administration is really up to them.  And I assume the process will be followed through, and, obviously, countries that are members of its board or supplied with funds have something to say on that.  Evelyn?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Okay.  James just asked the same question on getting some kind of results or lists from the Saudi conference.  Do you have… what web pages should one look at, if any?

Spokesman:  We'll send you… we'll send to the resident correspondent list, the web pages.  Okay.  Iftikhar.  Iftikhar Ali?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As you know, over the last few days, Pakistan Foreign Minister has been communicating with the Secretary‑General through letters and a phone call about India's violation of the line of control in the disputed Kashmir region, as well as other Indian actions that have escalated tensions between the two countries.  Does the Secretary‑General have any response to Pakistan's complaints?

Spokesman:  I do know there was a conversation that took place.  I think letters were also sent to be circulated to the membership, which they have.  The Secretary‑General's basic message has always been for all and every party to avoid anything that would escalate tensions.  Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, Edie took my question about Libya, and others took my question about Yemen, but I have just…

Spokesman:  Actually, you have one in your back pocket.

Question:  Yeah.  There is a meeting on Thursday by the UN Committee on Palestinian rights about the annexation.  Is the SG… will the SG be speaking at this conference?

Spokesman:  Let me find out.  Let me find out, and I will let you know.  Okay.  Dulcie, you have a question.

Question:  Okay.  So, what is your reaction to the campaign by Code Blue regarding Jane Holl Lute's status?  Does she still work for the UN?

Spokesman:  She continues to serve on a when‑actually‑employed or dollar‑a‑year, I'd have to check… on the issue of Cyprus and other issues, but I was not aware of the campaign.

Correspondent:  They sent out a press release yesterday.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I did not see it.

Correspondent:  Okay.  It basically asks:  “Where's Jane Holl Lute?”

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  Gloria, you had a question?

Question:  It is not a UN problem, this problem, interracial we have, if President [Barack] Obama should come in giving his advice.  He was our president.  He was a black [sic].  We have a grand jury in America with blacks sitting there.  We have brains that can be sitting in [inaudible] arbitrating on these riots, and the leaders of both groups could get together.

Spokesman:  Gloria, I hear what you're saying, but as you said, it's really not an issue for the UN to weigh in on.  I think we… I was very clear on the Secretary‑General's position yesterday as to his stance on the developments we've seen… we have seen in the US.  All right…

Question:  But if asked… I'm sorry, but if asked…?

Spokesman:  Gloria, with all due respect, it's really not for us to weigh in on that particular issue.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I apologize.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No need to apologize for a question.  I'm just… I apologize for my answer or lack thereof.  Okay.  Any more questions?  Speak up now or hold your questions until tomorrow.  Okay.  Take care, and we'll see you all mañana.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.