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3 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 morning, good afternoon.  I think it is good afternoon. 

**People on the Move

Just starting off — in his new policy brief, entitled “COVID-19 and People on the Move”, the Secretary-General argues that the pandemic presents us with an opportunity to reimagine human mobility for the benefit of everyone. 

In a video message, he said that the millions of people on the move — such as refugees, internally displaced persons or migrants — now face three crises rolled into one. 

They are confronted with the health crisis — but in a context where basics such as health care, water, sanitation and nutrition are often hard to find.  They also face a socioeconomic crisis, although often without access to any social protection.  And people on the move also face a protection crisis. 

And yet, despite these challenges, people on the move are contributing heroically on the frontlines, in essential work, the Secretary-General added.

Reimagining human mobility would involve four core understandings.

First, recognizing that exclusion is costly.  An inclusive public health and socioeconomic response will help suppress the virus, restart our economies and advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Second, we must uphold human dignity in the face of the pandemic and learn from the handful of countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights, as well as international refugee protection principles.  And third, no one is safe until everyone is safe. 

And finally, the Secretary-General reiterated that people on the move are also part of the solution. 

The policy brief and video message are online and we shared it with you.

Also online are statements on the policy brief from IOM [International Organization for Migration], UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] and the UN migration network. 

**Africa/Caribbean/Pacific

And this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at an extraordinary intersessional summit of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.  He said that we need a much stronger response of unity and solidarity if we are to get through this pandemic together and build a safer, more stable future.  

He warned that looming crises could contribute to the deepest global depression since the 1930s.   He welcomed the debt relief initiatives by the G20 [Group of 20] but added that they are not enough.  

The Secretary-General said that COVID-19 is exposing the fragility of our world and has laid bare deep injustices and inequalities based on income, gender, race, and more.    Returning to the systems that created this fragility is out of the question, he said.  

And he repeated his call for a vaccine to be made available quickly, affordably and equally.    It must be seen as  a  global  public good — as the people’s vaccine, he added.  Those remarks have been shared with you.  

**Vaccines

And tomorrow, the Secretary-General will have a video message on the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) on the Global Vaccine Summit, which seeks to mobilize billions of dollars in funding.  He will laud what he calls the lifesaving miracle of a vaccination, which is the most important public health intervention in history. 

The Secretary-General will stress that a COVID-19 vaccine, again, must be seen as a global public good — a people’s vaccine.  We need global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access. 

We will share the text of that message with you under embargo a short while later today. 

And also on vaccines, the United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) issued a joint call today for unity to scale up efforts to develop, test, and scale up production of safe, effective, quality and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines.

Specifically, we are asking Governments, the private sector, international organizations and civil society to unite towards a people’s vaccine for COVID-19. 

The vaccine should protect the affluent in cities and the poor in rural communities, the old in care homes and the young in refugee camps.  A global social contract for a people’s vaccine against COVID-19 is a moral imperative that brings us all together in our shared humanity.

**Libya

Turning now to Libya, to update you on an announcement made yesterday.  The 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC) resumed its work today, 3 June, with a meeting chaired by the Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, and that was obviously a virtual meeting.  She met by videoconference with the five members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) delegation. 

A similar meeting with the delegation of the Government of National Accord (GNA) is expected to take place in the coming days.

Negotiations will continue on the ceasefire agreement and associated arrangements, on the basis of the draft presented by the UN Mission to both delegations on 23 February of this year. 

The UN Mission encourages the parties to de-escalate, consider a truce to enable improved delivery of humanitarian assistance, and to refrain from incitement and create an environment conducive for negotiations and build trust between the parties. 

We reiterated our concern by the persistent violations of the arms embargo on Libya and call on all countries to strictly adhere to it in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. 

**Venezuela

And turning to Venezuela.  The Secretary-General welcomes yesterday’s announcement of an agreement between representatives of the Government and the Advisory Team of the National Assembly of Venezuela on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He encourages the main stakeholders to implement this agreement in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence; and to build on this foundation to continue seeking common ground to overcome the country’s protracted crisis. 

The Secretary-General recognizes the important role played by actors including the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in facilitating this agreement. 

**Yemen

And I also want to give you an update on yesterday’s pledging conference for Yemen.  At the end of the day, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that 30 announcements of pledges had been made for a total amount of $1.35 billion. 

This is significantly less than the $2.4 billion that aid agencies estimate they will need to cover needs from June until December, including for the COVID-19 response.

Closing the conference, the Emergency Relief for the UN, Mark Lowcock, said that unless we raise more money, we face a horrific outcome in Yemen.

He added that those who have not yet pledged, including some major donors, must now stand up and play their part; while he added that those that have made pledges should provide the actual cash and money as soon as possible.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And our colleagues in UN peacekeeping missions are continuing to support Governments and local communities to respond to the pandemic. 

In South Sudan, the UN Mission (UNMISS) is helping to minimize congestion in the juvenile reformatory centre in Juba, while in Torit, we have provided personal protective equipment, including thousands of masks, glasses, gloves and disinfectants, to local hospitals.

In Koch in Unity State, peacekeepers are working to combat misinformation by disseminating messages over loudspeakers and promotional trucks on how to protect yourself and others from the virus.

And in the Central African Republic, the twelve peacekeeping field offices support local authorities by providing material such hygiene kits, masks, protective equipment, as well as training.

In Kaga Bandoro, in the Central African Republic, peacekeepers supported the construction of a screening centre at the prefecture hospital and, in Berberati, they assisted in the delivery of a tent, which serves as a medical post and isolation quarters.  Sensitization activities carried out in collaboration with women’s groups and associations are ongoing.

The Mission (MINUSCA) has partnered with the Diocesan Centre for Family to conduct a training workshop for COVID-19 for women leaders.  Influential women community leaders were also trained through the Mission’s Female Engagement Team. 

These capacity-building activities aim to better equip women to protect their families and communities from the virus.  Mission members are also continuing their work with communities to promote peace.

The UN Mission, along with local authorities, religious leaders and representatives from youth and women’s groups, organized a workshop on the culture of peace.

**COVID-19 — Iran

And turning to some country’s specific examples:  In Iran, where there are more than 157,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 7,900 deaths, the UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Ms. Ugochi Daniels, has been working with the Government and the people since the onset of the outbreak.  And this aims to respond to the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) team on the ground has provided arterial blood gas analysers, virus test kits and other essential supplies to more than 100 laboratories and hospitals.  It is also helping Iran contribute data to the Solidarity Trial, an international clinical trial to help find an effective treatment for COVID-19, which, as you know, was launched by the WHO and its partners.

WHO, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the UN refugee agency, along with the World Food Programme (WFP), have brought more than 76 tonnes of personal protective equipment for front-line workers, as well as people taking care of the elderly, children with disabilities, and other groups with special needs. 

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are also helping the Government to assist women, girls, the elderly, and people living with disabilities, among others. 

Other UN agencies, including the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme (WFP), have provided hygiene items and food assistance to some of the 31,000 vulnerable refugees living in settlements, as well as protection supplies for aid workers.  UNHCR is also providing psycho-social counselling and legal advice through helplines, while WFP provides cash assistance for those most in need. 

Iran is the sixth largest refugee-hosting country in the world, with more than 1 million refugees, mainly from Afghanistan. 

**COVID-19 — Republic of Moldova

And meanwhile, in [the Republic of] Moldova, where there have been more than 8,300 confirmed cases and more than 300 deaths from the virus, the UN team there, led by Simon Springett, has developed policy briefs looking into the impact of the pandemic.

In collaboration with Oxford Economics, a new study shows that [the Republic of] Moldova is more vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic than most European countries.  A decline in remittances deals a further blow to the economy, whose gross domestic product (GDP) could drop around 8 to 10 per cent. 

The service sector is also deeply affected, with women — who comprise about 70 per cent of the labour force in that sector — especially impacted. 

The UN has also contributed $1 million from our COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund. 

UNICEF is helping to procure and distribute supplies to maternity hospitals.  It has also provided supplies to mothers with children living in penitentiary institutions, as well as to children in detention facilities. 

And UNICEF is working with authorities to ensure continued education to the most disadvantaged children, including pre-primary and primary schools for children with disabilities. 

UN-Women has launched a campaign to inform businesses about the links between COVID-19 and gender inequalities. 

**Human Rights — Asia

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed alarm at the clampdown on freedom of expression in parts of the Asia-Pacific region during the COVID-19 crisis.  Michelle Bachelet said any actions taken to stop the spread of false information must be proportionate. 

Her office said that countries in the region already have laws governing alleged “fake news” and online media that raise human rights concerns and have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate and criticism of government policy. 

**World Bicycle Day

And today, 3 June, for those who didn’t know, is World Bicycle Day.  The Day acknowledges the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, and some of us are even using stationary bikes in this lockdown.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reminds us that now is a good time to take stock of the benefits of the bicycle.  These include staying healthy, as well as being a sustainable mode of transport during and after the global crisis. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway to achieving greater health equity.  For the poorest urban sector, who often cannot afford private vehicles, walking and cycling provide a form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death. 

**Condolences

And I want to — unfortunately, I need to end on a sad note.  We are all very sad to learn of the passing of Captain Anthony Husbands, a supervisor in the UN Safety and Security Service.  Captain Anthony Husbands died earlier this week from complications from COVID-19.

He was good-natured, efficient and dedicated man, both to his family and to this Organization, which he served for almost 33 years in various capacities, with a number of duties in difficult field situations and at Headquarters.  We all work very closely and collaboratively day in and day out with our colleagues at the UN security officers and so we join the Secretary-General and all of Captain Husband’s colleagues in extending our sympathies to his friends and family. 

Okay.  Let's see where we are and if we have questions. 

[the Spokesman is disconnected.]

Correspondent:  That's one way of getting out of our questions.

Tech:  Ladies and gentlemen, Stéphane is having a bandwidth issue on his computer.  We just got an alert that there's not enough bandwidth for video transmission.  So, we're hoping he can hear me and he's going to dial back in. 

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  All right.  Well, this… can you guys hear me now?  If so, Edie, why don't you go ahead?

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  And on behalf of myself and, I'm sure, the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA), our condolences to Captain Husbands' family and friends.  He was a great guy.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Edie.

Question:  First, I had a question on Syria.  There have been reports that Russian aircraft carried out air strikes for the first time in three months against the last remaining strongholds for rebels in and near Idlib.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this? And have you any confirmation of…

Spokesman:  No, I have… we have not… we're not able to confirm the reports.  Let me look into it, and we'll get back to you.

Do you have another question?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Are we going to get to talk to the Secretary‑General again maybe next week?

Spokesman:  I'm asking.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  All right.

Question:  And on Yemen, on the pledging conference, what does the Secretary‑General believe can be done to make up the $1 billion that's still outstanding in terms of pledges, money to keep the humanitarian operation afloat for the rest of the year?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, what can be done is that we need people who have pledged to turn those pledges into cash.  We need those who have not pledged to pledge.  I think there will be phone calls made throughout the UN system to try to encourage people on both fronts to move. 

I think the sense is that we can't be satisfied with the amount that was raised yesterday and, clearly, the job isn't finished.  So, we will keep pushing, and we hope to get conversions of pledges into cash and to get others to pledge and then give us cash, as well, in the coming days and weeks. 

I mean, it's… I think Mr. Lowcock and our colleagues in the field, including Lise Grande, have been very clear for the last weeks that, unless the money is there, we cannot continue, and a number of programmes are going to have to be cut.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  James Bays, welcome back.

Correspondent:  Well, I haven't been away.  I've just been doing other things than your briefing.

Spokesman:  I just see that you're away.  That's…

Question:  No, no, there's other journalism to be done sometimes. 

Two things, then.  First one is about the [United States] protests.  The Secretary‑General has said, I quote, “Authorities must show restraint in responding to demonstrations.”  Does he, then, believe that President [Donald] Trump needs to change course?  Because showing that restraint is not the same as dominating the streets.

Spokesman:  Look, I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in his message.  He's also said that he was heartbroken to see the violence on the streets in New York, our host city. 

Grievances must be heard, should be expressed peacefully. 

I think his message is for all leaders that have to… that are facing situations like these, not just in the US but in other countries and at all levels, because we know that the authority lies at different levels of the State.

Question:  And if I can follow up with two follow‑ups on your statement that you've made on Libya and the start of the 5+5 talks, from listening to the detail in your statement, the two sides are not conducting — I mean, I know it's virtual but — face‑to‑face talks.  Why is that?  And is what they're now…  what the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] is conducting basically are sort of virtual proximity talks?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, you can label them a different way but different…  virtual proximity talks if you wish.  What is… this is a first step.  I mean, I think we haven't been able to engage within that format in quite a long time.  So, this is a positive step, and it's very clear.  She met with the representatives of the Libyan National Army first.  She will meet, then, with the Government of National Accord tomorrow from what I…  if I recall what I just said a few minutes ago. 

Let's take it step by step.  I mean, I think you've been reporting on Libya for quite some time.  I've been talking about it almost daily.  To say that the situation on the ground, the violence and the political situation, is complex would be the understatement of the year.  So, these are first steps.  I think they're steps in the right direction, but we will continue pushing and working with the parties to help bring some…  to alleviate some of the suffering of the Libyan people.

Question:  And given the complexity that you talk about and the severity of the situation, clearly, these talks are being conducted by the acting SRSG, and there is not a permanent SRSG.  The first candidate the Secretary‑General put up to the Security Council was blocked by the United States.  It now seems the United States has problems again, this time with your new candidate.  How frustrated is the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, we have strong and firm leadership in Stephanie Williams, and she has the Secretary‑General's full backing, and she's working with the authority of being the SRSG. 

The process of appointing SRSGs, whether it's Libya or personal envoys in other places, is complex and needs to go through the… let's say, the political ambiance of the day within global affairs.  So, we wish we'd have a…  we wish this process was easier and gone faster?  Of course.  But we have to deal with the realities that we're dealing with geopolitically.  And, so, in the meantime, Stephanie Williams is working, and I think the fact that she's been able to move the process this small step, but a very important small step, I think, is a testament to the authority she has and the work she's been doing.

Okay.  Who do I have?  I have Mohsen from IRNA, I believe.  Mohsen Taherzadeh, do you want to go ahead and ask your question?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, yes.  An urgent virtual informal meeting of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country will be held on Friday.  That seems is about some restrictions on some diplomats and missions.  Has the Secretary‑General had any contact to host country or has…  he has any comment to solve this political problem?

Spokesman:  Sure.  There…  obviously, I can confirm there will be a meeting of the Host Country Committee this Friday virtually to discuss, among other matters, the issue of travel restrictions, as you mentioned.  For our part, we remain very concerned about the issues some Permanent Missions are facing, including with respect to visas and travel restrictions.  Senior officials, at all levels, including the Secretary‑General, are engaged with the host country authorities to find solutions to this issue under the framework of the Headquarters Agreement.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The UN is a member of the Quartet, and there was call by the Russian Federation for a meeting of the Quartet to meet on the issue of annexation, which is just 27 days ago…  away from us.  Why the SG is waiting for someone else to call for the meeting of the Quartet since the UN is an integral part of the Quartet?  Isn't he going to be…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I don't think the SG is waiting.  I would refer you back to what Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov said in his open…  the open meeting of the Security Council calling for the Quartet to meet.  Obviously, every other… other parties need to…  I mean, everyone who's involved in any structure needs to agree, but I don't have anything I'm able to share with you at this point on what is a very important question, indeed.

Question:  Did he initiate any contact with members of the Quartet?  Is he going to be…

Spokesman:  Yes, he has been in touch with members of the Quartet, actively so.

Question:  And there is no…

Spokesman:  With…  when there is something to…  like with everything that we talk about here, when there's something to confirm and to announce, we shall do so.

Nizar.  Welcome back, Nizar.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's good to see you again.

I have a question regarding the five tankers which Iran has sent to Venezuela carrying petrol.  How does the United Nations view such a move, especially that Venezuela is suffering from very dire economic circumstances?

Spokesman:  We have no comment to make on what is essentially a bilateral issue.

Question:  And about the host country here, do you think that, given the circumstances and the uprising which happened in America, that there is a risk against missions or the UN Headquarters as a result of the protests and sometimes violent protests?

Spokesman:  A security risk?

Question:  Yes, security risk.

Spokesman:  No, I think…  first of all, we've been…  our security chiefs have been in contact regularly with the NYPD (New York Police Department) and with the US federal authorities to make sure they're fully apprised of what going on in the streets.  We have full confidence in the Federal authorities, in the NYPD, to protect, as they've always done, both the UN and the Permanent Missions.

Question:  And residents of each one of them?

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  And the residents of the missions…?

Spokesman:  I think I have no…  we're fully confident in the…  in our host city and our host country to do their job in that regard. 

And I must congratulate you on your roses behind you, if that's, in fact, real and not a virtual background.  Good job.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Gloria, you have a question.

Question:  …of creative fundraising for Yemen, you have 20,000 foundations in the UN, many of them could unleash funds under the circumstances of this crisis, or is it only countries that can create funds for this particular problem you're having with Yemen?

Spokesman:  Oh, I think there are ways for the public to donate through the US Committee for UNICEF, through various national committees of UN agencies, as well as the United Nations Foundation.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  I think it's very important that the audience out there realizes this.

Spokesman:  Indeed.  Indeed.  Thank you.

All right.  Any other questions?  All right.  Hasta mañana

Correspondent:  I just have a follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Yes, yes, yes.

Question:  I asked you yesterday if the SG would be participating in tomorrow's meeting on…

Spokesman:  Nizar, it's my bad.  I have to… I'm sorry.  I completely dropped the ball.  I'll let you know.  We'll send you an email after the briefing.

Correspondent:  Thank you so much.

Spokesman:  Cheers.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.