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

4 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.  I hope you can see me.  As Tommy would say in the musical, if you can see me, you can hear me.  Good afternoon and happy Thursday, which otherwise is known as Don’t Forget to Turn Off Your Mics Day.

**Secretary-General — Vaccines

Starting off with the Secretary-General.  This morning, in a video message played to Gavi’s [Vaccine Alliance] Global Vaccine Summit, the Secretary-General noted that COVID-19 is the greatest public health crisis of our generation, and he called for global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to the vaccine.  The Secretary-General stressed the need to make three key commitments.  First, he said we must find safe ways to continue delivering vaccinations, even as COVID-19 spreads.  Second, we must use the networks of vaccine delivery to deliver a range of other primary health services.  And lastly, when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, we must make sure it reaches everyone.

**Security Council Peacekeeping

This morning, the Security Council heard a briefing on peacekeeping, and was given presentations by the Force Commanders of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and from the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  Also briefing today was the Head of the Department of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.  He reminded Council members that, as the world is facing the challenges of COVID-19, so is peacekeeping.  He paid tribute to the peacekeepers, civilian, military and police, who have shown dedication and commitment as they continue to carry out their mandates in the best way possible, given the constraints imposed on them by the pandemic.  Over the past few months, he added, peacekeeping operations have shown their capacity to adapt.  The peacekeepers’ response has been guided by four main objectives:  first, protecting our personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations; second, containing and mitigating the spread of the virus; third, supporting national authorities in their response; and fourth, protecting vulnerable communities while delivering on mandate implementation.

**Security Council — Sudan

The Security Council also adopted a resolution to establish the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS.  It is never a good day at the UN when we don’t get another acronym – UNITAMS.  The resolution says the new Mission will assist the political transition, progress towards democratic governance in the protection and promotion of human rights and sustainable peace.  The Mission will also support peace processes and implementation of future peace agreements, as well as assist peacebuilding, civilian protection and rule of law, in particular in Darfur and the Two Areas.  The resolution also says that the Mission will support the mobilization of economic and development assistance and coordination of humanitarian assistance.  Also, this morning the Council extended the mandate of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, or UNAMID, until 31 December of this year.

**COVID-19 — UN Peacekeeping

We have another update on the support provided by peacekeeping missions to the pandemic response in the countries where we operate.  In Darfur, in fact, the UN-AU mission there donated medical equipment and material to the Zalingei Teaching Hospital, located in Central Darfur.  The mission also supported the national prison authorities by disseminating information materials on virus prevention in places of detention.  Through its Rule of Law Division, the mission worked on the development of contingency plans to handle virus cases in prisons, including designating isolation areas in detention centres.  And in the Central African Republic, work continues to implement the mandate of the peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA).  This week, in Bangui, young recruits of the National Gendarmerie received a training on gender-based sexual violence, conducted by UN police officers.

**COVID-19 Mozambique

And turning to a couple of other countries where we are working with the Government on containing the pandemic:  In Mozambique, the UN and our humanitarian partners launched today two plans to respond to increasing humanitarian needs in the country.  The appeals seek over $103 million to support the Government-led response efforts.  The aim is to provide life-saving assistance to more than 3.3 million people impacted by the humanitarian consequences of COVID-19, as well as recurrent climate shocks and the increasing violence in the Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique.

In Cabo Delgado, the Rapid Response Plan will prioritize the urgent needs of more than 350,000 people in the province, including 211,000 who have been displaced by the increasing violence.  The wave of armed attacks in the region since October 2017 have escalated significantly since the beginning of the year.  And that is leaving tens of thousands of people without adequate access to food, water, sanitation or any basic services.  For the rest of the country, $68 million is requested to support the health response to COVID-19 and also to provide humanitarian assistance, as well as protection to vulnerable groups whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic.

**COVID-19 Eswatini

And in the Kingdom of Eswatini, where we have seen 295 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 201 patients having fully recovered and three deaths reported so far, the UN team there, which has been led by Resident Coordinator Nathalie Ndongo-She, continues to work with the Government, the people, and partners to flatten the curve and address the impacts of the pandemic.  The World Health Organization (WHO) helped authorities update the COVID-19 Response Plan, including boosting contact tracing.  Ahead of schools reopening on 1 July, WHO is preparing teachers and school staff on how to prevent and control the virus.  The UN is also supporting the Government’s communications efforts to reach out to communities and families, especially in hotspots across the country.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has helped train more than 4,000 community health volunteers and has also worked to improve health facilities accommodating COVID-19 patients with mobile showers, toilets and handwashing facilities.  For its part, the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have donated dignity and basic hygiene packs, water and sanitation supplies for children, youth and women in prisons and other detention facilities.  For its part, UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) has donated 5,000 hygiene packs to people living with HIV.  To combat misinformation and share fact-based, verified information, the UN team is also working closely with senior editors and reporters in Eswatini.

**COVID-19 Bangladesh

And from Bangladesh, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) confirms to us that a 71-year-old Rohingya man is the first refugee in Cox’s Bazar to die from COVID-19.  The humanitarian community is deeply sad to learn this development and sends its condolences to the families and the wider Rohingya community.  Some 30 other people have tested positive so far but, as testing is still ramping up, it’s likely that the numbers are higher and there may have been others who have died of virus-related health issues.  Aid workers are striving around the clock to ensure that testing is available to refugees and that those who have COVID-19 have adequate facilities in place to care for them.  They are also working to ensure contact tracing and quarantine of those who may have been exposed.  UNHCR has built isolation centres and stepped up its efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.  And more than 3,000 refugees have also been trained in Early Warning Alert and Response procedures to identify and refer potential cases.  UNHCR says that the Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Crisis is only 26 per cent funded.

**COVID-19 Learners with Disabilities

And our colleagues and friends at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today say that they have joined their partners in the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) to raise awareness on the urgent need to mitigate the impact of school closures due to COVID-19 on learners with disabilities.  As many as half of the estimated 65 million primary and lower secondary-school age children with disabilities in developing countries were already out of school before the pandemic started.  The Secretary-General said that they face a lack of accessible public health information.  They also face significant barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures and to accessing health facilities.  He added that girls and women with disabilities in particular face greater risks, such as domestic violence.

**Food Price Index

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that global commodity food prices fell for the fourth consecutive month in May, as supplies appear strong and demand weakens due to economic contractions triggered by the pandemic.  The FAO Food Price Index averaged 162.5 points in May — that is 1.9 per cent below the previous month.  It was the lowest reading of the Index since December 2018.

**Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

And today we mark the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.  We acknowledge the pain suffered by children who are victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.  The day also serves to reaffirm our commitment to protect children, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

**World Environment Day

And tomorrow is World Environment Day.  This year’s theme is “Time for Nature”.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that to care for humanity, we must care for nature.  He stresses that we need our entire global community to change course and adds that, as we work to build back better, we need to commit to a green and resilient future and put nature where it belongs — at the heart of our decision-making.  This year’s host for the Day is Colombia.  The theme seeks to both educate the public about the value that our natural world provides, as well as stress the urgency of protecting it.  You can find a list of digital activities planned online and follow on social media with the hashtag #ForNature.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

And tomorrow, after my briefing, we will be delighted to welcome our friend Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.  She will be here on this same platform to brief you.  All right.  I’ve managed to get through my bit of the briefing.  I will now see if I can find some hands raised.  Let’s move… let’s go to the chat.  Okay.  Oh, there we go.  I was pretty bad during… the video was bad.  All right.  James has a question or two.  What a surprise.  James, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah.  I wanted first to ask you about quite important developments in Libya where the GNA (Government of National Accord) seemed to have made significant military victories in the south of Tripoli.  They now are saying the siege of Tripoli is over.  What is the UN’s reaction to those military developments?

Spokesman:  We continue to be concerned by the violence that we’re seeing on the ground.  Our focus, the Mission’s focus is on the talks that have begun to re‑establish the ceasefire in line with the 5+5 format talks.  As you know, yesterday, our colleagues in the Mission spoke to the LNA (Libyan National Army) side, and they should be speaking to the GNA side in the next few days or shortly, and we hope that does move forward.  So, our focus remains on find… on getting the parties to agree on a well‑overdue cessation of hostilities.

Question:  Okay.  My next question is about Hong Kong.  There’s been a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the spokesperson there, in Beijing about — historical, I know, but — the British‑China joint declaration, which is deposited at the UN, saying that was a unilateral policy announcement by China, not a promise from China to the UK and even less so an international commitment.  Just from the UN’s point of view, as you hold this document, is this document, in the UN’s view, an international treaty, and are the signatories bound by it?

Spokesman:  Look, we are… the fact that we are depositories of the document and it was registered with us does not imply that we have a role to play within it, and that’s all I’m able to say at this…

Question:  And, in terms, though, of… this is clearly an issue of international dispute, and what the UK is saying and what China is saying, what the US is involved, all sorts of major Powers involved in this, they have a dispute.  What is the UN’s position about the status of Hong Kong and the new security law?  Because I’ve asked you this for over a week now and you… you gave me an initial holding statement.  It would be useful for you to tell me what the UN’s position is.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  On the security law, I think I expressed our position clearly, and you can go back to the transcript.  On… and as far as the UN is concerned, we followed the General… we are guided by the General Assembly’s position on one China.  Okay.  Any other questions?  Let me see if I can’t… trying to see if I can see tiny little hands up.  Edie.  All right.  Edie’s raising her…

Correspondent:  Yeah.  My voice.

Spokesman:  Your voice.  There’s no need to raise your voice, Edie, just your hand.

Correspondent:  Well, I did put two notes in the chat box.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I’m just… I’m still struggling with that.

Question:  A follow‑up on Hong Kong.  Hong Kong today outlawed insulting China’s National Anthem.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?  And after that, I have another question.

Spokesman:  No, I have no particular comment on… at this point, on that… on what was passed in the legislative council.  Go ahead.

Question:  And with some airlines resuming flights, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on what or how airlines should act during the COVID‑19 era?

Spokesman:  I think the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) put out — I believe, yesterday or the day before — a document to guide airlines both in terms of handling… how to handle passengers in‑flight, how to handle cargo, how to handle on‑the‑ground crews and loading.  We would encourage Member States to follow the recommendations laid out by ICAO in order to keep everybody safe.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I was wondering:  the panel today, this morning, about Palestine, it was organized by the UN Committee on Palestinian Inalienable Rights.  It’s a UN body, the Committee.  Why it was not announced in the noon briefing?  Why there was no mention of this?

Spokesman:  It’s… I think, traditionally, we flag meetings of the Security Council that involve resolutions that impact the Secretariat.  We don’t flag every meeting of the Security Council.  We don’t flag every meeting of the General Assembly, and we don’t flag every meeting of any legislative body that occurs.  So, I mean, it has no implication on how we… on the seriousness of the event.  It was a Member State event, but we don’t usually flag every Member State event that takes place.

Correspondent:  It’s a UN Committee event, just to…

Spokesman:  I understand.  It’s… I’m not disputing it’s an official UN Committee.  A lot of committees meet all the time.  We don’t proactively flag all of those meetings, like we don’t proactively flag every meeting of the Security Council.

Question:  As a follow‑up, Mr. Dujarric, there are 24 days… or 26 days left before annexation, and every country in the world or… is talking about this annexation.  We haven’t heard from the Secretary‑General, as it is, from him a statement in the name of the Secretary‑General about this annexation.  I know the, you know, general statement about this position on annexation, but this is a major development.  How can he be silent when there is 30 per cent of Palestinian‑occupied land annexed by Israel?

Spokesman:  Again, you and I are on these parallel roads.  I don’t believe he’s been silent, whether it’s a statement… whether it’s something that I read out or Mr. Mladenov reads out in the Secretary‑General’s name.  I don’t think Nickolay Mladenov could have been clearer in a public meeting of the Security Council in underscoring the Secretary‑General’s grave, grave concern and the grave impact it could have if annexation goes through.  All right.  If anyone has a question, just open your mic, because I’m just not seeing…

Question:  Hi Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, I put a couple of questions in the chat, but I don’t think you’re getting them.  I’ve got two questions.  Can I do one and then one?

Spokesman:  Yes, please, go ahead.

Question:  The first one is continuing with James’ question about Libya.  Sometimes, when it comes to peace talks and negotiations, folks go to the meeting, and we know that nothing’s going to happen.  So, what we sometimes look for is decisive changes in the military situation, and after those, you often see that the motivation for engaging in peace talks changes amongst the parties.  So, given what’s happened in Libya with the retaking of the capital, Tripoli, do you guys… does the UN see this as a moment of opportunity for peace talks that should be seized upon?

Spokesman:  Look, I think… the question you raised is a very interesting one and those for analysts and journalist like you to answer.  I cannot speak to the motivation of the parties.  I mean, we all know what’s going on on the ground.  We all see what’s going on on the ground.  We’re not blind to it.  We have been pushing for these talks to resume.  We have been pushing for a cessation of hostilities, for a ceasefire, since this new wave of violence began more than a year ago.  What motivates the parties is a question you need to ask them, but we are seizing the opportunity, whatever the motivations may be.

Question:  That’s great, Steph.  I thank you.  I’ve got a second question, which is on a different topic.  It’s on Saudi Arabia.  It’s a bit of a slow burn issue.  I’m not sure if you’ve commented on it before, but it’s about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and part of his redevelopment agenda for Saudi Arabia is the construction of this super high‑tech city in the north‑west of the country.  The city is called Neom.  It becomes a human rights issue, because there’s this tribe called the Huwaiti tribe.  They’re kind of like Bedouins in the area.  They say they’re being kicked off the land, and there’s been one incident of a campaigner in the group experiencing what some people have seen as an extrajudicial execution.  Can you guys comment on what’s happening in this Tabuk region of Saudi…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Let me look at the report, James, and we’ll come back to you.  I haven’t heard, but that doesn’t… because I personally have not heard doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the issue, but I will take a look.  All right.  Let’s see if I can make this chat work.  Otherwise, if you have a question…

Correspondent:  Yeah, I have a question.

Spokesman:  Gloria, and then we’ll go to Alan.

Question:  I’m very concerned about the refugee areas, and I’m pleased to know that attention is being paid.  Can we give them more education on nursing and caring for each other and medical?  Is there a way for us to use the refugees?  Some of them, very high level, were sitting there practically rotting doing nothing all day, glad to be able to eat or sleep.  Some of them are brains.  They’re what made America and what made Europe, as a matter of fact.  Those guys, we trained them.

Spokesman:  Gloria, those are very interesting points, and it’s exactly the message from the Secretary‑General in his report he put out yesterday on people on the move, which is… one of the key messages is that communities that host refugees should be using the wealth of know‑how — whether it’s technical or intellectual — that are in these refugee communities.

Correspondent:  I was thrilled to hear that, frankly.  It’s so key.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Alan has a question.  He can’t log on, but he says, was there a Middle East Quartet meeting scheduled for today?  Do you have an update on behalf of the UN?  No, I have no update to share with you on the Middle East Quartet at this point.  Okay.  Any other questions?  Open your mics.  Otherwise, we’ll try to have a better go at it tomorrow.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.