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5 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 to all of you.  My understanding is that today is Friday, which means that tomorrow is Saturday, and we should have the day off, as well as Sunday.  So here we go.

**Mediation Board

The Secretary-General this morning spoke to the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.  He thanked the members of the Board for their engagement and support, in particular to his global call for a ceasefire.  They discussed possible further efforts in that regard.  The members of the board and the Secretary-General also talked about the impact of COVID-19 on conflict situations and on mediation efforts, as well as some cross-cutting issues such as the role of women and youth leaders.

**COVID-19 — Central America

And in a statement we issued late last night, the Secretary-General said that he looks forward to continued close cooperation of the United Nations with the countries and institutions of the Central American Integration System, otherwise known as SICA, to address the profound socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including on food security, human mobility, gender violence as well as climate change.  The Central American Integration System remains an important framework for regional collaboration at a time when integration is more necessary than ever to respond to the emergency and recover better.

**Security Council — Sahel

And during a Security Council briefing on Peace and Security in Africa this morning, the head of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said that the G5 Sahel joint force is on the right track, although there is still a long way to go.  The pandemic adds another layer of complexity to the already challenging security situation in the Sahel, he added.  Terrorists and other groups in the region are attempting to capitalize on the pandemic to undermine State authority and destabilize Governments.  Attacks on national and international forces continue unabated and the civilian population continues to bear the brunt of the instability.  The Under-Secretary-General said that strengthening the joint force is only one strand in a comprehensive international approach required to tackle the root causes of instability in Mali and the Sahel in the region.  Improving governance, eradicating poverty and protecting human rights of all citizens, including the most disenfranchised, remain critical.  More needs to be done to ensure that such efforts are given the same weight as military operations.

**Peacekeeping

And continuing with peacekeeping, we have a few updates from the field.  In Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) worked on the rehabilitation of the Songobia bridge, using over $90,000 from the Trust Fund for Peace and Security for Mali.  The bridge, which links parts of the Mopti region to Burkina Faso, is a crucial axis for exchanges between the two countries.  Peacekeepers have also provided significant assistance for the creation of the temporary base of the G5 Sahel joint force in Sénou.  This was done in accordance with the Mission’s mandate and with the support of funding from the European Union.

And the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that yesterday, peacekeepers responded to a disruption during a distribution of humanitarian assistance at the PK3 camp for displaced people in Bria.  A police unit from the Mission responded to the incident and secured UN staff and property.  The situation is now reported as calm, although peacekeepers continue to patrol.  The Central African Police is conducting an investigation.  Yesterday’s incident follows tensions with anti-Balaka elements in the camp, including an incident in May of last year.  At the same time, UN peacekeepers attempting to dismantle anti‑Balaka bases inside the premises were targeted by camp residents who threw stones at them.

And their peacekeeping colleagues in southern Lebanon report that primary health dispensaries and a mobile clinic in Tyre Caza, in south-western Lebanon, received sanitary and personal protective equipment, which will help support families living in host communities.  The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) donated more personal protective equipment to four public schools in the south-western area.  And finally, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) tells us that they are funding a legal aid centre, which provides free legal aid to vulnerable groups, specifically women, pensioners, and minority communities.  In response to the pandemic, the centre has also adopted new methods to reach beneficiaries, such as live public television call-in shows, online videos and client sessions.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And back to Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said today that, in the past eight months, about 1,300 civilians have been killed in conflicts involving armed groups and Government forces.  She said she is appalled by the increase in brutal attacks on innocent civilians by armed groups, and by the reaction of the military and security forces who have also committed grave violations, including killings and sexual violence.  Some of the incidents may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, she added.

**COVID-19 — Panama

And in Panama, as the Government leads a process of gradual reopening, the UN team is working with the authorities and other partners to continue saving lives and livelihoods.  Under the leadership of the acting Resident Coordinator, Cesar Nuñez, the UN team has donated personal protection and other medical equipment to the Government’s pandemic response.  With the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as technical lead, we have assessed the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.  UNDP reports that the region expects up to a 25 per cent reduction in tourism.  The Panama Canal Authority received 35 cruise cancellations, abruptly ending the cruise season.  And we have also launched with the Government a communication campaign regarding violence against women.  This is crucial, considering that Latin America and the Caribbean has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.

UN entities, including the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Population Fund (UNFPA), UNDP and UN‑Women, are donating hygiene kits for female detention centres in Panama.  And UNODC and other entities are also supporting the male and juvenile detention centres across the country.  For its part, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working closely with the authorities to guarantee the inclusion of indigenous peoples as part of the Government food security assistance programme.  The Joint UN Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNFPA and UNDP are working closely with the Ministry of Health to guarantee having a continuous supply of life-saving treatment for people living with HIV, and that includes, of course, migrants.  According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures, there are over 14,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Panama and over 350 deaths reported due to COVID-19.

**COVID-19 — Afghanistan

And in Afghanistan, the UN and our humanitarian partners continue to support the Government-led COVID-19 response.  We have helped establish 10 testing laboratories and trained more than 3,200 health‑care workers in infection prevention and control.  We along with our partners reached over 1 million vulnerable people with hygiene kits and hygiene promotion and provided almost 4 million people with soap bars.  We also reached out to around 900,000 people with COVID-19 awareness and prevention measures kits, as well as providing approximately 74,000 people with psychosocial support services to cope with the mental health-related consequences of the disease.  And in addition, 11,000 children have received home-based learning materials.

Apart from that, or in addition to that, aid agencies continue to deliver life-saving assistance in response to ongoing conflict and natural disasters to millions of Afghans, including with food assistance.  We are also, with our partners, revising the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for the country, integrating COVID-19 needs.  The number of people in humanitarian need is now estimated to be 14 million people, up from 9.4 million at the start of the year.  And as of yesterday, Afghanistan had 18,054 confirmed cases of the virus, which includes, sadly, 300 deaths.

**World Environment Day

And today is World Environment Day, and the theme for this year is “Time with Nature”, and it seeks to highlight the importance of protecting the world’s biological diversity.  We shared the Secretary-General’s message yesterday in which he said we must put nature at the heart of our decision making.  Today, the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched its “Race to Zero” that will run up to COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of Parties].  The campaign promotes a healthy, resilient zero‑carbon recovery and brings together a coalition of net‑zero emissions initiatives, covering 992 businesses, 449 cities, 21 regions, 505 universities and 38 of the biggest investors.  And the UNDP today announced the winners of the eleventh Equator Prize, which recognizes indigenous communities from across the world.  The winning organizations showcase innovative, nature-based solutions for tackling biodiversity and loss and climate change.  The winners this year come from Canada, Myanmar, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico and Thailand.  And you can find more about their initiatives online.

**Fishing

Today is also the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.  And according to FAO, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities are responsible for the loss of between 11 and 26 million metric tons of fish each year.  That is estimated to have an economic impact of $10‑23 billion.

**Press Briefings

And following my briefing, we are delighted to welcome back our friend Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  She will answer your questions after I have tried to answer yours.  So, let's see what our friendly chat says or see if I can see any tiny little hands or bigger hands.  Edie, you had a question.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I actually have two questions.  One is on Libya.  The GNA [Government of National Accord] took Tarhunah today, and I wondered if you had any comment on that and any update on a meeting between the UN Mission and the GNA delegation, a follow‑up on the one held with [Khalifa] Haftar's delegation on a ceasefire.  And then I have something after that.

Spokesman:  Sure.  Obviously, we are following extremely closely the rapid developments on the ground in Libya as the fighting is continuing.  I think our concern remains with the impact of the continued violence on civilians, as well as the knock‑on impact forcing further displacements of civilian population.  The Mission calls on all the parties to de‑escalate, to curb incitement and the use of hate speech.  I think it's important to remind the parties of their responsibilities to abide by international human rights law, international humanitarian law.  On the diplomatic front, the Mission's leader, Stephanie Williams, is continuing her engagements with the parties and this, as we've been mentioning, within the framework of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.  There's an existing draft ceasefire agreement that was presented to the parties in February.  And that, for us, constitutes the most solid basis for a resumption of the discussions between both parties involved in this conflict and to bring an end to the fighting.  Your second question, Edie.  Sorry.  I can't hear you.  There we go.  Go ahead.

Question:  What about a day for the meeting between Stephanie Williams and the delegation from the Government?  You said it was going to be in the coming days.

Spokesman:  In the coming days.  Yeah, so, we're still… within the UN lingo, I think we're still within the framework of what constitutes the coming days.  As soon as we have something, I will let you know.

Question:  My second question is, what is the United Nations doing, if anything, to pursue a meeting of the Quartet to follow up on… on…?

Spokesman:  Discussions are ongoing, being led by Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov from the region, and as soon as we have something to announce, I will let you know.

Question:  Does that mean… does that mean that he actually is trying to put together some kind of a meeting?

Spokesman:  I think we… as we've said publicly, we think there would be a benefit from having a Quartet meeting.  James Bays.  Sorry.  James?

Question:  Okay.  I have a different question, but I'm going to follow up on that.  Does the Secretary‑General and Mr. Mladenov, then, believe it is imperative to have that Quartet meeting before what seems to be the clear deadline, which is July, and the date that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu says he is going to carry out annexation of parts of the West Bank?

Spokesman:  I think we would like to see a Quartet… I think we'd all benefit from a Quartet meeting happening as soon as possible.

Question:  Follow‑up question on Hong Kong.  A group of parliamentarians from Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand have issued a statement saying that they would like to see the UN set up and the Secretariat set up a Special Envoy on Hong Kong.  What is the Secretary‑General's view on that?  And again, what is the Secretary‑General's view on the joint declaration and whether the provisions in it are binding?

Spokesman:  Okay.  On the Sino‑UK treaty, I think I'll need to go into a bit more detail than what I said yesterday.  The Sino‑British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong, which I remember is from [1984], is a bilateral treaty that has been registered with the Secretariat under Article 102 of the Charter.  This only confers upon the Secretariat the obligation to register and publish the treaty, which was done, but nothing more, and in particular, there are no obligations to interpret it or even have a view on it.  And just to put… I think, just to put this in perspective, under Article 102 of the Charter, there are more than 73,000 bilateral or multilateral treaties that have been registered or filed or recorded with the Secretariat.  So, the interpretation of the Sino‑British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong is strictly up to the parties who have signed on to it.

Question:  Before you answer the other point, you are referring to it as a treaty.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman has referred it not, said the declaration was a unilateral policy announcement by China, trying to seem to rewrite history.  The UN does consider…?

Spokesman:  I think my… the words that I used were very clear.

Question:  And my second question, on the group of parliamentarians calling for a UN Special Envoy now on Hong Kong.

Spokesman:  Look, we haven't received anything, as far as I'm aware, officially.  There are procedures and precedents on the appointment of… and I speak here in very general terms, on the appointment of Special Envoys, Special Representatives and I will… and obviously, involves all the parties involved in that issue, but I will leave it at that.  Let's see.  Who else had a question?  Mohsen, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you perfectly.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you.  I'm not sure if other friends have asked this question or not, but my question is, what's the United… Mr. Secretary‑General's view of what is happening in the United States against press and journalists and other innocent citizens?  Does he consider this behaviour as a violation of human rights or not?

Spokesman:  Look, we have already spoken on that.  The Secretary‑General, I think, has mentioned that in his tweets, and this is… our position really is the same globally, is that people have a fundamental right to demonstrate peacefully, that the law enforcement should use restraint, and… but there is a fundamental right of peaceful demonstration that needs to be respected all over the world and that… it's not a… this is something we say whenever we get asked about demonstrations and violence.  On the case of media, we've been very clear that a media that is not only free but is free to be able to do its job is critical to any democracy, and whenever media are attacked, anywhere around the world, those cases need to be fully investigated.  Toby?

Question:  Hi there, Steph.  I was wondering just if you'd seen any reports about any of the delegations from the Democratic Republic of the Congo withdrawing from any UN bodies.  I'm sorry.  I don't have any more information than that right now.  I was just wonder…?

Spokesman:  No, but if you have… if you come back to me with a little tiny bit more information to give me some sort of direction in which to look at, I would be pleased to do so.  Gloria?

Question:  Will there be any contribution in Myanmar to the refugees in Bangladesh?  Their conditions, environmental, are the worst in the world, and they could at least give some funding as prize winners.

Spokesman:  I don't know, but we can check.  But, I don't know, but there's a humanitarian appeal for Myanmar, which we… which is, unfortunately, underfunded and which we would urge people to contribute, as well.

Correspondent:  But, that's why I felt it's a motive for them as prize winners to celebrate instead of serving champagne and caviar.

Spokesman:  Well, I'm not sure champagne and caviar is on the menu.  At least not on the menu.  All right.  I don't see any more questions in the chat, but we've had problems with the chat.  Abdelhamid, I see you trying to say something.  So, please go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  Today is 5 June and the fifty-third anniversary of the 5 June war, and UN has been involved with this…?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn't… is the anniversary of what war?

Correspondent:  1967.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  5 June, so 53 years.  UN has been dealing with the consequences of this war.  It has passed many resolutions, especially 242, which acknowledges that the reality of acquisition of land by force.  Is it worth that the SG issues a statement on this important occasion?

Spokesman:  Look, I think we all recognize the impact of the various wars that have taken place in the region, and I think all those wars, which have led to many, many victims, is a motivation for us to continue our work and to continue to move forward to find peace for Israelis, for Palestinians and based on the two‑State solution.  And that has remained our principle, and that remains the framework for our work as we move forward.

Question:  Isn't it wise to reflect on the UN failure, 53 years of occupation and almost nothing left for the Palestinian to establish the two‑State solution or to establish their own independent State?

Spokesman:  I'm always happy to enter into a long discussion with you, but I think it depends what you mean… I think there's whose failure, what part of the UN you are talking about.  What I can tell you is, on the part of the Secretariat, the part of the Secretary‑General, he has not given up hope.  And there are many times where people could have… on the Secretary‑General's end, people could have thrown up their arms, but that's not the case.  And I think, if you see what Mr. Mladenov have been saying over the past… since he took office and his predecessors, for that matter, we continue to push forward.  We continue to… but this has to be a partnership with all the parties involved and, as well, with all those who have an influence on the parties.  All right…

Question:  Sorry.  Stephane, I have another issue.  It's also today the third anniversary of the blockade on Qatar by the other Gulf States and Egypt.  And the UN was involved with every stage of this crisis, and today, the Emir of Kuwait is renewing his effort.  Has the SG tried to reach out to the Emir of Kuwait, maybe see if the UN can at least encourage the parties to talk to each other?

Spokesman:  I think that has been our message since the beginning, and we would like to see this resolved.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Stéphane, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Thanks.  You read out a report from Michelle Bachelet, the UN rights chief, about the killing of 1,300 people by armed groups and security forces.  Could you… I don't have the report.  I just heard it from you.  Does she name the areas or the countries where this killing took place?

Spokesman:  This is as it relates to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We can send you the link to the full report.

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  James, you're either blocking me or waving at me.  I can't figure it out.

Question:  I'm waving at you, because I thought I'd have another Friday question, if that's okay.  And my question is about the UN re‑opening.  I know your position on this.  I know that you're waiting for the authorities in New York.  I know that some ambassadors on the Security Council, the Germans, who have the Presidency next month, and the Russians would like the Council re‑opened.  I've asked this before, but I wondered if you could update us.  Can you tell us what preparations are going on in preparation for a re‑opening?  When… I come into the building every day, and it's clear, for example, there are signs now marked on the floor to show six‑feet spacing.  There are signs on the elevators.  Give us an idea of the sort of work that's going on, because one assumes a building this large with the number of people that come through it is quite an undertaking.  And also give us an idea of the various different departments involved.  Who is leading this effort?

Spokesman:  Well, it's going through a kind of Senior Emergency Management Group, which is a crisis group, which exists just for this with inputs from various departments, obviously guided by the medical authorities, in close contact with New York.  They will meet again very soon to give some guidance to the Secretary‑General as to when to move to a next step, which could see a kind of phased re‑opening.  We're identifying staff that is kind of critical — staff that would need to be in the building.  It will, obviously, depend on the wishes of Member States.  But, as you well observed, preparations are under way in terms of signage, in terms of workspaces, but we're taking it kind of… I don't want to say one day at a time, but one phase at a time.  We don't want to rush this, but we do want to be able to move forward when we feel it is safe to have an uptick in the number of people that will be allowed in the building at any one time.

Question:  Would it be possible at some point to get one of those people from this emergency committee to brief us on the plans?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I'll see what we can do.  Maybe we could do something just kind of on background so just to give you a sense.  That would be… we'll work on that.  All right.  Edie?

Question:  Just that I echo what James said and if we could get background briefing, that would be great.  And just a reminder, any progress on having a press conference with the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we're moving in the right direction.  That's what I'll say.  At least we're not moving in reverse.  All right.  Wave now or forever hold your peace and, otherwise, I will hand it over to the lovely Reem.  All right, Reem, all yours.

Correspondent:  Happy weekend.

Spokesman:  You, too.

Correspondent:  Happy weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.