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8 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 to all of you and good afternoon.  Happy Monday, because I think it is Monday.  I hope you all had an enjoyable weekend.  Please don’t forget to mute your microphones.

**Libya

I will start off with the situation in Libya.  In a statement issued by our political mission there, UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) said that it is encouraged by recent calls on the part of Libyan leaders for the resumption of talks with an aim towards ending the fighting and division.  This can pave the way for a comprehensive political solution based on the Libyan Political Agreement and within the framework of the Berlin Conference Conclusions, UN Security Council resolution 2510 (2020), and other relevant resolutions. 

In order for talks to resume in earnest, however, the UN Mission said, the guns must be silenced.  In that light, the Mission welcomes the calls by international and regional actors in recent days for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Libya. The Mission calls on the Libyan parties to engage swiftly and constructively in the 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks in order to reach a lasting ceasefire agreement.  The 5+5 talks must be accompanied by firm implementation of and respect for the recently renewed UN Arms Embargo on Libya.

The Mission remains alarmed by the harm inflicted on civilian population by the continuing cycle of violence.  The recent military movements in Greater Tripoli and in Tarhouna have led to new waves of displacement and suffering of over 16,000 Libyans in just the past few days.

And our humanitarian colleagues inform us that about 18,500 people have been newly displaced this past weekend from Tarhouna and Sirte following the takeover of Tarhouna by the forces aligned with Libya’s Government of National Accord, and in anticipation of further advances on Sirte.

Somebody has the microphone opened, if I could ask you to close it please, because it’s creating feedback.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we are increasingly concerned about rapidly rising food prices in Syria, where more than 11 million women, children and men urgently need humanitarian assistance.  Prices have more than doubled in the last year, rising by 133 per cent across the country.  According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 9.3 million people across Syria are food insecure.  Food prices have continued to soar.  In May, the cost of a standard food basket increased by 11 per cent on average compared to April.  

Idlib was the worst impacted governorate, with the highest food prices recorded across all of Syria.  The food basket in Idlib registered a 30 per cent increase in food prices in just one month.  And at the same time, COVID-19 preventive measures are affecting families’ access to incomes.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture and livestock production has been impacted threatening food security across Syria. 

In the face of these increasing needs, humanitarian operations, including food assistance from WFP, are addressing needs on a massive scale.  Each month, lifesaving food is distributed to 4.5 million people across Syria’s 14 governates. 

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Moving to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN’s Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, has released $40 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to address health emergencies in the DRC.  This announcement comes a few days after a new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, in the north-western province of Équateur.  The funds will be used there, and elsewhere in the country, to strengthen health services, enable follow-up support for Ebola survivors and establish community-based surveillance, alert and rapid response systems.  They will also fund the delivery of food, shelter, water and sanitation support, as well as health, education and protection services. 

What is happening in the DRC is a stark reminder that the global community must not lose focus of humanitarian crises that were present before the COVID-pandemic, said Mr. Lowcock, as he announced the new funding.  Today’s $40 million allocation builds on an earlier $30 million to the DRC provided by the Central Emergency Fund through its underfunded emergencies allocation programme. 

**Chad

From Chad, where there are more than 830 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 70 deaths, the UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Violet Kakyomya, has been working with the Government and partners to tackle the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.  The UN helps broadcast public health service announcements in 17 languages across 20 community radio stations.  We have trained also more than 700 people to carry out community outreach on health and sanitation issues.

The World Food Programme for its part has donated 12 mobile tents with a capacity of 100 beds to the Health Ministry.  With funding of some $22 million from the World Bank, WFP is also providing 17,000 metric tonnes of food for three months to eight provinces.  Also, thanks to funding from the World Bank, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) is supporting 20,000 households in eight provinces by providing seeds and agricultural equipment.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has also donated 30 computers and 30 modems to strengthen the Ministry of Health’s capacity to collect communication and data.

**South Sudan

UN peacekeeping missions are also continuing to support the response to COVID-19. 

In South Sudan, the Mission there (UNMISS) says that, in Eastern Equatoria State, peacekeepers are supporting an organization led by youth to help sensitize local communities on how to stay safe and healthy.

The Mission has distributed face masks, sanitizers, soaps and has installed hand-washing facilities in public places and some border towns. 

**Burundi

And in response to questions about the elections in Burundi, we sent out a note over the weekend expressing that the Secretary-General had taken note of the final results of the presidential and legislative elections, as declared on 4 June by the Constitutional Court of Burundi.  The Secretary-General encourages all parties to continue to promote a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere among all Burundians.  He reiterates the UN’s commitment towards long-term stability and sustainable development in Burundi. 

**Oceans

Today is World Oceans Day.  This year’s theme is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the virtual event to celebrate the Day and said that we have a responsibility to correct our relationship with the oceans.  He added that as we work to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must come together to promote ocean science and the innovations that will save the lifeblood of our planet.  The virtual celebration goes on until 5 p.m. today and there will be keynote speeches, panels, and presentations with ocean activists, including Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau.  You can watch it on the UN WebTV platform. 

In addition, the FAO today released a report which said that worldwide per capita fish consumption has reached a new record of 20.5 kilograms per year, per person, I assume.  Consumption is poised to increase further in the decade ahead, underscoring the ocean’s critical role in global food and nutrition security. 

And the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report highlighting the importance of protecting seagrass meadows, which can be a powerful nature-based solution to the climate crisis. 

**Senior Appointment

I have a personnel announcement for you. 

Today, following consultations with the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Elizabeth Maruma Mrema of [the United Republic of] Tanzania as the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  Since 2019, Ms. Mrema has been the Acting Executive Secretary of the CBD Secretariat.  Prior to that, she served as Director of the Law Division at the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya.  With over two decades of experience at the UN, Ms. Mrema brings to the position extensive experience in global environmental law and policymaking, implementation of environmental and sustainable development programmes, and a deep knowledge of multilateral processes.   

Much more on this on our website.

**Briefing Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow, our guest at the briefing will be Maximo Torero Cullen, the Assistant Director-General of the Economic and Social Development Department of the FAO.  He will brief you on the Secretary-General’s policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on food security.  That brief is going to be shared with you under embargo, and I think the embargo is until tomorrow about this time. 

Let me take your questions and go to the chat.  And I apologise.  I broke my glasses earlier today, so they look a little strange. 

**Questions and Answers

But let's go to Edie, who has a question.  Edie, go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Two questions, actually.  First, is there any update on the meeting of the UN Mission officials for Libya with the GNA (Government of National Accord) delegation, which you said was going to take place in the coming days, in light of the fact that the GNA has rejected a call for a ceasefire by Egypt over the weekend and said it is moving ahead to take…  try to take Sirte, as you mentioned, in the displacement?

Spokesman:  No, indeed.  I have nothing new to tell you except to say that Stephanie Williams, who is the acting Special Representative and, I would say, with the full power and backing of the Secretary‑General, has intensified her outreach with national and international interlocutors to try to de‑escalate the situation.  Her message is simple.  She's urging for a swift return to the three‑track intra‑Libyan dialogue within the context of the Berlin Conference and Security Council resolution [2510 (2020)], and so the contacts are continuing. 

We are working towards a cessation of hostilities and, obviously, are welcoming any efforts and all efforts of calls towards that end.

Question:  I have a second question on Afghanistan.  Taliban officials say they are putting together an agenda for negotiations with the Government in Kabul.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that development?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn't hear the…  I didn't…  you broke up there for a second, if you can go ahead and repeat the question.

Question:  Sure.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban officials are saying that they are putting together an agenda for negotiations with political leaders in Kabul.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that development?

Spokesman:  Well, we, obviously, welcome any positive movement towards an intra‑Afghan dialogue.

Okay.  I'm not seeing any other…  oh.  Toby has a question.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks very much, Stéphane.  I appreciate it.  It's two questions for you.  The first is on Hiroshima Remembrance Day, which is coming up on 6 August, and I'm wondering if the SG plans to attend in person or whether he is thinking about sending a video message or another means of communication. 

And my second question is on Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I've seen a report that says that the peacekeeping mission there might be withdrawing due to…  or be modified in some way due to health facilities that are not up to snuff, and I was wondering if you'd seen that report and if you have any comment on it.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I've not seen that report on the DRC. 

And on your first part, there's…  for obvious reasons, I'm…  there's no SG travel planned as of yet, because we don't know what the situation is.  But, obviously, there will be a message from the Secretary‑General to mark the tragic anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Betul, I got a text from you saying you got a message, so go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Steph.  I have a follow‑up question on Libya.  The UN Libyan Mission said that it was disturbed by the discovery of a number of corpses in one of the retaken Libyan cities and called on the Libyan Government to investigate it, but over the weekend, the Libyan Ambassador to the UN also called for an investigation and called on the UN to do this investigation.  Does the UN have any plans to start an investigation into the killings?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any specific plans.  I know that the Mission called for the Government to do so, as they have the primary responsibility.  Obviously, we're…  as always, if we can support the Government in any way, we will, to conduct an investigation.  But I think this is just another sign of the violence that Libyan civilians have been bearing in the past…  borne in the past year since this new round of violence began and urge…  underscores the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities as quickly as possible.

Pam, go ahead.  Pam?

Correspondent:  You can hear me?  Yeah?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  I think I un‑muted before.  Thanks, Steph.  In terms of what the PGA (President of the General Assembly) just said, at the General Assembly, obviously, mechanics are being worked out.  Does…  will the Secretary‑General be at the UN in person for his presentation in September at the general debate?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  It's…  this is all way too early to tell.  We don't know what the situation will be, but, obviously, if the Secretary…  if…

Question:  He's there anyway.  Right?

Spokesman:  Pam, if the situation allows, I fully expect the Secretary‑General to be physically in the building.  Currently, he comes into the building, I'd say, three to four times a week.  But, obviously, I mean, none of us are in a position to make a prediction as to what September will look like.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Okay?  I don't see any other questions, but if you do have a question, just open your mic.

Correspondent:  Steph, this is Iftikhar.

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  With regard to the extraordinary rise in prices…  in food prices in Syria, is the United Nations or any UN agencies taking any action to help lower the prices or to help to keep them in [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Well, I…  yes and no.  We are, of course, helping millions of Syrians on a regular basis with food aid and any other assistance we can give them.  That's something that we do.  The food…  the price hike is due to market forces and, obviously, to the ongoing conflict.  So, continuing our political support towards the…  continuing our work, there are market forces at play here.  And, so, the fact that the prices are going up are just pushing us to help people more as much as does the World Food Programme.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  Can I ask a question?  About the plastic island that's been floating on the ocean, has that been decreased at all in the last few months?

Spokesman:  I have no clue.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  We shall all see you…  see each other soon, if not before.  Hasta la vista.

For information media. Not an official record.