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9 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 one and all, and I am sorry for being a bit later than usual.  I am just trying to do many things at once, and we are coming back to here live from the building, from my office.  So, please remember to mute to microphones.  If you want to ask a question, use the chat function, but send the message to me by name and not the host, because the host is actually our friendly technician.

**Secretary-General’s Letter to Staff

As you have seen in a note to correspondents that we shared with you just a few minutes ago, in a letter to UN staff today, the Secretary-General said that the position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear:   this scourge violates the United Nations Charter and debases our core values.   Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity, and combat racism in all its manifestations.

The Secretary-General added that the recent guidance issued by the Ethics Office and relevant Departments does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism.  To the contrary, he said, there is no ban on personal shows of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity; rather, the guidance was meant to emphasize the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgement as international civil servants and our official duties.

He recalled that the United Nations has a proud record of fighting racism and all forms of discrimination, from our leading role in the struggle against apartheid to the welcome extended to Dr. Martin Luther King.  The full letter from the Secretary-General to staff has been made available to you, as well as the transcript of his opening remarks to the staff, in the staff meeting he held last week.

**Food Security

And in a message released today to mark the release of his new policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition, the Secretary-General said that there is more than enough food in the world to feed our population of 7.8 billion people, but more than 820 million people are hungry.  And some 144 million children under the age of 5 are stunted.  That is more than one in five children worldwide.  Our food systems are failing, the Secretary-General says, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse.  This year, he says, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

The policy brief has three clear findings:  First, we must mobilize to save lives and livelihoods, focusing attention where the risk is most acute.  Second, we must strengthen social protection systems for nutrition.  Third, we must invest in the future and build food systems that better address the needs of food producers and workers.  And following my briefing to you, we will hear from two speakers who will discuss the policy brief on food security in greater detail.  First, we will hear from Maximo Torero Cullen, the Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development Department at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  And after that, we’ll hear from Arif Husain, the Chief Economist at the World Food Programme (WFP).  Both organizations are based in Rome, of course.

**South Sudan Humanitarian

And staying on with the World Food Programme:  Our colleagues at the WFP tell us that, for the first time since 2018, it has been able to send a humanitarian convoy from Kenya directly into South Sudan through the Nadapal Border crossing.  The nine-truck convoy carried some 280 metric tons of food.  That is enough to feed 20,000 people for a month.  The reopening of this route cuts travel times in half and will speed up the delivery of aid to hard-hit areas of South Sudan before most roads close during the rainy season.  WFP had delivered millions of tons of cargo through the route before deliveries were discontinued because of poor road conditions, as well as insecurity.  WFP said that we need to keep both humanitarian and commercial cargo flowing if we are to stand a chance to reduce the threat posed by a deadly combination of hunger and COVID-19.

**Syria

Moving on to Syria:  Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about the safety and protection of 4 million civilians in north-west Syria where the first air strikes since the 5 March ceasefire have been reported in the last few days.  This morning, several communities in southern Idlib Governorate were reportedly impacted by air strikes.  This follows reported air strikes yesterday among communities in southern Idlib Governorate and a community in northern Hama Governorate.  There are no reports of casualties, but civilians have reportedly left the areas that were impacted.  The scale of the displacement remains unclear. 

The reported air strikes add to the ongoing reports of artillery shelling, which in the last day also affected communities in those two Governorates.  The UN once again calls on all parties to heed the calls by the Secretary-General and UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen for a full ceasefire, as an essential measure to enable communities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.  We also continue to remind all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure as required by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

**Lebanon

And in next door Lebanon, with the support of donors, we are continuing to assist the Government of Lebanon in responding to the Syria crisis, under the leadership of the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan.  In early May, the acting Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (Claudio Cordone) launched a three-month $350 million Lebanon Emergency Appeal to help people at risk due to COVID-19, and its impact, including vulnerable Lebanese.  Lebanon is included in the Global Humanitarian Response Plan.  More than $9 million has been raised to date via the Response Plan to support the Lebanon Emergency Appeal.  Donor outreach continues to ensure adequate support for the plan.  And a note that at the end of June, the European Union and us, we will co-host the Brussels IV donor conference, where additional financial pledges will be made to support ongoing humanitarian activities in Syria, Lebanon and the wider region.

**South Sudan Peacekeeping

And from South Sudan, the Head of the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMISS), David Shearer, has warned today that stepped-up intercommunal clashes are harming civilians and could unravel the peace agreement.  Between January and May of this year, the UN Mission says there have been 415 violent incidents between communities, nearly a four-fold increase from the same period last year.  While fighting between political parties has dropped as factions are broadly respecting the ceasefire, the current outbreak of violence could threaten the fragile peace.

Mr. Shearer also noted that much of the lawlessness stems from political parties failing to agree on the appointment of governors and local authorities in 10 states.  Mr. Shearer strongly urged the Government and others to compromise and agree on these critical positions so the states can take steps forward to prevent conflict, build peace, and assist with the pandemic response.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, earlier today in the community of Pougol, in the country’s north-west, unidentified armed men attacked a checkpoint jointly operated by UN peacekeepers and the army of the Central African Republic.  Two Cameroonian peacekeepers were injured.  In response to the attack, the UN Mission (MINUSCA) dispatched a robust patrol from Paoua to Pougol and the situation is now stable.  Also today, east of Bouar (in the Nana-Mambare prefecture), combatants from the armed group known as 3R attacked the camp of a Special Mixed Security Unit and slightly injured 14 trainees.  The UN Mission is engaging with the guarantors of the Political Agreement, the local authorities and the 3R leadership to defuse tensions.  Peacekeepers have also intensified patrols in the area.

Staying with the same country, yesterday, the African Union, the Economic Community of the Central African States, the European Union and the Head of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, held a videoconference to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the political and security situation in the country, as well as an update on the implementation of the peace agreement.  They jointly condemned recent violence and also encouraged the President of the Central African Republic to engage in an inclusive dialogue with all parties ahead of elections later this year.

**COVID-19 Democratic Republic of the Congo

Some reports on UN assistance to the pandemic:  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there (MONUSCO) continues to support the authorities, including through community-awareness activities, to put in place preventive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.  The Joint Human Rights Office has donated personal protective equipment, including handwashing kits, infrared thermometers, masks, and sanitizer as part of a pilot project to help prevent spread of the virus in Goma’s military prisons.  And Radio Okapi, the UN radio station, is also continuing its six-month distance learning programme for 22 million students who are currently at home.  This is done in partnership with the Ministry of Education and our friends at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).

**Gender and Climate

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN-Women and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) today released a joint report that shows that women on the frontlines of climate action are playing a vital role in conflict prevention and sustainable, inclusive peace.  The report says there is an urgent need for gender-responsive action to tackle these linked crises.  This can be done by strengthening the role of women in the management of natural resources, which also creates opportunities for them to act as peacebuilders and to manage conflicts non-violently.  You can find the full report online.

**Briefings Tomorrow

And last but not least, tomorrow, the Secretary-General will convene an extraordinary meeting of his Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, known as GISD for short.  The event is entitled “COVID-19:  Response and Recovery”.  And at the briefing, our guests will include Mahmoud Mohieldin, the Special Envoy on Financing 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Leila Fourie, the CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Co-chair of the GISD.

After that, you will hear from Dan Thomas, Chief of Communications & Strategic Events of the UN Global Compact, who will brief on the Global Compact Leaders’ Summit, in which several Heads of State will join chief executive officers and more than a dozen UN officials to address the private sector’s response to COVID-19, inequality and the climate crisis.  More than 12,000 participants have already registered.

**Financial Contribution

And we end on a positive note today.  We are up to 96 Member States who are fully paid up.  And the last one to do so is Botswana.  So, thanks to our friends in Gaborone for paying up, always appreciated.  All right.  Let’s see if we have any questions.  I need some glasses.  All right.  Ibtisam, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  So, my question is regarding the Secretary-General’s letter to staff.  So, there was an article in Foreign Policy, I’m sure you’re aware, that stated that the Secretary-General actually banned staff to participate in demonstrations.  Is this letter a reverse to the ban, or can you clarify?

Spokesman:  I think… I’m not sure the article said that the Secretary-General banned anything.  There was ethic… guidance issued by the Ethics Office.  I think it was important for the Secretary-General to clarify what was said and put it in very simple terms.  The ethics guidance was based on existing staff rules and regulations.  It was correct.  But I’ll… and if you don’t mind, I’ll read it again so that it’s clear.  This is what the Secretary-General says in his letter to staff, that the guidance issued by the Ethics Panel and relevant departments does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the race of racism.  To the contrary, there is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity, rather than… rather, the guidance was meant to emphasize the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgement and our responsibilities as international civil servants in our official duties.

Question:  Okay.  I have a follow-up, and then another question about Yemen.  But the follow-up:  Does that mean that UN staff are allowed or can participate in demonstrations in New York or not?

Spokesman:  First of all, I think the issue that we’re seeing, demonstrations against racism, is very much a global phenomenon.  The fight against racism is not one that is limited to the United States.  I mean, we’ve seen it all in many parts of the world.  And even without these… prior to these demonstrations, the fight against racism is one that concerns all of us and it concerns every country.  I don’t know how much more clear I can say it.  There is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they’re carried out entirely in a private capacity, so it’s about using people’s best judgements as international civil servants, not interfering in our official duties and obviously, very important, following the laws of the places where we are.

Question:  Okay.  I have a question about Yemen.  Given the fact that you have a shortage of financing, at least $1 billion, do you have an idea now about the services that you are… the programmes that you are going to cut, or maybe you have to cut?  Or do you have more updates on that?

Spokesman:  No.  We’re continuing to look at programmes.  We’re trying to get an update from our friends at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), but it’s clear that the money that was received has not been enough, and we are working hard with those countries that have made pledges to make sure those pledges are turned into cash.  Okay.  Who else had a question? Edie, and then Benny.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Hold on a second, I’ve sort of lost… go to Benny first for a second.

Spokesman:  I don’t want to go to Benny.  All right, Benny.  I never want to go to Benny.

Question:  I understand.  “I don’t want to go to Chelsea” was the song, I think.  Anyway, so there was an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report on Iran and blocking some access to inspectors.  The SG is going to have his own report pretty soon, I understand.  Any comment as of yet?

Spokesman:  I mean, we obviously as we’ve always done is to call on Iran to abide by its obligations to the IAEA, and the Secretary-General will fulfil his reporting obligations, as he’s been tasked for by the Security Council.

Question:  Will he include the findings of the IAEA?

Spokesman:  You and I will have to wait… read the report.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I’m better.  I lost all my pictures, sorry.  I have two questions.  First, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the arrest of Sudanese militia leader Ali Kushayb, who is apparently on his way to the International Criminal Court (ICC)?  And secondly, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the death today of the President of Burundi, Mr. [Pierre] Nkurunziza, from a heart attack?

Spokesman:  We’ve seen the reports.  We’re obviously saddened by the death of the President.  We send our condolences to his family, to the Government, to the people of Burundi.  We will have a more official statement soon.  You know, we’ve seen the reports on Ali Kushayb.  Obviously, as you know, the ICC is independent from us, but it fulfils a very important role in the respect of international law, and in the fight against impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, so we look forward to this process.  Joe Klein?

Question:  Yes, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you… there, I can see you, as well.  It’s nice to see you, Joe.  It’s been a long time.

Question:  Yeah, I’m kind of teched out.  But, anyway… actually, the… my original question was already asked, but just from a little different perspective.  You mentioned the Secretary-General’s strong statement condemning racism.  Is he considering using his moral authority platform to do an interview, perhaps, on television, or some kind of worldwide broadcast or other means so that his statement gets more prominence?  And also, perhaps set forth some programmic… programme ideas as to how racism can be combated?  And then I have another related question.

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary-General regularly does interviews.  We do expect him to do some sort of a press stakeout or conference in the not-so-distant future with you.  This is an issue… I mean, he gave an interview to a major radio station today that will be broadcast later.  I think his message was very clear then.  He’s been talking about racism, about discrimination, for quite a long time.  And obviously, the fight against racism, the fight against discrimination, is something that is embedded in the work of the United Nations, whether it’s on our human rights work, whether it’s on what we’ve been talking about in terms of COVID, to make sure there is equal access to therapeutics, to health care for everyone, that no one suffers from any discrimination.  So, this is obviously a topic that’s very much in the news, but it is also something… it’s been a fight that he’s been involved in for a long time.  Your second question.

Question:  Am I on mute?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  You can?  Okay.  Yeah, my second question is again, you talked about employees of the UN, if I understood you correctly, would be able to participate individually, without indicating their association with the UN, in peaceful protests.  On social media, if someone working for the UN were to express his or her own… his or her opinions on the current debate, [George] Floyd’s killing and all the related issues about…

Spokesman:  I’m having trouble hearing you.  You’re very garbled, Joe.

Question:  Okay.  I guess… can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, much better.

Question:  Okay.  I’ll make the question shorter.  I’m going back to your statement, as I understood it, that UN employees can participate in peaceful marches, so long as they do so in their individual capacity and do not associate themselves publicly with the United Nations in participating in those marches.  I’m wondering if, on social media, would that distinction still apply?  Or could employees, even using their UN social media facilities, express their opinions in a civil manner on these issues, including allegations of police abuse and suggestions for reform?

Spokesman:  It’s about people using their judgement, understanding their role as civil… international civil servants.  Obviously, staff members who want to express their personal views on any given situation pertaining to the purposes, interests, activities of the UN can amplify the UN’s official positions on these matters through their own social media channels.  You know, there… no one can remain impartial or neutral in the fight against racism.  We have a duty as international civil servants; we have laid out in various staff guidelines; we have duties as human beings, as well, to speak up, but we’re also, I think, privileged enough, for those of us who work at the UN, to be able to fight against discrimination, to fight against racism through our own work, through the work that we do every day here at the United Nations.  And I think there was misinterpretation of what the Secretary-General had said at the town hall meeting, and that’s why we put out the full transcript of his remarks.  There was misinterpretation of what the ethics panels had put out.  You know, there is no gag order.  There are rules and regulations of people who work for this institution they should respect, but the bottom line is that no one can… should be expected to remain impartial or neutral in the face of racism.  All right.  Let’s see.  Abdelhamid, you have a question?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is on Libya.  First, the Government of National Accord (GNA) have started its attack on Sirte, and they have been reporting aerial bombardment from air force, which they didn’t identify.  Does the UN have any information about involvement by Russian air force that has been reported moving from Syria to Libya?  And the second question, Stephanie Williams met over video with 5+5 that does represent the National Army or General [Khalifa] Haftar.  Did she meet with the representative of the Government of National Accord?

Spokesman:  So those… as we’ve said, she met with representatives days ago, with the representative of the Libyan National Army.  She’s continuing her outreach with all the parties, members of the international community and, of course, the Government of National Accord, towards the aim we’ve all been striving for, which is an end to the fighting and we’re seeing continuing fighting.  We’re seeing continuing displacement of people, continuing placing of civilians in harm’s way.  We need to ensure progress on the 5+5 Joint Military Committee in order to reach that ceasefire agreement, and as soon as we’ve had an official meeting with the GNA, we will let you know.  All right, Pam Falk.

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  Pam?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  My question is a follow-up on racism.

Spokesman:  I’m not seeing any video; it’s all blue.

Question:  Okay.  I’m sorry.  The video’s not sending today.  It’s downloading something, so I’m sorry.  May I?

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead, but please try to fix it next time.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  I had it on yesterday.  I apologize.  It’s Pam Falk from CBS.  My question is just a follow-up on racism.  Today is the George Floyd funeral, and other UN officials have talked about George Floyd in particular.  Is there any comment from the Secretary-General on the death of George Floyd and on racism today, not about Ralph Bunche in the past, but about racism in the US…

Spokesman:  You know, we’ve spoken about this at length last week in the various briefings.  I think I’ve used quite a lot of words on that.  The Secretary-General is obviously very shocked at the death, at the killing of George Floyd.  And, you know, I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already said, but I think if you look at the transcript last week and the questions you asked me about racism today, I think we were very clear.  Sylviane, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  I’m… Regarding the European Union and the UN Brussels Donor Conference, do you have more information about it?  The Donor Conference that will take place on the 29 and 30… June 29…

Spokesman:  It’s obviously a very important meeting for us.  It’s important that the international community come together to support Lebanon and the other countries in the region to deal with this ongoing humanitarian crisis, and as soon as I have more details, I will share those with you.  Benny, you had another question?

Question:  Does this new policy on… or I don’t know if it’s new.  The policy of allowing people to participate in marches and rallies, does that extend to anything other than racism?  I mean, obviously, if someone joins a KKK rally, you won’t last too long as a UN official, right?

Spokesman:  Yes, Benny I’m not going to play the hypothetical game with you, but obviously, you know, we will… it’s clear.  I think my answer on that is very clear, but I think… there is no new rules that were issued.  This is just clarity and making sure that people understand the existing rules.  People should not get involved in demonstrations that clearly go against what is at the heart of the ideals of the UN, which would include espousing hate speech, discrimination, and racism.  It’s about using one’s common sense, Benny, which you and I both have.

Question:  Not me but speak for yourself.  But I just want to know the extent.  So basically, what you are saying is, as long as it corresponds with UN sensibilities or… or values, that’s fine?

Spokesman:  What I’m saying is that people need to use common sense.  I think the words that the Secretary-General used in the letter are very simple, they’re very clear, and we can all understand them.  Gloria.  Gloria?

Question:  Over the years, the Ambassador of Jamaica, Courtenay Rattray, has been a forerunner in the UN against virtual action against racism.  You even had… He even led a delegation to… to create a memorial outside the visitors’ entrance of the UN against racism.  The UN, in endorsing all of this action, has shown where it stands against racism.  Isn’t that more or less semi-official acknowledgment of antiracism in the building?

Spokesman:  I’m not really understanding sure where you’re getting at.  I think our stand against racism is really… could not be clearer, whether it’s in the ideals in the Charter, whether it’s the monuments outside, whether it’s the Secretary-General’s [inaudible]… again, the fact that we stand against racism, that we stand against discrimination is not news.  Our stand against racism, as the Secretary-General said, is crystal clear.  Racism violates the very essence of the UN Charter and debases our core value.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Question on a different topic.

Spokesman:  Toby?

Correspondent:  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  I can’t hear you.  Go ahead, try again.

Correspondent:  Checking in one more time.

Spokesman:  I can’t hear you.  I can’t hear you, Toby.

Correspondent:  How about now?  I’ll try to type.

Spokesman:  Don’t swear because I can read the lips.  All right, if anyone else has a question, open up your mic.  Otherwise…

Question:  I have a question, Stéphane.  It’s on Syria.  The Caesar Law, which passed by the… signed by the President of the United States [inaudible] on 22 June that would cause so much harm to the Syrian people.  The Syrian lira is plunging down to 2,000 per dollar and the suffering of the Syrian people will multiply.  Is there any view on that law that was passed by the US?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I’m having connection problems and I can barely hear you, so if you can save the question till tomorrow, I will answer, or send it to me in writing and I’ll email you the answer.

Correspondent:  I have a question, Joe Klein.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead, Joe.

Question:  Okay.  The… the question is number 1, has anybody from the United Nations been invited to attend any memorial or funeral of George Floyd?  And was there any consideration of that?

Spokesman:  No one on the Secretariat’s side, and I’m not aware of any UN presence at this memorial.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Secondly, with all the statements that have been made about the tragic killing of George Floyd, I haven’t heard anything said about the equally tragic killing of a former black policeman, Mr. Dorn, who was shot several times by a looter in Saint Louis while he was guarding the store.  Now, this was an assault against a black policeman… is there going to be any statement… against the police?

Spokesman:  Joe, we stand clearly against killing; we stand against death; we stand against violence.  We have called for demonstrations to be peaceful.  We’ve called for officials to show restraint.  If you go back and look to what I actually said last week, the Secretary-General also called for more psychosocial support for police officers, so I would encourage you to look at the totality of what we have said.  Okay.  Farhan, are you on?  And I will turn it over to you and the guest.

For information media. Not an official record.