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10 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 afternoon, and apologies for the delay.  A reminder — please mute your microphones until you are being called on.

**Global Investors

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the extraordinary meeting of the Global Investors for the Sustainable Development Alliance (GISD).

He told them that, during these extraordinary times, the world needs the leadership of the business sector for an effective response and a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

He added that while the immediate response is critical in limiting devastation from the disease, a long and difficult path lies ahead as communities determine how to reopen.

In his remarks, he called on business leaders to help build a fairer, greener and more resilient global economy that leaves no one behind.

And my guests today will be Mahmoud Mohieldin, the Special Envoy on Financing the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals, and Leila Fourie, the CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Co-Chair of this investors’ alliance.  They will talk to you more about this morning’s meeting.

Then, immediately after, we will hear from Dan Thomas, the Chief of Communications and Strategic Events of the UN Global Compact, who will brief you 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.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Moving onto the situation on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as I’ve been asked about some of the latest developments, I can tell you that the Secretary-General regrets the cutting off of inter-Korean communications channels by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Such channels are necessary to avoid misunderstandings or miscalculations.  June is a symbolic month for the Korean Peninsula.  This Friday, 12 June, is the second anniversary of the first-ever leaders’ meeting between the DPRK and the United States.

And on Monday, 15 June, will mark the twentieth anniversary of the first-ever leaders’ meeting between the two Koreas. 

The Secretary-General hopes that all parties use the June anniversaries to redouble efforts to resume talks to achieve sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  The Secretary-General reaffirms his commitment to peace and security on the Peninsula.

**Secretary-General — Small States

Today, in a video message to address the Forum of Small States, the Secretary-General noted that COVID-19 is exposing the fragility of our world.  He said that, despite the enormous scientific and technological advances of recent decades, a microscopic virus has brought us to our knees. 

In his address to the virtual high-level event, entitled “The UN Charter at 75:  Multilateralism in a Fragmented World”, the Secretary-General said that the fragility exposed by the virus is not limited to our health systems.  It affects all areas of our world and our institutions.

He emphasized that COVID-19 must be a wake-up call.  In responding to the virus and all of our current global challenges — from climate change to terrorism to disarmament — we require unity and solidarity.  The Secretary-General noted that we have seen such a widespread and damaging spread of the pandemic in large [part] because the multilateral system is not strong enough.  He added that history shows repeatedly that, when the international community comes together, the UN can indeed accomplish the purposes for which it was established.  Those remarks were shared with you.

**Burundi

Yesterday afternoon, in a statement we issued, the Secretary-General offered his condolences to the Government and people of Burundi following the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza.  He also extended his sympathies to the members of the President’s family. 

The Secretary-General also reaffirmed the willingness of the United Nations to support the Government and people of Burundi as they face the COVID-19 pandemic and in their continuing efforts to create a stable, prosperous and peaceful future for all of the country’s citizens.  Today, if you had been at Headquarters, you would have noted that the UN flags are down today, as they are always when a sitting Head of State or Head of Government dies in office.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, the Security Council met this morning, virtually, of course.  on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Sudan.  The Council was briefed by Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

This afternoon, the Council will hold a closed meeting on UN peacekeeping operations in Mali.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has concluded the first large-scale virtual consultations with hundreds of Yemenis on the opportunities and challenges of peace in Yemen.  Those include the UN’s ongoing efforts to mediate between the parties to reach an inclusive and sustainable peace.

During three hours of live, interactive online discussions that took place earlier in the week on Monday and Tuesday, over 500 Yemeni participants expressed their thoughts on the prospect of a nationwide ceasefire, the future of the political peace process and key humanitarian and economic measures that are needed to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Yemen and to improve the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most of the participants worked with civil society organizations and nearly 60 per cent were under the age of 41.  And 30-35 [per cent] of the participants were women.

An overwhelming number of them expressed grave concern about the spread of COVID-19 in the country and linked the failure in Yemen’s response to the outbreak to the continued war.  Ninety-five per cent of them agreed that a nationwide ceasefire is necessary for an effective response to the coronavirus outbreak.  The payment of civil servants’ salaries was flagged as one of the top issues during the consultations.

**Syria

Moving on to Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the massive UN cross-border humanitarian response continues to provide life-saving assistance to people in need throughout the north-west, including health items to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May alone, 1,781 trucks crossed into Syria — that’s the highest number of trucks to go cross-border since the operations were first authorized by the Council in 2014.  In the first week of June, we added another 567 trucks crossing the border.  This scale-up has seen an average of more than 1,350 trucks crossing from the two Security Council-authorized border crossing points from Turkey in the first five months of 2020, providing food, health items and other critical support in those trucks.

Despite the massive operation, needs remain incredibly high throughout north-west Syria, with 2.8 million people in need, including over 1 million people living in camps or informal shelters.  Without the necessary cross-border authorizations by the Security Council, civilian suffering will increase to levels unseen in nine years of conflict, including the loss of life on a mass scale.

**Nigeria

In Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, yesterday, more than 70 civilians were killed, and others wounded in an attack in a village in the north-east of the country.  Over the course of five hours, a motorized armed group raided Gubio in Borno State, 80 kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.  They destroyed homes and stole more than 1,000 head of cattle.  Some residents were killed, set ablaze in their homes, while many more were shot while trying to escape.  This wave of incidents is the deadliest recorded in north central Borno State since July 2019.  According to UN humanitarian sources, vigilantes and local hunters were deployed to protect the town and nearby areas in support of military action.

**Ethiopia

And in Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues, along with the Government and partners, have released a revised 2020 humanitarian requirements document outlining additional priorities since the release of the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan; that was back in January.  The revised plan targets 16.5 million people with emergency food and non-food assistance at a cost of $1.65 billion.  $506 million of that is set aside for the pandemic response and will target almost 10 million [people].

**Kazakhstan

And some further UN country-level updates in response to the pandemic:  In Kazakhstan, there are more than 13,000 cases of COVID-19 and 61 deaths.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Norimasa Shimomura, is responding to the health needs as well as addressing the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods and the economy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has allocated nearly $3 million for lab equipment and more than 120,000 items of personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.  WHO is leading the UN’s efforts to gather lessons learned from the response to the virus in order to help other countries stay ahead of the curve as the region prepares for a potential second wave of infection.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Kazakhstan, along with the Government, is working to resume routine immunizations and on safely reopening schools in the autumn, all the while protecting children of migrants who were impacted by the pandemic.  For its part, the UN migration agency (IOM) has provided assistance and legal support to nearly 700 migrants and their families.  It has also set up a hotline for vulnerable migrants who are at risk of human trafficking.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) led a survey of 2,000 small- and medium-sized business to assess the impact of the pandemic, with strategies to resume businesses and encouraging the rehiring of employees.  The UN team continues to work with its partners to curb misinformation and to promote prevention campaigns through social and traditional media, as well as other outreach.

**Mauritania

And in Mauritania, where we are seeing more than 1,100 cases of the virus and 63 deaths, the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah, has been working with the Government and its partners to flatten the curve and support people whose lives have been disrupted due to the pandemic.  The World Health Organization is moving to increase testing capacity from 200 to 500 per day.  It has also set up a dialysis service in the emergency unit of the national COVID-19 treatment centre and has given $100,000 worth of medicine and lab supplies.

With washing hands and keeping physical distance, among others, essential to curbing the spread of the disease, we continue to support the national prevention campaign.  UNICEF helped to set up a toll-free virus hotline that has processed more than half a million calls to date.  They tell us that they have reached out to more than 1,500 households on risk management and provided personal protective equipment to more than 900 community volunteers who conduct door-to-door outreach initiatives.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

Meanwhile, our peacekeeping missions are also continuing to help Governments and local communities respond to COVID-19.  In South Sudan, the UN Mission (UNMISS) and the UN team have provided health and safety items, such as surgical gowns and gloves, soap, and face masks to local populations and prisoners, among others.  In Eastern Equatoria State in South Sudan, as part of efforts to spread the message on how to prevent COVID-19, 100 solar-powered radios have been distributed to frontline workers at a hospital, as well as to women’s groups and to others responding to the pandemic.

In the Central African Republic, participants in a community violence reduction programme have received specialized training in mask manufacturing, with the goal of producing about 20,000 masks for the benefit of the local community.  This programme is part of the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration activities implemented by the Mission (MINUSCA), consisting of professional training in different trades, such as sewing, mechanics, and IT.  Participants in the programme have received starter kits for income-generating activities.

**Central African Republic

Staying in the Central African Republic, a quick update on the security situation there:  The UN Mission has provided reinforcements following yesterday’s attack on a checkpoint operated jointly by UN peacekeepers and the country’s armed forces in Pougol.  Three peacekeepers were injured, as we told you.

There was also an incident in the capital’s third district, better known as PK5.  Armed men of a militia group and traders exchanged fire.  No casualties were reported and the situation is now calm.

UN peacekeepers engaged with local stakeholders and reinforced patrols in the area to prevent an escalation of violence. 

Finally, we have an update on the attack that took place in Bouar yesterday.  There were additional exchanges of fire between combatants of the 3R armed group and members of the Central African Armed Forces and approximately 500 civilians sought refuge in the town of Bouar.  The UN Mission continues to work with the guarantors of the peace agreement, notably the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), to ease tensions and facilitate dialogue.

**Financial Contribution

And we end on a positive note and we send our warmest thanks to our friends in the Lao People's Democratic Republic for its full payment to the regular budget.

We are very close to hitting the century mark, as they say in cricket.  We have now 97 Member States paid up in full for 2020.

So, before we go to our esteemed guests, I would be happy to take some questions from you.  So, let's see…  first of all, let's see if I can see and look at the chat box and see who wants to ask a question.

**Questions and Answers

Edie, please.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A follow‑up question on Libya.  You had said last week that the Government was going to hold discussions with the UN Mission on ceasefire in a couple of days, and it's a week already.  What's the status of the possibility of those negotiations?

And also, a follow‑up on my earlier…  my question last week, what are our chances of getting to speak to the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  All right.  Taking on Libya first, I did, indeed, say more than a couple of days ago that the talks with the Government of National Accord (GNA) would take place within a couple of days.  They have not…  within the framework of the 5+5 joint military talks.  They have not yet taken place.  The contact between the Mission and all the parties, whether it's in Libya or outside of Libya, is continuing.  As soon as we can confirm those talks, we will.

It looks like we may have a date for a full‑blown press conference with the Secretary‑General, but I should be able to confirm that to you in the next couple of days.  But he…  we brought that up, and he's agreed.  It's a matter of scheduling.

Majeed, you had a question.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have actually two questions.  The second one is a follow‑up.  The first one, I wanted to ask you about…

Spokesman:  Majeed, I don't see you.  Is your video on?  Oh, there we go.

Question:  Yes, yes.

Spokesman:  There we go.

Question:  My first question is about something that PGA (President of the General Assembly) said on Monday.  He told us that the world leaders will not physically attend UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) this year.  And some say UNGA will be a low key this year, a lot of virtual videoconferencing.  Are you concerned about the negative impact of a low‑key UNGA on many issues relevant to the United Nations?  If you tell me about what does Secretary‑General also think about this. 

And my follow‑up is on Syria, on your update on Syria.  Most of your updates are about north‑west Syria.  What about the other parts of Syria that are…  their suffering there continues in the south, in the north…?

Spokesman:  Well, we'll try to get you…  we will try to get you an update on the other parts of the country.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On your first question, I mean, of course, everyone would rather see the UN meet at the General Assembly as usual, especially given the symbolic importance of this year's General Assembly.  But we don't live in a bubble.  And, so, I think we are all guided by science, by being…  by precaution, by being very careful.  And, so, the UN is not alone in having to adapt.  Whether you're looking at big gatherings of…  sports gatherings, festivals, we all have to adapt.  It's just a fact of life.  So, there's no need to complain and feel sorry for ourselves.

The General Assembly will go on.  It will look different than it has looked in previous years.  It will be clearly a mix of the virtual and in‑person.  The details are still being worked out. 

Obviously, the final decision of exactly how the General Assembly session exactly looks like will be left up to Member States, and the Secretary‑General and all of the Secretariat are there to support the Member States.

Okay.  Do we any other questions?  Yes, Abdelhamid, go ahead. 

Question:  Stéphane, I just want to ask you if you have any update on the meeting of the Quartet, because the President of the General Assembly told us there will be…  there was effort to convene the Quartet.  Could you tell us exactly who's impeding the meeting of the Quartet, if there is an attempt by the SG to call for [inaudible].

Spokesman:  Look, our goal is not to underscore where the problem is.  Our goal is to find a solution.  The discussions that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov is having with his Quartet partners are continuing and with other parties, and as soon as we have something nailed down, cemented, whatever term you want to use, we'll announce it.  But, I mean, I don't have to explain to you, Abdelhamid, the complexity, the difficulty of the situation.  And, so, lining up ducks takes a bit of time.  We keep trying.

Okay?  Any other questions?  Otherwise, we'll move to our guests.  All right.

For information media. Not an official record.