11 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.  It is the afternoon.  Sorry about that.  And happy Thursday - we have almost reached the end of yet another week.

**Digital Road Map

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Meeting on the Impact of Rapid Technological Change on the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  He said that managing rapid technological change is a defining challenge of our generation.  He stressed that we are at a turning point; that we urgently need to harness the infinite opportunities offered by digital technology in order to scale up our efforts on healthcare, the climate crisis, on eradicating poverty, and across the Sustainable Development Goals.  And at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon, he will address the virtual High-Level Event on the State of the Digital World.  There, he will formally launch the Road Map for Digital Cooperation, which aims to connect and protect people in the digital age.  He will speak about how the current pandemic has magnified the many benefits and harms of technology.  He will also lay out how the UN will act as a facilitator and platform, mobilizing partnerships and coalitions among Governments, citizens, civil society, academia and the industry to ensure that digital technologies are used for the public good and to prevent further fragmentation of the internet, which would be of detriment for all.

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council:  this morning, the Secretary-General addressed the Council on the multifaceted crises in Mali and the Sahel, which continue to take a heavy toll on people across the subregion.  In a ministerial meeting of the Council, the Secretary-General said that in this context, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of complexity to an already extremely challenging situation.  He expressed concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, and called for swift international action to cover the most urgent needs, as well as the destabilizing effects of the pandemic.

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres welcomed the arrival of the first reconstituted units in Kidal, in Mali, earlier this year.  Once these units become fully operational, he told Council members and Ministers, they will strengthen national armed forces in northern Mali and pave the way for a more significant deployment of State administration and justice to the area.  Turning to the situation in the country’s central region, the Secretary-General emphasized the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA) efforts to increase their action there, but added that efforts to combat impunity remain essential to stem the violence.  He underscored that security responses must go hand in hand with the restoration of State authority and sustainable development.  Support to the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) remains vital, he added.  And he also reiterated his call for a comprehensive support package, funded by assessed contributions, to allow for predictable and sustainable funding to support the G5 Sahel joint force.


And if you allow me to stay in the area — in a statement issued earlier today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said they are alarmed by the violence of recent weeks in the Sahel, which has seen hundreds of civilians targeted, triggered more displacements and hindered humanitarian activities in the area.  To highlight the immense needs in the region and continue the ongoing response to the deepening crisis, UNHCR will be launching its Sahel Crisis Appeal this Friday, 12 June.

**Women and Girls

And today, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Natalia Kanem, and the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Antonio Vitorino, spoke to our UN Resident Coordinators, leading the UN teams’ COVID-19 response to save lives and livelihoods in 162 countries and territories.  Dr. Kanem of UNFPA said it is crucial that the UN supports the focus of countries on women and girls now, safeguarding their rights, including sexual and reproductive health.  When girls leave school in the poorest countries, she said, it is very hard for them to resume their studies.  This also leads to an increase in child marriage, which is a violation of human rights, as a quick option for families who need to make a living.  Seven million women in low- and middle-income countries are unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies.  Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence, according to UNFPA statistics.

Mr. Vitorino, the head of IOM, said that migrants, many of whom are at the forefront of the response, need to be protected and included in socioeconomic recovery plans.  He stressed that 40 per cent of health‑care workers in countries like Italy, the United Kingdom and United States are migrants; and 60 per cent of those are women.  Mr. Vitorino said that, while people are in lockdown, migrants are risking their lives for the sake of the communities, also in delivery services and public transportation.  They need to be recognized as part of societies.

**COVID-19 — Africa

And a couple of other COVID‑19-specific related notes for you.  The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that there are now 200,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Africa, with more than 5,600 deaths.  WHO said the pandemic is accelerating in Africa — it took 98 days to reach 100,000 cases, but only 18 days to climb to 200,000.  More than 70 per cent of the deaths are taking place in five countries:  Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan.  WHO says that more than half of the countries in the continent are experiencing community transmission.  In many instances, it is concentrated in capital cities, but cases are spreading into the provinces.  Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, said that, while for now, Africa still only accounts for a small fraction of cases worldwide, constant vigilance is needed to stop the virus from overwhelming health facilities.


And we have another update from our peacekeeping colleagues on the COVID-19 support they are providing governments and communities.  In Sudan, a team from the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) visited the villages of Feina and Manabu, in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur, to conduct COVID‑19 sensitization campaigns for community members.  That included a group of 200 women in Manabu.  They also distributed personal protective equipment, including water containers, hand sanitizers and soap, to community members.  These villages are in conflict areas under the influence of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid faction.  The group has endorsed the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire but has not yet joined the ongoing peace talks in Juba.


And turning to Kuwait, which has registered more than 33,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 280 deaths, our team, led by Resident Coordinator Dr. Tarek Elsheikh, is working with the Government to protect vulnerable groups, including migrant workers.  The UN migration network provided recommendations to the Government on supporting workers during the pandemic.  The UN has also conducted webinars on effective regulations for recruitment and placement of migrants to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.  Also, the UN is supporting the Kuwait Human Rights Foundation on a declaration against hate speech and xenophobia towards migrant workers.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), as well as the Economic Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), are working with authorities to fix broken supply chains, which is a huge challenge, as you saw from yesterday’s Secretary-General’s policy brief on food security.  The UN also conducted a socioeconomic impact assessment of the double shock of the COVID-19 crisis and oil prices to support the Government's COVID-19 policymaking, holding a hackathon together with the World Bank on innovative business models for small and medium businesses.  To support education, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are working with the Government on online and distance learning and school reopening measures, along with psychosocial support for teachers, parents and learners.  On the health response, WHO is supporting Kuwait’s participation in solidarity treatment trials.  And UNHCR has provided cash support and distributed personal protective equipment.


Turning to Afghanistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tells us that humanitarian organizations have issued a revised Humanitarian Response Plan for 2020.  They are now seeking $1.1 billion to assist 11 million people in crisis.  This is due to COVID-19, which is deepening a humanitarian crisis driven by armed conflict and natural disasters.  Even before the pandemic reached Afghanistan, 9.4 million people needed humanitarian assistance to obtain food, clean water, basic health care and other essentials.  The Office warns that the economic consequences of the pandemic could outstrip the direct health impact from the virus, causing more people to spiral into financial insecurity, and in some cases, acute humanitarian needs.  So far, only $227 million has been received for the response plan.


And IOM said today that it is deeply concerned about the persistent reports of pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, in some cases violent, at the European Union border between Greece and Turkey.  IOM also appeals to States to suspend deportations during the pandemic while facilitating voluntary returns when and where possible.

**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

And, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said today that the international trade in goods is expected to decline significantly in the coming months due to the coronavirus pandemic.  UNCTAD notes that international trade is likely to remain below the levels observed in 2019 in the second half of the year.  The magnitude of this will depend upon not only additional economic disruptions brought by the pandemic, but also on the type and extent of policies that countries will adopt to restart their economies.


And also I just wanted to flag a note from our colleagues at FAO:  They said today that food markets face many more months of uncertainty due to COVID-19, but the agricultural commodity markets are more resilient to the crisis.  The trade in cereals is expected to set a record high this year and next, but meat production is expected to fall due to virus-related market disruptions, animal diseases and droughts.

**El Salvador

And a quick note from El Salvador, where our friends at UNICEF said today that more than 119,000 people hit by Tropical Cyclone Amanda in El Salvador need assistance.  The agency estimates that $2.2 million will be required to provide critical support in the sanitation, shelter and child protection sectors to more than 35,000 people in shelters and impacted communities.  UNICEF and its partners are currently providing shelters with critical supplies, water tanks and cleaning and sanitation supplies, including 20,000 surgical masks, which have been distributed to the Government.

**Press Briefing

Tomorrow, immediately following my briefing, our good friend Reem Abaza will be here to update you on the activities of the President of the General Assembly of these United Nations.  So, let's go to questions, because I think that's what we're here for.  So, bear with me, if I can pull up my chat.  Okay.  Edie, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Does the United Nations, the Secretary‑General have any comment on President [Donald] Trump's ordering economic sanctions against employees of the International Criminal Court investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I can tell you that we've taken note with concern of these reports of the Executive Order authorising sanctions against certain individuals at the International Criminal Court.  I'll add that we're also aware that there have been previous statements by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, that any restrictions taken against individuals would be implemented consistently with the Host Country's obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement.  We'll, obviously, continue to follow very closely any developments on this issue.  Okay.  Mohsen, I see you had a question, but I think that's…

Correspondent:  Yes, it's the same question as Edie.

Spokesman:  Okay, great.  Okay.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  It's about the same subject, a follow‑up.  So, how do you think this is going to influence the work of the ICC employees?  And also, do you… do you condemn such a step?  Because it's definitely not working in finding justice.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, clearly, our position on the need to fight impunity and for justice remains unchanged.  We've just seen the report this morning.  We're going to follow up.  It's, obviously… the press reports that we've seen are of concern to us.  But, it's also important to state that… I've stated our principled position on the need for international justice and to fight impunity, but, also, just to note that the cooperation between the UN and the ICC is founded, is based on the "Relationship Agreement", which was approved by the General Assembly in 2004.  And so, obviously, we'll be looking at any possible implications that this development may have in respect to the implementation of the Agreement.

Question:  I have a follow‑up.  Are you worried, actually, regarding the… how this is going to really affect the work of the ICC workers that are, like… it's probably going to have a lot of negative and some influence about their work.  How worried are you about this?

Spokesman:  Look, I think, on the operational issue, I think you'd have to talk to the ICC.  We'll have to see how moves forward.  As I said, we've been told there've been statements that this will be… that any issue… any action would be taken… would be implemented consistently with the US's obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement.  So, as I said, this is… this all just happened this morning.  We've expressed our concern, and we will, obviously, follow this closely.  Okay.  Apostolos had a question about… are you on the line, Apostolos?  Okay.  Go ahead.

Question:  My question is on Cyprus; the Turkish Cypriot authorities are keeping closed the crossing points, creating a huge problem for many Turkish Cypriots that have to work in the free areas of the Republic.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, we've put in a call to our colleagues at the Mission in Cyprus.  We hope to get some answers soon.  Okay.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.  I can't see you, unfortunately, but I can hear you.

Correspondent:  I have my camera on…

Spokesman:  There we go.  There we go.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.

Spokesman:  I like the banner behind you, Iftikhar.

Question:  Oh, yeah.  Thanks a lot.  I was wondering whether anything is being done to brush up matters between WHO and the Trump Administration at a time when coronavirus is surging.  And there was also a telephone call between Secretary Pompeo and Secretary‑General.  Do you have anything on this?

Spokesman:  No.  I can just tell you that the phone call did happen yesterday between the Secretary‑General and Secretary of State Pompeo.  As far as WHO and the US, I think we've been very clear in the importance of supporting the WHO at this time, of the critical and central role WHO plays in coordinated or global response to the pandemic, in helping us find solutions and how to deal with the pandemic.  We encourage everyone to support WHO, especially at this critical time.  Whether there are discussions going on between WHO and the United States on cooperation, not only on COVID, but on the host of other files that WHO is responsible for, from Ebola to polio to measles, that's a question for WHO.  But, I think my answer also underscores the importance of WHO not only in COVID‑19, but also in fighting these other diseases that we are faced with in many parts of the world.  Nabil, I think you have a question.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  On the possible annexation in the West Bank that was announced by many Israeli officials, we know that the Secretary‑General is big believer in preventive diplomacy.  Can you tell us what he's doing on this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think… A, he's been… I hope you're not driving and you're parked, first of all.

Correspondent:  I'm actually just in front of the UN on 1st Avenue.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, don't… if you're driving, I won't speak to you.  You have to be in park.  I want to be responsible.  First of all, the Secretary‑General has been engaged in phone calls.  Our preventive efforts are really being led by the Secretary‑General through a representative on the ground, and that's Nickolay Mladenov, who, I think, has spent a lot of time in discussions with his Quartet partners, with Israeli authorities, with Palestinian Authorities, and others and all to reaffirm our position of the dangers that any annexation, any unilateral move would have.  Okay?  Gloria, I think you have a question.

Question:  I'm wondering if we can get different organizations and civilians like myself to donate contraceptives for the girls' birth control pills in any way, one particular organization in the UN that we can direct these efforts to?

Spokesman:  Contact UNFPA and I think they have a US Committee for UNFPA or the UN Foundation.

Question:  I have a second part of it.  About what age group is it recommended?  Would it be 12 years old?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I'm really not qualified to answer that.  I don't know.

Question:  And another question would be, would the various countries allow it?  Because some of them have very strong…

Spokesman:  I think that… that's a question for UNFPA to answer.

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Edie?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A follow‑up to Nabil's question on annexation.  You mentioned the Quartet.  Is the UN, is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov still trying to arrange the Quartet meeting and what are the possibilities?

Spokesman:  Those discussions are ongoing by Mr. Mladenov.  So, until something is hatched, I think we'll just keep it to that.

Question:  Could you ask him for an update on where possibilities for those talks stand?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Will do.  Evelyn, I think you had a question.

Question:  Yes.  Hi, Steph.  Edie just took my question, because it's not enough at this point for Mr. Mladenov to do the entire representation of the UN when we… when the annexation is only a couple weeks off.  I don't know if it's the Quartet or something else, but there should be some kind of representation beyond Mr. Mladenov.  And secondly, a couple of foundations led by McArthur Fund are contributing $1.7 billion to pandemic recovery, especially to communities abroad.  Has any of that money reached the UN?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I don't know.  We can check, but I don't know.  Okay.  James, you had a question, James Reinl.

Question:  Yeah, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Oh, great stuff.  I've got a couple of questions about UN reports, please, Steph.  The Secretary‑General's six-monthly report on the Iran nuclear deal or the UN resolution that backs that, am I right in thinking that the latest one of that is circulating to the members?  And can you tell me when it's going to be released to us guys?

Spokesman:  I think it will be released at some point next week.  I'm not 100 per cent sure it's been shared with members as of yet, but I think we can expect a release next week.

Question:  Thanks so much.  And I've got another separate question on a separate report.  This is the annual one on the Children and Armed Conflict report.  Am I right in thinking that that's going to be coming out either this week or next, probably early next week?  And I've got a story on this, because I've been speaking to the folks at Watchlist, which is that group that monitors what happens there.  And they say that, in this upcoming report, the SG should be calling out Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US for violations against children, respectively in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.  But, the UN is unlikely to do that because it's politically difficult.  Your comments?

Spokesman:  We engage with Children's Watch [sic].  They're an important NGO [non-governmental organization].  I expect the report to go to the Council early next week.  We are already planning and will probably be able to confirm it a bit later, a press briefing by Virginia Gamba on that same day.  And I would ask everybody for some patience and judge the report on what is always a very strong narrative in highlighting the challenges and highlighting where things are moving forward and where things are moving backwards.  Okay.  If you have… anyone has any other question, open your… oh, Nabil, did you…

Question:  I have a question also.  Yes, I have a question.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the Secretary‑General decided whether he's running for a second term or not?  Because I hear from diplomats that he's kind of campaigning.  And if yes, can you confirm and, if yes, based on what agenda?

Spokesman:  No.  It's not a question [inaudible].  There you go.  Joe, you need to close your mic.  Please close your mic.  I will come to you in a second.  Okay. 

Correspondent:  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Please close your mic.  Thank you.  Okay.  We're good.  Nabil… sorry.  No, what I will tell you is I won't confirm.  I won't deny.  I'm not aware of any plans.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General is working full steam ahead, one day at a time, in pushing the Organization forward as it deals in one of the biggest crises we've had to face in a generation.  Okay.  Joe, please, go ahead. 

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  There's a lot of noise in the background.

Correspondent:  No, there shouldn't be.

Spokesman:  Is there something in the background?

Correspondent:  No, there shouldn't be anything, no.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Try it again.

Question:  Yeah, yeah.  My question is, regarding the Secretary‑General's comments the other day about UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], he was calling for a “better situational awareness and more mobility for UNIFIL forces”.  I'd like to see if you could be a little bit more specific with referring to, for example, kind of more initiative in looking for Hizbullah, either personnel or armament or rockets in private homes that have been sheltering.  That weaponry.  Could you just be more specific about what he means by better situational awareness?

Spokesman:  This is something that we've been calling for for quite some time, greater mobility, greater situational awareness in order to perform its mandated mission at the highest… in the best way possible.  I would encourage you to take a look at the report submitted to the Security Council, which, I think, is very clear and better than me going… analysing it.  I think just… we can share the report with you as soon as I can find it, and I think that will give you a pretty clear line of the SG's thinking for the mission.  Okay.  Anybody else have any questions?  Open your mics now or shut them down for at least 24 hours.  All right.  Always a pleasure to see you all, and I will see you tomorrow.  Goodbye.

For information media. Not an official record.