15 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good morning, everyone, and happy start to your week.  I have a few things to say, but please remember to mute your mics. 

**Leaders’ Summit

This morning, the Secretary-General took part in the virtual Leaders’ Summit organized by the UN Global Compact.  He said that he is encouraged to see so many companies, of so many sizes and from so many sectors and countries, recognizing the urgent need for global unity and international cooperation.  He added that now, more than ever, as big decisions are made about our future, companies need to address environmental, social and governance risks holistically and move beyond business as usual.  He also challenged businesses to take more ambitious and comprehensive action across their operations and value chains by setting goals in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  His remarks have been sent to you.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council held an open meeting by video conference on the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL, or UNITAD.  The Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, Karim Khan, briefed the Council on UNITAD’s fourth report.


You will have seen that on Friday, a group of more than 20 senior leaders in the UN, and who are African or of African descent, published a statement expressing their outrage at pervasive and systemic racism, highlighting the need to “go beyond and do more” than just offering condemnation.  The signatories include Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Winnia Byanyima, Executive-Director of the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and Natalia Kanem, who runs the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The officials call on the United Nations to “step up and act decisively to help end systemic racism against people of African descent and other minority groups”, citing Article 1 of the UN Charter, which stipulates that the UN promotes and encourages “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.  The statement goes on to say that the officials commit to harnessing their expertise, leadership and mandates, to “address the root causes and structural changes that must be implemented if we are to bring an end to racism”.  You can find the whole statement on the UN News Centre.


Over the weekend, we issued a statement on the discovery of multiple mass graves in recent days in Libya, the majority of them in Tarhouna.   The Secretary‑General calls for a thorough and transparent investigation, and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.  In particular, he calls on the authorities to secure the mass graves, identify the victims, establish causes of death and return the bodies to next of kin.  The United Nations has offered support in this regard.  The Secretary-General once again reminds all parties to the conflict in Libya of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. 


And in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned Saturday’s attack against a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) that was travelling between Tessalit and Gao.  Two Egyptian peacekeepers died in this attack.  The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the bereaved families as well as to the Government and people of Egypt.  The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.  He calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort identifying and bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime.  Such cowardly acts will not deter the United Nations from its resolve to continue supporting the people and Government of Mali in their pursuit of peace and stability, concluded the Secretary-General.


Staying with Africa, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, has condemned the attacks on Saturday by non-state armed groups in the Monguno and Nganzi Local Government Areas in which many civilians were killed.  A four‑year‑old girl was killed and nearly 40 other civilians were injured, with a major humanitarian facility being damaged.  Mr. Kallon said that this is the latest of too many clashes affecting civilians, humanitarian actors and the assistance we provide.  He stressed that civilians and aid workers, their facilities and assets should never be a target and must be protected and respected at all times, calling on all parties to respect and protect civilians and humanitarian personnel in accordance with the international humanitarian law.  And we expect to have a statement on Nigeria later.


On Somalia, the UN and our partners have welcomed yesterday’s proposal by the President to convene a meeting between the federal Government of Somalia and all five Federal Member State Presidents and the Governor of Benadir Region.  In a joint statement, the UN and our partners call upon Somalia’s leaders to seize this opportunity to agree on a way forward on pressing national priorities, including elections, for the benefit of all Somali people.  The statement also welcomed continued efforts at dialogue, reconciliation and compromise among political leaders. 


The World Health Organization (WHO) today finalized the dispatch of more than 80 metric tons of health commodities and life-saving supplies, urgently needed in Syria.  The three-cargo consignment was part of the humanitarian response to support the health system in North-East Syria.  It was airlifted through Erbil International Airport to Damascus International airport in three consecutive shipments from 10 to 12 June.  The cargo includes a variety of health kits ranging between trauma kits sufficient to manage 4,300 cases; as well as 11 Cholera kits, 30 non-communicable diseases kits, 26 surgical kits and 478 inter-agency emergency health kits providing medicines, medical supplies and consumables enough to treat over 1 million cases.

**Colombia — COVID-19

Turning to Colombia, the WHO said there are nearly 49,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 1,600 deaths.  The UN team, in coordination with the UN Mission in the country, prepared a $303 million strategy focusing on health, improving livelihoods and protecting vulnerable communities.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNFPA and WHO are working with authorities to deliver protective equipment to health centres, hiring epidemiological surveillance staff and other health personnel, and support to maintain sexual and reproductive healthcare services.  For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting small and medium-sized businesses to continue providing jobs and keep up the food production.  The UN team has also focused on consulting and supporting indigenous organizations to prevent the spread of the virus, with an assessment mission in the Amazon.  And UN‑Women is also currently implementing an initiative to tackle domestic violence and gender-based violence with local authorities.

**Future Pandemics

Today, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, launched an initiative to strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics like COVID-19.  The project is called ZODIAC.  It builds on IAEA’s experience in assisting countries in the use of nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques for the rapid detection of pathogens that cause transboundary animal diseases, including ones that spread to humans.  These zoonotic diseases kill around 2.7 million people every year.  The project will establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika.  Also today, Mr. Grossi addressed the first virtual meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors.  He said that despite the lockdown, IAEA continues to carry out all of its most time-critical in-field nuclear verification work.


On the desert locust infestation in Pakistan that we were asked about on Friday, farmers have already been significantly affected, with further damage expected at the end of the summer.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is providing technical advice and support to the Government for locust surveillance and control.  FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP), together with our partners and in coordination with the Government, will assess needs in the worst-hit districts, which have also experienced other problems over the past 18 months, including drought, flash flooding, a cold wave and COVID-19.  The Government of Pakistan needs $372 million over the coming three years in additional funding to survey, control and recover from the locust damage.  More than 3 million people in Pakistan are facing severe acute food insecurity, with the situation particularly precarious in Balochistan.

**World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 6 people aged over 60 suffers from abuse.  This represents nearly 141 million people globally.  This number might also be much higher as elder abuse is one of the most concealed and underreported violations.  This year the theme of the date is the impact of COVID-19 on violence, abuse and neglect of older persons.  In May, the Secretary-General launched a Policy Brief on The Impact of COVID-19 on Older Persons.  He warned that measures to restrict movement may trigger a greater incidence of violence against older persons and all types of abuse, such as physical, emotional, financial and sexual, as well as neglect.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

I have a couple of personnel announcements for you.  The Secretary-General is appointing Major General Kefyalew Amde Tessema of Ethiopia as Force Commander for the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, known as UNISFA.  He succeeds Major General Mehari Zewde Gebremariam of Ethiopia who will complete his assignment on 7 July.  The Secretary-General is grateful for his tireless dedication and effective leadership of UNISFA.  Major General Tessema has a distinguished military career with the Ethiopian Armed Forces spanning more than 30 years.  The details are being posted online as I speak.

And the UN Development Coordination Office tells us that Ms. Cristian Munduate of Guatemala will become the new Resident Coordinator in Panama.  Her appointment follows confirmation from the Government.  You will recall that Resident Coordinators bring together UN agencies, funds and programmes on the ground to support countries in this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  They are also mobilizing resources to support the pandemic response, coordinating the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic response and recovery.  With this nomination, we will remain with full gender parity among all our Resident Coordinators serving 162 countries and territories.  Ms. Munduate’s biography is online and also on the website of the UN Sustainable Development Group.

**Press Briefing Today

And last, but not least, at 3 p.m., the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, will hold a virtual press briefing to discuss the Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.  And we will try to make available copies of that report at the time that she is briefing you.  And that is it for me.  Do we have any questions?  I see that Edie has asked for the floor.  So, Edie Lederer, you get to go first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  I have two questions about Libya.  Does the UN have any further information about the mass graves that have been discovered in and around Tarhouna?  And secondly, what is the status of ceasefire talks?  Are they continuing this week?  There was a call today by Pope Francis for an end to fighting.  What… what's happening to move that situation forward?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  I'll take those questions in order.  First of all, the mass grave, further to the statement that I just mentioned about the mass graves, the Libyan authorities have requested the UN Mission, UNSMIL, to provide assistance.  UNSMIL is in communication with authorities on what kind of assistance the United Nations can offer.  So, those talks are under way.  Regarding ceasefire talks, as you know, the 5+5 talks under the Joint Military Commission have been proceeding.  The UN Mission is preparing for a second virtual meeting with the Libyan National Army delegation to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission to take place soon as part of the ongoing process.  All right.  And I believe next person for the… to take the floor is Iftikhar.  So, Iftikhar, you go next.

Question:  Stéphane… I mean, Farhan, how are you?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm fine.  How are you?

Question:  I'd just like to know, with regard to the statement by 20 senior African officials, after the Secretary‑General and the UN High Commissioner of refugee… for Human Rights and human rights experts have spoken out on the subject of racism and police brutality, what was the reason for issuing this particular statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, they make it clear in the text of their statement why they think there's a need to speak out.  This has to do ultimately with respect for the United Nations Charter.  These are all officials who uphold the UN Charter in its various aspects, and they believe that the ways that racism affects the basic rights of people and how the Charter is observed is significant enough that they need to speak out.  And beyond that, I would just refer you to the full text of their joint statement.  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question about the situation in Lebanon.  The situation in Lebanon is deteriorating by the hour and there are riots in the street.  The Government is not meeting the minimum demands of the people [inaudible] and the situation is going out of hand.  So, why the UN is not getting involved in a situation that could become very explosive in the next few days?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the United Nations is involved in this… with the situation.  The basic point, as you know, is that we have a UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, who has been dealing with the Government of Lebanon, who's been pushing for support of the various efforts that have been made to stabilize the situation on the ground.  We have, in particular, been stressing that all concerned must avoid violence and respect and protect the right to peaceful protest in Lebanon.  And our belief is that national unity is essential as Lebanon undertakes urgently needed reforms to confront its dire economic situation, and Mr. Kubiš and our country team on the ground will be on hand to help in that process.  Okay.  So, let's move on to James Bays.  You have a question?

Question:  Hello, Farhan.  Yes, Friday evening, we got the letter from the Secretary‑General about the arrangements for the building.  And I wondered if you could explain the Secretary‑General's thinking, the UN to remain in what the UN calls phase zero while New York is now in phase one, and New York may well, in the coming weeks, go to phase two.  It seems the UN, in terms of what it is planning, is lagging far behind the host city.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, ultimately, our efforts involve compliance with the laws of New York City and New York State, but it also involves the consultations with the senior management and the UN Medical Services.  So, we are actively preparing the buildings for a four‑phase return, but, while we do that, yes, you're correct, we are currently in what we call phase zero.  At this stage, we have about 200, 250 personnel in the buildings each day, mainly handling security, maintenance and cleaning.  And right now, the existing [telecommuting] arrangements are extended through 31 July.  We will be in contact with the City and State of New York, but we are not in lockstep with them, and there's no date set for when we move to phase one.  But, we are regularly working out the arrangements and management, Medical Services, and the staff are all being apprised of what is needed.  At some point, we will move to phase one, where we'll have something like 400 or so people in the building, but we have to take those decisions in line with what we believe is the safest course of action.  Okay.  And now Pam, Pam Falk.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two quick follow‑ups.  Number one, on the letter from the African Union on Burkina Faso, requesting the Wednesday… the meeting that's now been on the Human Rights Council set for Wednesday, does the Secretary‑General have any comment about the need for this kind of a debate on racism and police brutality?  And the second follow‑up is the one just on James on the building, and that is, has there been any check, and can you see if there's been any check in building management on the filtration system of the UN air‑conditioning?  There've been some questions just about… because there's so many different countries coming into the building, some buildings have checked if their filtration system… air filtration system, HVAC or air‑conditioning deals with coronavirus.  Thanks so much.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we'll check what we've done with UN Headquarters' filtration.  As far as that goes, we are making sure through our various offices, including our Buildings and Grounds, that as people gradually move back into the building, the conditions will be right and appropriate for all of them, but I'll check and see what we've done on that so far.  And what was your first question again?

Correspondent:  On the [Human Rights Council], the debate on Wednesday.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, well, as you know, it's up to the Member States to decide on their schedule of meetings.  That's true in the Security Council, in the General Assembly, and it's true in the Human Rights Council.  And so, of course, we respect the right of the Member States to call for meetings as they so want.

Question:  And does the Secretary‑General endorse this effort?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's not for us to endorse or not endorse meetings.  I mean, obviously, when Member States want these meetings to happen, that is their right.  The Secretary‑General, for his part, has made clear his own concerns about the issues of racism.  And I'd refer you to the remarks that he has made and the tweets he's put out over the last couple of weeks.

Correspondent:  Perfect.  Thanks so much. 

Deputy Spokesman:  All right.  Rick Gladstone, you have the floor.

Question:  Farhan, thank you very much.  And forgive me if I'm asking a question that's been asked earlier, in earlier briefings that I may not have heard.  It's about the high‑level week in September.  It's my understanding that it's likely that world leaders will not be physically at the General Assembly to give their speeches.  Does that mean, if that's true, that there are some leaders, like Bashar al‑Assad of Syria and Kim Jong‑un of North Korea, who could address the General Assembly, you know, through… virtually?  Is that feasible?  Is that possible?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the arrangements for this are being finalized.  We do expect to have a virtual component, but you'll have seen what the outgoing General Assembly President said in his briefing last week about this issue.  As we get closer to the specific arrangements, the General Assembly President and his office, including our spokeswoman, Reem Abaza, could provide you with more details.  But, we do expect that there will be some virtual component, and that format is still being decided among the Member States.  And now Gloria, Gloria Starr?

Question:  Unfortunately, I have to miss the 3 p.m., but on children and armed conflict, I feel there should be initiative for more birth control in those areas.  The people are still having a plethora of children under these dangerous circumstances, and I believe even in those cases, the women would welcome help, perhaps, in alleviating some of that problem.

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, that's something that you can bring up also with our colleagues at the UN Population Fund, who do try to provide necessary health and reproductive services wherever they're needed.  And with that, I believe Pam has another question?  Pam?

Question:  Sorry.  I didn't find the un‑mute.  Thank you, Farhan.  Just a follow‑up on the last quest… Rick's question on the GA, is there a… have States considered and have you looked at the fact that Steph [Dujarric] said there might be about 100 leaders who actually physically come into the building, if I understood him correctly, whereas the rest would be virtual, for the general debate in September?  Is it possible that some leaders, like the US President, would decide to come where other leaders would not be allowed to come?  And would that create any conflicts?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't want to get into too much speculation for the specific arrangements this far ahead.  They're being ironed out.  It is possible that there will be some people present.  At this stage, you're aware we've mentioned the various possibilities.  And we'll see closer to the event what we get as the actual existing options.  And I think that's all the questions…

Question:  I'm sorry, Farhan.  Just… just, does that mean that every world leader who wants to come will be able to come, or will they to be selected who's allowed to come?  Just in terms of the procedure.  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, this is something that's being discussed by Member States right now.  I don't want to prejudge at this stage what we have.  We're working for a mix of virtual attendance and then some limited physical attendance, and it's been very clear that it will have to be limited.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thanks.  Keep us posted, if you can.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, all right.

Question:  Can I ask one quick question?  On the limited attendance, have any Heads of State indicated they are coming in and want to come in?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, right now, where we are at in the discussion is figuring out what is the format that can be acceptable to the Member States.  So, we are not at the stage of talking about specific leaders.  All right.  And thanks, everyone, and I hope to see some of you at 3 p.m. when we have with us Virginia Gamba.  See you then.  Bye.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.

For information media. Not an official record.