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19 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.

Good afternoon.  We made it to Friday, which is a good thing.

**World of Work

In a new Policy Brief on “COVID-19 and the World of Work” released today, the Secretary-General highlighted the dramatic effect that the pandemic is having on jobs, livelihoods and well-being of workers and their families, as well as on businesses.  The Brief notes that in May, about 94 per cent of the world’s workers were living in countries with some type of workplace closure measures in place.  Massive losses in working hours, which are equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs, are predicted for the 2nd quarter of 2020.  Some 1.25 billion workers are employed in high-risk sectors.

In a video message to launch the brief, the Secretary-General stressed the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world of work upside down.  He warned that this crisis in the world of work is adding fuel to an already burning fire of discontent and anxiety.  The Secretary-General noted that women have been especially hard hit and young people, persons with disabilities and so many others are facing tremendous difficulties.  He emphasized that we need action on three fronts, which include immediate support for at-risk workers, enterprises, jobs and incomes to avoid closures, job losses and income decline.  The Secretary-General added that the pandemic exposed tremendous shortcomings, fragilities and fault lines and that the world of work cannot and should not look the same after this crisis.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached on 17 June between the relevant party leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, paving the way for the residents of Mostar to exercise their right to vote for the first time since 2008.  This is an important and long-awaited agreement.  The Secretary-General hopes that this positive momentum will enable the necessary legislative processes to unfold in a timely manner, so that the people of Mostar can partake in the country-wide local elections scheduled for later this year.

**Libya

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has expressed its dismay regarding the ongoing arrest and detention in Benghazi for the past week of Khalid Sakran, apparently on account of his peace activism.  Under international law, Mr.  Sakran has the right to liberty and security of person, to be promptly informed of any charges against him and to be brought before a judge, failing which he should be immediately released.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues say that the deteriorating economy and extreme volatility of the informal exchange rate in Syria in recent weeks is affecting families already struggling to cope with the effects of nine years of crisis.  Jobs have been lost across the board due to COVID-19.  And after years of crisis, families have exhausted their savings.  More people are being pushed into hunger and poverty every day.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has been sounding the alarm over the rapid increase of food insecurity in the country, with 9.3 million people food insecure — an increase of 1.4 million in just six months.  WFP also reports that food prices on average are now more than 200 per cent higher compared to this time last year.

**Yemen

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs inform us that an aircraft carrying 43 metric tonnes of laboratory supplies, ventilators, test kits, PCR [polymerase chain reaction] machines and personal protective equipment arrived in Sana’a today, thanks to a donation to the World Health Organization (WHO), facilitated by the Hayel Saeed Anam Foundation, on behalf of the International Initiative on COVID-19 in Yemen.  As you’re also aware, several weeks ago, donors pledged $1.35 billion for the response in Yemen, about half as much as last year.  So far, less than half of pledged funds have been received.  We urge all donors to fulfil their pledges immediately and to consider increasing their support.

**Sudan

In response to questions regarding Sudan, I can say the following:

Regarding reports that the new UN special political mission, UNITAMS, will not be deployed until early January 2021, after the withdrawal of UNAMID:  As decided by the Security Council on 3 June, UNITAMS has been established.  The Secretariat is now planning the Mission’s concept and structure and will be working with the Government and other stakeholders to finalize these plans in the coming months.  While the impact of COVID-19 has delayed the deployment of UNITAMS to Sudan, it is expected that the mission will be operational in the coming months and able to start delivering against all its strategic objectives by 1 January 2021, as requested by the Security Council.  As to reports that some troop-contributing countries of UNAMID have requested to withdraw, I can say that the United Nations has not received any requests from the troop- and police‑contributing countries of UNAMID to repatriate ahead of the expiration of its current mandate on 31 December 2020.  As decided by the UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council, UNAMID will continue to implement its mandate until 31 December 2020, focusing on the protection of civilians.  The UN and the African Union will also initiate preparatory work for the next African Union-United Nations special report on the way forward for UNAMID, due to the Security Council by 31 October 2020.

**Japan

And from Japan, in a joint message from the 29 United Nations offices based there, the Rector of the UN University, David Malone, said that we stand in solidarity with the people of Japan, who have shown remarkable resilience in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The UN system is mobilizing to support Governments and people around the world to respond to and recover from the pandemic.  We are guided by our strong belief that our shared action — for which Japan is an essential partner — can create change that will save lives and livelihoods due to COVID-19.  The message said that, while the pandemic is a human tragedy, it is an opportunity to come together to achieve global health, peace and prosperity.  The UN team in Japan stands ready to support efforts to build back better for a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable future for all.

**Nepal

In Nepal, the UN team is supporting Government efforts to cope with the pandemic, with a special focus on the most vulnerable.  Authorities are facilitating the repatriation of Nepali migrants from the Gulf and South‑East Asia, with the number of returnees from India increasing in the past weeks.  The UN has been supporting efforts at points of entry and transit, with quarantine sites and isolation centres.  Twenty-five thousand returnees are expected in this first phase.  Nepal currently has over 7,800 confirmed cases and 22 reported deaths due to the pandemic.

According to a UN assessment, the pandemic has disrupted supply chains, threatening small and informal businesses.  Three in five employees have lost their jobs and tourism receipts are projected to fall by 60 per cent this year resulting in a $400 million loss.  In addition, the fall in remittances is likely to range between 15 and 20 per cent this year, with Nepal’s projected gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 8.5 per cent declining to well below 2.5 per cent; that’s according the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  The crisis has especially affected women.  More than 40 per cent of women lost their jobs, compared to less than 30 per cent of men.  UN‑Women is leading the needs assessment of women and persons who do not appear on government lists, such as sex workers, trafficked women, LGBTQI persons, also enabling women-led community kitchens in vulnerable provinces.

**South Sudan

And more on virus response from the UN in the field.  In South Sudan, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that they continue to work with authorities and local communities to respond to the pandemic.  The Mission has provided an ambulance and a rapid response vehicle to the state COVID-19 task force in Wau, Western Bahr el-Ghazal State.  In Warrap State, the Mission, together with partners, is helping to convert a former health‑care facility into a COVID-19 isolation centre.  Upon completion, the centre will be equipped with 24-hour electricity via solar power panels and generators, have a well-secured perimeter fence and have approximately 10 beds to accommodate potential patients.  UNMISS also continues to conduct sensitization activities to raise awareness about the virus, dispel myths and to engage communities across the country in key preventative measures approved by WHO.

**Darfur

And in Sudan, the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), said that they continue sensitizing the public on symptoms and prevention measures.  The mission supported the Sudan police force in West Darfur in the production of COVID-19 awareness materials.  Together with the Ministry of Health and WHO, they distributed these materials to key areas in the state, including marketplaces, prisons, residential community areas and internally displaced persons camps.  In addition, State Prison authorities in Darfur have benefited from training on decongesting measures in prisons.  The mission also distributed personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves to Sudan police officers at police stations and to inmates in Nyala Prison.

**Women and Girls in Africa

WHO warned yesterday that as COVID-19 continues to spread in Africa, there are concerns over its impact on women and girls.  Overall in the African Region, although women account for around 40 per cent of COVID-19 cases, this ranges from 35 per cent in some countries to over 55 per cent in South Africa.  WHO said that as efforts are focused on curbing the spread of the virus, essential services, such as access to sexual and reproductive health services, have been disrupted.  According to preliminary data, in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42 per cent between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.  In Burundi, initial statistics show that births with skilled attendants fell to 4,749 in April 2020 down from 30,826 in April 2019.  In addition, women face a higher risk of gender-based violence in the wake of the pandemic.  A recent study by UN‑Women found that reports of violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries as security, health and financial worries create tensions and strains accentuated by the cramped living conditions of lockdown.

**Venezuela

Now, to Venezuela, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a plane carrying 94 metric tons of medical, water, sanitation and hygiene supplies arrived in Venezuela today to support the response against the pandemic.  The shipment includes medicines and medical supplies, personal protective equipment for front‑line health workers, water purification tablets, water tanks, hygiene kits and nutrition support packages, among others.  The supplies will help to strengthen the health system, improve access to safe water for thousands of families and ensure continued assistance in critical areas, including sexual and reproductive health.  The aid will be distributed to priority hospitals and health centres and to the most vulnerable communities.

**Bolivia

Turning to Bolivia:  Yesterday, the Government and the United Nations signed an agreement on supporting dialogue and human rights for peacebuilding in the country.  The objective is to support the implementation of the Peace Consolidation Initiative for Bolivia designed by the Secretary‑General’s Personal Envoy and the UN system in the country.  The Resident Coordinator’s office will lead the coordination of the project, which will be implemented by the UN system and financed by the Secretary‑General’s Peacebuilding Fund.  The project’s three lines of action are:  one, supporting inclusive dialogues to help overcome polarization; two, establishing dialogue among political parties and other stakeholders to enhance public awareness of the electoral process; and three, strengthening national capacities in the field of human rights, including focused efforts on the prevention of gender-based violence and political harassment against women.

**Sexual Violence in Conflict

Today, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.  In a video message, the Secretary-General highlighted how COVID-19 has increased the challenges faced by survivors of sexual violence.  Shelters and clinics may be closed, and reporting crimes may also be more difficult, he said.  The Secretary-General commended front‑line staff who are finding ways to support those affected despite lockdowns and quarantines.  Preventing and ending sexual violence in conflict is a must, the Secretary-General added.  We need to place survivors at the centre of our response; hold perpetrators accountable; and expand support for all those affected.  There was a virtual event this morning that featured speakers from several countries affected by conflict, as well as the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Children and Armed Conflict.

**Security Council

And last, but by no means least, this afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hear a briefing on Haiti from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Helen La Lime.  After I finish, our friend Reem Abaza will brief you on activities of the General Assembly and its President.

And now I will take your questions.  Please remember that, if you want me to see your messages on the chat, you should send it to all panellists.  Otherwise, they will only go to our tech colleagues.  Thanks for that.  And now let me turn to your questions.  I don't see anything yet.  So, please, indicate in the chat… remember, send it to all panellists, and then I can see it.  Okay.  Okay.  First off, I have a question from Edie Lederer.  Edie, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A couple of follow‑up questions.  Can you give us an update on the money that's been received for Yemen?  Have… has any additional money come in since the pledging conference?  And I believe that many of us who listened yesterday to Mr. [Amer] Daoudi would also like to know whether WFP gets any of the $800 million‑plus that it needs to continue the logistics and transport lifeline that it provides.  And if you want to answer those, I then have one other question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We received $1.35 billion in pledges.  I have no significant new pledges in addition to that to say.  And as I just pointed out, we received less than half of that, in other words, a little bit over half a billion dollars, but we need more money to arrive, and we need more money to be pledged.  So, we are hopeful for both of those things.  And I believe, from Mr. Daoudi's briefing to you yesterday, he did indicate that WFP was also in need of money, including in Yemen, and so we're pushing for that.  And of course, we're calling for overall funding for the UN humanitarian air support.  What's your next question?

Question:  I had another question.  I'm certain that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has been in touch with Israeli officials regarding the 1 July possibility of annexation of parts of the West Bank.  My question is, has the Secretary‑General had or is he planning to have any discussion with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu before 1 July?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I think that, next week, there will be a significant Security Council meeting that's scheduled at a high level concerning the Middle East.  As of right now, the expectation is that Mr. Mladenov will brief, and there's a possibility that the Secretary‑General may also brief.  And at that point, you can hear from him directly, both about his efforts and his views concerning the situation.  But, yes, the Secretary‑General and Mr. Mladenov are both strongly engaged on this question and will have more to say about this in the coming days, including, like I said, next week in the Security Council.  James, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Thank you very much.  I have two questions.  Can I start with… you told us what is in the Security Council today.  As you know originally, there was Martin Griffiths, going to be briefing on the situation in Yemen.  My understanding is Martin Griffiths has asked the Council for some more time because he's working on things.  We've had some pretty upbeat briefings from him in the last few months.  Is he close to a breakthrough?

Deputy Spokesman:  As we always do at the UN, we try to combine a certain amount of optimism with a certain amount of caution.  So, I want to convey a little bit of each.  As you're aware from what he's been saying, there are some hopeful indications.  If there is a breakthrough, we will indicate it whenever we get a hold of that.  I… and I cannot say that yet, but his talks with the parties are going along fairly well.  I do believe that there is a willingness among the parties to resolve their situations with each other, and we'll see whether that's productive or not.  But, at this stage, there's nothing yet to announce.  And yes, you're right that Mr. Griffiths' briefing is a bit delayed.  He will have some more time and brief towards the end of this month.

Question:  On that, so your upbeat note there, there’s something that is possibly less upbeat, which is the search for an SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Libya.  Could you update us on the situation there?  And on the Secretary‑General's reaction, I'll ask you whether it's frustration that the Council has not been able to agree on the names that he has put forward; also, more specifically, the fact that it is the US that has now twice blocked this and the US suggestion that there should be a division of the role between a negotiator and someone to run the Mission.  What is the Secretary‑General's view on that model, which does exist in some other places around the world, and the US suggestion that should be the model?  And finally, what does the Secretary‑General think of the US's suggestion that the former Danish Prime Minister, [Helle] Thorning‑Schmidt, should be the new negotiator?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to answer them basically en masse, we don't have any extensive comment on the search process as it continues.  Obviously, it's continuing, and I would neither confirm nor deny any particular names.  The process, as you know, has had its ups and downs.  We would like to have had it completed sooner than this, but at the same time, we do have a very capable acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams.  We're very pleased with her work, and she's been trying very hard to work with the parties.  Regarding questions about whether there will be any variation in functions, there's nothing to say on this at this stage.  The Secretary‑General is working at many levels with the countries at the Security Council, with other concerned countries involved in the political process.  And we will continue to work to find a full‑time Special Representative.  But, like I said, in the meantime, Ms. Williams will continue to do that job.  Okay.  To move it on down the line, I have a question from Iftikhar Ali.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the UN have any independent information about the border fighting in Ladakh between India and China?  And is there any update on what the situation is like there now?

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point is… as you're aware, is that we have made a repeated call in recent days on the two parties, on India and China, because of our concern about the reports of violence that took place at the Line of Actual Control.  We have urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint, and we have noted positively that the two countries have been engaging to de‑escalate the situation, and we appreciate that de‑escalation, and I think that's all I can say on this for now.  Thanks.  That is all the questions I have on my list so far.  Let me just check if… make sure that you're not asking elsewhere but… yeah, I think, if that is it, I will turn the floor over to Reem Abaza.  I'll wish you a happy weekend, and our comrade Stéphane Dujarric will brief you when we resume on Monday.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.