Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 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’s Friday, we made it through this week!

Please remember to mute your mics until I call on you.

**Secretary-General

And happy birthday to us!  As you heard, today is Charter day!

This morning, the Secretary-General did take part in the virtual General Assembly commemoration you all talked about.  In his remarks, he recalled that the delegates in San Francisco in 1945 also lived through a global pandemic, depression and war, and they seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new.  The Secretary-General said that today, we must do the same as we live in world mired in pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war.  We need to reimagine multilateralism, give it teeth to function as the founders intended, and ensure that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed.  The Secretary-General also paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of thousands of United Nations peacekeepers, staff and others who, across the world and across the years, have given their lives while advancing the causes and values of the UN.  The Charter’s vision stands the test of time and its values will continue to carry us forward, he said. 

**Deputy Secretary-General

And for her part, this morning the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed opened the virtual Recover Better Together Action Forum.  In her remarks, she stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the promises of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals more relevant and vital than ever.  She added that the Sustainable Development Group has developed a global framework that is guiding our socioeconomic response in countries and the whole UN family is implementing it on the ground in full emergency mode to save lives and livelihoods.  Ms. Mohammed noted that the crisis is a stark reminder that any recovery that fails to address the causes of our present vulnerabilities condemns us to more acute crises in the future.  During the event, UN-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka announced a new COVID-19 gender monitor.  A new civil society data platform led by the global South thinktank CEPEI was also launched during the event.  Both can be found on the “Recover Better Fund” portal: un.org/recoverbetter

**Syria

Turning to Syria, I just wanted to flag that the fourth Brussels conference on supporting Syria and the region — which is the main high-level pledging event for the Syrian crisis — will take place virtually on Tuesday, 30 June.  The event is hosted by the European Union and co-chaired by the UN.  The Secretary-General will be represented at the meeting by the Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, accompanied by his Special Envoy Geir Pedersen.  Heads of UN agencies will also participate.  A press conference is scheduled to be held at 12:30 Brussels time, 6:30 a.m. here in New York, with the pledges made to be announced later in the afternoon.

Ahead of this conference, the World Food Programme (WFP) today said that Syrians face an unprecedented hunger crisis, with the prices of basic foods reaching levels unseen even at the height of the nine-year conflict and millions of people being deeper into poverty.  WFP estimates that 9.3 million Syrians are now food insecure – with an increase of 1.4 million in just the last six months alone.  Food prices are 20 [per cent] higher than their pre-crisis levels.  Families have been forced to adopt desperate measures from cutting meals, to reducing portions to selling assets and going deeper into debt.  In order to help, the World Food Programme urgently requires $200 million to continue to provide food assistance in Syria until the end of the year.  Unless new funding is available by August, WFP will be forced to drastically cut rations as well as the number of people reached with food as of October of this year. 

**Yemen

And turning to Yemen, the UN Children’s Fund today warned in a new report that millions of children could be pushed to the brink of starvation due to huge shortfalls in humanitarian aid funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  The report, entitled “Yemen five years on:  Children, conflict and COVID-19,” warns that as the country’s devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably.  UNICEF warns that unless it receives $54.5 million for health and nutrition services, nearly 24,000 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at increased risk of dying.  UNICEF is appealing for $461 million in total for the humanitarian response in Yemen, with an additional $53 million for the COVID-19 response alone.  So far, the COVID response is only 10 per cent funded and the humanitarian appeal is 39 per cent funded.  Much more is available online. 

**Mali

Turning to Mali, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said today that 580 civilians have been killed so far this year in central Mali in violent clashes between the Peulh and Dogon.  Ms. Bachelet added that members of the Malian Defence Forces and Security Forces sent to the area to counter community-based violence and armed groups have themselves been involved in human rights violations, mostly targeting members of the Peulh community.  She called on Malian authorities to investigate all alleged human rights violations and abuses and to ensure proper accountability.  This is the only way to reverse this trend of continuing violence, she said.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And to note a positive development — Yesterday, you will have seen that the Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was declared over.  Dr. Tedros, the Executive Director of WHO, emphasized how challenging it has been to fight this outbreak, but also that we came out of it with valuable lessons, and valuable tools.  The world is now better-equipped to respond to Ebola.  A vaccine has been licensed, and effective treatments have been identified. 

And staying in the DRC, yesterday afternoon, in the Council, Leila Zerrougui, the head of the Peacekeeping Mission in the country, said that with support from the UN mission, the Government has made efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as to alleviate the socioeconomic burden placed on the population by movement restrictions, border closures, and other measures to deal with the pandemic.  She also briefed Council members on the latest political developments in the DRC.  

A few updates from the UN system on our COVID-19 response. 

**Brazil

In Brazil, the UN migration agency and UNICEF are providing migrant children with educational materials so they can learn remotely during the pandemic.  Almost 4,000 children from Bolivia, Venezuela and Haiti have received these materials in Portuguese and in their native languages to help promote their integration into Brazilian society.

**Argentina

And from Argentina, our UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Roberto Valent, has released a report on the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of COVID-19. 

These are new challenges for Argentina, a country previously affected by major structural problems that led to inequality.  The new report shows that the economy will further contract by up to 8.2 per cent in 2020 if the pandemic is kept under control, and up to 10 per cent if there is a second outbreak of COVID‑19 in the country. 

While Argentina is among the top 50 countries with very high human development and has the capacity to produce food for 400 million people, the number of people receiving food assistance has jumped from 8 to 11 million people since the start of the pandemic.  By the end of this year, the number of children living in poverty could rise to nearly 60 per cent, with up to 850,000 people losing jobs, according to UNICEF and the ILO (International Labour Organization).  The UN team in Argentina is working with authorities to address the health emergency and boost previously existing social protection schemes to help prevent people from falling into poverty.  The UN has built 12 emergency hospital units and a COVID-19 unit dedicated to research and health interventions.  The UN has also been supporting education and food assistance programmes to help the most vulnerable people, with a focus on children, youth, migrants and refugees. 

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, the peacekeeping Mission there, together with UN-trained internally displaced people in Bentiu, in Unity State, has produced masks which are being distributed in the local community.  In Bor, in Jonglei State, the Mission trained social workers and activists, who are part of an organization called the Women Empowerment Centre and People’s Care Agency, on COVID-19 prevention to spread the message to people in Bor and nearby villages.  You will of course hear much more about South Sudan as soon as I’m done with David Shearer, the Special Representative on the ground and head of mission, who will brief you in detail. 

**Sudan

And in Darfur, the joint UN — African Union Mission is implementing a project in several rural communities to help more than 6,000 people in Central Darfur State.  This project includes the distribution of soap and dissemination of reading materials on COVID-19, as well as briefings from the Ministry of Health on their protocols during the pandemic, focus group discussions, and the sharing of experiences from other countries which have gone through similar health experiences. 

**UNICEF

And UNICEF said today that despite unprecedented transport and logistical constraints caused by COVID-19, it continues to deliver life-saving supplies to support countries’ responses to the pandemic

So far this year, UNICEF has shipped key personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to over 100 countries.  These include 7.5 million surgical masks, 2.8 million N95 respirators, nearly 10 million gloves, over 830,000 surgical gowns and nearly 600,000 face shields. 

UNICEF noted that limited availability of commercial flights has also taken a heavy toll on shipments of supplies for regular programmes.  To address vaccine shipment challenges, UNICEF is appealing to Governments, the private sector, the airline industry and others to provide solutions for freight space at an affordable cost for life-saving vaccines. 

**Central Emergency Revolving Fund

And, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, will allocate up to $140 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to put programmes in place to help people ahead of anticipated humanitarian disasters.  These funds will be used over the next 18 months, starting with $15 million in Somalia, which is facing a projected increase of humanitarian needs due to food insecurity resulting from the desert locusts, flooding and the pandemic.  For Mr. Lowcock, interventions undertaken before the full impact of a disaster are critical and can help save lives, mitigate suffering and lower the cost of responding to humanitarian consequences of shocks after the fact. 

**International Days

Today, we mark two international days.  In a message to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Secretary-General stressed that torture diminishes everyone and everything that it touches, including torturers and the systems and States where it occurs.  He added that torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes, and systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed.  For the Secretary-General, victims and survivors and their families must be empowered and assisted in seeking justice for their ordeal.

And today is also the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that this year’s theme, “Better Knowledge for Better Care”, speaks to the need to build solutions based on facts and shared responsibility. 

Both messages are available online

**UN Truce Supervision Organization

And finally, I’ve been asked a number of times today about a very disturbing video that has been circulating on the web. 

I can tell you that we are shocked and deeply disturbed by what is seen on the video.  The behaviour seen in it is abhorrent and goes against everything that we stand for and having been working to achieve in terms of fighting misconduct by UN staff.  We became aware of the video a little bit more than two days ago and our colleagues in the Office of Internal Oversight Services, OIOS, were immediately activated.  Their investigation, I know, is moving very quickly.  We know the location of the incident with the identification of individuals in the video, who are likely assigned to the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), is close to being completed.  We expect the process to be concluded very quickly and intend to take prompt appropriate action. 

For its part, UNTSO has also issued a statement which echoes what I just said and adds that the Mission stands committed to the UN’s zero-tolerance policy against any kind of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and reminds its personnel of their obligations to the UN Code of Conduct.

As part of our commitment to transparency, we will keep you informed on the conclusions of the investigation and any further action. 

As I said, after we're done, we will be joined by David Shearer, but I will ask David for a bit more patience as I now turn to you and whatever questions you may have.

 **Questions and Answers

James Bays has some questions.

Question:  I have quite a lot of questions, so you might want to do me in several chunks, but I'll do…

Spokesman:  All right.  Let me…

Question:  I've clearly got time on my hands, because there wasn't an event to cover with regard to the Charter.  There just was a pre-recorded video played.  Did the Secretary‑General have any role in the format of this non-event?  Because no one can say that was an event.  It was just a…  it was just a video played on a website. 

Spokesman:  No, this was a Member State event in which the Secretary‑General was, of course, delighted to contribute to.

I think I heard you and Edie's very thoughtful remarks and observations regarding the upcoming General Assembly, and I can assure you those will be relayed today.

Question:  Thank you.  So, I'm, for now, I'm going to ask you two questions on China, one which you've already heard, which is the independent experts.  A whole list of — you've probably seen it — of Special Rapporteurs and various other independent groups.  I know this is, they're independent.  I know they're independent, and I know they work for the Human Rights Council, but they are seriously concerned about the repression of fundamental freedoms in China.  Given this number of independent experts writing this, does the Secretary‑General share their concerns?

Spokesman:  I think we have already spoken on the issue of human rights before.  So, I would refer, in China, and I would refer you to our previous statements.

And, as you said, the Special Rapporteurs are part of the mechanism of human rights, and they're independent, and it's not for us to comment.

Question:  Okay.  A follow‑up, China‑US question.  The US has just announced new China visa restrictions for Communist Party officials responsible for eviscerating Hong Kong's freedoms.  Secretary‑General concerned about yet more deterioration in the relationship between two permanent members of the Security Council?

Spokesman:  Look, I think, you know, he's addressed this growing rift and his concern about it in interviews and in, and, I think, in the press conference yesterday, and it's, obviously, I think, for us, the more cooperation there is between countries and especially between the members of the, permanent members of the Security Council, the better the UN is.

Correspondent:  I have a few more, but come back to me later.

Spokesman:  Take a break, and I'll come back.

Carrie, please, go ahead.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Hi, everybody.  Just a quick question.  The logo this morning was showing number 74.  Is there a specific reason for it?

And also, are celebrations postponed?  And, if so, when?

Spokesman:  I can't speak to logo‑gate, but we'll find out what happened.  I can assure you that we are celebrating 75 years of the signing of the Charter. 

And, you know, things have not been postponed.  Obviously, as you can, as you well know, events are taking different shapes, but all are, the UN75 dialogues are continuing online.  We are forging ahead and, like all of us and like all of you, adapting to different ways of working.  Go ahead.

Question:  Follow‑up?

[cross-talk]

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up? Are you planning to do anything, like, to physically present, with everybody in presence when COVID‑19 crisis permits?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, I'd like to see all of you when COVID‑19 ends.  Let's see when it ends, and obviously, I can't speak to what we will do and when this will possibly happen.  I think we all have to take things a week at a time or so.

Edie, go ahead. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  Just as an answer to Carrie, I think it's 74 because it's, we're still in the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly, and the seventy-fifth session doesn't start until September.

Spokesman:  Edie, switch places with me.

Question:  My question, my question is, Steph, are there any other events in terms of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Charter taking place?  And I'm asking specifically about San Francisco but also, where it was signed, but also elsewhere in the world.

Spokesman:  Look, I think San Francisco may be organizing an event.  It is not one that we are organizing.  So, in terms of Member State events, this was the one today.  But, obviously, Member States, places, historical places where meetings have taken place, where the signing has taken place, may be organizing events on their own, but I think everything, given what, where we are, I think everything is a bit upended, to put it mildly.

Mr. Yamaguchi, please.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'd like you to just clarify what Secretary‑General said yesterday in the press conference.  He said, very probably, I don't think it's realistic to foresee my presence at the ceremony in Hiroshima.  Can you tell us if he has already decided not to go to Hiroshima in this August?  If not, do you have a deadline to decide?  Because the ceremony's only six weeks away from now.

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the Secretary‑General was as clear as he could be.  Given travel restrictions, the needs for quarantines and the need to be responsible, right, in order to avoid, in order to limit travel, I think it is very unlikely the Secretary‑General will go.  But I would refer you to, I think, his very moving words regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he's been, and so if he's not able to go, a message will be delivered, I think, by Ms. Nakamitsu, but it is highly improbable and unlikely the Secretary‑General will be there.

Mr. Evansky, Ben, then we'll go to Joe, who I think is waiting.  Ben?

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  Two quick questions on the Iran meeting, Security Council next week, is the SG addressing that meeting? A nd then I'll give you the follow‑up once you've given me that…

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware, I can double‑check, but I am not aware that he is.

Question:  And then just a quick update on the statement regarding UNTSO, the Inner City Press story.  What, you said it could be UNTSO, but then you said UNTSO itself issued a statement.

Spokesman:  No, what I, what I'm saying is that it's clearly an UNTSO vehicle.  I don't want to…  the people involved are just about identified.  So, we know, what I said was, it is likely that the people in the video do, are UNTSO staff members.  What is clear is that it's an UNTSO vehicle, and so UNTSO's fully seized of the matter, but as, the investigation is moving quickly, but I don't want to jump ahead of the investigators.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  It's Joe Klein.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, Joe, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Okay, thank you.  The Secretary‑General has referred, and he referred to it yesterday and other occasions, to wanting to see more teeth in global governance and [inaudible] trying to get more unity in the Security Council.  But in addition to that, and then he [inaudible].  Can you be more specific in what he had in mind when he talked about more “teeth”?

And related to that, on the UNRWA funding, does he have any recommendations with respect to more stable funding or innovative funding, for example, including any portion of UNRWA funding in assessments?  Does he have any ideas on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On your last question, I mean, what we would like to see is predictable and generous funding from UNRWA.  UNRWA is structured like most of our agencies with, I think, if I'm not mistaken, a very small portion of it that comes through assessed contributions from the Secretariat.  But the rest, whether it's UNHCR, UNDP, is all voluntary funding, and we would like people, Member States to continue funding as much as possible. 

UNRWA, unless I'm mistaken, does also have a mechanism through private donations, and that has also been activated.

I think on the teeth, on the dental part of the Secretary‑General's statement, one of the things he's been referring to is that what, the one organ that does have teeth has not been able to use them.  We have not seen a statement on COVID‑19.  We have not seen a statement on the global, on the SG's call on global ceasefire from the Security Council. 

And, obviously, the, he has called for a rethinking, a relooking at multilateralism that will involve, that will, obviously, need to be led and involve Member States.  But I think what we have seen with COVID is a lack of proper coordination, which we think has led to a worsening of the situation.

Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, one on Yemen.  As you know, the Southern Transitional Council had took over by force the island of Socotra.  Is there something going on?  Is there a…  can you share or is there a statement in the making about that flagrant aggression…

Spokesman:  When it happened, Mr. Griffiths, very publicly, expressed his deep concern over the situation in Socotra, the taking over of the State institutions by force, and he called, you know, both publicly, privately, on both the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council to swiftly implement the Riyadh Agreement, which had been signed and agreed to by the parties under the auspices of Saudi Arabia.

You had a second question?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  The second question about reflecting on 75 years of the UN.  But what the SG believe, as 400 million people in the Middle East believe, that the biggest failure of the UN [inaudible] on the question of Palestine?  I mean, the [inaudible] resolution 181 [inaudible] in 1947 [inaudible] today, none of these resolutions have been implemented [inaudible] Security Council.  Isn't that the biggest failure of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  Look, I think we'll let analysts and journalists and historians rank what can be considered the biggest failure of Member States to agree and to implement resolutions.  I think we've always been very open about, the Secretary‑General has talked about the failures of the Secretariat, both he and his predecessors, whether it was on Rwanda, on Srebrenica and other places, where we, as a Secretariat, have not, did not act, I think, in a way that rose up to the ideals of the Charter.

This is also a Member State‑driven organization, and I think Member States also have a responsibility to come together to speak as one and to implement and respect resolutions that have been passed.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Unless anybody else has a question…

Correspondent:  Yes, I do, Steph.  I have…

Spokesman:  Darn, I almost forgot.

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  [inaudible]

Question:  Look, I know SRSG Shearer is waiting, and I don't want him to wait much longer, and we want to hear him, but very quickly, on Libya, the National Oil Corporation of Libya has issued a statement saying it's concerned about the presence of Russian and other foreign mercenaries near the Sharara oilfield which I'm told is south of Sirte.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesman:  Not on the specific statement, but I can tell you that we have expressed publicly and privately our deep concern and disappointment at the continued presence of all sorts of foreign troops and armed personnel and the continued intake into [Libya] of weapons.  So, you know, we've kind of run out of words, but we've not run out of our efforts and action in order to bring the parties together.

Question:  And a very quick, couple of quick-fire ones.  No update on the Special Representative with regard to Libya?

Spokesman:  No.  Perhaps you can raise those questions to others.

Question:  And couple of others that you maybe can give us next week, which is, number one, what is the latest on the Secretary‑General's COVID‑19 Response Plan?  And number two, the year is moving…

I'm not hearing a lot of new countries giving money.  How bad is the financial crisis getting?  Could you get us an update, perhaps?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we will do that. 

All right.  David Shearer, if you're still here, please take me away from all of this and…

You have the floor.  And then make some opening comments, and then we will take some questions.  David, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.