29 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.

All right.  Good afternoon to all of you.  Happy Monday, if there is such a thing.  And a gentle reminder to mute your mics until called upon.

**Misinformation Campaign

After we are done, Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications will join us.  She will brief you on an initiative that we will be launching on 30 June.  It is a new initiative called “Pause” to help stop the spread of misinformation online, and she will give you all the fun details.

**Financing for Development

A few things for you.  I want to flag that the Secretary-General is convening a series of round tables focused on Financing for Development.  The first round table will be this Wednesday, with renowned women economists, policy leaders and academics.  They will share their insights and knowledge about what we can do to recover better and get on track to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  This is following on from the high-level event on Financing for Development in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond, which, as you all recall, was co‑hosted by the Secretary-General, as well as the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada.  The round tables will continue the discussion on debt, external finance, international trade and the need to engage new and diverse perspectives, to rethink old models, and to recover from the pandemic stronger than before.


A quick update on Yemen.  Our friend Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, today.  He is expected to have meetings in the next few hours with officials from the Government of Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The visit comes as part of the Special Envoy's efforts to negotiate a Joint Declaration between the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, which would commit the Parties to a ceasefire across Yemen, specific economic and humanitarian measures and the urgent resumption of the political process.


Turning to the Security Council, earlier today, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed members of the Council on humanitarian efforts in Syria.  He said that the United Nations continues to support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures across Syria, including the expansion of testing capacities.  But, he added that Syria’s health system is not prepared for a large-scale outbreak.  Mr. Lowcock said that prices of food, medicines, fuel and other essential commodities are soaring across Syria.  The volatile exchange rate has seen the Syrian pound lose more value in the last six months than in the first nine years of the current crisis.

Meanwhile, he said, under the cross-border operations, authorized by the Security Council, 1,781 aid trucks crossed the border from Turkey into north-west Syria in May.  Most of the cross-border aid is food — and it is enough for 1.3 million people every month.  Still, he added, more and more children and infants are arriving at nutrition centres showing signs of chronic and acute malnutrition.  Mr. Lowcock warned that a failure to extend the cross-border authorization would sever the UN operation currently under way.  It would also end the UN food deliveries and the support to nutrition centres and cause suffering and death.  This afternoon, Rosemary di Carlo, the head of the Political and Peacebuilding Department, is expected to brief the Council on Peace and Security in Africa.  Council members are also expected to renew the mandate of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for another year.

**Secretary-General — Global Goal

Turning to COVID-19:  In a video message we issued over the weekend for the “Global Goal:  Unite For Our Future” campaign, the Secretary-General said that the COVID-19 pandemic is the quintessential global challenge, affecting every person, every economy and every corner of the globe.  He said that the UN is mobilizing to save lives, ease suffering and recover better, with a special focus on the world’s most vulnerable people and countries.  More than ever, the Secretary-General said, we need the World Health Organization (WHO), global unity and partnerships to ensure that new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and a people’s vaccine are safe, effective and affordable.  The full message is on our website.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And I want to take a quick look at what we are doing in the field on preventing a further outbreak of COVID-19 and its impact.  Our friends at the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are assisting host communities in the south of Lebanon with donations of personal protective equipment and swab testing machines to carry out these tests.  They have also supported the work of the Red Cross to establish two triage centres in the Tyre district, in south‑western Lebanon.  Separately, in the south-eastern village of Adchit al‑Qusayr, UNIFIL peacekeepers donated critical medical supplies to the local dispensary and gave out personal protective equipment and sanitary supplies.

Meanwhile, our colleagues in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) are distributing 400 solar-powered radios in Eastern Equatoria State.  The radios will be used to combat misinformation and increase COVID-19 awareness, particularly in remote areas.  And in Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is providing protection kits to the Cooperative of Road Transporters, as well as to members of civil society organizations located in Mopti, in Central Mali.  From Somalia, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) visited the country’s national public health labs today, commending Somalia’s advances in diagnostic testing for COVID-19.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, James Swan, stressed how critical the testing is, adding that the progress in scaling up Somalia’s capacity to confront the pandemic demonstrates what can be achieved when national and international experts work hand in hand.

**COVID-19 — Timor-Leste

And just a quick note on our efforts to address the virus in East Timor.  There are 24 people who had been confirmed positive [and] have now fully recovered.  Our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Roy Trivedy, is supporting the easing of emergency restrictions, with the Government’s main concern being people crossing the borders and increasing the risk of the virus spreading in rural communities.  WHO and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), among other UN agencies, have strengthened border surveillance, case detection and contact-tracing, along with offering quarantine and isolation facilities.  While, thankfully, COVID-19 has not taken any lives in Timor-Leste, the virus is seriously impacting the economy, particularly the small and medium‑sized businesses and vulnerable groups.

Local markets and transport facilities have reopened, following WHO and Government health and safety protocols.  The UN is providing support from the Secretary-General’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.  The International Labour Organization (ILO), UN‑Women, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and others have distributed $54 million to 270,000 households to help prevent people from sliding into poverty.  The World Food Programme has also launched its air service between Malaysia and Timor-Leste to transport humanitarian cargo and workers.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Resident Coordinator are assessing the socio-economic impact of the virus and are supporting the Government’s Economic Recovery Plan, which is scheduled to last until 2023.

**COVID-19 — World Food Programme

And I want to flag that today, WFP said that, as the impact of the pandemic pushes millions more people into food insecurity in low- and middle-income countries, the agency is undertaking the biggest humanitarian response in its history.  WFP is ramping up the number of people it assists to up to 138 million.  This is up from a record 97 million in 2019.  WFP’s new estimates show that the number of hungry people in the countries where it operates could increase to 270 million before the year’s end.  That is an 82 per cent increase from before the pandemic took hold.  WFP is appealing for $4.9 billion over the next six months for its life-saving work they do in 83 countries.  All right.  Before I hand it over to Melissa, I would be happy to take some questions from you.  So, let's go to the chat box and see who's there.  James Bays.  Yes, sir, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  One of the more important buildings in the UN, the headquarters of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is known as Palais Wilson.  Are there any plans to change the name of that building?

Spokesman:  That's a very good question, one that I should have thought about before the briefing.  You may want to ask that question to our colleagues at the Human Rights Council, or I may try to get something for you.  Okay.

Correspondent:  I have a question.  Iftikhar.

Spokesman:  Yes, Iftikhar.

Correspondent:  Yes.  I'm sorry I don't have the chat box in my… so I'm interrupting you.

Spokesman:  No, no, that's okay.  Please go ahead.

Question:  Number one, there has been a terrorist attack on the Pakistan stock exchange building in Karachi.  Do you have a statement on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can tell you, Iftikhar, that we strongly condemn the attack that took place at the stock exchange in Karachi earlier today.  The Secretary‑General conveys his condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Pakistan.

Question:  And secondly, as you probably read the reports, there have been a lot of border tensions between India and Nepal, but, today, the Nepalese Prime Minister publicly accused India of trying to overthrow its Government.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No.  Let me get back to you.  I don't have any language on that at this point.  Dulcie, you have a question.

Question:  Me?  Is this… is that how it works?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead.  I can hear you.

Question:  Oh, okay.  So, I was just wondering about all the COVID‑19 equipment that the UN various offices and missions keep providing.  So, where does that money come from to buy these… this equipment?  And who… who is providing the equipment?

Spokesman:  Which… are you… sorry.  Are you talking about the…?

Correspondent:  The PPE [personal protective equipment] stuff that…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, some of… I think, as we've been giving you updates regularly; some of it comes from the money the peacekeeping missions have themselves, the things… equipment that they have.  In the case of the country offices, it's either directly from the agencies, or it's tapping into the humanitarian fund, the global humanitarian fund that the Secretary‑General unveiled at the beginning of the crisis.  So, the financing… the financial source comes from various places.

Question:  But, where does the equipment come from?  Who's…?

Spokesman:  The equipment is either equipment that they may have or equipment that they procure in the global marketplace.  I mean, our procurement, our logistics, global… procurement global logistics have been working and purchasing equipment as needed.  Okay.  James, go ahead, unless somebody else has a question, then Abdelhamid…

Correspondent:  I think I sent you a private message and put in all participants twice.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry.  Well… it's my bad.  I hadn't… I was not looking at the right screen.  So, let's…

Correspondent:  Let Edie go first.

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Edie.

Question:  I have two questions.  First, on Martin Griffiths' trip to Saudi Arabia today, has he gotten acceptance already from the Houthis on this new effort, or is he starting with the Government and the Saudi‑backed Coalition? If you want to take that, then I have one more.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, I'm not going to get into the details of his work, but you can imagine, whether it's Yemen and other places, aligning all the different parties at the same time on the same line takes a great amount of skill.  And that is exactly what Martin Griffiths is trying to do.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is that Israel's defence minister said, a little while ago, that annexation of the West Bank will wait, citing the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Look, the comment that we have is basically what the Secretary‑General has already said, is speaking very clearly against any annexation and against any unilateral move.  We are, obviously, in touch with all the parties.  Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov is on top of the situation, but our position is unchanged.  Abdelhamid, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's a follow‑up to Edith's question.  Mr. Mladenov has been shuttling between Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and in contact with people in Gaza.  So, can you update us on his activity?  What is he trying to achieve at this very last moment before the annexation supposedly starts on 1 July?

Spokesman:  Anything we could do to avoid the annexation, obviously, would be a positive step.  He's also clearly working, as he said and as the Secretary‑General said, on moving in the right direction, which we'd hope would also involve a meeting of the Quartet with… including the… obviously, the two parties but also the neighbouring countries.

Question:  I have another question, Stéphane, on Myanmar.  There is a statement issued by Refugees International today, very chilling, about [inaudible] and about atrocities committed against the Muslims in Rakhine State.  Do you have any update on that situation?

Spokesman:  No, I haven't seen that particular statement.  I think we have… we, whether it's the Secretary‑General or the various components of the UN system, have spoken out very clearly against the vict… the acts of which the Rohingya in Rakhine State have been victims, the Muslim population in that state has been a victim of, and also calling for accountability.  Before I turn to your question, I had also been asked before about a reaction of the Secretary‑General to the meeting on the great… the Renaissance Dam over the weekend, and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General welcomes the outcome of the Extraordinary AU Bureau meeting over the weekend on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the commitment of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to continue negotiations for an agreement.  The Secretary‑General commends the African Union for leading efforts to facilitate an agreement and encourages Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to build on the positive momentum and reach a mutually beneficial accord.  Who do I have a question from?  Evelyn, go ahead.  And then we can go back to you, James.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  Right.  I was listening to the Secretary‑General on Fareed Zakaria's show, and he said that China had to accept human rights as a dimension of the UN's work, but has a long way to go on civil and political rights.  Does he support the request of 50 special rapporteurs and human rights experts to support… to appoint a special envoy for China, Hong Kong and…?

Spokesman:  That is… the appointments of special rapporteurs and thematic rep… is decisions of the… sovereign decision of the Human Rights Council.  It's not for him to opine on it.  So, I really have nothing to add to, I think, what was a very clear interview he gave to Fareed Zakaria on CNN.

Question:  Also, because I was tuned in to you, was there a result on… in the Security Council session on cross‑border entrances?

Spokesman:  I'm… I don't have any update from the Council on any decision.  James, and then I think we'll go to Melissa, who's been very patient.

Question:  Yes.  Sorry.  It's a bit of a recap, but the Security Council is, as we speak, making another push following the Secretary‑General's request — it was a very long time ago — on the COVID‑19 ceasefire resolution.  Can you remind us, even now, months on, why the Secretary‑General is so keen to get this resolution?

Spokesman:  The Security Council has primacy in the UN over issues of peace and security.  A strong statement from that body… a strong unified statement from that body supporting the Secretary‑General's call for a global ceasefire, I think, would go a long way in, hopefully, making a call for a ceasefire a reality.  All right.  Melissa, it's over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.