1 July 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 to you all.  We’ve made it past another month.  Welcome to Wednesday and welcome to July.  Please remember to mute your microphones.

**Financing for Development

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the first of a series of virtual round tables on “Rebirthing the Global Economy to Deliver Sustainable Development”.  This first round table focused on listening to the insights of women leaders.  The Secretary-General said that as the world crafts a comprehensive global response to the pandemic, action on finance must be central.  “If countries lack the financial means to fight the pandemic and invest in recovery, we face a health catastrophe and a painful slow global recovery,” he said.  Mr. [Antonio] Guterres added that we must also address the debt concerns of the — mostly — developing countries and a large number of middle-income countries that have lost the capacity to access financial markets.

The Secretary-General also noted that while just 10 per cent of global leaders are women, many of these leaders have launched decisive and effective responses to the pandemic.  He stressed the need to incorporate the insights and perspectives of all, if we are to create the inclusive, resilient and gender-equal societies that can address the global challenges we face today.  For her part, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said we need to imagine a new global economy in which finance becomes a means and not an end, one that balances the shareholders’ interests with people and planet in all areas and especially in trade, debt vulnerability and external finance.  The text of all those remarks have been shared with you already.


Also, I wanted to flag on Libya that today, the Secretary-General spoke by phone with Faiez Serraj, the President of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord.  He spoke to him about the situation in Libya, obviously.  The Prime Minister indicated his commitment to a dialogue within the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission and expressed his interest in a political solution based on elections.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister also discussed the need to reopen blocked oil terminals and oil fields in the country.  The Secretary-General expressed his shock at the recent discovery of mass graves in Libya and stated that the United Nations was ready to assist in efforts to ensure accountability.  The Secretary-General reiterated the support of the United Nations to the Government of Libya in its efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.


Turning to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, was in Saudi Arabia over the last two days, as you know.  And there, he met with Yemeni President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.  He also met with Prime Minister Mouin Abdel Malek and other Yemeni political figures.  He discussed the latest developments in Yemen and stressed the need to advance all efforts that would lead to the resumption of the political process, including by agreeing on a ceasefire across Yemen and addressing critical economic and humanitarian circumstances.  Mr. Griffiths is now travelling to Oman, and we will update you on his activities there.


And you will have seen that, yesterday, in Brussels, the international community confirmed $5.5 billion in funding to support the humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2020 for the Syria crisis response.  That funding includes pledges towards the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, and the Red Cross’s Syria crisis appeals.  The international community also confirmed $2.2 billion in funding for humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2021 and beyond for the Syria crisis response.  This multi-year commitment is important in demonstrating a clear commitment to continue to support those most affected by the Syrian crisis and ensuring that humanitarian and development agencies are able to plan ahead.

**Central African Republic

And we also have an update from the Central African Republic, specifically on what’s going on in the Ouham-Pendé Prefecture.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that, yesterday, there were simultaneous attacks against its temporary base in Koui, as well as heavy exchange of fire between peacekeepers and a group of 3R insurgents.  No casualties were reported.  The Peacekeepers have deployed helicopters from Bouar to provide necessary air support and increased its operational posture in the Bocaranga and Koui areas, including the establishment of a temporary operating base in Yade.  Peacekeepers have also reinforced positions around Koui, which is a 3R stronghold.  A number of displaced people remain in the proximity of the MINUSCA temporary base.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, our Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Alain Noudéhou, today condemned the killing of an aid worker in Lakes State.  On 28 June, a clearly marked ambulance was shot while transporting an injured person to a hospital following intercommunal violence in the area.  The driver of the ambulance, who worked for an international non-governmental organization providing health services, was killed.  The Humanitarian Coordinator said that these violent acts against humanitarian workers are outrageous and unacceptable, especially during a time when health workers are taking significant risks, personally, to assist those South Sudanese people who are impacted by COVID-19, preventable diseases and injuries related to armed violence.  The Humanitarian Coordinator stressed that aid workers need a safe and secure environment to provide people with the assistance they need.  This is the fifth aid worker killed in South Sudan this year alone, bringing the number of humanitarian workers killed in the country since 2013 to 120.


Now an update from colleagues at the country level, on their efforts related to the pandemic.  In Kazakhstan, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Norimasa Shimomura, is focusing on saving lives and livelihoods, while also providing technical advice on a safe and gradual reopening.  New United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) guidelines are helping to ensure the right of every child to education, health and safety while returning to school.  School closures have also increased the burden of unpaid work at home for women.  UN‑Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) found that, while men have spent more time caring for children and older family members, they were much less focused on daily domestic chores.  The amount of time women spend on these chores has jumped from 18 to 41 per cent during the pandemic in Kazakhstan.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to reduce the impact of the virus on sexual reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services.  We are also providing legal assistance to more than 1,500 migrants and their families and has trained 1,000 civil servants to help vulnerable people.  In support of our Verified initiative, the UN has trained 40 editors and journalists on addressing misinformation with tips for fact-checking.


And turning to Brazil, this evening, our colleagues at the UN Information Centre will support the organization of a special tribute Mass for the victims of COVID-19.  The Mass will feature a message from Pope Francis, and will be broadcast at 6 p.m. New York time, live from the Christ Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro.  The Mass will be shown on YouTube Live, as part of the Verified campaign.  The UN Information Centre in Brazil and Purpose have also launched a new website to provide digital first responders from Lusophone countries around the world with reliable information materials in Portuguese.  You can find out more on their website.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued recommendations for the European Union to ensure refugee protection during the pandemic and beyond.  UNHCR is also calling on the German Presidency of the European Union for this part of the year to keep refugee protection high on the agenda.  UNHCR added that development and cooperation aid are key, so refugees are included in national systems and safety nets.  This is necessary to limit the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 and for refugees to thrive not just survive.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

And our friends at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris today said that it has received many reports that African cultural property is being illicitly trafficked using false UNESCO documents.  These false documents fraudulently bear UNESCO's name and logo, sometimes using fake business cards and usurping the names of officials of the Organization.  The majority of the victims of this fraud reside in France and the cumulative damage is estimated at more than €1 million.  UNESCO is considering legal action and calls on people who receive such offers to be vigilant and very careful.  More on UNESCO’s website.


I’ve also been asked about the recent legislation brought forward in Gabon concerning the decriminalization of homosexuality.  I can tell you that we welcome the adoption of a bill by the Senate in Gabon that decriminalizes homosexuality, in line with several resolutions of the Human Rights Council and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to “leave no one behind”.


A couple of programming notes.  At 2:30 p.m., Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations and the President of the Security Council for July, will brief you on the Council’s Programme of Work for the month.  And tomorrow, the guest at the briefing will be Elliott Harris, the UN’s Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  He and a youth social entrepreneur will brief you on the 2020 World Youth Social Entrepreneurship and the 2030 Agenda.  I think that is from me.  Let's see what you all have to say, but I have… ask, rather, but I need my glasses.  All right.  James Bays, you have a question, and then I think Benny has a question.  So, let's go to James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay, Steph.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the imposition of the new draconian Hong Kong security law?

Spokesman:  We have expressed our concern about the law, and we have really nothing more to add at this time.

Question:  Is the law, as the UK says, a breach of the Joint Declaration signed before Hong Kong was handed over?

Spokesman:  I think I've answered that question before.  We are the repository of the Hong Kong‑UK… the China‑UK agreement, as has been deposited with the UN treaty section, as more than thousands and thousands of treaties have.  The fact that we are… we have… it is deposited with us does not give us a role in its interpretation or its application.

Question:  But, the SG has an entire legal office.  Shouldn't he get a position rather than sitting on the fence?

Spokesman:  No, I… listen, there are treaties under which we have obligations, and other of which we don't.  And this is one of those treaties that is deposited with us, and we do not have a role to play in the interpretation or application of this treaty.

Question:  Okay.  A couple of very quick follow‑ups which are relevant.  Do you now have more substantive answers — you had time to formulate them on other key questions you were asked over the last week  — on the forced sterilization of Uyghur women by Chinese authorities?

Spokesman:  I think I've answered that before that we've seen the press reports and we've expressed in the past directly our concern about the human rights situation in the north‑west of China directly to the Chinese authorities.

Question:  But, nothing new on that?  And on the unprecedented call by numerous UN Special Rapporteurs and their experts for action on human rights abuses with regard to China… have you come up with an answer on that yet?

Spokesman:  I think we have made our position very clear and our concerns on human rights issues having to do with the north‑west of China.

Question:  It seems to me, Steph, there's nothing that's very clear on this.  The Secretary‑General doesn't seem to want to say anything on China's human rights.  Has China got the Secretary‑General's tongue?

Spokesman:  No.  I appreciate your effort at a pun; but not at all.  I think, on Hong Kong, we have always recalled the importance of ensuring respect for international human rights law.  We have expressed our concern directly with the Chinese authorities about the human rights situation in north‑west of China.  I would encourage you to listen to what the Secretary‑General said in an interview just last weekend on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, and I think he's been very clear and has kept his principled positions on this.  All right.  Benny?

Question:  Yeah, I also have a few questions.  The first one, so, a new Israeli law comes into effect this month that punishes johns or frequenters of prostitutes.  Is that being considered by the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] while it investigates speedily that event in… last week?  And also, where is that investigation…?

Spokesman:  The investigation is almost complete, and I was… I would hope to have an update that I will share with you later this afternoon, giving you the results of the preliminary administrative investigation, because that's what our role is.  As to whether or not there [were] criminal acts, that is something I'm not in a position to discuss at this point.

Question:  Related question:  UNTSO [United Nations Truce Supervision Organization] was established to oversee a ceasefire between countries that now have peace treaties.  Do you know what it still does?

Spokesman:  UNTSO also is there to support… is supporting also the work of the UN, from what I under… from what I recall, in the Golan and is following its stated mandate.

Question:  Yeah.  According to its website, it lends personnel to other peacekeeping missions.  Don't we have, those peacekeeping missions, their own mandates?  Why do they need UNTSO to lend personnel to them?

Spokesman:  I think the role of observers is an important one which they support the other missions with.

Question:  But they observe a ceasefire between countries that now have peace treaties?

Spokesman:  I think I've run out of words on our UNTSO subject.  Iftikhar, do you have a question?

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Steph, thank you very much.  You must have seen reports from Srinagar in Indian‑occupied Kashmir about large‑scale demonstrations after a civilian was killed by Indian troops as the situation deteriorates there.  Do you have any comment on it?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  I… on… can you repeat that?  I don't think I heard.

Correspondent:  There has been… there have been large‑scale demonstrations in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir… Indian‑occupied Kashmir after a civilian was killed… elderly civilian was killed by Indian troops as the situation deteriorates there.

Spokesman:  No, I haven't seen those particular reports.  Obviously, as anywhere, we encourage people to be able… authorities to allow people to demonstrate freely and to ensure that they can express their rights to demonstrate freely, as they should be able to do anywhere around the world.  Nabil Abi, you have a question.

Question:  Yes.  Hi, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?  Can we expect any statement or position from the SG today or tomorrow on the annexation in the West Bank?  And I have a question on Libya.

Spokesman:  Listen, I think our position has been made very clear through the Secretary‑General.  At least, as of now, I have not seen any action that has been taken.  So, obviously, we will react to whatever happens.  But, at this point, I think we've made clear our position against any unilateral moves.  And on Libya?

Question:  On Libya, can you elaborate more, please, on the phone call?  Did the SG call Mr. Serraj, or did Mr. Serraj call the SG?  And what measures or steps can the UN do to support accountability [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I have nothing more to tell you on the phone call except to add that the Secretary‑General also spoke to Mr. [Khalifa] Haftar at Mr. Haftar's request, and I do expect a readout of that phone call to be issued a bit later.  We can help, in many different ways, the Government.  Whether it's in logistics, in forensics, whatever ways the Government will need our support to investigate these mass graves and accountability, we will do that.  We, unfortunately, globally, have experience in these types of investigations, and whatever the UN system can do to help the Libyan Government investigate and bring people to account, we will do so.

Question:  You mean that the UN will not maybe visit the site or the UN team will not get any information from the ground, unless the Government asks you to do that?

Spokesman:  Well, the Government has a primary responsibility.  We will… whenever the Government… we will see what the Government asks of us, and we will do our best to meet those requests, whether… obviously, security permitting, but whether it's visiting the site or research or whatever they would need, we will do our best to try to help them.

Question:  Okay.  And if it's possible to share what you said about the phone call by email, please?

Spokesman:  Yes, I… that… the readout of Mr. Serraj went out earlier this morning, and I will email out the Haftar readout shortly.  Yoshita, you have a question?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Stéphane, there was a terrorist attack in Sopore in Jammu and Kashmir in which a CRPF personnel was killed; three others were injured and a civilian was also killed by the terrorist firing.  In fact, there's a picture… heart‑wrenching picture of a toddler sitting with the grandfather who was killed by the terrorist firing.  Does the SG have a comment on that, on this…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular report.  We will look into it.  But, obviously, people who are responsible need to be brought to account, but I mean, let me look further into the report.  Okay?  Gloria, you had a question?

Question:  Regarding the refugees, can we catalogue them by their pouvoir faire, their abilities of education, credentials as lawyers, plumbers, engineers and journalists to be able to explain what's happening in the refugee camps for the public?

Spokesman:  I think there's no greater voice for the advocacy on behalf of journalists… of refugees than refugees themselves, and I think UNHCR has done that quite a bit in the past and will continue to put refugee voices up front and centre.  Okay.  Any other questions?

Correspondent:  My name… my name is on the list there.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, sorry.  I didn't see it.  Go ahead.

Question:  No problem.  So, Stéphane, I want to go back to the phone call.  First, did the SG take the initiative to call Mr. Serraj and not the other way around?

Spokesman:  This is part of the follow‑up to the conversations, I think, the [Acting] SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] had with Mr. Serraj, so he… and it was agreed that they would speak.

Question:  Okay.  And now, when he spoke… or when he answered the phone call, Haftar, under what capacity?  What does Haftar represent so the SG should talk to him?  When there is investigation of mass graves in Tarhouna and he… at least indirectly or directly, he's part of that.  So, how could he accept a phone call from someone who… a prospective war criminal… of being a war criminal?

Spokesman:  Look, there are a few separate things here that we need to unpack.  There are Governments that are recognized by the United Nations and that is… whether it's the Government of National Accord or other Governments in other countries where there may be some internal strife.  The fact that the Secretary‑General speaks to someone does not confer any official status on that person.  What is clear is that the phone calls were taken within — and this is in relation to Mr. Haftar — within the Secretary‑General's good offices, within the mandate given to the United… to the Secretariat by the Security Council for a political mission.  It is clear that, as a mediator, whether it's Stephanie Williams herself or the Secretary‑General, they need to talk to the parties who are active on the ground.  It doesn't confer on them any sort of legal status, but if you're going to… and this is for anywhere, it seems to me pretty obvious.  If you're going to make peace, you're going to have to talk with those who are waging war.  Did you have another question?  No.  Evelyn?  Anyone else?  Anyone else had a question?

Correspondent:  Hi, me.  You missed…

Spokesman:  How are you?

Question:  Did… does Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, by any chance, have any comment today on the annexation of the Jordan Valley that didn't happen?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, we try not to comment on things that… I mean, we… let me not get into trouble here.  I think, as I said to Nabil, our position on the annexation is very clear.  The Secretary‑General said it in very clear and simple and stark language.  That has not changed.  As far as I know, as of now, nothing has really happened on the ground.  So, there's nothing for us to comment on.  What I can tell you is that Mr. Mladenov, in the past days, has been in daily contact with his Israeli counterparts, his Palestinian counterparts, regional interlocutors, including the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Jordan, in order to restore some sort of real dialogue between the parties.  He's also been dealing with the impact of the current situation on the civilian population.  Okay.  Anyone else?  All right.  Thank you much, and we will see each other mañanaHasta la vista.

For information media. Not an official record.