2 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.

Thank you very much, Reem.  And happy Thursday to all of you, and we can all pretend that it’s actually Friday, because, as you know, tomorrow is a holiday here in our host country, in the United States, so we will be closed, and we will not have a virtual briefing.  However, as always, we remain available to answer your questions.  After we’re done my guest will be Elliott Harris, UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and Pezana Rexha, the youth social entrepreneur.  They will be here to brief you on the 2020 World Youth Report.


The United Nations in Myanmar today expressed its deep sadness at the loss of life due to a massive landslide in a mining site in Kachin State earlier today.  The UN team in Myanmar commends the courageous efforts by the men and women involved in the difficult rescue and recovery efforts and it extends its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes the injured a speedy recovery.  I do hope to have a statement from the Secretary-General on this a bit later today.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General spoke just now at the Security Council meeting on COVID-19.  He said that the consequences of the pandemic can be seen even in a number of countries traditionally seen as “stable”.  But, the impacts are particularly apparent in countries already experiencing conflict or emerging from it — and may soon engulf others, he warned.  In some countries, the Secretary-General said, fragile peace processes could be derailed by the crisis, especially if the international community is distracted.  He noted that populists, nationalists and others who were already seeking to roll back human rights are finding in the pandemic a pretext for the repressive measures unrelated to the disease.  Meanwhile, the Secretary-General added, stigma and hate speech are on the rise and an epidemic of misinformation online has run rampant.

He detailed the work the United Nations is doing to address these problems, telling the Council members that our challenge is to save lives today while buttressing the pillars of security for tomorrow.  You will have seen that the Secretary-General welcomed the adoption by the Security Council of its resolution on COVID-19 and its recognition of his efforts to respond to the crisis, in particular his appeal for a global ceasefire.  The adoption of this resolution will send an important message to conflict parties and may help change calculations on the ground, we said in a note that we issued yesterday.


And we put out a readout yesterday afternoon of the phone call between the Secretary-General and General [Khalifa] Haftar, the Commander of the Libyan National Army.  The Secretary-General reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict in Libya.  The solution can only be political, and Libyan-owned and Libyan‑led, he said.  The Secretary-General reaffirmed the full commitment of the United Nations to dialogue within the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission.  The Secretary-General expressed his shock at the recent discovery of mass graves and stressed the need for full respect of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  He also indicated his commitment to help find a solution for the reopening of blocked oil terminals and oil fields in the country.


Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that between 10 April, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Yemen, and 1 July, authorities have announced 1,122 confirmed cases, including 303 deaths from the virus.  The fatality rate is alarmingly high at around 25 per cent — that’s five times the global average.  Although resources are limited, aid agencies have scaled up the COVID-19 response.  More than 12,000 metric tons of medical equipment, testing kits and medicines were procured, with 8,616 metric tons of these having already arrived in the country.  Humanitarian partners are deploying two high‑capacity mobile field hospitals with nearly 100 beds and providing salaries to 9,000 front‑line health‑care workers.  Aid agencies are also responding to other deadly diseases, including cholera, diphtheria, dengue and malaria, and providing nutrition treatment to pregnant women and malnourished children.

As you’ll recall, on 2 June, at the High-Level Pledging Conference for Yemen, international donors announced pledges of a combined $1.35 billion — that’s less than the $2.41 billion needed to cover essential humanitarian activities in the last six months of this year, leaving a gap of more than $1 billion.  With only $558 million provided so far, the aid operation is on the brink of collapse unless donors fulfil their pledges immediately and those who have not pledged, pledge now.


In Afghanistan, with the prospect of peace talks starting this month between the Afghan Government and Taliban negotiators, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) urged parties to redouble efforts at protecting civilians from harm.  UNAMA also urged parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to save lives and create a conducive environment for the forthcoming talks in Doha.  The Mission is particularly concerned by a recent spate of violent incidents in which members of Afghanistan’s civil society have been targeted.  In the first six months of 2020, preliminary figures indicate that more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks against civilians.  UNAMA attributed responsibility for approximately half of these civilian casualties to the Taliban.  UNAMA’s continued call for an end to violence is also immediately linked to the need for all parties to provide the necessary focus and resources to combat the current virus pandemic.


And a few updates from our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome.  In Kenya, WFP has launched cash transfers and nutrition support for more than a quarter of a million people struggling to survive from the impact of the virus on informal settlements in Nairobi.  Nearly 280,000 people, who struggled to feed themselves even before the onset of the pandemic and have lost their income due to COVID-19 restrictions, will receive these cash distributions.


And in Bangladesh, to help people at risk of monsoon flooding in the country’s north, WFP has helped disburse funds to some 30,000 vulnerable people living within the flood zone through a mobile banking system.  WFP says that, by offering cash prior to the floods, families have the flexibility to purchase food or other items and to make plans to move out of harm’s way.  More on both of these programmes on WFP’s website.


Our friends in Geneva at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomed today the decision by the Government of Uganda to give safe haven to thousands of refugees fleeing escalating violence in the eastern neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A first group of about 1,500 asylum-seekers — the majority of them women and children — entered Uganda yesterday.  The head of UNHCR in Uganda said this is proof that even in the midst of a pandemic, there are ways to manage border restrictions in a manner that respects international human rights and refugee protection standards.


A new report today released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) says that [electronic] waste has surged up to 21 per cent in the past five years.  The report says that a record 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was produced globally in 2019 — for perspective, that’s the weight of 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2 — the ship, that is.  The report also shows that only 17.4 per cent of last year’s e-waste was officially documented and properly collected and recycled.  This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at $57 billion — that’s a sum greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries — were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment [and] reuse.

**Food Price Index

This is the first, beginning of the month, so our friends at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that, in June, global food commodity prices rose for the first time since the beginning of the year.  This was driven by a rebound in vegetable oils, sugar and dairy quotations.  The FAO Price Index averaged 93.2 points in June and that is some 2.4 per cent higher than the previous month.  According to the quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, also published today, conflicts and weather shocks remain critical factors underpinning the high level of severe food insecurity in countries requiring external assistance for food.  The COVID-19 pandemic is also having wide-ranging and severe effects, particularly through the loss of income.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the virtual belated Commemoration of the International Day of Vesak 2020.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that, this year, the Buddha’s teachings can help remind us all of the unity we need to meet the COVID-19 challenge.  He emphasized that it is only by combining our energies and expertise that we can address the tremendous fragilities of the world today.

**Personnel Appointments

A couple of senior personnel announcements I want to flag for you today.  The Secretary-General is appointing Abubacarr Marie Tambadou of the Republic of the Gambia as the Registrar of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.  Mr. Tambadou succeeds Olufemi Elias of Nigeria, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his dedicated service to the Residual Mechanism and international criminal justice.  Until recently, Mr. Tambadou was serving as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of the Gambia, a position he held since 2017.  He brings over 14 years of experience in the area of international criminal justice, including through his role as Special Assistant to the Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and Trial Attorney and later Appeals Counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  More information is available online.  And we will also be sending to you shortly an announcement of a new Deputy SRSG… Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in Iraq and that will go out to you electronically later.

**Sustainable Development

A couple of things I want to flag to you on upcoming events.  Our annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development starts on Tuesday.  This year’s theme is “Accelerated action and transformative pathways:  realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. So far, 47 countries are expected to share their voluntary national reviews, which are their plans to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while tackling the pandemic.  On Monday, Member States of the Economic and Social Council will meet to hear the analysis and recommendations from UN entities and the Council’s expert bodies on the impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs and how to recover better and fairer.  Then, on the opening day, this year’s Sustainable Development Goals Report will be released.  The report shows that the pandemic has reversed decades of progress, especially for the most vulnerable among us.  And at the end of the Forum on 17 July, there will be a high-level conversation on the kind of multilateralism [needed] today to respond to global crises such as COVID-19.  More information available online.

**Noon Briefing Guests

On Monday, I will have two guests at the briefing.  The first will be Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  She will be accompanied by Jimmy Smith, Director‑General of the International Livestock Research Institute.  They will be here to brief you on a very interesting report entitled “Preventing the Next Pandemic:  Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission”.  That, of course, refers to diseases that jump from animals to humans.  Then right after that, at 1 p.m. on Monday, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), will be here to talk about the launch of the annual UNAIDS Global AIDS Update Report.  Okay.  A lot of words from me.  Let's see if we can get some questions from you.  Edie, we'll go to Edie, and then we'll go to James.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Steph, thank you very much.  On the issue of the Secretary‑General's call for global ceasefires to deal with COVID‑19, he has said that he's working with Special Envoys and others to try and do this.  Can we get an update on actually… who actually signed on, and has there actually been significant progress in this at all?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We will… we have a list of Governments who have signed on, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and a number of armed groups, whether it's in Cameroon and other countries.  We will send you and share an update as quickly as we can.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Follow‑up on Libya, if I can.  I have a sort of more substantive question in a moment, but, first, looking at the readout that came with regard to the phone call from Haftar, it calls him Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.  You referred to him just moments ago as General Haftar.  The only person who made Haftar a field marshal was Haftar.  It's a self‑styled title.  He appointed himself.  And you also refer to him without inverted commas as Commander of the Libyan National Army.  Clearly, it is… there is an armed group called Libyan National Army, but it is not the Libyan National Army.  Would you consider those mistakes in your readout?  Because General Haftar considers himself… he said himself that he is the leader of all Libya.  You certainly aren't referring to him as that.

Spokesman:  No, I would not read too much into the titles given in the readout.  It is clear that, from our point of view, there is an internationally recognized Government of Libya that sits in Tripoli that we work with.  Mr. Haftar is a party to the conflict.  He had requested to speak to the Secretary‑General, and the Secretary‑General spoke to him.  I think the messages that he delivered to Mr. Haftar are clear, and I would leave it at that.

Question:  So, my bigger question is that, in the last 48 hours or so, the Secretary‑General has spoken to Haftar.  He's also spoken to Prime Minister [Faiez] Serraj.  What is the aim of the Secretary‑General's outreach, and does he think he is closer to some progress?

Spokesman:  The aim is to stop the conflict.  Right?  The aim is to get the parties back to the Libyan‑owned process, to the 5+5 military talks with the three subheadings that we had been talking about that had been outlined in Berlin.  And it seems that… whether or not we're closer, it's not a question I can answer.  I think we all have to look at what happens on the ground.  Now, obviously, the two gentlemen the Secretary‑General spoke to are on the ground, but there are hosts of countries that have direct influence on these parties.  It is also important that they deliver the same message.  It is important that the violations, the repeated violations of the arms embargo by many, stop.  And frankly, I think the party that is being forgotten in all of this is really the people of Libya, the civilians, who are in the crossfire and who have been in the crossfire for much too long.

Question:  One final follow‑up.  Is the Secretary‑General getting directly involved… I mean, I know you have been very supportive of the work of the Deputy Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, but is it in part because of Secretary‑General's frustration that the Security Council won't give him a new special representative, that he's had to pick up the phone himself?

Spokesman:  No.  I think Mr.… first of all, Ms. Williams is the leader of the Mission.  She's been doing a great job, and she acts on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  Whether it's the conflict in Syria, whether it's Yemen, whether it's Libya, wherever it is anywhere we have special representatives, you will see that those special representatives are in touch with the leaders, and sometimes they ask the Secretary‑General to make a call.  They ask the boss to make a call.  And I think that's… it's only a normal part of the process, and it is in no way a reflection of Ms. Williams' authority or the work that she's doing.  All right.  Let me go back to the chat box.  Okay.  Gloria, I see you have a question.  And let me move so I can see the screen a little better.

Question:  Yeah, hi.  Following Edie's comments, regarding the ceasefire in conflicts, according to the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], there are over 100 conflicts in over 60 States.  Are we informed which of these particular parts of the world these conflicts are centred in?  And under the circumstances of COVID‑19 worldwide and the danger it poses to rebels themselves, as well as the people under attack in these conflicts, is there a way to negotiate now that these militants can save their own lives?  They're not under serious…?

Spokesman:  We all know where the conflicts are, and that's what special envoys are doing.  They're negotiating.  They're trying to bring people to the table.  Majeed, and then Evelyn.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first one is about Security Council next week will vote on a resolution to extend the cross‑border humanitarians.  I know that Secretary‑General doesn't interfere in the internal matters of Security Council, but as you know, this cross‑border resolution has been highly politicized in terms of which country prefer… which cross‑border do we open.  And at the end of it, it's a humani… about humanitarian needs.  Has the Secretary‑General personally talked to the members to try to… to push them towards opening all the necessary cross border… cross borders in Syria?

Spokesman:  I think we have been very public, whether it's the Secretary‑General, whether it's Mr. [Mark] Lowcock and others, that a sustained, large‑scale cross‑border response will continue to be necessary to meet the enormous humanitarian needs of the people in north‑east Syria.  I mean, that's clear, and that's what we've been saying.  And so, obviously, this has come up in conversations and in exchanges between the Secretary‑General and members of the Council, Mr. Lowcock and members of the Council.  But, as you say, ultimately, the Security Council is the one to give us that authority.  It is… and we will act and follow whatever authority they give us, but I think we have been extremely clear, publicly and privately, on the needs.

Question:  And I have another question.  It's on the switch in Iraq.  Yesterday, Iraq moved military to the border with Turkey.  And according to the Iraqi officials, it's to stop Turkey from advancing further.  This is turning into a very tense situation.  And last week, Secretary‑General addressed directly any message to Turkey or Iraq about their… what about to become is a potential conflict.  Anything new…?

Spokesman:  We would not want to see any moves that would escalate the situation, and it is very important and we've always been very supportive of the territorial integrity of Iraq.  And if… since we're on Iraq, if you'll allow me, Majeed, that I just want to say that the Secretary‑General today is announcing the appointment of Irena Vojácková‑Sollorano of Germany as the new Deputy Special Representative in Iraq and Resident Coordinator.  She will also serve as Humanitarian Coordinator.  And she succeeds Marta Ruedas of Spain, who retired after a long and distinguished career at the UN, and we thank her for her service, are very grateful for her service.  And the biography of the new Deputy SRSG has been sent out.  Evelyn?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  You mentioned Myanmar and UN actions there.  Do you have anything on fighting that was supposed to have resumed or maybe never ended in the Rohingya areas?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything for you on… any updates on Myanmar at this point to add to what I've said.

Question:  Right.  And also, Al Jazeera had a story of the Saudis' Coalition doing a bit of bombing in Yemen, hitting some civilians, of course.  Anything on that?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have an update from the ground.  What I can… I mean, I think I've… I was very clear in highlighting the tremendous humanitarian needs and the huge gap between the needs and the funding.  I mean, I think the numbers are really terrifying, and the real risk that humanitarian operations will have to be curtailed, and again, the Yemeni people will be the ones to suffer.  Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is continuing his work.  He was in Oman, where he met with the Foreign Minister, and he's now back in Jordan.  Iftikhar, Edie tells me that you have your hand up.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Edie, for noticing that.  I have a very simple question regarding the upcoming talks in Doha between Afghan Taliban and the… between Afghan Government and Taliban.  Will there be a UN presence at these talks and to monitor these negotiations?

Spokesman:  No, the UN is not a party to these talks, but we are being kept fully briefed and updated as to what is going on in the talks.  Okay?  Anybody else?  If you have a question in the chat or wave your hand so Edie can see you and then she can tell me that somebody wants to ask a question.  I don't see… okay.  Well, listen, reminder:  No briefing mañana, and we will see you all Monday.  Enjoy the weekend.  Be safe.  Wear a mask, and don't see too many people.

For information media. Not an official record.