6 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.

All right.  Good afternoon to you all.  I hope you all had a good, restful long weekend and are ready to hit this week running.  We have a lot of stuff for you this week.  As usual, please keep your mics muted, and we can go and start.

**Counter-Terrorism Week

So, this morning, as you probably saw, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening event for the Virtual Counter-Terrorism week.  He said that it is too early to fully assess the implications of COVID-19 on the terrorism landscape.  But, he added, the pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities to new and emerging forms of terrorism, such as the misuse of digital technology, cyberattacks and bioterrorism.

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres highlighted five areas to guide our action.  He called on the international community to keep up the momentum in the fight against terrorism, as well as to closely monitor evolving threats, trends and to be innovative in our responses.

The Secretary-General went on to say that counter-terrorism responses must always be gender sensitive and protect and promote human rights.  He also said that we need to tackle the spread of terrorist narratives through pandemic-sensitive, holistic approaches.

And finally, he said, we need to strengthen information-sharing to learn from the experiences and good practices of others in the COVID-19 security landscape.

His full remarks have been shared with you, and the virtual counter-terrorism events continue all week, and there will be a briefing this week at our [noon] briefing by Mr. Vladimir Voronkov, who heads the Counter-Terrorism division here at the UN.

**Economic and Social Council

And this morning, the Secretary-General also spoke by a video message at the Integration Segment of the Economic and Social Council, also known as ECOSOC.  He called on Governments, civil society, the private sector and development partners to accelerate coordinated global action to ensure that we recover better from the pandemic and deliver together on the promises of the 2030 Agenda.

The Vice-President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Mher Margaryan of Armenia, said that the implications of the pandemic have gone beyond the health sector, affecting all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development will depend on our policy choices and resolve to act together.

And as a reminder, tomorrow is the start of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which will go on until 16 July under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways:  realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.


Turning to Syria:  My humanitarian colleagues tell me that we continue to reach millions of women, children and men in urgent need of humanitarian assistance throughout Syria.  On average each month in April and May, some 3.2 million people were supported from within Syria and 1.3 million people were supported through cross-border operations from Turkey. 

With 2.8 million people in need and 2.7 million internally displaced people, needs for those in north-west Syria remain incredibly high.  We have significantly increased the aid delivered via cross-border operations into the area, but much more is needed. 

Since the beginning of this year, 8,486 trucks have crossed into Syria from Turkey.  That included 1,579 trucks in June alone.   As highlighted in the Secretary-General’s recent review of crossline and cross-border operations, a sustained, large-scale cross-border response is necessary to meet the enormous humanitarian needs of the people in north-west Syria.


And from Nigeria, our Humanitarian Coordinator there, Edward Kallon, condemned last Thursday’s attack by armed groups in Damasak in Borno State.  At least two civilians, including a 5-year-old child, were killed and several others were injured.

A UN Humanitarian Air Service helicopter was hit, sustaining serious damage.  Mr. Kallon stressed that the damage to the helicopter severely impacts the ability of aid workers to provide urgently needed assistance to vulnerable people in remote areas across Borno State.

We, along with other humanitarian organizations, are working to bring life-saving assistance to 7.8 million people in crisis-affected areas of the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, many of them in remote areas.  The UN Humanitarian Air Service is essential to evacuate wounded civilians and remains the backbone to facilitating humanitarian access.

In 2019, the Humanitarian Air Service transported in Nigeria more than 66,000 passengers and nearly 150 megatons of humanitarian cargo.  It also carried out 30 medical and 70 security evacuations.

Mr. Kallon called on all armed parties to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and to ensure the protection of civilians, humanitarian property and personnel.

**COVID-19 — Dominican Republic

Turning to COVID-19, and to give you a couple of updates about what our colleagues are doing in the field.

In the Dominican Republic, where more than 37,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 800 deaths have been reported, our operations there are led by Resident Coordinator Mauricio Ramirez.  The UN team has been supporting the Government’s response on all fronts.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided 12 ventilators for local hospitals while UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) is working to ensure that people living with HIV continue to receive antiretroviral drugs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have organized a virtual training on vegetable farming for young people to generate additional income.  WFP has also provided food assistance to more than 11,000 children under the age of 5, pregnant women, older people and those living with HIV.

The UN team has donated thousands of masks to organizations supporting people with disabilities and to Government staff working with migrants, including those on the border with Haiti.

The UN is helping to plan the socioeconomic recovery process, and this includes the reopening of schools with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and UNICEF, together with the Ministry of Education, designing psychological support programmes for children on the impact of COVID-19.

**COVID — Malawi

And in Malawi, we along with our partners, in collaboration with national authorities, are scaling up the response to fight the pandemic and protect the country’s 18 million people.  Almost all districts in the country have been affected, with over 1,400 cases reported.

Since March, a risk communication and community engagement campaign has reached more than 15 million people.  With our support, Malawi now has 41 testing centres and six isolation and emergency treatment centres.

More than 4.8 million units of essential supplies for fighting the pandemic have been mobilized.  These include testing kits and personal protective equipment for health workers and other frontline providers.

We along with our partners have also been given training to health workers and community facilitators.  Since June, the UN humanitarian corridor has been operating in Malawi, bringing into the country critical relief and humanitarian personnel.

We also have been supporting an emergency education radio programme for 6 million primary school students and digital learning for more than 15,000 secondary school students.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

Our peacekeeping missions are continuing their support to Governments and communities in response to the pandemic.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) organized a two-day workshop for community leaders and business owners in Wau and Jur River counties to spread messages on preventing the spread of COVID-19.  Together with the Interfaith Base-Council for Peace Initiative in Western Equatoria State, the peacekeeping mission has launched an awareness campaign at the Masiya market, one of the most populated parts of the town of Yambio.

And in Darfur, the joint African Union-United Nations mission (UNAMID) handed over the newly constructed Justice and Confidence Centre in the Krinding Camp for internally displaced people.  This is near the town of El Geneina in West Darfur.

This centre aims to improve law enforcement and justice institutions in the camp, as access to justice remains one of the key protection challenges in Darfur, especially during the pandemic.

As part of its response to combat the spread of COVID-19, [UNAMID] has distributed hygiene materials and dignity kits to internally displaced women at a site for internally displaced people in Sortony in North Darfur.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And in other news, just a brief update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, according to a UN investigation, attacks by the ADF — the armed group also known as the Allied Democratic Forces — have left more than 1,000 people dead and dozens injured.

This is over the past 18 months; the armed group has intensified attacks against civilians in the country’s eastern provinces and also expanded its actions beyond the areas in which it previously operated.

The report, issued today by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC, shows how the human rights abuses committed by ADF fighters have been systematic, brutal and may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Head of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, called on State authorities to step up efforts to complete pending judicial cases into all allegations of human rights violations and abuses; to bring all alleged perpetrators to justice; and to ensure the right to truth, justice and reparations for the victims and their families.

**Central African Republic

And we also have an update from the Central African Republic, following clashes last week between 3R insurgents and UN peacekeepers in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture.  The Mission (MINUSCA) has deployed additional peacekeepers to reinforce its capacities on the ground.

This is part of the joint UN and National Defence Forces military operation against the 3R group in the country’s north-west.

The joint operation named “A la Londo,” which was launched on 15 June, aims to force the insurgents to leave the areas they have occupied after last year’s peace agreement.  The operation also aims to improve the protection of civilians and to restore freedom of movement in the area.

In response to threats issued over the weekend by Abbas Sidiki, the leader of the 3R, the Head of the UN Mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, warned that they will be held accountable if civilians are impacted by violence.

**United Nations Truce Supervision Organization

And just a couple of things to update you that happened since we last briefed and we were last together.  You must have seen that on Thursday night we issued a note to correspondents informing you that two male international staff members who were assigned to UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization), in Jerusalem, who were in the UN vehicle in Tel Aviv, had been identified as having engaged in misconduct, including conduct of a sexual nature.

The two staff members have been placed on administrative leave without pay.

The OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) investigation continues, and we will keep you informed.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Also, I want to read into the record the announcement we put out late last week, that of the appointment of Cristina Duarte of the Republic of Cabo Verde as Special Adviser on Africa.  She succeeds Bience Gawanas of Namibia, to whom the Secretary General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the UN.

Ms. Duarte brings to the position more than 34 years of leadership and strategic management experience in public policymaking and in the private sector.

More details on her biography online.

**Financial Contribution

And I am delighted to thank our friends in Port-au-Prince for their full payment to the 2020 regular budget.  That brings us to 102 Member States that have paid in full for 2020.  We still have a few to go, but 102 is a good number.

**Press Briefings Today and Tomorrow

And after we are done, I won’t hang up.  My guest will be Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Jimmy Smith, the Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute, who will be launching their report, “Preventing the Next Pandemic:  Zoonotic Diseases and how to break the chain of transmission”.

And after that, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, will be here to discuss the launch of the annual UNAIDS Global Aids Update Report.

And tomorrow, my guest will be Liu Zhenmin, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  He will be joined by Francesca Perucci, the Chief of DESA’s (Department of Economic and Social Affairs) Statistical Services Branch, and Yongyi Min, the Chief of the Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Section.

They will discuss the key findings of the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals report, to be launched tomorrow, on the opening day of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Enough from me.  I will be delighted to hear from you.  Let me get the chat function up and everything else that I need.

**Questions and Answers

And Edie and then Ali has a question.  So, let’s go to Ms. Lederer.  Edie, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I hope everybody had a wonderful weekend.

My question is about Libya.  As I’m sure you know, the airbase in Tripoli that was taken by Turkey last month was bombed.  I wonder, what is Ms. [Stephanie] Williams doing about trying to arrange talks with the parties?

Spokesman:  Well, she is continuing her contact with the parties, and our basic message remains the same; it’s that we encourage all Libyans to swiftly find an agreement on the lasting ceasefire.

I mean, as if we needed to reiterate, but we will reiterate that there is no military solution to the crisis in Libya.  Both sides of this conflict need to abide by all relevant Security Council resolutions, as well as the conclusion of the Berlin Conference.

Now, obviously, we’re concerned by the reports of attacks on the base, from what we understand, carried out by unidentified foreign aircraft, which, again, we should not need to, but we need to remind all the parties to respect the arms embargo.

And this violence, this new attack, comes at a time of, I think, what we have seen as heightened rhetoric by some Libyan and international actors, which, I think, could only inflame the situation and lead to further military escalation and with the devastating impact that could have and will… may have on the Libyan civilians.

Mr. Barada?

Question:  On Lebanon, the country’s financial and economic situation seems to be spiralling out of control to the point where there… people are talking about the risk of violence and even war.  This is the one part… I want to know whether the United Nations has been doing anything to help Lebanon avert this destiny.

And the other question is in relation to the continued Israeli violations to the Lebanese airspace.  I know the official line from the United Nations and from the Secretary‑General, but now the Lebanese airspace has been used by the Israeli aircraft to attack Iranians or Syrian positions or even Hizbullah positions in Syria.  So, is there any effort by the United Nations to also stop this kind of conduct by the Israelis?

Spokesman:  Look, on your last part, I have nothing new to report.  We’ve reported air violations regularly to the Security Council.  It is, of course, imperative that Lebanon’s territorial integrity be respected, including its airspace.

On your first question about Lebanon, we don’t believe that will be its destiny.  Mr. [Jan] Kubiš has been very closely engaged with the Lebanese authorities and its international partners through the Lebanon Support Group to promote the implementation of necessary reforms, and those reforms need to be put in place quickly to meet the needs of the Lebanese people.

It is critical that violence be avoided, that people’s right to demonstrate peacefully be respected.  Authorities… everyone needs to protect that right.

For the Secretary‑General, he has a very simple and basic message to the Lebanese people, and that is one of solidarity with the people of Lebanon, as well as our advocacy for strong support for Lebanon from its international partners during what are clearly very difficult times.

Okay.  Iftikhar, please.  You have a question.  Iftikhar?  I can’t hear you.

Question:  Obviously, my question is… should be to WHO (World Health Organization), but I’m asking whether the Secretary‑General has taken note of the statement issued by hundreds of scientists from 32 countries that this coronavirus disease is airborne, and this adds much dangerous element to the pandemic.  Does the Secretary‑General have… has taken note of this letter from the… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We have seen the press reports.  Obviously, this is an issue for WHO to address as they’re in the lead on these issues.  The Secretary‑General cannot speak to the scientific and medical issues.

Dulcie, you have a question.

Question:  [inaudible]… topic, what are the nationalities of the officers who have been placed on leave without pay?

Spokesman:  I don’t have that information to really say at this point.  They are international staff members… civilian international staff members of the UN.  That’s…

Question:  So, have they been repatriated or…

Spokesman:  No.  The standard rule is that people who are put on special leave without pay are required to stay in the mission area for the purposes of the investigation while the investigation is ongoing.

Once investigators feel they are no longer needed, there can be discussion about going back to their homes.

Obviously, given the travel restrictions that are in place, that’s something that may be complicated, but they are required to stay in the mission area while the investigation is ongoing and while the investigators need them there.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid and then Benny.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I don’t know if you are aware of there is a crisis going on now between Turkey, Russia and even the United States about the famous Byzantine Hagia Sophia museum, which was originally a church and turned into a mosque in 1453.  Now Turkey is considering turning it back to a mosque rather than keep it as a museum.  The US issued a statement, and Russia also issued a statement.  Is the Secretary‑General aware of that?

And also, is he aware that the la Mezquita in Córdoba was turned into a cathedral at almost the same time — that one, 1453 and that one, 1492?  So… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Sorry.  What was turned into a cathedral?

Question:  Or the la Mezquita, the mosque in Córdoba… famous… the largest [inaudible] mosque in the world, that was… the cathedral was built into.

So, the… Turk… Turkey now is considering putting back Hagia Sophia as a mosque, and that is creating a crisis now.  Is the SG aware of that?

Spokesman:  I mean, we… I’m sure he’s seen the press reports.  I don’t have anything to say at this point, but I will also check with our colleagues at UNESCO on this issue.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Benny Avni?

Question:  Stéphane, so what kind of misconduct are we talking about?  I mean, was it just there were photographs, or is it using women prostitutes?

Also, has it been determined who the woman photographed in video is?  Is she a UN employee?

Spokesman:  There’s not much more for me to say as the investigation is going on.  They were suspended without pay based on the conversations and based on the evidence, which includes misconduct, including misconduct of a sexual nature.  Obviously, as the investigation progresses, we’ll have more details.

The person… the woman who is seen in the video has, as far as I understand it, not yet been identified.  But, obviously, that investigation is ongoing.

Question:  So, she’s not a UN employee?

Spokesman:  No, I think at this point, we can say that she is not a UN staff member.

Okay.  On that note, before we go to our guests, any other questions?

Okay.  I don’t see anybody waving madly or not madly.  Okay.  Great.

For information media. Not an official record.