The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon and thank you for your patience. We will get started and then we will go to our guests, very quickly, Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in a second.
During a Security Council meeting this morning on peace operations and human rights, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, as COVID-19 continues to gather pace, its impacts on health, societies and economies threaten development, and amplifies or creates new grievances and tensions.
She said that the human rights components integrated in all UN peace operations bring missions closer to the people they serve.
Only action to address the human rights violations inflicted on people can prevent the recurrence of conflict, she said.
The UN’s peace operations are among the Organization’s most significant achievements, Bachelet added. She called on Council members to ensure that missions have the resources they need, as well as strong political support, to bind together all UN operations around a common effective approach to crisis, from prevention to recovery.
The Head of the peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, also spoke at the same Council meeting. He reiterated the importance of human rights in the implementation of his Mission’s mandate.
You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday afternoon in which the Secretary-General said he is deeply saddened by the reported death of at least 40 people following flooding and a landslide in Kumamoto in Japan’s Kyushu region. The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the people and Government of Japan.
We would also like to offer our condolences following the death of two humanitarian mine clearance workers on Sunday in southern Tripoli. We continue to be concerned about the ongoing threat posed by explosive devices left behind in civilian neighbourhoods in southern Tripoli.
Since late May, these devices have reportedly killed and injured 81 civilians and 57 non-civilians, including mine clearance workers.
And I have an update for you from Mali, also unfortunately involving mines. Yesterday morning, in the town of Kidal, a vehicle from the UN peacekeeping Mission there (MINUSMA), part of a logistics convoy, hit a mine. Three peacekeepers were injured, including one who sustained serious injuries. We wish them a speedy recovery and are following up on this incident.
**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping
And we want to thank our good friends in the Republic of Korea for their decision to contribute 60,000 face masks to support our efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic in two UN peacekeeping missions, and those are the mission in South Sudan and the one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We welcome the Republic of Korea’s strong participation in and support for peacekeeping and look forward to the peacekeeping ministerial, which the country will host in 2021. The Secretary-General was informed by the Permanent Mission in early June that it would take place from 8 to 9 April in Seoul, obviously subject to changes involving the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, we continue to work with Member States and missions to strengthen medical systems and preventative measures. Social distancing, proper hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment is our first line of defence against the virus. The response of our UN peacekeeping missions to COVID-19 remain guided by four main objectives: to protect our personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations; to help contain and mitigate the spread of the virus and ensuring that our own people are not a contagion vector; and to support national authorities, as possible, in their response to the virus; and, of course, to help protect vulnerable communities and continue to deliver on our mandates.
And in South Sudan, the UN Mission there is training young community influencers to raise awareness on COVID-19 in Eastern Equatoria. The training sessions were held in communities where awareness-raising had not been previously conducted. The trainees will educate others about behavioural risks during the pandemic, so that local communities can work together to prevent the spread of the virus.
Posters and information brochures in multiple languages are among the tools being used and disseminated.
**COVID-19 — Zambia
And in Zambia, we, along with our partners, continue to work with the Government to respond to COVID-19 and its impacts. The UN has helped 166 health-care facilities and isolation centres improve their water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and have provided chlorine, handwashing stations, and medical waste bins. Our colleagues on the ground are helping procure 10 ventilators. We are helping to distribute hygiene supplies to more than 700 schools and helped to produce child-friendly messages on COVID-19 to air over the radio in local languages. More than a million people have been reached with messages on safe hygiene practices, gender-based violence services and virus prevention.
Starting this month, the UN will provide cash transfers to some 656,000 vulnerable and food insecure people [for] the next six months in Zambia.
**Uganda — Refugees
Our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that more than 3,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrived in Uganda between Wednesday and Friday last week during a temporary opening of two border crossing points in north-western Uganda.
UNHCR and its partners have provided essential items, including tents, water tanks, toilets, and others to help the newly arrived refugees.
UNHCR welcomes the decision by the Government of Uganda to allow the group of refugees to enter the country and receive life-saving help, as well as protection. The Refugee Agency says that this effort demonstrates how, through quarantines, health screenings and other measures, States can uphold their obligations under international law during the pandemic while, at the same time, limiting potential transmission of the virus.
The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development began today with the theme of “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
The Forum this year is examining the severe impacts of the pandemic on the progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Today’s opening session examined how the SDGs can serve as a guidepost for building back better and leaving no one behind. It also highlighted the importance of international solidarity and a multilateral response to the pandemic.
Regional dimensions and countries at different levels of development, including middle-income countries, data and institutions for integrated policymaking, were also in focus during the morning session.
This afternoon, the HLPF will convene to discuss protecting and advancing human well-being and ending poverty, ending hunger and achieving food security.
And, related to this, shortly after I’m finished and you’re finished with me, we will hear from our guests from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. As I mentioned, Liu Zhenmin, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, is with us, along with Francesca Perucci, the Chief of the Statistical Services Branch, and Yongyi Min, the Chief of the Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Section, and they will be here to discuss the key findings of the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals report, which was launched today, at the opening of the HLPF.
**‘Beyond the Long Shadow’
I wanted to flag an interesting new and timely series put together by our colleagues in the Department of Global Communications’ Outreach Programme on the transatlantic slave trade, the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., they will launch a live virtual discussion series named “Beyond the Long Shadow: Engaging with Difficult Histories”. The aim of the series is to develop a deeper understanding of the legacies of these painful histories and to consider how to best build a world that is just, where all can live in dignity and peace.
In the first episode, an expert panel will consider what role statues, memorials, museums and memorialization after atrocity crimes might play in furthering the interests of justice.
**Counter-Terrorism Week Virtual Expo
Yesterday, we mentioned the beginning of the Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week. Today, I’d like to flag that the Counter-Terrorism Centre has launched a virtual exhibit that showcases its work to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism through capacity-building around the world.
And we will send the links for those two events to you right after the briefing.
And finally, we give a hearty thank you to our friends in the Marshall Islands for their full payment to this year’s regular budget, which brings us up to the beautiful number of 103.
So, before we go to our guests, I’m happy to take a few questions. I don’t know if I’m happy, but I will take a few questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi, Stéphane. Thank you for the briefing. I have two questions, the first one on Syria and on the resolution that… the cross‑border, the resolution that the Security Council is supposed to vote. Do you have any comments? Do you… what do you have…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: It’s not a matter of comment. It’s just a matter of reiterating what we have said repeatedly, that the cross‑border crossings are vital to the well‑being of the civilians in north‑west Syria. And we very much hope that these will be extended. It is… lives depend on it.
Question: A follow‑up on… so, there is a chance that the… data will be used. Do you… what would that mean for UN, for humanitarian goods…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: I don’t want to go into kind of the hypothetical of what the resolution will actually look like. I just… at this point, I can only restate what our general principled position is on this, and I think it’s been expressed by the Secretary‑General. It’s been expressed very publicly by Mark Lowcock, as well. Let’s see what the Council comes up with.
Question: Yes. You’ll be aware that Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard, on the extrajudicial killings, has come up with a new report saying that the strike against General [Qasim] Soleimani earlier this year was a breach of the UN Charter. Does the Secretariat have a response to that?
Spokesman: No, it’s not for us to respond. I think our reaction was recorded at the time, and I have nothing to add to what Ms. Callamard has said in her understandable role as a Special… independent Special Rapporteur.
Question: She, obviously, makes recommendations, she does in this report. One of them is to the Secretariat. It says the Secretary‑General should set up international inquiries or fact‑finding missions to investigate targeted killings by drones.
Is this something the Secretary‑General will consider? I mean, she’s clearly not just worried about this case; she’s worried about the use of drones widely. [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think we have expressed our concern about the use of drones. We’ve expressed our concerns about extrajudicial killings wherever they occur.
I would also underscore the Secretary‑General’s very vocal concern about the use of artificial intelligence, the risk of use of weapons that are not… that have no human control on them, and the increased use of technology in warfare. Obviously, we will take a look at her specific recommendations.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I was also going to ask about cross‑border, but I will also ask about Libya and what has been going on in terms of trying to bring the parties together, trying to talk to their backers. Everything seems…
Spokesman: I mean, we’re continuing, obviously, to deliver the same messages, talking to the parties, talking to the backers. As one example, yesterday, the special… the acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, joined the Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Corporation, Mustafa Sanalla, at a meeting of the Working Group on International Follow‑Up Committee on Libya, which focused on economic issues. The group reiterated its full support for the Libyan National Oil Company and welcomed the chairman’s presentation plans on how to resume oil operations.
You know that the resumption of oil operations is critical for the Libyan… for the Government to receive funds from which the people should be able to benefit.
The Working Group also called on the Mission to intensify its work in support of the intra‑Libyan economic dialogue track, which is very critical on building consensus on key economic issues and to promote something very important, which is financial transparency.
Question: And any indication of when we might hear of a replacement for Ghassan Salamé?
Spokesman: No, ma’am, and I will repeat what I’ve said, which is, in the meantime, the Mission has strong leadership in the person of Stephanie Williams.
I see… I had a question, I think, from Martin Wang at Xinhua. Martin?
All right. I will read the question, which is, Chinese ambassador yesterday deposited China’s Instrument of Accession to the Arms Trade Treaty. What’s the comment?
Obviously, it’s a very welcome step. I think the more Member States, the more the membership is included in the global Arms Trade Treaty, the better off we all are in fighting the scourge of illegal weapons on the international market and strengthening the arms trade architecture.
James, you had another question?
Question: Yeah, just following up on Libya, clearly, you mentioned Ghassan Salamé, and we’ve talked about his comment that the Security Council stabbing him in the back. There is the regular Security Council briefing on Libya coming up tomorrow. I’m told that some of the participants are at a reasonably high level, because this is the German Presidency and the Germans are leading the Berlin process.
Given what SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)… former SRSG Salamé said, what is the Secretary‑General’s message to the Security Council as they gather again to discuss Libya?
Spokesman: Well, the message is one of needed unity in the Security Council to make sure that there is… this Council supports, with one voice, this Libyan‑led process of political talks.
And, also, you will be hearing from the Secretary‑General tomorrow, because the plan is, as far as I understand, that he will brief the Council on Libya tomorrow.
All right. I hope we can now turn to our guests.