Print
9 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 again.  I have notes to share with you today. 

**Côte d’Ivoire

Just to start off, the Secretary-General learned with profound sadness about the untimely passing yesterday (8 July) of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire.  During his tenure, Mr. Coulibaly led important reforms enhancing the Côte d'Ivoire’s development.  

The Secretary-General, on behalf of the United Nations, extends his heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Gon Coulibaly, as well as to the Government and the people of Côte d'Ivoire. 

**Policy Brief — Latin America

And you will have seen that this morning we issued the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a video message, the Secretary-General said that in a context of already gaping inequalities, high levels of informal labour, and fragmented health services, many people in the region are being hit hard by the pandemic.  In particular, women, older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and refugees and migrants are being impacted at a higher rate.

The Secretary-General called for a rescue and recovery package for the region — equivalent to more than 10 per cent of the global economy. 

The Secretary-General also stressed that the root causes of inequality, political instability and displacement must be addressed at a time when too many citizens feel excluded.  The Brief provides short-term recommendations for Governments as well as long-term policies to build back better.

And it is, of course, online. 

**High-Level Political Forum

This morning, he also delivered remarks to the UN-Water high-level political forum (HLPF) special event to launch the Global Accelerator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 — that’s the one on water and sanitation.  The Secretary-General said that water is threatened by the twin threats of increasing global demand and the degradation of water sources due to climate change, pollution and other threats. 

The Secretary-General also noted that water and sanitation are key to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, as handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus.  Yet 3 billion people around the world, that is almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, lack basic handwashing facilities at home. 

In addition, the HLPF this morning held two official sessions. 

The first one focused on the topic of “Bolstering local action to control the pandemic and accelerate implementation.”  It addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role of local governments as the provider of services closest to the people. 

The second session examined the principle of leaving no one behind in eradicating poverty towards the 2030 Agenda. 

And this afternoon, the Forum will focus on “mobilizing international solidarity, accelerating action and embarking on new pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda and respond to COVID-19 in African countries, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries".

**Secretary-General — Energy

This morning, the Secretary-General also delivered remarks via a video message to the International Energy Agency Clean Energy Transition Summit.  He said that, as countries design and implement recovery plans from the pandemic, they need to invest in a better, more sustainable future. 

This means investing in renewable energy, which is reliable, clean and economically smart.  “It is vital that we bring sharper focus on the need to transition away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future — a future that protects people and planet and promotes prosperity,” he said. 

The Secretary-General also noted that new research on G20 (Group of 20) recovery packages released this week shows that twice as much recovery money — that is taxpayers’ money — has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.  Let us commit to no new coal, today, and end all external financing of coal in the developing world; coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans, the Secretary-General underscored.  He urged all leaders to choose the clean energy route for three vital reasons — health, science and economics.   

**Srebrenica

And this Saturday, as you may recall, 11 July, is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.  An official commemoration will be held and officials from abroad will participate through pre-recorded video addresses. 

In his video message, the Secretary-General said that the Srebrenica genocide was the worst atrocity crime on European soil since the Second World War.  He notes that twenty-five years later, we pay tribute to the thousands brutally murdered and pledge to never forget them. 

The Secretary-General said that a quarter-century ago, the United Nations and the international community failed the people of Srebrenica.  For him, confronting that past is a vital step towards rebuilding trust and that reconciliation must be underpinned by mutual empathy and understanding. 

The Secretary-General stresses that on this sombre anniversary, we are reminded that peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still fragile.  He warns that we cannot let up in working towards genuine reconciliation and that we owe to the victims of the Srebrenica genocide, the survivors, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to all humanity.

Details of this event, and all the Secretary-General's messages, have been shared with you.

**Security Council

And at the Security Council this morning, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) said that attacks by violent extremists and intercommunal violence have continued to undermine peace and security in the region, particularly in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. 

While national and multinational forces intensified counter-terrorism operations, he added, some communities have resorted to organized volunteer groups and self-defence militias for protection.  As a result, Mr. Chambas said, human rights groups have raised concerns over alleged abuses by both self-defence groups and security forces.

He told Council members that support and coordination amongst the various initiatives aimed at addressing security, humanitarian and development challenges in the region is crucial. 

We shared his words with you. 

And yesterday evening, as you have seen, the Security Council failed to pass a resolution on border crossings in Syria due to an insufficient number of positive votes.

**Syria

Remaining in Syria, our humanitarian colleagues remain concerned about the impact of the virus on people across the country.  To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has confirmed 14 deaths and 372 cases of the virus, including 18 members of the Ministry of Health.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Syria has confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 among Palestinian refugees in Syria — who are among the most vulnerable in the country.  Five Palestinian refugees in Damascus and Rural Damascus have been confirmed to have the virus. 

The fragile health system throughout the country, including severe shortages of qualified medical health personnel, underscores the need for sustained humanitarian support to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.   

**Yemen

And you have been asking for updates from Martin Griffiths on Yemen.  I can tell you that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General has been negotiating with the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah the text of the Joint Declaration and he has been receiving comments and feedback over several rounds of discussions.  Once the parties agree on a text, the Joint Declaration will commit the parties to a nationwide ceasefire, critical economic and humanitarian measures, and the resumption of the political process. 

The Secretary-General reiterates his full confidence in his Special Envoy and he calls on the parties to continue engaging constructively with him and with the negotiation process.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, the joint military operation with the country’s armed forces against combatants from the 3R movement continues in the north-west.  On Tuesday, peacekeepers responded to a new attack by the 3R near Gdeze in the Nana Mambere Prefecture.

The Mission (MINUSCA) reports that a UN vehicle sustained significant damage, but no casualties were reported.  Following this attack, the Mission is deploying additional peacekeepers to the area.  They also condemned the attacks and broader actions by the 3R, which are impeding humanitarian access to hundreds of people who fled. 

The Mission also noted that the 3R leader, Sidiki Abbas, issued a communiqué yesterday announcing the cessation of hostilities and requesting the Guarantors and Facilitators of the Political Agreement to facilitate dialogue with the Government to find adequate solution to this crisis.

**South Sudan

And today the is Independence Day in South Sudan.  Marking the country’s ninth anniversary, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, David Shearer, said that we should take the opportunity to remember the immense suffering caused by the long-running civil war. 

He said that following the threat posed by COVID-19, now, more than ever, we need the Government and people of South Sudan to come together in unity and peace to respond to this new threat to this young country. 

**COVID-19 — Benin

And in Benin, which has more than 1,200 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including more than 300 people having recovered and more than 20 people passed away, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Siaka Coulibaly, has been working closely with the Government to support the health and socioeconomic responses to the pandemic. 

We provided nearly $750,000 worth of equipment — such as personal protective devices, handwashing stations, and soap — to hospitals and schools across Benin. 

The UN is also supporting the Government with creating digital, remote-learning solutions to strengthen physical distancing and measures to reduce the spread of infection. 

**Africa/Food Shortages

Staying in the African continent, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) today jointly warned that funding shortages, conflict and disasters — as well as supply chain challenges, rising food prices and loss of income due to COVID-19 — threaten to leave millions of refugees across Africa without food.

Unless urgent action is taken, acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia are expected to rise.  For example, in refugee camps in Ethiopia, 62 per cent of children are experiencing critical levels of anaemia. 

**Climate

And today, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the annual mean global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) in each of the coming five years (2020-2024).  There is also a 20 per cent chance that this temperature will exceed 1.5°C in at least one year.  That’s according to the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update. 

WMO warned once again that the industrial and economic slowdown from COVID‑19 is not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action and that failure to tackle climate change may threaten our well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries.  WMO added that Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programme to ensure that we grow back better.

**UNICEF — Bob Marley

And in a musical note, our friends at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said today that members of the Marley family will reimagine the late Bob Marley’s iconic anthem “One Love”.  The re-recording of the song will support UNICEF’s Reimagine campaign, a global fundraising appeal to respond, recover and reimagine a post-COVID-19 world for children.  The new version of One Love will be released 17 July and all proceeds from the song and related activities will directly support the UNICEF’s global campaign. 

As you all recall, the original song was recorded in 1977 by Bob Marley and the Wailers. 

**Press Briefing

And speaking of Bob Marley and the Wailers, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you and answer your questions. 

As always, thank you for your patience.  So, if you have…  still have the strength to ask questions, go ahead. 

**Questions and Answers

James, I think you had one.

Question:  Yes.  Sorry.  It was always a question for you, not for the previous briefing.  So, yes, it's about…  you mentioned it already, but it's about the cross‑border Syria situation.  You updated us on the situation until last night.  Clearly, there has been developments in the last few minutes, as well, with another vote this time on a Russian amendment, which again didn't pass, only two in favour, the Russia and China, six abstentions and seven against, so it didn't get the nine votes. 

And there is another new amendment by the co‑penholders, which is going to the voting procedure until 1 p.m. tomorrow, which will call for two border checkpoints for six months, so just to update you on that. 

And then my questions, and the first one is this, is the Secretary‑General worried that time is running out and, as things stand, you'll be left with no border checkpoints to bring aid into Syria?

Spokesman:  First of all, thank you for…  thanks for the update.  Of course, we're concerned.  We've been down this road before of last‑minute discussions, negotiations.  The Security Council is the master of its domain, is…  Member States are negotiating, which is what they are meant to do.

From our point, we have been very clear that the humanitarian needs in Syria remain incredibly high and that we need increased cross-border, we need increased cross‑line support.  And any failure to extend the cross‑border authorization would cut the UN operations currently under way.  I mean, either we have the authority or we don't.  Today, we have it, and we hope that will continue in the weeks and months ahead, but for that, we are dependent on the Security Council and its members.

Our position, the Secretary‑General's position, our humanitarian colleagues' position has been very clear and unnuanced, I think.

Question:  For the point of clarification, as we reach this critical moment, in the view of the Secretariat and of the Secretary‑General and of Mr. [Mark] Lowcock and all his humanitarian experts, one border checkpoint operating into Syria alone would, in your view, be inadequate?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to delve into the details of the negotiations.  We…  so, I will leave it at that, and I will refer you back to my…  our general, I think, very strong position.

Question:  Isn't it time, though, for you to delve into the details given how urgent this is and what is at risk here?

Spokesman:  There is discussion…  there are ways to communicate publicly, and there are ways to communicate privately.  And contacts are being had at all levels. 

Majeed, I think you had a question.

Question:  Yes.  Actually, I have a…  thank you, Stéphane.  I have a follow‑up to James' question, and I hope you don't consider this a detail, because this is about, even if those two crossings were open, Bab al‑Hawa and Bab al‑Salam, according to the assessment of OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], the one that you know, is it enough to especially get the aid to north‑east, which is another part of Syria that's in dire need and the southern part of Syria, according to…

Spokesman:  Let me just answer as clearly as I can.  We need more aid to go through the cross-border.  We do not need less to go through and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Are they enough, those two cross‑border points…

Spokesman:  I've used the words I can use, Majeed. 

Iftikhar, please.

Iftikhar, you need to turn on your mic.  Go ahead.  No, I can't hear you.  Iftikhar, I can't…  oh, go ahead, Iftikhar.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  I'm sure the Secretary‑General has taken note of WHO's [World Health Organization] move to review its performance about how it dealt with COVID pandemic.  My question is about, how does the United Nations view Vice President Joe Biden's statement that he would cancel Donald Trump's withdrawal offer from the WHO?

Spokesman:  Iftikhar, you have worked at the UN and you've known me long enough that you know I will not dive in head first into the US political campaign, because when you dive in head first, there's usually no water.

What I would just say is that we've always advocated for strong support and membership of the WHO, and I would also add that the move announced by the Director‑General of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], this morning, I think, sends a very strong message and is one that we are fully supportive of. 

Okay.  Any other questions?

Okay.  Thank you for all your patience.  I'm going to get some lunch, and I hope you get the same.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.