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10 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.  Thank you for your patience, and happiest of Fridays to you.  Once I’m finished with you and you’re finished with me you, will hear from our good friend Reem [Abaza] on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, so do please stay connected after my briefing.

**Wildlife Crime

Today, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its World Wildlife Crime Report, which says that wildlife trafficking is not just a threat to biodiversity, but also to human health.  Many animals that are butchered and sold illegally have the potential for spreading diseases to people.  The report shows that nearly 6,000 species have been seized over the past decade, including not only mammals, but reptiles, corals, birds and fish.  No single country was identified as the source of more than 9 per cent of the total number of seized shipments.  Meanwhile, the report identifies traffickers from 150 nationalities, showing that this is indeed a global issue.  The report also notes that pangolins, which were identified as a potential source of the coronaviruses, continue to be the most trafficked wild mammal in the world.  Demand for tiger products has also risen in recent years, as well as for tropical hardwood timber.  The report also says that the sale of illegal wildlife products has shifted to online platforms and encrypted messaging apps as traffickers have found new ways to connect with potential buyers.  You can read the full report online and on the UNODC’s website.

**High-Level Political Forum

Today, the High-Level Political Forum is continuing as we’ve been telling you, in fact, it concluded its thematic review for the week.  The two morning sessions addressed the “means of implementation to match the scope of the crisis and the breadth of our ambition for 2030”.  Today was also the launch of the forthcoming week’s presentation of voluntary national reviews, which this year includes presentations by 47 countries.  These reviews are voluntary and State‑led.  The afternoon session today will feature presentations from Armenia, Ecuador, Honduras, Kenya, Nigeria, Samoa and Slovenia.  I also want to flag that on Monday at 9 a.m. there will be a virtual side event of the Secretary-General's Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman, Every Child, Every Adolescent, where a report on the impact of COVID-19 on these groups will be launched.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, I can say that we remain extremely concerned about the Safer oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, which as you know is carrying 1.1 million barrels of oil and is in poor condition.  On 15 July, the Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on the issue.  At the end of May, as we told you, water reportedly entered the engine room of the tanker, which could have led to disaster.  A temporary fix has been applied, but it is unclear how long this might last.  We are encouraged that the local authorities recently signalled they would approve a UN mission to the site.  We are following up with them now to confirm details.  We hope logistical arrangements will be quickly completed so this work can begin.  We, of course, stand ready to assist.  The assessment mission will conduct feasible light repairs and will help to determine the appropriate next steps.  We also want to acknowledge the helpful role of all Member States in working to resolve this critical issue.  We appreciate Member States’ continued engagement and hope we are now moving towards a solution.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that the first COVID-19 case in north-west Syria was confirmed yesterday.  The patient had reportedly been isolating at the Bab al-Hawa Hospital in northern Idlib Governorate since exhibiting symptoms on 5 July.  Contact tracing was activated following positive results.  While cases across Syria remain relatively low, the overall risk remains very high, especially in areas such as the north‑west where there are large displaced populations.

**Azerbaijan

An update on what our colleagues our doing in the field, in our country offices.  And in Azerbaijan, I can tell you, where we’ve seen nearly 22,000 cases of COVID-19, more than 13,500 recoveries, and more than 250 deaths.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai, is working with the Government’s task force on COVID-19, providing health and communications advice.  The World Health Organization (WHO) started a programme to temporarily bring Azerbaijani doctors living in Turkey back to Azerbaijan to boost capacity at local hospitals.  WHO, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have distributed more than 100,000 items, including personal protective equipment, test kits, ventilators, thermometres and disinfectant.  The UN team has also been working closely with the Government on boosting risk communication capacities to ensure that the media is circulating verified information.

**Mali

And a related update from our peacekeepers in Mali, Sudan and Kosovo.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is working with prison populations in the regions of Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu areas to raise awareness and help protect prisoners against the virus.  The Mission has equipped detainees and prison staff with hand-washing kits, gloves and face masks.  In total, around 530 prisoners will benefit, as well as the staff of their respective establishments.  This contribution was made through the Nelson Mandela Project, developed and implemented under the joint responsibility of the Department of Peace Operations and UNDP.

**Sudan

In Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has distributed hygiene materials to internally displaced women and girls in Sortony.  This includes 1,000 kits with sanitary items and jerry cans to be used as hand-washing stations.  Working in partnership with the Sudan Social Development Organization, UNAMID continues to conduct awareness-raising activities in Central Darfur.  The mission has also helped transport blood samples from El Fasher to the Government’s health labs in Nyala, in south Darfur.

**Kosovo

And in Kosovo, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) continues to support women through economic empowerment activities.  In the Mitrovica region, women helped sew thousands of face masks for vulnerable families.  They also received extra supplies to enable them to engage in their own business ventures and secure their livelihoods.  In total, UNMIK has delivered 24,000 masks to 5 municipalities in northern Kosovo.

**Seafarers

As you may recall, last month, the Secretary-General issued a statement in which he expressed his concern over the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers due to COVID-19 restrictions.  He called on countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel “key workers” and to ensure crew changeovers can safely take place.  We are pleased to announce today that the International Labour Organization (ILO) expressed its support for new measures to protect the rights of seafarers stranded at sea.  ILO welcomed a joint statement signed by more than a dozen countries that gives seafarers enhanced rights as key workers, allowing them to be repatriated and move more freely during the pandemic.  More than 200,000 seafarers have been stranded at sea due to the virus, some of them for months because of restrictions on international travel and measures to contain the virus.

**Hagia Sophia

In a statement released earlier today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that Hagia Sophia, which is part of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, is inscribed on the World Heritage List as a museum.  UNESCO emphasized that this inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations.

**Lebanon

For her part, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today warned of the crippling impact of the socioeconomic crisis on Lebanon’s population.  She urged the Government, political parties and the financial sector to work together to ensure the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable.  She called on the country’s political parties and leaders to enact urgently needed reforms, and to prioritize the provision of essential needs such as food, electricity, health and education.  She further called upon the international community to increase its assistance to the Government to support such efforts.

**World Population Day

[Corrected text:  Tomorrow is World Population Day.  In a message for the day, the Secretary-General noted that the COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone, everywhere, but it does not affect everyone equally.  It is deepening existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly for women and girls.  The Secretary-General said that with many countries on lockdown and health systems struggling to cope, sexual and reproductive health services are being side-lined and gender-based violence is on the rise.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projects that, if lockdown measures continue for six months with major disruptions to health services, 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives, resulting in 7 million unintended pregnancies.  Some 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can also be expected.  The Secretary-General noted that through international declarations and agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the international community has committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health care, eliminating the unmet need for contraception and ending all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices, by 2030.  He stressed that we cannot allow the pandemic to reverse progress we have made towards these goals.]

**Press Briefings

On Monday, my guest will be Maximo Torero Cullen, the Assistant Director‑General for the Economic and Social Development Department at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  He will brief you on the launch of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 report.  So, before we welcome Reem among us, let us go to questions, for which I need my glasses to see.  Maria, you have a question.  So, I shall give you the floor.  Maria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  So, I actually have two questions.  First, about Azerbaijan [inaudible].  It was announced today by Foreign Minister… by Foreign Ministry, sorry, of Azerbaijan that they initiated a special session of General Assembly about fighting coronavirus.  Before you refer me to Reem, she was already very kind to provide me with some information about this, but, I wonder, in particular, about Secretary‑General's opinions about this initiative, whether this special session technically have to be approved by him and that whether he's going to participate in the meeting when it take place.  Okay?  I will…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Let me answer that one.  No, I mean, it's not for… as you know, it's not for the Secretary‑General to approve what the Member States decide.  They are free… this is a Member State‑driven organization.  He will, of course, support it.  And whether or not he participates, I would assume… I mean, I have to check the dates, but I assume if he can participate, he will participate.  Did you have another question, Maria?  I'm sorry.  I cut you off.

Question:  Yeah.  On Syria, you mentioned that their first case in north‑west Syria.  I just wanted to follow up about the general overall cases in Syria, if you have this data now?

Spokesman:  The overall number of cases?  Yeah.  Not more than what we've said… we said, I think, two days ago.  I can try to pull that up before the end of the briefing.  So, I'll come back to you on that.  [He later said that, as of 9 July, Syria’s Ministry of Health had confirmed 372 cases and 14 deaths.]  Edie, you have a question, then we'll go to James.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  As you know, today, the mandate for cross‑border aid deliveries expires, and there is still no agreement in the Security Council.  I wonder if you could tell us whether the UN has made any contingency plans in case there is no agreement and the mandate expires in terms of aid being available in the north‑west.  And I have one question after that.

Spokesman:  I mean, yes and no.  Of course, we need to be ready if the Security Council doesn't come to a decision and we lose the authorization.  But, it's not as if there's a contingency plan to use other border crossings or use other borders.  There are no other options for us for cross‑border delivery than a Security Council resolution.  And we have said, time and time again, that, without the necessary authorization, the only thing that will happen is that the suffering of the civilians will increase.

Question:  My second question was on the vote in the Philippines Parliament to reject the renewal of the license of the country's largest television network, which basically supports the opposition.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  We've seen the press reports.  What I can tell you is that, for us, freedom of the press is a critical, if not central, pillar of human rights everywhere and needs to be defended.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Hello.  I've got a couple of questions on a couple of different things, but, first, a quick follow‑up.  Given that we have a Security Council vote in an hour or so or the announcement of what they did vote, but, already, we know the Russians have another resolution up their sleeve.  They've publicly said that, suggesting they're going to veto again.  This suggests, given the time frame of the slow voting procedure of the Security Council on the virtual rules, that you are going to go past the deadline.  Just a clarification, as far as the UN sees it:  when is the deadline of the close of Friday — for close of Friday midnight, New York?

Spokesman:  This is an age‑old question.  Basically, once the day changes and we don't op… I don't believe we operate at night, so today would be the final day.

Question:  Okay.  So, on to my actual questions, first picking up on something you read out, you read out a very truncated version of the UNESCO statement on the Hagia Sophia.  Clearly, that says… says several things.  It says that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a museum, and it can't… as a result, it has various obligations to the treaties and to UNESCO on that.  It also says that they call on the Turkish authorities to engage in dialogue before taking any decision, and clearly, the Turkish authorities have taken a decision without engaging in dialogue.  Does the Secretary‑General share UNESCO's concerns?  Will the Secretary‑General and his representatives be taking this up with Turkey now?

Spokesman:  We just spoke to… we just got off the phone with our UNESCO colleagues, because, I think, as you pointed out, the decision was taken by the Turkish authorities.  We expect a further statement from UNESCO.  We, of course, fully back UNESCO.  They have the primary responsibility within the UN system on dealing with the maintenance of these global heritage sites.  So, we are… they are rightly in the lead, and we are supporting them.

Question:  Okay.  Two more questions on two different subjects, if you don't mind.  There are reports — nothing confirmed yet — that the Security Council might want to meet in person next week on Colombia, possibly.  It's, obviously, a decision of the Presidency and discussion among the Security Council.  But, is the Secretariat ready, and does it have provision in terms of security and other arrangements to facilitate and in‑person meeting of Security Council ambassadors?

Spokesman:  Yes, we will facilitate whatever the Security Council decides to do.  Whatever the Presidency and the members decide to do, we will facilitate, as we do with the General Assembly.  We give them advice on physical distancing and so forth, but we will do… we will support them in whatever way we can, as we are mandated to do.

Question:  And a final question, which concerns, again, press freedom in Asia, this time Malaysia.  Several Al Jazeera journalists have been summoned by police in the last few hours following an Al Jazeera documentary of the… about the treatment of migrant workers during the country's COVID‑19 lockdown.  The police say they're investigating what was journalism, but, instead, investigating charges of potential sedition, defamation and violation of the country's Communications Act.  What is the Secretary‑General's view on journalists being investigated by police for conducting nothing other than journalism?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't know anything about this specific case, but what I can tell you is that journalists need to be allowed to do their work in freedom, free from harassment.  And I think, especially at a time when we see this global pandemic, when we've seen the risks that it has towards the lessening of the civic space, harsh words towards the media in many different parts of the world, it's very important that we all stand up for the right of journalists to do their work.  All right.  Have we finished this press briefing with you, James?

Correspondent:  Have a lovely weekend.

Spokesman:  You, too.  All right.  Let's move on.  Arul, please, go ahead.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  This is regarding something that I mentioned to you earlier, the Thoothukudi deaths, the killing of a father and son in the India State of Tamil Nadu in police custody.  Do you have any comments on that, please?

Spokesman:  I think every death, all these cases, as a principle, need to be fully investigated.  I see somebody named Asli Pelit on my screen, but I'm not sure who that is.

Correspondent:  Hi.  Hi, Stéphane.  It's Asli from VOA Turkish.  My question was answered.

Spokesman:  Hi.  Okay.  no problem.

Correspondent:  I just asked you the same question I was going to talk to you about, Hagia Sophia.

Spokesman:  Great.  Perfect.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  And welcome to the briefing.  Carrie, please.  Carrie Newton?  All right.  You're going to lose…

Correspondent:  Hi.  Sorry, Steph.  Hi.  No, sorry.  I was going to… I'm making a private remark to James to congratulate his colleagues, because they've done an amazing job, actually, in South-East Asia.

Spokesman:  Don't mind me.  You guys have a conversation amongst yourselves.

Correspondent:  No, no, no, but sometimes, you…

Spokesman:  No, go ahead, Carrie.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  No, no, that was just a private message for him.  No questions.  I'm following religiously your briefings, Steph.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Good.  That's always… it's a good religion to have.  Gloria, please, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Oh.  After… now or not?  Am I ready?  My question is, the tearing down of these memorials throughout the United States, why isn't UNESCO making some comment?  Not all of them are questions in our heritage of just black and white.  These memorials are all of us working together as a country.  Even in France, our troops, our black troops, they were under the French flag.  We worked all of our lives as a team.  It's… all of a sudden… why are they tearing down the memorials to all of this?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to a very interesting discussion that was had earlier this week by the Holocaust Programme, the Rwanda Programme, the Genocide Programme, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Programme on exactly that, the issue of memorials and statues, and I would refer you to that.  Abdelhamid.  Abdelhamid, I can't hear you or see you.

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Back to Hagia Sophia, it has been a mosque between 15… 1453 to 1930, it was a mosque, and then it turned into a museum.  So, now there is an outcry.  I just like to compare double standard, Israel, on 10 April, turned a mosque, a historic mosque, in the city of Safed, occupied 1948 — it's called Al‑Ahmar Mosque — into a bar and a wedding hall and recently decided to take over a Muslim graveyard in Jaffa… city of Jaffa, and turn it into a project and another graveyard in Jerusalem and turned it into a park.  I didn't see statement coming from UNESCO or from the Secretary‑General for any about this.  Why is there double standard here?

Spokesman:  I appreciate your historical analysis.  I think, on the issues and actions and things that have been going on in relation to Israel and Palestine, I would refer you to the many, many, many reports that we have put out on many different issues.  The Hagia Sophia, I'm not going to enter into a historical debate.  I was just flagging what UNESCO had said, which is basically commenting on a site that is inscribed on the World Heritage Site registry.  Okay.  On that note, unless there's someone else, I will leave you to end the week in the kind hands of Reem.  So, Reem, please, go ahead.

For information media. Not an official record.