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14 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.  Apologies for the delay.  I’m warning you — I’m in a really lousy mood today, but anyway, let’s do this briefing.  Remember to turn your microphones off.

**Sustainable Development

This morning, the Secretary-General of these United Nations, António Guterres, spoke at the ministerial segment of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).  He said that, at a time when we desperately need to leap ahead, COVID-19 could set us back years and even decades, leaving countries with massive fiscal and growth challenges.

The COVID-19 crisis is having devastating impacts because of our past and present failures and because we have yet to take the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), António Guterres said.  He added that we can still turn this around and he has been encouraged by the tremendous response to the crisis since it hit — from Governments, international partners and the entire UN development system, as well as from heroes in the health system and communities around the world.  The Secretary-General called on countries to recognize that the world cannot go back to the previous so-called normal, and to renew their determination to enact a multilateral response that gears recovery efforts towards the SDGs.

Also, this morning, the High-Level Political Forum heard from two representatives of youth organizations who called for inclusion of the voices of youth in actions towards a strong recovery from the pandemic and a more sustainable future.  And Finland, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, the Russian Federation, Burundi and Gambia delivered their presentations on their voluntary national reviews.

And in the afternoon, the President of the UN Environment Assembly and Minister of Environment and Climate of Norway, Sveinung Rotevatn, will convey the main messages of the UN Environment Assembly and present the contributions of the Assembly to the debates of the Forum.  This will be followed by presentations by Brunei Darussalam and Micronesia.

**Rise for All

And very early this morning, our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, convened the Rise for All special event which brought together women across different sectors in recognition of front-line leadership to build back better.  The Deputy Secretary-General said that, over the past months in which the world has been dealing with the pandemic, “people around the world have come to see what many of us already knew: women’s leadership makes a profound difference”.

She said that evidence has shown, in country after country, how Governments led by women are more effective in flattening the curve and positioning for economic recovery, and added that the UN wants to amplify the voices of those women who are realizing the values of the UN in the work they do every day.  The Deputy Secretary-General added that, even in the midst of this devastating crisis, we have an opportunity to transform and recover better, but that will only be possible when we recognize the value of women front and centre, together leading the way and rising for all.

**Colombia

And a short while ago, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed the Security Council members.  While he spoke by videoconference, members were holding their first in-person meeting at UN Headquarters, and that’s the first they’ve had since March.  The Special Representative commended the work by the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces, FARC, in carrying out peacebuilding efforts in spite of difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu also said he’s concerned about the increased reports of gender-based violence in the context of the pandemic.  He encouraged all parties to redouble measures to improve protection and security for women, including women former combatants, social leaders and human rights defenders.

He also warned that many communities still face insecurity and violence, making this the biggest threat to peacebuilding in the country.  However, he was encouraged by recent arrests made by authorities of individuals believed to be responsible for some of the killings, saying this is an example of the results of the mechanisms in the Peace Agreement can deliver.

**Mandela Lecture

I want to flag that, on Saturday, the Secretary-General will deliver the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.  It will be the first time that the Annual Lecture is held virtually.  The Secretary-General, who should have been in South Africa, will be in New York and he will be joined by other speakers in South Africa, including President [Cyril] Ramaphosa.

In his remarks, entitled “Tackling the Inequality Pandemic: A New Social Contract for a New Era”, the Secretary-General will take direct aim at the severe and systemic forms of inequality that are being exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.  He will outline the threat that these inequalities pose to the well-being and future of people everywhere.  He will put forward concrete recommendations for a more equitable, just and sustainable way forward.  And we are organizing a background briefing to preview that speech, tomorrow morning at 8 am.  Contact Stephanie or Marcia in my office if you’re interested.

**Armenia/Azerbaijan

We issued a statement last night expressing the Secretary-General’s deep concern about reports of exchanges of fire, including with heavy weaponry, along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border.  These exchanges of fire reportedly resulted in fatalities.  The Secretary-General urges an immediate end to the fighting and calls on all involved to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and refrain from provocative rhetoric.  The Secretary-General has taken note of the statement issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs, and reiterates his full support for their efforts to address this dangerous situation and search for a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

**Mali

And turning to Mali, the peacekeeping mission there (MINUSMA) reports that the situation has mostly calmed down in Bamako, following protests over the weekend.  Last night, the Government released protest leaders as well as a number of protestors who had been arrested. The Government also announced an investigation into the deaths of demonstrators killed over the weekend.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mali, accompanied by representatives of the African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] continues intensive good offices efforts with leaders of the protest movement, the M5-RFP, and the Government to help negotiate a solution to this current crisis.

**Central African Republic

And we have an update from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Today, a force convoy — composed of a casualty evacuation ambulance, medical and security staff — went to Gedze, in the Nana Mambere prefecture, where a peacekeeper from Rwanda was killed and three others injured during an attack yesterday by the alleged 3R armed group.  The convoy returned with the body of the late peacekeeper, as well as with the injured peacekeepers, who are all in stable condition.

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack.  He expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the victim as well as to the people and Government of Rwanda.  We all wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

The Secretary-General reaffirmed that the UN will continue to support national efforts to advance peace and stability in the Central African Republic, working closely with the country’s international partners.

The “A LA LONDO” operation, which we have mentioned in the past few days, continues.  This joint operation aims to address a rise in violence and to force 3R insurgents to leave the areas they have been occupying after last year’s peace agreement, and to enable freedom of movement and protection of civilians.

**Darfur

The joint AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today said that they are deeply concerned about violence in Kutum town on 12 July and the attack by unidentified armed men on the Fata Borno Camp for internally displaced people yesterday morning.  That attack left 9 internally displaced people dead and 20 injured.

The mission says it is regrettable that the latest violence took place while the transitional Government of Sudan and the armed movements are close to concluding negotiations expected to bring peace and stability, and the promise of prosperity to the Darfur region and to the whole of Sudan.  The mission has been working closely with the relevant Sudanese authorities and communities to de-escalate tensions to prevent further loss of life. The Mission has dispatched additional Formed Police Units to the area, as well as intensified patrols in and around the hot spots to ensure the safety and protection of internally displaced people. The Mission has also been engaging community leaders, urging them and all parties to exercise restraint.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, I can tell you we are concerned about the welfare of 1.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the north-east, including 1.1 million people who are in acute need.  This includes nearly half a million displaced people throughout the north-east, including in Al-Hol camp, where more than 65,000 people — two thirds of them children — live in challenging humanitarian conditions.  To date, six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the north-east, including one death.

The cost of food and other basic commodities in the north-east is among the highest in Syria.  In Deir Ezzour, in June, the cost of food rose more than 60 per cent in just one month.  In Al-Hasakeh, food now costs 240 per cent more compared to the same time last year.  We stress the need for full and regular humanitarian access to all areas in the north-east, as well as [all of] Syria.

**COVID-19/Trinidad and Tobago

And an update from our colleagues on the ground: In Trinidad and Tobago, which has 133 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8 deaths due to the virus, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Marina Walter, is supporting the Government on the health and socioeconomic fronts.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has trained lab workers and has procured equipment to boost testing and treatment capacity.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has helped the Ministry of Health to recruit new nurses and to secure medical equipment for intensive care units.

On the socioeconomic front, the Pan-American Health Organization and ILO [International Labour Organization] have provided workplace guidelines to local businesses.  ILO also worked with organizations on creating safety nets to protect livelihoods.  UNDP donated 600 home garden seed kits to local communities to help people grow food and earn additional income.  And, focusing on young people, the UN team is working with civil society partners to curb misinformation and share verified COVID-19 facts.

**COVID-19/Response and Recovery Programme

Our friends at FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] in Rome today launched a new comprehensive COVID-19 response and recovery programme.  It is aimed at preventing a global food emergency during and after the pandemic while working on medium- to long-term development responses for food security and nutrition.  The agency is calling for $1.2 billion in initial investments to support the needs of the new programme.  It has seven key priority response areas.  Among them are the prevention of the next zoonotic pandemic through a strengthened approach, and economic inclusion and social protection to reduce poverty.

All right.  I’m done.  Let’s see if anyone wants to actually ask a question.  Let’s see what the chat says.  Bear with me two seconds.  Chat.  All right.  Maria?  Please, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  Yeah, you mentioned that Armenia and Azerbaijan conflict and the fighting is still going on, bringing new casualties, so I wonder… you hear me okay?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you perfectly.

Question:  Because I hear my own voice.  Okay.  I wonder if Secretary‑General was going to get in touch to call the officials of both countries…

Spokesman:  Yeah, sorry.  Go ahead.  I’m sorry.  Your second question?

Question:  Yeah.  A second is about UN affairs.  As Security Council is coming back to UN building, how soon do you think bring the briefing back to United Nations Headquarters?

Spokesman:  On your [second] part, we are going to go in phases.  I think the Secretary‑General explained to staff there will be a first phase that will limit the number of people in the building, the number of staff.  We will… we are, obviously, making preparations on bringing the briefing back in terms of making sure that the number of seats in the briefing room will be limited to a certain number of persons and that the seats will be separated in a safe manner to ensure physical distancing.  That may involve creating a pool, but we’ll be in touch with your UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] colleagues on that.  But I don’t have date yet for a return… for a physical return to the briefing to the building, because, again, that involves a larger number of staff and there are all sorts of issues that have to be looked at, including the situation… the general situation in New York City, but we’ll keep you posted on that.

On… your first question was about… oh, Nagorno Karabakh.  No, what I can tell you about Nagorno‑Karabakh, obviously, we’re following the situation closely.  I mean, the message from the Secretary‑General was for the parties to re‑engage and support the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] effort, as this regional organization is in the lead on that.  Okay.  Let me go down that list. Hussein Ibrahim.  Hussein?

Correspondent:  Hi. Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Hi.  So my question is the Arab Coalition remained committed to the ceasefire in response to the call of the Secretary-General.  However, we see the Houthis are still launching ballistic missiles and drones towards cities and civilian objects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and towards Yemeni cities.  But we see the United Nations is silent on these violations.  Is there any position towards the Houthis in this regard?  Especially since silence towards these violations may cause them to increase.

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t think we have been silent.  We have repeatedly condemned these sorts of attacks.  There have been regular briefings by Mr. [Martin] Griffiths to the Security Council, regular briefings by my humanitarian colleagues and updates to the Council.  Our primary focus has been to protect civilians.  Right?  Mr. Griffiths and the UN as a whole is not giving up on the pursuit of a nationwide ceasefire.  Humanitarian, economic measures are urgently needed to alleviate the suffering of all Yemenis and the resumption of the peace process.  We will continue to work with all the parties involved to find a consensual path to achieve these mutual goals and pave the way for a comprehensive end to this conflict.  We feel that the people of Yemen are continuing to be in the front line of the suffering and we need to see the violence stop.  Okay?  Ibtisam?  Ibtisam?  I cannot hear you.  All right.  We’ll go to Nizar, and then I’ll come back to you, Ibtisam.  Nizar?  Nizar?  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  Yesterday, you announced that the Houthis have accepted or allowed the expert mission to go and inspect the SAFER oil tanker.  Do you have any update about that?  Have they been able to go and see the storage vessel?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have an update on that.  As soon as I get something, we will let you know.

Question:  Another thing, regarding Syria, you promised that you would come back to me regarding the letter of the Syrian Government demanding a legal opinion on the incineration of corn fields and the stealing of resources, as well as the unilateral blockade.

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have anything on that for you yet.  As soon as I have something, I will let you know.  Just on the tanker, what I can tell you is that the logistical arrangements are in the process of being made for us to have… including getting all the correct… the right permissions from the right authorities so we can move forward.  And what happened to your library, Nizar?

Question:  Well, it depends on the room I am staying in.  And other question… regarding… and this letter has been sent to the Secretary‑General on the 31 May.  That’s a long time.

Spokesman:  I’m not… the delay has nothing to do with the Secretary‑General. It has… delay has to do with my office.  So, let’s leave it at that.

Question:  One more question?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Regarding the Bab al‑Salam, yesterday, I asked whether Bab al‑Salam is controlled by Al‑Nusra Front, the terrorist organization.  Have you been able to find an answer to that?

Spokesman:  It’s not for me to talk about these things.  Our aim is to get as much aid through as possible.

Question:  But in this case, if it is controlled by Al‑Nusra, how would you deal with them?

Spokesman:  I’ll answer the question without answering your questions.  I’m not referring to any organization that you may be referring to.  What I can tell you is that, routinely, humanitarians deal with de facto authorities to get aid through.  We deal with whoever we have to deal with.  So that’s just a standard answer of where we are.

Question:  Even if they take most of the aid?

Spokesman:  I’m not… I can’t speak to specific cases.  We have seen in the past, notably in Yemen, where we have spoken very loud and clear when we think there’s been a gross divergence of humanitarian aid — and not only in Yemen. Everywhere we see this abuse, we speak up.  In fact, what I can tell you — I’m sorry — about the [Syria] crop fire issue is that we are aware of crop fires this summer that destroyed over 9,400 acres of land in the first two weeks of June, bringing the total affected land in Al‑Hasakeh Governorate to almost 16,000 acres.  While analysis is still being done, initial reports suggest that the impact of the fires on overall output is less than last year.  Okay?  Ibtisam, did you get your mic working?  Okay.  Ibtisam, I can’t hear you, but…  Anyway, is… anyone else have a question?  Wave.  Abdelhamid and then Rick.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  I have a question, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Hold on.  Abdelhamid, go ahead.

Question:  Yeah, okay.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, 83 human rights organizations sent an appeal to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killing by Israel.  Twenty‑two Palestinians were killed during the first half of this year, and the last of two were Iyad Hallaq, a disabled man, in Jerusalem and Ahmad Mustafa Erekat on 23 June in Bethlehem.  They’re calling on UN to pursue some kind of accountability.  My question is about when Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov called on Israelis to investigate these killings, extrajudicial killings, does he follow up?  Does he know where the investigation going?  How could he, I mean, just issue this statement, “we call Israel to investigate”, and that’s the end of it?  Is there any follow‑up on any one single investigation?

Spokesman:  I have no doubt that Mr. Mladenov’s office remains in touch with the relevant authorities to ensure follow‑up.  Rick?

Question:  Hi.  Can you hear me?  Thank you.  I have a follow‑up to Nizar’s questions about the tanker off the coast of Yemen.  Is there… are there any crew members on that tanker?  Is any… is it totally abandoned, or are there people on it?  And are those people in contact with the team that the UN is sending to assess the repairs needed on the tanker?

Spokesman:  It’s a…  Rick, it’s a very valid and logical question, which I wish I’d thought about before you asked.  So, let me… I have some assumptions, but let me find out if, in fact, there is some sort of a caretaker crew that has been on the tanker.  I know we’ve gone in when we’re able to, but let me find out if there’s anybody actually kind of guarding it or at least being on there, and I’ll get back to you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Nabil?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Can you please explain why it will take some time for the noon briefings to be back in the noon briefing room?  And is it about budget?  Is it about staff are not available?  What’s holding you back?  This is one.  And two, it seems that Germany managed to bring people back to the building, and the meeting looks very good with the distance, with… for everyone.  Do you think…?

Spokesman:  All right.  You got cut off, but I think I got the gist of your question.  Obviously… I got the gist of your question.  Obviously, the Member States will do what they feel they want to do, what they need to do, and we will support them.  Obviously, staff return to the office on a more permanent basis takes a bit more work, consideration for staff.  How they travel in and out and all of that is taken into consideration.  It is also part of a larger plan of a gradual return to Headquarters, but we will try to go back as soon as it’s practical, and we’ve… already are looking at some plans in staffing in how we could do that.

Question:  And about the SG, you think it will be possible to have a press conference with him anytime soon?

Spokesman:  We… that’s something that we are working on.  If he does do any sort of a stakeout or press briefing, we will have him in the press briefing room, and we can have a mix of virtual and in‑person.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yeah, I have a question on Libya.  The pro-Haftar militias, the National Libyan Army, they suggested that the funds or the revenues from the oil are to be deposited in an external account, in one of probably European countries.  The Government of National Accord (GNA) rejected that, and there is a stamp of about the revenues of the oil industry.  Is the UN trying to mediate with both parties and try to find a solution to where the money can be deposited and spent wisely?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I couldn’t hear you.  I didn’t hear the last part of your question.

Question:  I mean, is the UN trying to mediate between the two parties to find an acceptable solution to both parties, where…?

Spokesman:  Yes. I mean, not long ago, Abdelhamid, we… I mean, the acting head of the Mission, Stephanie Williams, joined the Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company, Mustafa Sanalla, in a meeting of the economic working group as part of the international follow‑up committee on Libya.  We’re working with the parties.  I mean, obviously, trying to find a clear solution to this is critical to the rebuilding of Libya so that the profits from the oil can actually profit the people of Libya as they will attempt to rebuild their country.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right. I see no more hand‑waving, so I will leave you all and will be in a better mood tomorrow.  Goodbye.

For information media. Not an official record.