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16 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, everyone!  My usual reminder to please mute your microphones and happiest of Thursdays to you.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian Appeal

Later today, our friends at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will release an updated appeal to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.  The embargo is until one minute after midnight Central European Time; that’s 6 p.m. tonight in New York City.  As we have mentioned in this briefing, the pandemic risks triggering the first increase in global poverty since 1990.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan is the international community’s primary fundraising vehicle to respond to the humanitarian impacts of the virus in low- and middle-income countries.  It brings together appeals from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN humanitarian agencies.  The plan provides help and protection that prioritizes the most vulnerable.  This includes older people, people with disabilities, displaced people, and women and girls, given that pandemics heighten existing levels of discrimination, inequality and gender-based violence.  Since the end of March, when the plan was first launched, $1.7 billion has been raised, but much more is urgently needed.

**Mali

The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports today that a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has arrived in Bamako yesterday.  The delegation is headed by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been appointed by ECOWAS to lead mediation efforts in Mali.

They met with President [Ibrahim Boubacar] Keita upon arrival and are engaging with all stakeholders to help find a solution to the crisis.

The UN Mission is working closely with the delegation and continues its intensive good offices efforts.

**Bolivia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Bolivia, Jean Arnault, and the UN system in Bolivia issued a statement expressing deep sadness over the death of Monsignor Eugenio Scarpellini, the Bishop of El Alto, who led the dialogue efforts for the consolidation of peace in the country.

“May his legacy be a source of inspiration for peace and reconciliation in Bolivia,” said Mr. Arnault and the Country Team.  Our sincere condolences to the Bishop’s family and to the Bolivian Episcopal Conference.

**HLPF

Back here, so to speak, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development continued this morning with Voluntary National Review presentations by Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malawi, Zambia, and the Republic of Moldova.  In the afternoon, Liberia, Barbados, and the Solomon Islands will complete the 47 presentations for this year’s Forum.

In terms of the actions to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) says it’s received a total of 182 commitments to advance the global goals by national Governments and other stakeholders.

**UNDP

Just a few minutes ago, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched its Multidimensional Poverty Index, which shows that before the virus pandemic hit, progress was being made in tackling poverty.

Before the pandemic, 65 out of the 75 countries studied had significantly reduced their multidimensional poverty levels between 2000 and 2019.  Some of the countries with the greatest progress include Sierra Leone, Guinea, India and China.  However, UNDP warned that now progress is at risk, and based on projections, the pandemic could set back development gains by up to 10 years.  UNDP said that now more than ever, we need to work on tackling poverty — and vulnerability to poverty — in all its forms.

The report is online.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq:  More than 150 religious and other leaders today welcomed the landmark step taken by the leaders of the Sunni, Shia, Christian, Kaka’i and Yazidi communities of Iraq, through the adoption of an Inter-Faith Statement on the Victims and Survivors of ISIL, also known as Da’esh.   The global faith community welcomed the landmark statement in a virtual conference hosted jointly by the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for the Crimes committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), and the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, and Religions for Peace.  Through this statement, faith leaders in Iraq collectively denounced the acts of Da’esh and underlined their full support for efforts to prevent atrocity crimes, support survivors and ensure that those responsible for those crimes are held to account.

**Yemen

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council heard from the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Anderson, and from Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock about the conditions on the Safer oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.  Inger Anderson told the Council that the tanker had not been maintained since 2015.  Its condition is deteriorating daily, increasing the potential for an oil spill.  If this happens, she warned, it will cause an environmental catastrophe, impacting ecosystems and the lives of potentially 28 million people who rely on these ecosystems for their livelihoods.  She added that an oil spill or explosion in the Red Sea could have a serious, long-lasting environmental impact, noting that the Red Sea is one of the most important repositories of biodiversity on the planet. 

Mark Lowcock for his part, informed Council members that last week we received encouraging news as Ansar Allah officials confirmed to the UN in writing that they are ready to authorize the UN mission to the tanker.  They have also communicated their intention to issue entry permits for mission personnel.  Mr. Lowcock welcomed the announcement and said the UN team can deploy within three weeks of receiving all the necessary permits.  We are in touch with the Government of Yemen for their approvals, he added.

**COVID-19 — Cabo Verde

And an update on the work our colleagues are doing to address the pandemic.  Today from Cabo Verde, where there are more than 1,700 confirmed cases and 19 deaths due to the virus:  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Ana Patricia Graça, is supporting the Government’s response to the pandemic, with the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) having contributed money for protective equipment, testing supplies, education programmes, among other activities.  The UN Development Programme is helping tens of thousands of students receive hot meals and other food supplies, while the UN Children’s Fund is supporting homeschooling programmes for 100,000 students.  UNDP and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) are working to create jobs and help with economic recovery, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting 38,000 families in a bid to boost the agriculture sector.  The Resident Coordinator and the Prime Minister also launched “Ambition 2030”, a process for the development of the new national sustainable development plan for the Decade of Action.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, has strongly condemned the killing of two aid workers and four community members in Duk County in Jonglei.  This took place on 13 July, NGO (non-governmental organization) staff were providing health care and nutrition services to community members, mostly women and children, when the area was attacked by an unknown armed group.  The Humanitarian Coordinator called on authorities to take swift action to ensure the safety and security of aid workers in the country.  This incident, sadly, brings the number of humanitarians killed since 2013 in South Sudan to 122.

**Sudan

Our humanitarian colleagues in neighbouring Sudan tell us that the country is experiencing one of the worst food crises in recent years.  This is due to conflict-related displacement and high inflation rates on top of the impacts of the pandemic prevention measures.  Almost a quarter of the population, some 9.6 million Sudanese, are now severely food insecure.  These numbers are the highest ever recorded in the history of the [Integrated] Food Security Phase Classification analysis in Sudan.  Food insecurity is especially concerning in some states such as North Kordofan, where the number of people facing severe food insecurity has increased by 335 per cent.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, have provided food assistance to approximately 2.3 million people in the first quarter of this year.  But more has to be done and more funding is urgently needed.  The humanitarian appeal for Sudan has received just 40 per cent of the $1.4 million required.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

We have an update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Ebola outbreak in the Equateur Province continues to grow.  The outbreak has since spread to six health zones, and 56 cases have been recorded.  The World Health Organization said today that responding to Ebola in the midst of the ongoing pandemic is complex.  The Ebola outbreak is a major concern, as WHO and their partners face critical funding gaps.

**Latin America

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that two thirds of the 3 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru who have seen their jobs disappear during the pandemic will see their food insecurity worsen this year as Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to register an alarming 269 per cent rise in the number of people facing severe food insecurity in comparison to last year — the highest relative increase globally.  Nearly 16 million people, which includes almost 2 million Venezuelan migrants, will face a critical shortage.  WFP said it needs an additional $328 million in 2020 to reach 3.5 million people who have been impacted by the pandemic in the region; $120 million of that would go directly to vulnerable migrants.

**Food

A new report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns that the fight against the COVID pandemic is causing unprecedented uncertainties in global food supply chains.  According to the Agricultural Outlook 2020-2029, the pandemic is expected to depress demand in the next few years and could further undermine food security.  Beyond the pandemic, current challenges include the locust invasion in East Africa and Asia, the continued spread of African swine fever, and more frequent extreme climatic events, and trade tensions among major trade Powers.

**Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Reem Abaza, our friendly Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you.

And also tomorrow, I wanted to flag that for those of you who were not able to join us for the first time around, we will have a second background briefing to preview the Secretary-General’s speech to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which will be on Saturday.  We will be sending the login information; that’s at 11:15 a.m.  tomorrow.  But before we get to tomorrow, let’s see what today brings and what questions I may be receiving.

**Financial Contribution

I am delighted to thank our friends in Angola for their full payment to this year’s regular budget.  This takes us to 104.

So, bear with me two seconds.  Let’s go to our chat function here.  Figured I’d… by now I’d know how to handle this.  Chat.  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Yoshita, you have a question.

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  Yeah, perfectly.  Go ahead, Yoshita.

Question:  Hi.  So, I think there was a report by the AP that the UN freed up the expense money for terrorists designated by the UN at the request of the Pakistani Government.  These also include Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I missed… I understand the topic, but I missed the first bit of your question.

Question:  It’s that there was a report in the AP that the UN has a… has freed up the expense money at the request of the Pakistani Government for designated terrorists, which include Hafiz Saeed, as well.  Any comment on that and also to ensure that the money is used for the expense purposes and does not violate any of the rules or requirements of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) Sanctions Committee?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I’ll be very honest with you, Yoshita.  It’s news to me, which doesn’t mean that it’s news to anybody else, but let me try to find out a bit more and get back to you.

Correspondent:  Sure.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m sorry if I missed the beginning… I missed the beginning of the briefing, so if you mentioned it.  I want to ask about the status of the investigation or inspection of the tanker in the Port of Hudaydah.  Where do we stand now in terms of allowing a technical team to board the floating ship with oil?  Where do we stand now?

Spokesman:  I think… I would refer you to the comments Mark Lowcock made yesterday in the Security Council.  I think he went into pretty great detail, but basically, we have the written assurances from Ansar Allah, waiting for the permits.  And once we have all the… [noise interruption].  If you could mute your mics, please.

Correspondent:  I’m sorry.

Spokesman:  That’s okay.  We have a little bit of feedback.  Once we have all the permits, it would be about… within three weeks, the team could mobilize.  But, obviously, this is something of a high urgency for us.

Question:  But the technical team — is it in location now, or it’s outside the country?

Spokesman:  It’s… it has not… it would be… it’s, right now, outside the country.  We need the permissions to get into the area, but I would encourage you to read Mark Lowcock’s statement, because I think that went into quite a high level of granularity.

Evelyn, then Ibtisam, then James.

Question:  Hi.  On the Iraqi — excuse me — efforts, do you have anything else on the Yazidis?  Because women and girls are still missing from that atrocity that ISIS… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any update.  We can put you in touch with our colleagues who run the accountability mission to see what they have.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Ibtisam and… sorry.

Question:  You also mentioned migrants from Venezuela have lost jobs.  Where did they lose the jobs, in Venezuela or elsewhere?

Spokesman:  No, they’re migrants.  They’ve left Venezuela.  So, I think… what has happened is that a lot of these people who were on the move were most likely involved in the informal economy, and as the economy of the countries that are hosting them are suffering, so there are often… in any country, migrants are often the first ones to suffer.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I have two questions, the first one about Palestine.  So, Ahmed Arafat was killed more than three weeks ago by Israeli forces.  His body is still kept by the Israeli occupation forces.  Do you have any comments on that, given the fact that this practice by Israelis is… happens not only in this case but also in other cases?  There is more than 60 Palestinian bodies that are kept by the Israelis and… for no reason and sometimes for weeks or even months.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Let me… I’ve asked for some language on that.  I’d… I’ll hope to have something for you on that tomorrow.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  So, Yemen, so, the UN office in Yemen is reporting that there is, for the second time this week, strike by… I assume by Saudi‑led coalition that killed, I think, yesterday at least 11 civilians and on the weekend at least seven.  Why don’t we hear about this from your office?

Spokesman:  I didn’t… Martin Griffiths, in his Twitter feed, deplored the air strikes in Al Jawf, which I think you were referring to.  We’ve seen these initial reports that there may be multiple civilian casualties, including children.  It’s important that these cases be thoroughly investigated.

And whether it’s ourselves or Mr. Griffiths and… or others like Lise Grande, I think we’ve been very clear that attacks on civilians, on civilian infrastructure, by any party [to] the conflict are not only unlawful but, obviously, reprehensible.  It’s unacceptable that this war rages on with the Yemeni people at the forefront of the suffering.

Mr. Griffiths is continuing to negotiate with the parties on a ceasefire, which its first obvious result of a ceasefire would be a positive impact on the lives of Yemeni civilians.

James Bays.  Oh, sorry.  Did you have a follow‑up, Ibtisam?  Or…

Question:  Yeah.  I mean, is there… can you say more… could you say more on Mr. Griffiths’ efforts?  Because seems to be, over the last, let’s say, two weeks that he is very close to get somewhere, but we are not really sure what it is exactly.  Is there more on… more that you can say about this?

Spokesman:  Yes.  He has been continuing his discussions with the parties, I think, on a fairly intense level.  I think it’s important that the parties cooperate and work with him.  It’s an ongoing process.  There is… the text of the proposed agreement is bound to change, and that’s part of the negotiating process.

Mr. Griffiths is a seasoned negotiator, and so, he’s fully… he remains fully engaged.  It’s clear that — whether it’s him or the rest of the UN will not give up in the pursuit of a nationwide ceasefire.

We see… the lack of a ceasefire is seen clearly by the continuing violence that we see.  It’s also important that, I think, the parties get over this erosion of trust between them that we have seen, which only leads to further military operations, with civilians again on the front lines of those who are suffering.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yeah.  A question or two linked questions on relationships between the great Powers.  You are seeing now claims coming from the UK, the US and Canada that a Russian group has been hacking the research into trying to find the COVID‑19 vaccine.  Your comment on that.

And, secondly, linked to it, the growing tension between the US and China, new US measures against China ending Hong Kong’s preferential status with regard to the US, how concerned is the Secretary‑General about this landscape and the fact that the relations between these key players, members of the P5, are getting worse and worse?

Spokesman:  Look, I’ll just start off by saying, I have no… we have no comment or information on the hacking reports you said, and we have no comment at this point on the issue of the various decisions taken by the US in regards to China.

What I can say is that… excuse me.  What I can say is that it’s clear that the state and… the dysfunctional state, as the Secretary‑General said, the dysfunctional state of the relations between the big Powers has a negative impact on the ability for them to come together when they sit around the table in the Security Council and other UN legislative bodies.

This is a time, especially on the vaccine, where the vaccine needs to be treated as a global public good.  And none of us will be safe until all of us are safe from this pandemic.  So, it is critical that Member States work together with the… notably with the WHO-led effort on the vaccine to ensure that it is shared equally, that those most vulnerable get it, as well as those who have the most means to get it.

Okay.  Ben Evansky has a question.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Does the SG have full confidence in the leadership of OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)?  And specifically talking about cases involving Emma Reilly, Miranda Brown:  I point to a town hall meeting in Geneva last year where the SG indicated that both were protected, and now it seems, in Emma Reilly’s case, that she looks like she could be being fired for her whistle-blowing.

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to go into the details of those specific cases, which are going through their process.  I will say, one, the Secretary‑General has full confidence in the leadership of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I will also reaffirm that the Secretary‑General has made whistle-blower protection one of the top agenda items, one of the things he addressed when he first got into office within the first days in making sure there was strength in whistle‑blower protection.

That framework was further strengthened as soon as the… within that same year, and I think the public reports by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), by the Ethics Office attest to the seriousness of the matter and the matter which the Secretary‑General takes it.

Question:  When he… when he’s on record of saying both were protected in the Geneva town hall last year, why can’t you address those two cases?

Spokesman:  Well, those cases are going through the process, and I’m not going to address them publicly here.

Question:  So, he’s going back on his word.

Spokesman:  No, he’s not going back on his word.  I’m saying they’re going… it’s going through a process.  Nobody’s going back on his word.

Question:  So, why did he say it?  Let me ask you that.

Spokesman:  I’m not going to go into the detail of the cases, but I can tell you that the Secretary‑General takes whistle‑blower protection extremely seriously.

All right.  I’m looking at my chat box.  No other questions.  Oh, somebody texted me a question to get an update on Libya.

And I can tell you that the acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, is continuing to engage with Libyan actors to facilitate the intra‑Libyan talks on a draft ceasefire agreement.  And yesterday, she chaired a new meeting with the Government of National Accord (GNA) delegation to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.

And I think, as we’ve been asked a number of times, Ms. Williams is firmly in the lead of the UN Mission and, as if it needed to be reaffirmed, but just reaffirming that she has the Secretary‑General’s full and complete backing in her work.

All right.

Correspondent:  Steph, I have a question.

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  I don’t know why can’t you get my messages.  I sent you twice at the beginning of the briefing.  But it’s okay.

In your opening remarks, you said that an appeal was being issued with regard to [phone ringing] the pandemic, coronavirus pandemic.  But today, [phone ringing] Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, [interruption] a very respected… has called on the United Nations to convene an emergency special session on the UN General Assembly to make appropriate recommendations to members of [interruption]… for a collective measures.  Does the Secretary‑General support this…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  There’s somebody talking in the back.  I can’t hear you.

Question:  I see.  I’m asking you about an appeal made by Richard Horton, editor of the prestigious Lancet medical journal, who has called on the United Nations to convene an emergency special session of the UN General Assembly to make appropriate recommendations to members of collective measures.  Does the Secretary‑General support this call?

Spokesman:  I think it is very important that Member States act as one in the fight against the pandemic, and I think we would support any movement that would strengthen that universal and unanimous call by Member States.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  And we have to figure out why I can’t see you in the chat.  It’s not… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  I have a question, Steph, too, and I… maybe you don’t see me in the chat.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I see you in the chat, but you were making comments, not asking questions.  Go ahead, Pam.

Question:  It went to you directly, but to everyone, it was just a question.

So, the question is just, the statement you made about the tanker a few minutes ago and Mark Lowcock did this morning seems to indicate there… there’s been some good news about inspections in the UN Mission.  You said three weeks, once the approvals come through.  Is there any way or is there any plan to get something done a little bit faster if this is not working?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Again, I think Mark went into a lot of details yesterday in his briefing.  Obviously, we are working as fast as possible, but as you know, whether it’s Yemen or any other country, the UN needs permission to operate.  So, we have to go through and wait for the right permissions.  We are fully mobilized, and we’ll move as quickly as possible.

We have been flagging this issue for quite some time to make sure that it is not on the back burner but it is on the front burner and everybody is paying attention to it.  But I can assure you that our colleagues at OCHA are working as quickly as possible.

Question:  And given what you saw from Inger Anderson, from Mark Lowcock, from everyone else, is this imminent?

Spokesman:  What is imminent?

Question:  Is a leak imminent?

Spokesman:  Well, again, I would refer… I think the risk is great, but I have nothing to add to what Mark and Inger said, because they have the technical knowledge, but I would refer you to what they said in public in the Council yesterday afternoon and use the language they used.

There is a high risk, as we said, of a leak and with the disastrous consequences that would have.

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re welcome.  Okay.  Farhan [Haq] will be here to brief you tomorrow.  So, voilà and I will see you on Monday.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.