17 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right, everyone.  Good morning, good afternoon, and happy Friday, everyone.

Once I finish here, our friend Reem Abaza, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly will brief you, so please stay connected.  And now with our news.

**Mandela Lecture

Tomorrow is Nelson Mandela Day, and as you know, the Secretary-General will deliver the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

This is set to be a major policy address focusing on the issue of inequality.

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 COVID-19 pandemic.

He will demonstrate how the virus has made the fragility of our world obvious to all of us and laid bare risks that we have ignored for decades. 

The Secretary-General will discuss the main drivers of inequality, such as systemic racism, the legacy of colonialism, patriarchy, inequalities in global governance and huge gaps in access to technology.  He will also talk about climate justice.

The Secretary-General will argue that the response to the pandemic and to the widespread discontent that preceded it must be based on a new social contract and a new global deal that tackle these mutually reinforcing inequalities and respect the human rights and dignity of all.  He will spell out his vision of the way forward in detail.

He will say that the promise of the United Nations to work to reduce inequality, every day, everywhere, is as important today as it was 75 years ago. 

The Secretary-General will also talk about his optimism linked to the emergence of a new movement that rejects inequality and division, unites societies and is already making a difference for our planet, and for justice and human rights for all. 

Tomorrow’s lecture will take place virtually, with the Secretary-General in New York, and additional speakers in South Africa, including the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa.  After delivering the lecture live, the Secretary-General will answer some questions.  Tune in at 9 a.m.

**Secretary-General — High-Level Political Forum

This morning, on the last day of the high-level political forum (HLPF), the Secretary-General spoke at a panel on the theme of “Multilateralism after COVID-19:  What kind of UN do we need at the 75th Anniversary?”

He said the pandemic has underscored the need for a strengthened and renewed multilateralism, one that is built on trust, based on international law and geared towards the overarching goals of peace and security, human rights and sustainable development.

At this pivotal moment, he said, with COVID-19 still spreading, geopolitical tensions rising, and the cry for racial justice, social justice and climate justice ever more urgent, we have a responsibility to respond to the anxieties, fears and hopes of the people we serve.

He stressed that this multilateralism needs to be inclusive, drawing on the critical contributions of civil society, business, foundations, the research community, local authorities, cities and regional governments.

The Secretary-General said that Member States can empower the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to evolve and change with the times, and that the Council should connect with a much wider global audience.

He also called on the international community to heed the current wake-up call and move ahead with a collective response in unity and solidarity.

**Flight MH17

I had been asked about the anniversary of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine, which is today, and I can tell you that we recall with deepest sympathy the 298 victims who lost their lives on this tragic day six years ago.  Our thoughts are with those who perished and their loved ones.

The Secretary-General acknowledges the important work of the independent Joint Investigation Team to establish accountability and takes note of all the proceedings taking place with reference to this case in the Netherlands.  He once again calls on all Member States to fully cooperate with the investigation pursuant to Security Council resolution 2166 (2014).

**Security Council

Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative dealing with sexual violence in conflict, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s recent report on that topic.  She said that the annual report paints a sombre and harrowing picture of sexual violence used as a tactic of war, torture and terror, and a tool of political repression, to dehumanize, destabilize, and forcibly displace populations.

She added that sexual violence is a crime that shreds the very fabric that binds communities together, leaving social cohesion and safety nets threadbare.

Ms. Patten said that the report documents almost 3,000 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence committed over the course of a single year.  The vast majority of incidents targeted women and girls (89 per cent of them), though hundreds of confirmed cases also affected men and boys, and LGBTQI individuals, while 848 cases were attacks on children.

**COVID-19 — Humanitarian Appeal

The UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, has called on G-20 (Group of Twenty) nations to act now or face a series of human tragedies more brutal and destructive than the direct health impacts of the coronavirus.  He issued the warning as he released an updated $10.3 billion appeal to fight the virus in low-income and fragile countries.

Mr. Lowcock said that the response of wealthy nations so far has been grossly inadequate and dangerously short-sighted.  He stressed that failure to act now will leave the virus free to circle the globe, undo decades of development and create a generation’s worth of tragic and exportable problems.

Without mitigating action, the pandemic and associated global recession are set to trigger the first increase in global poverty since 1990.  It will also push 265 million people to the point of starvation by the end of the year. 

Recent estimates suggest that up to 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes as a result of direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic.  Diverted health resources could also double the annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Since the plan was first launched on 25 March, $1.7 billion has been raised.


Turning to Syria, we are concerned about the safety and protection of more than 4 million civilians in the north-west — more than half of whom are internally displaced — following reports of airstrikes and shelling this week. 

Artillery shelling reportedly affected at least 22 communities in Idlib and northern Lattakia Governorate, and one community in western Aleppo Governorate.  Local reports suggest that at least three people were killed, including a child, and that at least 26 people were injured, including nine children and four women.

We urge all parties, and those with influence over the parties, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

**COVID-19 — Comoros

And an update from our colleagues working to address COVID-19 in Comoros, where there are more than 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths:

The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Matthias Naab, is working closely with authorities to tackle the crisis, mobilizing funds and providing support in the areas of health, socioeconomic recovery, community engagement, and helping the most vulnerable people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to enhance local testing and clinical capacity, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners have provided an ambulance and 1,000 COVID-19 tests to regional treatment centres.

The Government of Comoros is gradually reopening schools, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has donated cleaning supplies and masks to prevent infections.  For its part, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has partnered with authorities and national NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to organize virtual discussions to support the arts.


From Somalia, in a joint statement, the United Nations and our international partners welcome the democratization process in Somaliland and welcome an agreement between political parties to conduct local council and parliamentary elections in 2020.

The statement says that this landmark agreement presents new opportunities to advance preparations for the elections.  It also says that having all Somalilanders being part of the process, notably the large majority of young women and men who have never voted for their representatives or had the opportunity to be elected, is of utmost importance for the democratic credentials and the stability of Somaliland.

More on this online.

**Africa — Child Malnutrition

The UN Children’s Fund and the World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that more than 15 million children will become acutely malnourished this year in West and Central Africa unless action is taken now.

This number is 20 per cent higher than previously estimated, and that increase is due to the combined impact of food insecurity and COVID-19.

UNICEF and WFP say that conflict and armed violence have led to massive population displacements and drastically limited access to basic social services.  COVID-19 is exacerbating fragilities across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, which were already stricken with food insecurity and malnutrition.

WFP and UNICEF are working with Governments and their partners to ensure essential services continue.

**COVID-19 — Hunger Hotspots

A new report published today by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that people in some 25 countries are set to face devasting levels of hunger in coming months due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Security Hotspots, the greatest concentration of need is in Africa.  However, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the Middle East and Asia — including middle-income countries — are also being affected by crippling levels of food insecurity.

To prevent the worst, WFP is scaling up to provide food assistance to an unprecedented 138 million people.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed today a new statelessness law in Ukraine which came into effect this week. 

The law will give thousands of people who lack a nationality a chance to work legally, study and access health care among other rights and opportunities.  It also will ultimately provide a pathway to citizenship, once they are recognized as stateless.

The UN refugee agency pointed out that the law formally establishes a statelessness determination procedure, which is expected to benefit an estimated 35,000 people in the country, who are either stateless or whose nationality is undetermined.

**Floods — Asia

Our humanitarian colleagues have provided some updates on flooding in Asia.

Starting in Bangladesh, flooding there continues to grow more severe, affecting some 1.4 million people.  It is estimated that nearly half of all districts in the country will be affected in the coming weeks.  The UN is supporting the Government’s response and reaching those in need.

As we told you earlier this week, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) provided UN agencies with $5.2 million in early funding to help families most at risk.

In China, heavy rains and floods have been affecting the country since June, impacting more than 38 million people in 27 provinces.

No request of international assistance has been made by the Government of China, and the United Nations stands ready to provide support if required.

And in Nepal, floods and landslides have led to more than 100 deaths.  Search and rescue efforts have been hampered by landslides in remote areas, which is also delaying the response in these areas.

With further rains and flooding expected, the humanitarian country team is discussing further monsoon preparedness measures and scaling-up coordination with provincial-level counterparts.

The UN is ready to provide additional aid to those in need in Nepal.

**Climate-Friendly Cooling

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency today released a report which says that climate-friendly cooling could cut years of greenhouse gas emissions and save trillions of dollars.

Worldwide, an estimated 3.6 billion cooling appliances such as stationary and mobile air conditioning and refrigerators are in use.  The report says that if cooling is provided to everybody who needs it — and not just those who can afford it — this would require as many as 14 billion cooling appliances by 2050, making it even more crucial to ensure these appliances are climate-friendly.

The report describes how countries can improve the cooling industry’s energy efficiency and transition to climate-friendly refrigerants, which would reduce between 210 and 460 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the next four decades.  By improving cooling efficiency, countries can reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and save consumers money, the report says.

You can find the full report on UNEP’s website.

**Questions and Answers

That is it for my notes.  I can now turn to your questions before we go over to Reem. 

I see that Nizar has a question.  So, Nizar, you're first to go

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Have a good day and weekend.  Farhan, regarding the distribution of aid in Yemen, how is World Food Programme and other agencies are dealing with northern Yemen, given that most of the aid usually goes to the Government of Yemen or Government‑ruled areas, a Government that has no address, as I understand?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as that goes, the UN humanitarian agencies have tried to provide aid to all of Yemen, but in time, as we made clear, including in our repeated briefings to the Security Council, there are problems with access.  And, so, we have been in touch with all the various authorities, including the de facto authorities in the north trying to make sure that we can get aid to all those who need it.

When there have been problems — and there have been problems dealing with different authorities at different times — we have not only negotiated with the parties on the ground, but we have reported any issues we have to the Security Council, and we're hopeful that all of the various authorities throughout Yemen will allow us to provide aid to whoever is in greatest need.

Question:  Well, whereas you put a lot of conditions on Yemen, we don't see that happening in north‑western Syria or north‑eastern Syria, where the distribution is done [inaudible] and they redistributed, as videos have shown so far.

Deputy Spokesman:  I disagree with the premise of your question.  Basically, wherever UN humanitarian agencies are at work, they follow a needs‑based policy.  They reach out to make sure that those people and those communities that are most in need get the aid that they deserve, and they work with the authorities on the ground.  And throughout, our conditions are the same.  We have to be able to ensure that aid is not diverted and goes to the people who need it.  And, so, that's across the board, whether we're talking about Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere.

Question:  How do you control that in Idlib area, for example?  Do you have any details about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've been providing, including, as I've mentioned, in our regular reports to the Security Council, all of the ways that we've tried to provide aid to those in need.  We give you regular updates about our aid procedures in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere.  And, like I said, we have standard policies across the board that we follow.

Okay.  So, do we have any other questions?  I…  if you want, please write to all the panellists…

Correspondent:  I have another question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  Let's see, first of all, whether someone else has their hand raised.  I don't…  no one has written me so far, so please write if you want.

Correspondent:  I did.  I asked for a question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid, remember to make sure that it goes to me or to all panellists.  But, yes, you are free to take the floor.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  My question, Farhan, is basically technical.  You just issued a statement on the sixth anniversary of the downing of the Malaysian airline, which is important, I believe.  You issue statements sometimes like the Rwanda massacre, Srebrenica massacre. 

I asked Stéphane [Dujarric], on the occasion of 5 June war of 1967, and he said, we don't issue a statement on some…  on every occasion.  So, comparing the disaster of 1967 war and what happened, compared to the others, I think it's very significant.  Why you don't issue statement regarding some important development, some war, some massacre, some development similar to that, while you issue statement in similar…  in a case like the Malaysian airline?

Deputy Spokesman:  These are made on case‑by‑case basis but on different issues.  As you know, on the case of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict, there are many different occasions, including many days that are marked by the General Assembly, by various different bodies, including the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and there are many occasions for which we have different remarks.  And, so, it's just something where we balance out the various occasions with the number of opportunities we have to speak on the various issues.

Correspondent:  This is Iftikhar.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Iftikhar, please.

Correspondent:  I sent a message.  I don't know whether you got it, you see.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  Remember to send it either to my address or to all panellists.

Question:  I sent it to all panellists [phone ringing].  Just a minute, see.  I just wanted to know whether you have an update on the oil tanker, which is deteriorating off the coast of Yemen.  Has the United Nations been able to line up repair people to repair the damage?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding…  please now mute your speaker, because I think you're getting a little bit of additional noise.  Thanks. 

The basic point here is that we are in touch with the de facto authorities.  And, so, we're going to try to get our team in there as soon as we can.  As Mark Lowcock made clear in his briefing to the Security Council two days ago, we do expect to deploy as quickly as we can and have a timetable of about three weeks once we get the permissions we need.  But right now, we're in discussion with the authorities, and we'll see whether we get anything.

Question:  But did Ansar Allah movement give you the permission, you see, publicly…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Now we're working out various arrangements.  As Mr.  Lowcock said, we got agreement from Ansar Allah in writing, which he welcomed.  At the same time, I would refer you to the full text of what he told the Security Council, which outlines the various challenges we faced and the fact that we will negotiate and work in good faith to get our people there.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Thanks.  Are there any other questions from other people?  Or, if not, I believe Nizar has another question.  I don't see anything from someone else.  So, Nizar, the floor is yours.

Question:  [inaudible] the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran a couple of weeks ago.  We haven't heard any statements from the United Nations, or at least myself, I haven't heard any statement.  How do you view such attack against nuclear sites, which is very dangerous to…  not only to the Iranians but also to the region as a whole?  And also, how do you view any attack anywhere in…  against nuclear sites?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are still trying to get details about what has happened.  Certainly, we hope that all nuclear sites everywhere are able to go about their work safely, and the crucial thing is certainly the safety of the sites and the people around them.  But beyond that, of course, we lack first‑hand information about what exactly transpired there.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  I can't hear you.  Nizar, I can't hear you.  You're muted. 

Correspondent:  Do you hear…  [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Maybe put your question into the chat, because you seem to be muted right now.  Type your question into the chat, and I'll try to answer it that way. 


Okay.  “Is any attack against nuclear sites a terrorist one?”

That's a hypothetical question, which I'm not going to engage, because as I pointed out to you about this specific case, we do not have any precise details to determine whether an attack took place or not.  Obviously, we want to make sure that there is no attack on…  there are no types of attacks on any crucial facilities, including nuclear sites. 

Question:  In the past, have you considered, for example, the attack against the Iraqi nuclear reactor as a terrorist attack?  Do you consider that one?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to the reports that we've put out on the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), where they have briefed the Security Council.

Okay.  I believe there's a question from Ben Evansky.  Ben?  Ben?

Correspondent:  You there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  I can hear you now.

Question:  Yeah.  Sorry.  A few weeks ago, the UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organization) incident in Tel Aviv, we…  you gave us a quick press conference saying that there would be a quick investigation, and it would be solved, and people would be brought to justice, so to speak.  What is the latest?  It seems like the people were just sent home without pay.  Are there any…  is there going to be any firings over this? What is the latest?

Deputy Spokesman:  The latest, we told you that, after the initial work done by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), two individuals were identified, and they were put on leave without pay.  The review into this is ongoing.  And, so, when we have anything further to provide, we'll certainly let you know.

Correspondent:  I have a question, Farhan.

Question:  What do you…  what happened to the speediness of this?  We were told that it was going to be dealt with very quickly.

Deputy Spokesman:  There was some action taken immediately, as you noted, and then we're allowing the process to go on.  It's actually going fairly quickly. 

Yes, Nizar?

Question:  The Syrian Mission has asked the United Nations Secretary‑General to provide a legal opinion regarding the blockade, the incinerations of fields, and the…  of course, the…  under the sanctions basically and the intentional incineration of corn and wheat fields in Syria.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Nizar, I believe we provided you with the details that we have on the situation involving the corn.  Stéphane mentioned it at a briefing, and I believe I gave you some further details in an email a few days ago.  So, that is the information…

Question:  [inaudible] 

Deputy Spokesman:  Excuse me, please.  That's the information we have on the humanitarian side.  If there's anything further, I'll let you know at that point. 

And I think, with that, we will turn over to Reem Abaza, and she'll talk to you about the work of the General Assembly.  Reem, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.