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21 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 to you all.  The days pass quickly; it’s already Tuesday, as far as my calendar is concerned.  Always nice to see you all, even if it’s only virtually.

After you are done with me, our friend Reem Abaza, who speaks on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you, so please stay connected.

**Middle East

In a video briefing to the Security Council this morning, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said that, in recent weeks, the region and the broader international community have continued to express their firm rejection of annexation.  He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on the Israeli Government to abandon plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Mr. Mladenov also added that the Secretary-General and the UN will continue efforts to resuscitate a dialogue among all stakeholders, with no preconditions, and in the interest of peace and a negotiated resolution to the conflict.

Regrettably, Mr. Mladenov said, the situation on the ground is rapidly being impacted by the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel.  The challenges of confronting the rapid increase in cases in the West Bank and boosting prevention efforts in Gaza has been significantly compounded by the ending of coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Mr. Mladenov told Council members.

In response, he noted, the United Nations has engaged with all sides to ensure the continued and unimpeded provision of humanitarian assistance.

The Special Coordinator warned that the ferocity of the virus and its devastating human and economic toll demand extraordinary measures — measures that must rise above politics as usual.

His remarks have been distributed to you.

**Central African Republic

In the Central African Republic, operations against the 3R armed group are ongoing.  As we have mentioned in the past, these operations are [designed] to protect civilians and to allow freedom of movement in the areas where the armed group is active.

This weekend, UN peacekeepers encountered 3R elements in the Mambéré-Kadéï prefecture, in the country’s west, and forced the group to vacate the area.

They also repelled an attack in Gedze, in the neighbouring prefecture of Nana-Mambéré.  Also, in this area, the UN Mission (MINUSCA) is currently undertaking a ground assessment, following an air operation.

Peacekeepers continue to reinforce their positions in the region to ensure the effective implementation of their mandate, particularly the protection of civilians.

The Mission also continues its engagement with the Guarantors of the Peace Agreement to facilitate dialogue between 3R leaders and the Government.

**COVID-19 — Chad

I just wanted to share an update on what our country team is doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Chad, where there are nearly 900 confirmed cases and more than 70 deaths.

With the country planning to reopen, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Violet Kakyomya, is helping to boost the capacity of emergency health centres to treat potential new patients while also supporting the socioeconomic recovery.

On the health front, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provided a tent to the national civil aviation authority to quarantine passengers.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has supplied beds, respirators, and other supplies to health centres, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) organized communication campaigns on infection prevention.

The UN team is also supporting the most vulnerable people, including refugees.  UNHCR dug two new wells to avoid crowding at water stations and donated sanitizing supplies to refugee camps.  UNDP is training law enforcement officers to prevent the spread of infection at correctional facilities.

On schools, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, is training teachers on remote learning and has provided dozens of tents, GPS devices, and computers across the Lake Chad region.

**Bangladesh

An update on Bangladesh, which, according to our humanitarian friends, the country is experiencing what could be the longest flooding since 1988.

As of today, more than 2.4 million people across 18 districts have been impacted by the flooding, including 56,000 people who have been uprooted and are taking refuge in Government shelters.  At least 54 people have reportedly been killed to date as a result.

The UN and our humanitarian partners are helping the Government respond to the situation by providing food, water purification facilities, hygiene and dignity kits, as well as emergency shelter supplies.

As we’ve mentioned before, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) recently provided UN agencies with $5.2 million to help families most at risk.

Responding to the flood is complicated by the fact that these efforts are taking place as Bangladesh is also addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and recovering from Cyclone Amphan.

**Forests

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched its Global Forest Resources Assessment report and its first online interactive platform which contains detailed regional and global analyses for forests in 236 countries and territories.

With the platform, users can consult more than 60 forest indicators across countries and regions and download the requested data in a non-proprietary digital format.  The platform will enable FAO to better respond to deforestation and forest degradation, prevent biodiversity loss and improve sustainable forest management.

More on the key findings of the report and how to access the platform on the FAO website.

**Embargoed Briefing

Tomorrow, at 10 a.m., there will be an embargoed briefing by Rola Dashti, the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), on the Secretary-General’s forthcoming Policy Brief on the impact of COVID-19 on the Arab States region.

You can contact my office if you’re interested in participating.

**UN Chamber Music Society Event

The UN Chamber Music Society, in partnership with UN75 and UNESCO, is organizing a Music and Film Dialogue on “Rebuilding better through coronavirus and beyond”.  This virtual event can be seen today on the UN75 YouTube Channel between 2 and 3 p.m.  The event will be moderated by Ernesto Ottone R, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture.  The Secretary-General’s Adviser on UN75, Fabrizio Hochschild, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Art and Health Lead, Christopher Bailey, will also participate.

**Financial Contribution

And for our last piece of good news today, I am delighted to thank our friends in Tashkent for Uzbekistan’s full payment to the regular budget…

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Which takes us to a total of how many?  Let’s try for the virtual question.  So… [inaudible] if you’ve been paying attention.  Clearly no one?

Correspondent:  106.

Spokesman:  Who said that?

Correspondent:  Iftikhar.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar, if you have a question, you get the first one.

Correspondent:  [Laughs] I don’t have any.

Spokesman:  Fine.  Toby, I think you have a question.  Toby?

Okay.  Okay.  I have a question from Michelle Nichols, who apparently refuses to show herself, and says, “What is the SG’s message to President [Abdelfattah al] Sisi after the Egyptian Parliament gave him the green light for possible intervention in Libya?”

The message to all the parties, whether on the ground or outside of Libya, is clear.  There is no military solution to the current situation in Libya.  The only solution is a political, negotiated solution, which is exactly what our colleague Stephanie Williams is efforted in doing.

As you’ll recall, she met with the President of Algeria earlier, I think on Sunday.  Yesterday, she met with the Head of the High Council of State in Libya, a virtual meeting, Khaled Mishry, and his deputies and other officials for discussions on how to resume this political dialogue.

Okay.  James Bays, and then Evelyn.

Question:  It was actually a pretty similar question to that, so I’m going to follow up with your answer there.

Clearly, now the Parliament has approved the possible intervention in Libya.  The only person who matters now is President Sisi.

So, what sort of efforts are there going to be for the UN to actually directly reach out?  And would it not be the time now?  Because you’ve said so many times that there’s too much foreign involvement in Libya.  Would it not be the time for the Secretary-General himself to pick up the phone to the Egyptian President?

Spokesman:  We have had contact with the Egyptian parties at many different levels, and our message to them and to all the other parties is exactly what I’ve just told Michelle.

Evelyn?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Do you have any update on Myanmar, on the Rohingya?  They apparently don’t respond to the Human Rights Council or to anybody else.

Spokesman:  No, I have no update.  We can see if there’s anything we can get for you.

Rick Gladstone.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Forgive me if you’ve addressed this in recent meetings, but are you going to provide some kind of update on what physical meetings will be planned during the high-level week in September?  Are there going to be any actual physical meetings of world leaders or their subordinates in New York?

Spokesman:  Reem can maybe offer more details on that in a second.  I think from our end, we have nothing… we have no information, really, that’s constructive information on side meetings to provide as of yet.  I think things will become a bit clearer in August as to what side meetings will be in person, what others will be virtual, so I think we have to be a little bit patient because, obviously, what will matter will be the actual situation in New York in terms of COVID and, obviously, the situation around the world and the impact on air travel.  So, there are a lot of unknown unknowns, as somebody once said.

So, I think by mid-August, we should have a clearer picture and have a few more known unknowns.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.

One on Libya.  Algeria today came up with a new initiative to get involved with these talks with all the parties, under the UN auspices.  So, are you familiar with this initiative?  Are you following up with that?  If you have any…

Spokesman:  Ms. Williams met with the Algerian President on Sunday, and I think thanked the Algerians for their efforts to bring peace.

Question:  My second question.  Yeah, my second question about Mladenov briefing today to the Council.  In fact, in every briefing, he avoids mentioning the 62 or more bodies kept by Israel of those Palestinians murdered by Israel.

Why is he avoiding this humanitarian issue?  It is a very touching subject to the Palestinians.  Why he doesn’t mention it?

Spokesman:  You know, Mr. Mladenov is not avoiding any subject.  I think he has spoken out on many issues, human rights, humanitarian issues, in the past, and he will continue to do so.

On the specific issue of the bodies, as I said, I’m getting… having some language and, you know, in fact, I think if you were to ask our human rights colleagues, they would also have some language for you, but I hope to have something a little clearer for you soon.

Okay.  Gloria, you had a question?

Question:  It was two-pronged, please.  One, I’m surprised that Tunisia isn’t in the story with Libya, because at one point years ago, there was a federation of Tunisia and Libya.  They were like one country.  That’s one aspect, whereas Tunisia, because there’s a good relationship there.

The other is most of the construction companies in Libya over the years were Egyptian, and many, many Libyans and Egyptians are half-Egyptian and half-Egyptian [sic].  So, this would create goodwill because it’s familiar to them, and I’m wondering where that sits?  If that helps.

Spokesman:  Well, I think anything helps, and I think we call on every country and every Member State to be as helpful as possible, including civil society and the private sector.

Mr. Bays, you had a second question.

Question:  Yeah, just going back in time a bit.  Early on in the pandemic, I can’t remember which speech it was, but the Secretary-General said we’re in the middle of a pandemic, this is not the time to look backwards, there will be a time to have a full inquiry into what has happened.

Well, I mean, this is a rolling crisis.  It probably won’t end until there’s a vaccine, it will probably go on the rest of the year, at least.  When is the time for a full UN systemwide inquiry into COVID-19, how it came about, how the UN responded and isn’t that time coming closer now?

Spokesman:  If I’m not mistaken, WHO’s Assembly has… and the Director General have commissioned an independent review to be co-chaired by Helen Clark and by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with a very broad mandate, and we fully support this effort.

Question:  You don’t think that this… that there should be a UN-wide element to this, beyond the World Health Assembly?  That because… the whole way the UN system responded is important, as well as the way the WHO responded.

Spokesman:  No, I think we have to look in detail as to the exact mandate of that WHO inquiry, which I… my sense is it’s fairly broad.

Okay.  On that note, I shall leave you with a heavy heart, but I will be happy to leave you in Reem’s capable hands.

Reem, good luck.

For information media. Not an official record.