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22 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.  Unless I am mistaken, today is Wednesday, which means that it is all downhill from here, and that is a good thing.

**Armenia/Azerbaijan

You have been asking us a number of times about the Secretary-General’s position on the current tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and I can tell you today that that Mr. [Antonio] Guterres spoke separately with President [Ilham Heydar oglu] Aliyev of Azerbaijan and with Prime Minister [Nikol] Pashinyan of Armenia.  He placed those calls this morning.  In both telephone conversations, the Secretary-General expressed his ongoing concern over the hostilities that have been reported along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border, as well as prevailing tensions.  The Secretary-General reiterated his call for immediate and full de-escalation, refraining from provocative rhetoric, and a return to negotiations.  To that end, the Secretary-General repeated our full support for the important efforts of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs and his expectation that both leaders will continue to work towards a peaceful resolution of the long‑standing conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke by video message at the event titled “Recover Better:  Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities”,which is a compilation of essays issued by the UN High-Level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.  Ms. Mohammed said that we need all hands on deck if we are to rebuild our economies sustainably and inclusively.  She added that the policy ideas in this compilation point the way.  These approaches, she said, echo the Secretary-General's own call for shared responsibility and global solidarity in responding to the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.  She also reiterated that the 2030 Agenda remains our agreed framework for recovering in ways that accelerate progress on climate change, poverty and gender inequality, while also addressing the inequalities and fragilities that have been exposed or exacerbated by the pandemic.

**Yemen — Hunger

Turning to Yemen, a new report warns that economic shocks, conflict, floods, desert locusts and now COVID-19 are creating a perfect storm that could see the country return to alarming levels of food insecurity.  The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis was released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and a number of their partners.  It cautions that the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity could increase from 2 million to 3.2 million in the next six months.  This would be an increase from 25 per cent of the population suffering from high levels of acute food insecurity to 40 per cent.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said that, when Yemen faced a similar situation 18 months ago, there was generous funding and famine was prevented.  She cautioned that they won’t be able to do the same this time unless the necessary funding is received now.

**Yemen — Displacement

And staying on Yemen, our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) say that, so far this year, more than 100,000 people in Yemen have been forced to flee their homes.  More on this on IOM’s website.

**COVID-19 — Kenya

And moving on to Kenya, our humanitarian colleagues indicate that, since the first case of the virus was confirmed on 15 March, the pandemic has rapidly spread.  There have now been more than 13,000 cases and more than 200 deaths in Kenya.  We and our humanitarian partners are supporting the Government’s response, including contact tracing, case management, community mobilization and health promotion.  Hundreds of sets of personal protective equipment to support healthcare workers have been distributed and we have also provided infection prevention and control materials to nearly 600 health facilities.  The UN has given 80,000 children with learning materials and nearly 25,000 children with soap, hand sanitizers and other items.  Some 9,000 households have received life‑saving food assistance for a two‑month period, while more than 1,100 households have received cash transfers.  The UN and our humanitarian community launched an emergency appeal, as part of the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, seeking nearly $260 million.

**COVID-19 — Somalia

And in neighboring Somalia, where there have been more than 3,100 reported cases with 93 deaths due to COVID-19, Adam Abdelmoula is coordinating the UN’s health, humanitarian and socioeconomic response to the pandemic with the Government and our partners.  He is also working with the Secretary-General's Special Representative, James Swan.  The World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), WFP and the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS) — they have all helped boost testing capacity and supported health centres, hospitals and isolation centres in several areas.  For its part, UNICEF trained more than 750 health‑care professionals and have also supported distance learning for more than 116,000 children.  In addition to the COVID-19 response, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is urging a spirit of constructive compromise at a meeting between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo and all the leaders of Somalia’s Federal Member States.  They are expected to have important discussions on national priorities, especially elections.

**COVID-19 — Mali

And turning to Mali, where our humanitarian colleagues warn us that there is a high risk of the virus spreading in the country as the health‑care system there has been weakened by conflict and insecurity.  The country has 2,475 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 121 reported deaths.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, are supporting the Government-led response efforts by scaling up testing, strengthening awareness-raising activities and providing medical supplies, as well as personal protective equipment for medical staff.  Approximately 1.5 million people have been reached with information on virus prevention and nearly 330,000 people received essential hygiene kits and water and sanitation services.  More than 1,100 health workers have been trained in infection prevention.  In addition, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tell us that they are implementing a "Citizen Mobilization for Zero Coronavirus in Mali" project in Bamako and several other regions in collaboration with partners.  The project aims to support the fight against COVID-19 by involving civil society organizations to raise awareness, reaching more than 6,000 beneficiaries.

**COVID-19 — Early Childhood Education

And a new research brief published today by UNICEF warns that at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year as COVID-19 shuttered childcare and early education facilities.  The report notes that lockdowns have left many parents struggling to balance childcare and paid employment.  A disproportionate burden was placed on women who, on average, spend more than three times longer on care and housework than men.  You can find more on this report on UNICEF's website.

**COVID-19 — Law Lab Initiative

And today, UNDP, WHO, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University launched a COVID-19 Law Lab initiative.  The joint project gathers and shares legal documents from over 190 countries across the world to help States establish and implement strong legal frameworks to manage the pandemic.  The goal is also to ensure that laws protect the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities and that they follow international human rights standards.  More information online on https://covidlawlab.org

**Briefing

And speaking of UNDP, tomorrow, I will be joined by Achim Steiner, the UNDP Administrator, and George Gray Molina, the author of the forthcoming report entitled “Temporary Basic Income:  Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People in Developing Countries”.  They will be here to talk about the report.  All right.  I think that's it from me.  Let's see if we have any questions.  And bear with me two seconds as I get set up here.  Okay, let's go to the chat, sorry.  Okay, James, James Bays, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Let me start, I've got a couple of questions, but if I could start with a reaction to one of the things that you read out, which is Armenia/Azerbaijan, two questions… follow‑ups related to that.  Clearly the SG supports OSCE's operations, but given that there is, there are clashes being taken place for some time, that clearly is between countries, is a threat to international peace and security.  Does the Secretary‑General believe it's time for the Security Council to get involved?  And the second part of this, on this issue, it seems drones seem to be one of the main weapons of… that are being used at the moment.  How concerned is the Secretary‑General of the use of drones in small conflicts like this?

Spokesman:  On your second question, I think the Secretary‑General has made it clear of his concern about the use of unmanned, of these kinds of technologies.  We have seen drones being used in Libya and other places, including in the Yemen conflict.  These advances in armaments are, are worrying and are of concern.  On and your first question, you know, right now I think it is the OSCE, is in the lead, and all efforts should be made to support the OSCE Minsk Co-Chairs.  The Secretary‑General's position is that they, it needs to be followed.  You know, he has always been a believer in the important role that regional security organizations play in regional conflicts.  I mean, we see, and I have to say, we see different subegional organizations in Africa play an important role in various conflict, as well as the African Union.  And he believes right now the OSCE is in the lead and should be supported, and that was his clear message to both leaders.

Question:  I have to other questions on two other subjects.  One is the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston and clearly claims of spying taking place and yet the Consulate is being closed down.  How closely is the Secretary‑General monitoring this considering there are two P5 players involved?  And does he believe it's a breach of the Vienna Convention?

Spokesman:  I am not going to venture into legal opinions on the Vienna Convention.  This is a bilateral matter to be dealt with between China and the United States.  On a broader issue, I think you have heard the Secretary‑General speak about the risk of the growing gap between these two important members of the international community.

Question:  Finally, from me, on Libya, reports that Russia and Turkey are contemplating the idea of some sort of joint commission on how to proceed in Libya, perhaps echoing the way they have been working in Syria, is that something to be welcomed?

Spokesman:  I think before I… we opine on that, I think we need to get a bit more details about what exactly that entails.  Maria Khrenova and then Iftikhar.

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  I like how you always pronounce my last name, if incorrectly but in a French manner, yeah.

Spokesman:  Anything pronounced in a French manner is nice.

Question:  I totally agree.  So there was an information today that Russia journalists, a team of Russian… TV channel one, was attacked in Portland by police during the protests.  One of the women journalists was pushed and the camera man was broken.  So, Russia Foreign Ministry already called for reaction from international organizations and that is why I'm asking you if you have any reaction?

Spokesman:  I don't have the details of the incident, but what is clear is that journalists everywhere need to be able to do their work free of any harassment, whether it is from law enforcement or from protesters.  And any case of journalists being harassed or beaten, wherever it occurs, needs to be fully investigated.  All right.  Iftikhar and then Richard Roth.  Iftikhar, I can't hear you.  If somebody could liberate Iftikhar's microphone… I see you and I hear you.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Following up on the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict, while the Secretary‑General urged the two leaders to hold dialogue to negotiate the resolution of the conflict, did he offer his good offices today?

Spokesman:  You know, my stark answer to that, Iftikhar, is that, as a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General's good offices are always available should, you know, all those involved in the dispute want it.  But, that’s not the point.  The point is that right now we have a regional organization, the OSCE, the Minsk Co-Chairs, who are in the lead on trying to solve this long‑running conflict… this long‑running dispute.  And it is important, the message of the Secretary‑General to both the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia was that we support this process and they should continue to engage with it.  Richard Roth, I cannot hear you, Richard.

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  I can hear you, yes.  Miracle.  Is that a beard you are sporting?  You are breaking up, Richard.  I can't hear.  Try again.

Correspondent:  …for the summer.

Spokesman:  Okay, go ahead.

Question:  An overall question or two.  I have a follow‑up.  How has the COVID‑19 UN, New York City lockdown… do you think affected diplomacy, and as a spokesman, what are you missing, if anything, most from not being at the office in terms of your job?

Spokesman:  A couple of things.  One, you know, despite the lockdown, despite that we are all working from home, the business of the UN has continued full throttle.  We continue to support our humanitarian operations.  We continue to support our peacekeeping operations, our development projects.  And the Secretary‑General is very much out there with the policy briefs we put out on a regular basis.  So, the UN may be physically closed, but it remains own for business.  We also are continuing to support, in whatever way we can, the Member States in their holding of meetings, whether they be physical, like the Security Council had recently, or online.  So, we are coping, and we are like every organization and every business, whether it's a private business or public organization, we are coping it as best we can.  And I think, frankly, we are working full throttle despite the lockdown.  You know, what has changed for diplomats, I think you would have to ask them the question of how much they have lost in terms of informal conversations.  As for me, personally, I, of course, miss seeing all of you and you dropping into my office to complain or ask questions and sometimes say thank you.  I do miss that.  And I think, for me, the challenge is really getting the informal information that I need to do my job, which is harder to get.  I remain in constant touch with the Secretary‑General, so that's not the issue.  But, it's the… it's the informal pollination of information that goes on in the corridors of the UN that I think that we miss.

Question:  And as I said, a brief follow‑up.  The Secretary‑General loves to travel.  They all do.  Are there examples of how his diplomatic efforts have been hampered, like many working from home executives, does he now see that more can be accomplished from the kitchen table than first‑class travel for one night in and out of a city?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, for the Secretary‑General, I'm not sure he misses attending summits and conferences, though, obviously, a lot of important business is done during those meetings and the side conversations that he has, the more informal conversations that he has.  I think what he misses is being out in the field.  What he misses is seeing what the UN is able to deliver in the field, in development, in humanitarian and the work that we do.  He gathers an enormous amount of energy and strength, in a sense, from speaking to beneficiaries of the UN's work, asking them questions about how we can do better.  And he also misses meeting the front‑line humanitarian workers, the front‑line peacekeepers who, throughout this pandemic, have continued to do their job.  Dulcie.

Question:  Yes.  The reference to the Nagorno‑Karabakh recent violence, who instigated it, which side?

Spokesman:  I'm not, we have no observers, and we are not, we are not formally mandated to report on that.  What we do know there has been, there has been conflict, there has been exchange of fire, there has been loss of life, which is extremely worrying.  And that’s why the Secretary‑General made these calls to push the leaders for de-escalation and to re-engage with the process.

Question:  So, you don't know which side provoked it first?

Spokesman:  I'm not… it's not for me to speak on this at this point.

Correspondent:  Well, I don't know.  You are the UN.  You would know this.

Spokesman:  There are some places where we have a mandate, Dulcie, where we have observers, where we have a reporting mandate.  I can tell you right now our focus is on supporting the OSCE and the Minsk Co-Chairs and ensuring that there is de-escalation and that there is no more loss of life.

Question:  So, if the Secretary‑General is not traveling, he is making phone calls to leaders?

Spokesman:  Yes, I just reported that.

Question:  Right, but you only report that like once every week.  The last time was a reference to calls he made to Libyan leaders.  So, this is the second one in at least a week.  So, does that mean he is just only making one call a week?

Spokesman:  No, he is not making…

Correspondent:  There are no official readouts of these calls.

Spokesman:  He does not make one call a week, Dulcie.  There are some calls which are important and part of also of public diplomacy and ensuring that there is a public message, as well as a private message.  He is also engaging in more discreet diplomacy and speaking to other leaders, speaking quite a bit to Permanent Representatives here.  He has meetings with them.  He meets, he is meeting with the Security Council President for the next month, I think either today or tomorrow.  He has been, actually, extremely busy, and as always some of it is public diplomacy and some of it is discreet diplomacy.

Question:  Yeah.  But, I mean, this is the first I've heard of any of these meetings.  I mean, why isn't any of this information public?

Spokesman:  Whenever we are able to make phone calls public, we do so.  And in other times, in order to achieve the goal, it needs to be some discreet diplomacy, and that's what we do.

Correspondent:  Okay, thanks.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  Okay, Iftikhar, one more question then David Wainer.

Correspondent:  Steph, amid reports of torrential monsoon rains and floods in Bangladesh, we have not had any update on the condition of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Spokesman:  It's a very good question.  We will ask our colleagues at UNHCR and at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to give us an update for tomorrow, but they are obviously an extremely vulnerable population by the very nature of where they are housed.  Okay.  David?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  How concerned is the Secretary‑General about escalating tensions between China and the US, and specifically the US decision to shutter the Houston Consulate?  China is about to retaliate, and what ideas does the Secretary‑General have to de-escalate tensions?

Spokesman:  Look, a lot of these are bilateral issues that need to be dealt with.  I think the Secretary‑General has expressed his concern about the decoupling and the growing tension between these two… these two major Powers.  Both of them are permanent members of the Security Council.  And obviously, I think, as we've said before, what happens in the outside world, the bilateral relationships amongst the P5 and some of the bigger Powers has a direct impact on the ability of the UN and of the legislative bodies to speak unanimously.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two days ago, the Israeli authorities dismantled a COVID‑19 clinic in the city of Hebron.  A few days earlier, they also dismantled another COVID‑19 clinic in the city of Jenin.  In March, they destroyed another COVID‑19 clinic in the Jordan Valley and also another one in the city of [inaudible] next to Jerusalem.  Mr. Mladenov praised the cooperation between Israel and the PA [Palestinian Authority] in the field of combating COVID‑19, but he failed to mention the dismantling of these self‑made, voluntarily COVID‑19 clinics.  Can you verify that?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those reports, but I will check.  Okay, thank you.  Evelyn, yes?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  Have you been in touch with the New York Mayor recently?  He is bracing for Donald Trump to send some stormtroopers into New York as court cases climbed and everything else as was the case in Portland.  Have you had any notification of this or…?

Spokesman:  That is not… you know, we are in touch with the city on a number of issues.  That is not an issue in which we have a dialogue with or need to have a dialogue with the it.  Okay, I think that's it.  Thank you all, and we shall see you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.