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24 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 one and all.  It’s Friday, and, as far as I am concerned, summer is now officially here, at least for me.  I will be off for the next two weeks and I will leave you in the able and capable hands of Mr. Haq.

**Secretary-General — United Republic of Tanzania

Starting off with a statement on the death of former president of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General is deeply saddened to learn of the death of former President Mkapa.

At this time of loss, he conveys his deepest condolences to the family of the former President, as well as to the Government and people of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Mr. Mkapa was a statesman, an experienced diplomat and a respected regional peacemaker.  He was also an advocate of reconciliation.  He was instrumental in facilitating the mediation for the East African Community-led inter-Burundian Dialogue, under the leadership of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and was part of the African Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities that brokered an agreement following the disputed 2007-2008 general elections in Kenya.

He was also a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the Secretary-General to review and enhance the role of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, otherwise known as UNCTAD.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I also have a senior personnel announcement to share with you.  The Secretary-General is appointing today Pamela Coke-Hamilton of Jamaica as the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), for trade and international business development.

She succeeds Arancha González Laya of Spain, to whom the Secretary-General has expressed his appreciation for her dedicated service to the Organization.

Currently the Director of the Division on International Trade and Commodities at UNCTAD, Mrs. Coke-Hamilton brings to her work, to her new post, rather, a breadth of experience and expertise in trade-related capacity-building and sustainable development.

She has served with the Jamaican Government, the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) in trade negotiations and multilateral institutions, including the Organization of American States and Inter-American Development Bank.  Much more about her appointment and her biography is out online.

**Secretary-General — Ukraine

And you saw that yesterday we issued a number of statements after the briefing.  The first on Ukraine, in which the Secretary-General took note of the agreement reached during a recent meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group regarding additional measures aimed at ensuring a comprehensive, sustainable and unlimited ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine.

The Secretary-General called on all parties to fully abide by the agreed terms and focus efforts on the protection of civilians who continue to suffer the most from the ongoing hostilities.

And the Secretary-General urges all concerned to take further measures in this spirit, to ensure renewed momentum in the ongoing peace efforts by the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], including by easing humanitarian access and conditions along the contact line, and enabling progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements in line with the Security Council resolution 2202 (2015).

**Secretary-General — Nigeria

And in another statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the killing, on 22 July, of five civilians — including three aid workers from ACTED, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Action Against Hunger (ACF) — by an armed group in northern Borno State, in Nigeria, of course.

The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Nigeria.  He reiterated that attacks by a party to an armed conflict that are directed against civilians, including those who are aid workers, violate international humanitarian law.

International human rights law and international humanitarian law must be fully respected, including the obligation to protect civilians.

**Nigeria

Staying on Nigeria, today, the second country report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Nigeria was released.  The report highlights that boys and girls in north-east Nigeria continue to endure gruesome violations at the hands of Boko Haram.

Boys and girls also continue to be deeply impacted by military operations against the group by government forces, despite noteworthy efforts and commitments.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, warned that the children of Nigeria and neighbouring countries continued to endure horrendous violations by Boko Haram.  She added that the expansion of the group’s activities across the Lake Chad Basin region is a serious concern for the Secretary-General.

That report is of course available to you on the web.

**Security Council — Climate and Security

This morning, our friend, the Assistant Secretary-General, Miroslav Jenca, from the Department of Peacebuilding and Political Affairs, spoke to Security Council members on the topic of climate and security.  He said that the climate emergency is a danger to peace.  As climate change threatens livelihoods, it is also increasing resource competition and displacing communities.

And while there may not be an automatic link between climate change and conflict, it does aggravate existing risks.  Mr. Jenca said the consequences vary from region to region.

In the Pacific, rising sea levels pose a risk to social cohesion.  In Central Asia, access to water and energy is contributing to regional tensions.  In sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, climate change is expected to internally displace more than 140 million people by 2050.

And in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, it has deepened the risk of violent conflict.  Mr. Jenca said we’ll need to leverage new technologies, to learn from those who are experiencing the impact of climate change first-hand and include women and youth in peacebuilding and environmental efforts.

**World Meteorological Organization — Siberia

Staying in climate, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said that exceptional and prolonged heat in Siberia has fuelled devastating Arctic fires.  Temperatures in parts of Siberia this week again topped 30°C and WMO said that this extreme heat would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change.

The agency warned that heat in this region will influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live.

WMO added that the Siberian heat wave this past spring has also accelerated the ice retreat along the Arctic Russian coast.  The melting of ice and thawing of permafrost leads to the release of methane, which will have a major impact on infrastructure and ecosystems throughout the region.

**COVID-19 — Refugees

For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today called on States to urgently release refugees who are being unlawfully and arbitrarily held in detention.  States must act to ensure that vulnerable refugees are not at heightened and unnecessary risk amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gillian Triggs, the Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees for Protection, said that refugees fleeing war and persecution should not be punished or criminalized simply for exercising their fundamental right to seek asylum.

She added that measures to tackle COVID-19 do not justify arbitrarily detaining them on arrival, which not only worsens the misery of people who have already suffered, but also undermines efforts to limit the spread of the virus.

**South Sudan

And a few updates from the country level.  In South Sudan, the UN Mission there says that, following renewed clashes in Jonglei yesterday, the number of families seeking safety at the UN base in Pibor has climbed to 8,000.

On Wednesday and Thursday, armed groups attacked and seized the village of Likuangole, which is 30 kilometres north of Pibor town, forcing people to flee to an area next to the UN base.

Conditions are dire there due to widespread flooding.  People have also fled to other areas where there is no shelter, water, food or health care available.

The UN Mission says that all groups in the area have been involved in the violence, which has been escalating since December 2019.  The Mission calls on the groups to stop fighting and urges the creation of buffer zones to protect people and allow reconciliation to safely take place.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And also on South Sudan, but this time I will update you on the Missions’ efforts to fight the pandemic.

The UN Mission there says that it has vaccinated livestock and distributed hygiene kits in Wau State.  The UN Mission has also handed over two vehicles to state authorities in the Unity region to help frontline health workers move around easier and also to transport patients to health facilities.

And in neighbouring Darfur, in Sudan, the UN-AU Mission partnered with a group called the Central Darfur Disabled Union to commemorate Nelson Mandela International Day in Zalingei, in the capital of Central Darfur State.

Soap, hand sanitizers and other hygiene materials were handed out during the celebration, which was held with the theme, “Take action, Inspire Change”.  Solar radio sets were also given to members of the group so they can access to information on COVID-19, the Sudan peace process, and other socioeconomic issues.

**Burkina Faso

And in Burkina Faso, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that the country is facing one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world this year.

The number of internally displaced people rose by more than 57,000 people in June alone, reaching nearly 1 million, according to national authorities.  This is an increase of more than 1,000 per cent, compared to 87,000 people in January 2019.

In the first quarter of 2020 we, along with our partners, have reached nearly 1 million people with humanitarian assistance.

We also have been supporting the COVID-19 government-led response in scaling up laboratory capacity, providing medical supplies and primary health-care services and installing hand-washing facilities in public places, as well as in displacement sites and other places.

In addition, some 250,000 people were reached with food assistance and 10,000 households with livelihood assistance.

The UN and humanitarian partners in Burkina Faso are seeking $424 million to address the humanitarian response needs of 2.2 million people.

**COVID-19 — Djibouti

And lastly, in Djibouti, where there are more than 5,000 reported cases and more than 50 deaths due to COVID-19, the UN team being led by the Resident Coordinator, Barbara Manzi, is supporting authorities to address the socioeconomic impacts and planning the reopening of borders and the back-to-school period.

The UN Children’s Fund and the UN Refugee Agency are providing thousands of cleaning supplies, protective and laboratory equipment, temporary shelter kits and oxygen concentrators.  A key focus is to protect health workers and refugees.

The International Organization for Migration is also establishing screening areas and training government personnel on infection prevention and control measures at border crossings.

For its part, the World Food Programme is providing food vouchers and UNICEF is transferring cash to families, as a temporary measure to prevent them from falling into poverty.

**Questions and Answers

All right, that’s it.  Let’s see what the question situation is.  Bear with me three seconds.  Surprisingly enough, James Bays seems to have some questions, so James, please go ahead.

Question:  Sorry, I’ve got quite a few questions because I wasn’t able to attend your briefing yesterday.  I had another engagement, so you might want to do me in two sections, but let me have a couple first, then.

First, the tit-for-tat closing of consulates.  China has now closed the US Consulate in Chengdu.  How worried is the Secretary-General about this ongoing tension between two major Powers, P5 members?

Spokesman:  Look, I think this question was raised a couple of days ago.  Obviously, that particular issue of consulates is a bilateral issue between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.  The Secretary-General’s concern has been expressed in the recent past and over the last year of the growing tensions between the major Powers on the Security Council, in this case, between China and the United States and the impact it could have on the, on the work of the Security Council, which needs unity in order, in order to move forward.

Correspondent:  I have other questions, but if you can come back to me later, but one related question.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Clearly, there have been some very strong comments from the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on China.  Does the Secretary-General find those comments helpful?  And, in particular, what is the Secretary-General’s view on the claim in reported comments from Mr. Pompeo that the head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], has been “bought by China”?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to comment on the, on what was reported that Mr. Pompeo may have said about the WHO.  I’m not going to comment on his, on his speech.

I think the Secretary-General’s position supporting WHO, supporting Dr. Tedros, is well known, has been expressed before and will continue to be expressed.

Okay.  Let me, I’ll come back to you, James.  Evelyn, please.

Question:  Hello, Stéph.

On Nigeria, what exactly is Boko Haram doing in its terrible actions?  Do you have details on that?

Spokesman:  They’re, they’re killing people, killing civilians, and targeting humanitarian workers, and they’ve sadly been at it for quite some time.

Gloria.

Correspondent:  Wait, I’m not finished.

Spokesman:  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Evelyn.

Question:  USAID is, Secretary of State Pompeo is putting religious freedom… alleged freedom of religion in USAID.  That usually means having, that usually means discrimination against women.  Is the UN at all involved in what’s happening there?

Spokesman:  No, the staff, the staffing of, of national institutions is not something we get involved in.

Correspondent:  No, but you run into them overseas.  We’ve… I’ll…

Spokesman:  I don’t know what else to, to say.

Correspondent:  Right.  Refugees.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Is there anything specific?  Because the refugees are being treated badly in many places in the world.  Is there anything specific they’re going after?

Spokesman:  Who’s, who is going after?

Question:  You… you said there was a whole UNHCR and other…

Spokesman:  I think UNHCR is, is reaffirming a basic principle.  We’ve seen reports, you know, you’re asking me where they’re being mistreated.  Refugees are sadly being mistreated and their rights are being trampled, in too many places, and COVID is often being used as a pretext against refugees, and frankly, sometimes as we’ve seen, against human rights.

Correspondent:  True, okay, thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re welcome.  Gloria.

Question:  Stéph, Nigeria is one of the greatest military countries and wealthy.  It seems insane to me that they can’t eradicate, because the help by the United States State Department, everybody, to eradicate the Boko Haram; it’s a military problem.  Now, it’s coming into the Chad Basin, which had been relatively safe.  They’ve been accepting refugees, but they haven’t been under attack.  It’s a terrible threat right now.

My question is, in your opinion or anybody’s opinion, not the Secretary-General, what could be done, if anything?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the fight against terrorism is not only a military issue.  It’s not only a security issue, and one needs to address the underlying, underlying causes, socioeconomic causes, state infrastructure, you know, state presence causes.  There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed at the same, at the same time.

Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I wonder if you have any comments on the incident that took place over Syrian airspace, where an… where a new US military aircraft came too close to a… to Mahan Airlines, an Iranian civil aircraft, and created panic inside the plane.  Do you have any comments?

Spokesman:  So, we have, we have no specific information on that incident, so I, and I checked with my colleagues in Montreal at ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization].  They have nothing.  They have not received anything as of yet.

As a matter of, of principle, the safety of civilian air travel should be respected by all, but again, I have, that’s just a principled position.  I don’t have any, at this point, we don’t have any specific information on this incident.

All right, I think I may be ready for, okay.  Let’s go to Lenka and Abdelhamid, and then we’ll go to round two with Al Jazeera.

Question:  Thank you, I was wondering, please, given the current relations, is the Secretary-General doing anything to support the P5 summit or what is he doing exactly?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think a P5 summit would, would hopefully help to find greater unity within the Security Council, but I think the P5 are talking amongst themselves.  If there’s anything that we need to be involved in, whether in supporting it, logistically in whatever way, we will do that, but it is a discussion that is going on amongst the five, those P5 who I think can handle it on their own.

Abdelhamid Siyam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, Iftikhar took my question, but I have another one on Libya.

The AFRICOM, which is the US command, military command in Africa, confirmed today the arrival of planes… fighting jets into Libya, and munition, and some more military equipment.  Can you confirm that?

And what is the update on the situation on the UN mediation or UN efforts to calm things down in Libya?

Spokesman:  No, I have, you know, we, we have no indication of, we don’t have access to the same information that, that our, that the US military or other militaries frankly, frankly have.

Our update is that, you know, Ms. [Stephanie] Williams is continuing her contacts with various parties to try to bring a halt to the fighting, a halt to the current conflict, and we have seen repeatedly, violations of, of the arms embargo, which needs, needs to stop.

Our humanitarian colleagues in Libya are very much focused on doing what they can.  They’re delivering, delivering food, delivering humanitarian, humanitarian aid, including in, in Tripoli, where there are ongoing… our colleagues at UNHCR are doing some emergency food deliveries, so we’re continuing to push this rock up a hill in the hopes that peace will return to Libya.

Question:  As a follow-up, Stéphane, the Libyan Permanent Representative, Mr. Taher Al-Sonni, confirmed that the Security Council will meet next week to discuss the issue of violations of weapons and other equipment coming into Libya, and he said he will be inviting all those countries who are in violation of the embargo.

Can you confirm that, please?

Spokesman:  No, you would have to ask our German friends to see what’s on the, what’s on the calendar the next few days.

Correspondent:  I did ask them and I’m… I didn’t receive an answer so far.

Spokesman:  There are so little things that I control, and anything having to do with the Security Council I control even less.

Mr. Bays, are you ready for a second round?

Correspondent:  I am.  I believe that is a committee meeting of the Security Council Sanctions Committee.

Spokesman:  Is it?  Good solutions, thank you.

Question:  Exactly.  A follow-up, though, on that, on Libya, because you say you don’t have the capability to confirm what’s going on on the ground in Libya.

Where is Stephanie Williams right now?  Is she in Tripoli?  Is she outside Tripoli?  And give us… I know you can’t… you’re not, you’re not checking visas every day, but give us a rough idea of the footprint of UNSMIL?  How many people does it currently have on the ground in Libya?

Spokesman:  Just to clarify what I said to Abdelhamid, we don’t have access to the same kind of information that the military, that the military have.  Obviously, we, we do report back to the Security Council about what is going on and what we’re able to observe as we do so on a regular, on a regular basis.

Ms. Williams I know was in, was in the area.  She was in Algiers and Tunis earlier this week.  I’ll have to check where she physically, where she physically is, and I’ll try to get you a…

Question:  Where’s she physically based these days?  Is she actually based, like Salamé was, in Tripoli now?

Spokesman:  She wasn’t.  She’s been in Tripoli, she’s been travelling.  She’s been travelling.  As I said, she was in, she was in Algeria not too long ago and she has been spending quite some time in, in Tripoli, as well, as I believe, but I’ll try to get you some, a more granular, logistical information on all of this.

Question:  It would be useful to know, because this has been a long-running thing that UNSMIL has been mainly operating remotely from Tunis and I know it was an aim of Mr. Salamé to move the whole thing to Tripoli, and we’ve never really been given a proper picture of how much got moved and how much is still there, particularly as one assumes with General Haftar’s presence around Tripoli reduced, the security threat in Tripoli in the last couple of months is greatly reduced, so one assumes there’s no good reason why there are UN officials working on Libya in Tunis.

Spokesman:  Well, let’s, let’s get some facts before we move to, to assumptions, but we’ll try to do that today.

Question:  Okay, so a couple of other questions.  You mentioned quite a lot on climate.  The Security Council has been talking about climate.  One specific proposal from the German Foreign Minister is that you appoint… the Secretary-General appoints a special envoy for climate security.  Is that something that he will consider?

Spokesman:  I think we, you know, every, every suggestion from a Member State, a member of the Security Council, is to be, is to be considered, and the issue of the link between climate and security is one that the Secretary-General has been talking about for quite, quite some time.

Question:  And I’m not having a go at Stephanie Williams today, but this relates to her and to other SRSGs, and it’s a question I’ve asked before, who deal with important, newsworthy conflict zones that report to the Security Council.

I do not think that we’ve had a single stakeout during the COVID times from any of these people.  If they had been coming to New York, which they obviously do as part of their, their reporting cycle, they normally give a stakeout.

They’re… they’re using, or seem to be, an opportunity not to speak to us, so I have not seen any media engagement from Mr. Pedersen, from Stephanie Williams or from Martin Griffiths at any time in the last four months.  The notable exception is Mr. Shearer on South Sudan who came and gave a news conference.

But it seems they are not speaking to us at the time of COVID.  I know they’re very busy.  I’m sure, in their minds, that their job doing diplomacy would be much better if they didn’t speak to us, but actually, they’re international public servants and we are the conduit to the public.  Are we going to get more stakeouts from these people?

And I’ll give you two examples, Mali next week, emergency Security Council meeting on Monday, closed consultations.  A stakeout would be useful.  Tuesday, the Security Council meeting on Yemen, Mr. Griffiths, we have not heard from him for a very long time.  A stakeout would be useful.

Spokesman:  Understood.  Thank you, we will pass that along.

All right.  On that note, I will leave you.  I will see you in a couple of weeks.

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Yes, go ahead.  Who is that?

Question:  It’s Sherwin.  Hi.  I was just wondering if you could reread the statement on the Tanzanian President, please.  You messed up his, his last name and I… I need to use that statement and I don’t want to make you look bad in Africa.

Spokesman:  I would hate for that.  I would hate for that…

Correspondent:  It’s Mkapa.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Stéph, thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General… excuse me.

I can tell you the Secretary-General is deeply saddened to learn of the death of former President Mkapa.  At this time of loss, the Secretary-General conveys his deepest condolences to the family of the former President, as well as to the Government and people of Tanzania.

Former President Mkapa was a statesman, an experienced diplomat, and a respected regional peacemaker, as well as an advocate for reconciliation.  He was instrumental in facilitating the mediation for the East African Community-led Burundian dialogue under the leadership of the President of Uganda, Mr. Museveni, and was also part of the African Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities that brokered an agreement following the disputed 2007-2008 general elections in Kenya.

He was also a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the Secretary-General to review and enhance the role of UNCTAD.

All right.  Did we do okay, Sherwin?

Correspondent:  You did it, sir.  Have a great vacation.  Nice to see you off that way.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Correspondent:  Have a lovely holiday.

Correspondent:  James, keep us busy in your absence.

Spokesman:  I think… we may have, maybe I’ll have James do the briefing while I’m gone.

[laughter]

Correspondent:  It does sound like he has all the answers.

Spokesman:  Along with a whole list of complaints to read out, so we’ll do a job swap.

[laughter]

Correspondent:  Have a good day.

Spokesman:  Take care.  Bye, all.

For information media. Not an official record.