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5 August 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.

Good afternoon.  I hope you all got through yesterday’s storm okay.

**Lebanon

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the people and Government of Lebanon, following the horrific explosions in Beirut.  He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured, including several United Nations personnel working in Lebanon. 

The United Nations remains committed to supporting Lebanon at this difficult time and is actively assisting in the response to this incident.

As a result of the explosion, one of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) ships of the Maritime Task Force docked in the port was damaged, leaving some UNIFIL naval peacekeepers injured — some of them seriously.

UNIFIL transported the injured peacekeepers to the nearest hospitals for medical treatment.  The Mission is currently assessing the situation.

The Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, said: “We are with the people and the Government of Lebanon during this difficult time and stand ready to help and provide any assistance and support.”

The United Nations is working closely with the Lebanese Government to support all ongoing response efforts, particularly in the delivery of emergency medical assistance.

Support for the existing hospitals and trauma response capacity is a top priority for the UN.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to conduct an assessment of hospital facilities in Beirut, their functionality and needs for additional support, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specialists are being dispatched to Beirut at the moment to assist in the emergency response, both from the United Nations and multiple Member States.  Experts are en route to support urban search and rescue operations.  Teams are also equipped to conduct rapid assessments about the situation on the ground and help coordinate emergency response activities.

The United Nations is looking at all options to find ways to provide financial assistance to support ongoing response efforts.

The United Nations is also looking carefully at the immediate implications of the explosion at the port for ongoing response activities, both in Lebanon and Syria.  Efforts to ensure sustained operations will be found in close coordination with Lebanese authorities.

Further assessments about the humanitarian needs following the explosion are under way.  Additional information will be made public to help coordinate ongoing relief efforts.

As agreed in a call yesterday between the Prime Minister and the Special Coordinator, the Deputy Special Coordinator and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator is leading UN efforts in support of Lebanon’s emergency response, in coordination with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is leading the Lebanese efforts.  UN agencies are participating in an emergency health task force with non-governmental organizations to coordinate humanitarian support.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is undertaking an assessment of food needs.  An assessment of shelter needs is also under way.

**Secretary-General — Hiroshima

Tomorrow marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the Secretary-General will have a video message which will be played at the Peace Memorial Ceremony.

The Secretary-General will pay tribute to the hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing, noting that they have turned their tragedy into a rallying voice for the safety and well-being of all humanity.

In his message, he will also reiterate his appeal for a world without nuclear weapons, calling on States to return to a common vision and path leading to the total elimination of these weapons. 

We expect the Secretary-General’s message will be played at the ceremony at around 8:40 a.m. local time tomorrow, which is around 7:45 p.m. this evening here in New York.

**Zimbabwe

The Secretary-General has been following with concern recent developments in Zimbabwe.  He urges the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure the protection of all fundamental human rights, notably the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, in accordance with Zimbabwe’s human rights obligations.  He also calls on all political actors and civil society to resolve issues peacefully through inclusive dialogue.

**Sudan

In Sudan’s Khartoum State, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched its first programme, together with the Government, to provide nutritional support for 175,000 pregnant and nursing women as well as children under the age of five.

WFP will provide specialized nutritious food and nutrition counselling at health centres to treat children and mothers suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, seeking to prevent severe acute malnutrition.  WFP will work to ensure that all precautionary measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as handwashing and physical distancing.

The food security and nutrition situation in Khartoum has deteriorated in recent years.  It is estimated that 1.4 million people in Khartoum are experiencing high levels of food insecurity due to economic decline, inflation and food price hikes exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN remains concerned about the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country. 

As of yesterday, the Syrian Ministry of Health confirmed 892 people tested positive, including 46 deaths. 

In north-west Syria, 38 cases have been confirmed with no deaths reported.  In north-east Syria, 34 cases were reported, including one death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading UN preparedness and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the north-west and in the north-east. 

**COVID-19 — Uruguay

In Uruguay, where there have been nearly 1,300 COVID-19 cases and more than 30 deaths, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Mireia Villar Forner, is supporting the Government’s response.  The UN has also mobilized more than $1.3 million to address the pandemic. 

The UN helped to design the national contingency plan for COVID-19 and worked with our partners to produce ventilators.  UN agencies have also provided protective equipment, as well as laboratory, medical, and cleaning supplies.

We have helped women, children, refugees, inmates and people living with HIV, among other vulnerable people, by providing access to safe care, shelters, hygiene kits and protection from violence and abuse.  The UN has also carried out analysis and surveys to develop socioeconomic policies that protect lives and livelihoods.

The UN has also trained journalists on safe COVID-19 reporting practices.

**Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance

In a report released today, 30 CEOs (chief executive officers) from prominent corporations around the globe — members of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance (GISD) convened by the Secretary-General —identified more than 60 concrete measures to accelerate and scale up funding for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The report, “Renewed, Recharged and Reinforced”, focuses on six areas that are critical to the global sustainability agenda:  addressing systemic sustainability risks, improving ESG data and scoring, globally conforming disclosure requirements, strengthening corporate governance, enhancing public-private sector partnerships and developing sustainable finance products and infrastructure.

More information is available online.

**Briefing Tomorrow

And tomorrow we will be joined by Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

And that is all I have.  Now let us turn to you and see what questions you've got.  Hold on a sec.  Let me see what's in the chat. 

I do not see anything in the chat so far.  So, please send your chat message to all panellists, and I'll answer any questions that you've got. 

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Maria, Maria Khrenova, you have a question. 

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  I don't know why I can't turn on my camera.  Sorry. 

So, I have a question regarding Belarus and the situation there.  As you know, there is continuing unrest before the elections and a lot of protests after detention of one of the main candidates, and I wonder if the Secretary—General has any comment on that and also if United Nations observers are going to participate in the elections scheduled for 9 August.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, what I can say about that is that we're closely following the situation in Belarus in the run—up to the 9 August presidential elections.  We reiterate the importance, in Belarus and elsewhere, of the right of people to peaceful assembly and of upholding the rule of law.  And that is it.  I do not believe that there is any direct UN role in these elections.

Okay.  And with that, Benny Avni, you have a question.

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  How are you?  I assume… I may have missed the top, but I assume that the UN is preparing to aid Lebanon in all… as much as it can.  The question is, what your plan… what is the plan to use as ports since, of course, Beirut port is gone and the other ports are quite small?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we will need to see what can be done, and we'll need to assess the damage at the port.  We expect that the damage of the port will significantly exacerbate the economic and food security situation in Lebanon, which imports about 80 to 85 per cent of its food.  Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also expect that this will affect our ability to provide aid to Syria, because the port in Beirut was one of the ways that we ship in aid.  And of course, we also use the airports.  So, we'll need to find alternate plans.  But first, we'll need to do damage assessments and see what is needed to repair the port and to go about our operations.

Question:  A follow—up on that.  There's a lot of anger within Lebanon of the authorities and their inabilities to do all kinds of things.  How do you coordinate aid?  Do you do it through the authorities?  Do you do it through the Government?  Do you do it just directly through [Jan] Kubiš?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you might have missed the top part…

Question:  I might have. 

Deputy Spokesman:  …of the briefing but… hold on one second, and I can just give you some of the details of that.  But just to say that, yes, we are working with the authorities.  The Deputy Special Coordinator, who is our Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, will be leading our efforts in coordination with Lebanon's Deputy Prime Minister, and different parts of the UN system are working with their counterparts in Lebanon. 

The World Food Programme is doing an assessment of food needs.  There's an assessment of shelter needs that is under way.  And the World Health Organization is working with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to assess the hospital facilities in the country. 

So, those are part of the ways in which we are trying to work with the Lebanese authorities.

Okay.  Abdelhamid, you have a question.

Question:  I'm asking about the situation of our colleague Khawla Matar.  I heard she was wounded.  Do you have any update on that situation, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I'm aware that a number of our UN colleagues, unfortunately, have been wounded, and we are concerned about that.  Some of them have been lightly wounded. 

I know that, in terms of staff and dependents, the overall number of injuries is in the neighbourhood of about 100, and we're… they're getting treatment, and we hope that they will be all right. 

I am aware that there have been two fatalities amongst the family members of the UN, and our condolences go out to our staff at this time.  And we know about your concerns for our colleagues, and we ourselves are hoping that they'll all pull through at this time. 

And, of course, that is part of our concern for the people of Lebanon overall.  We know that we're just a small fraction of the people who were hurt in this, and we hope that all of those who were injured, all of those who are suffering will recover.

And with that, Edie, you have a question?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  First off, I'd like to follow up on the injuries and the fatalities.  When you say that there were about 100 injuries, were those involving just peacekeepers or the entire UN family?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's the figure for the entire UN family.  That's to say UN staff, dependents, and visitors, that that total number is in excess of about 100. 

As far as I'm aware, in terms of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, there are, I believe, by our count, about 22 injuries of UNIFIL personnel, including those who were of… from the Maritime Task Force, who were present at the port. 

Question:  And the two fatalities among the UN family members, were those… do you have any details?  Were those people in apartments?  Were they working?  Do…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't.  I know that… obviously, there was a lot of damage throughout the city of Beirut, and these were people from different parts of the city who died from their injuries, and we are… and, again, our condolences go to their families.

Question:  I realize it's early, but is there any thought being given to the United Nations launching some kind of an international appeal to help rebuild Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're going to have to see.  It would seem, given the amount of damage, that there will be need for additional international support for Lebanon.  And we're heartened to see the declarations of support from different Governments around the world, and we hope that all of the Governments and all of us can stand beside the Lebanese people.

We need to remember that the people of Lebanon have been extremely generous and extremely helpful for many years.  As you know, they've taken in tens of thousands of refugees from Syria.  There's been a long-time Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon.  So, these are people who have given a lot of support to others, and this is a time when they themselves will need help, and we will certainly try to give it to them as much as we can.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  My question is also about Lebanon.  So, I know you said there is an initial assessment for now, but do you have an idea how much of your aid to Syria goes through the Lebanese port and… or… and also, in regard of the investigation on what happened, do you think the UN could be also part of the investigation team?  Were you asked?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks, Ibtisam.  I'm not aware of any requests from the Lebanese authorities for UN assistance in investigating.  Of course, we're willing to help in whatever way we can, and we will take in any requests as we receive them. 

And in terms of the usage of the port, this is a place that's used both for goods for Lebanon and… but also for some of our activities in Syria.  We'll need to assess what… how that damage affects our deliveries and how we can redirect, in the short term, more of our activities through the airport rather than through the seaport.  But, obviously, the loss of the port will affect our activities, and we are assessing that at this point.

Toby from NHK.

Question:  Hi there, Farhan.  Thanks very much.  Given the significant number of casualties within the UN system in Lebanon, what offices are affected in terms of their operations specifically?  What work will be diminished there?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  All our offices are working.  The office of Mr. Kubiš, the office of the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, and also the work of the UN Interim Force are all ongoing.  So, this has not affected our ability to perform operations on the ground. 

The people who have been injured are receiving treatments for their injuries, and we hope that they will be okay soon and… but the work of the UN is going on, and that is not changed.

Benny, you have another question?

Question:  So, one of the countries that offered assistance was Israel, which, as you know, has no relation to Lebanon.  Is the UN facilitating that offer in any way?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything to report on that.  Obviously, we appreciate all of the offers of assistance from the Member States, and we'll see whether we can play any helpful role in coordinating those offers with the Government of Lebanon.

Question:  And one more.  On Friday, the tribunal for the… the Hariri Tribunal was supposed to issue its report.  Is it still on?  And do you think that will… I mean, is there any relevance?  Is there any… do things change because of events?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has not indicated any change in its schedule.  So, we'll see what they report on Friday, and we'll be in touch with them.  [He later said that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced today that it was postponing pronouncement of the judgment in the Ayyash case until 18 August.]

And with that, Stefano Vaccara, you have a question?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yeah, part… actually, Benny… the second part of Benny was part of my question.  Also, I just want… would like to know about Lebanon, if there are special instruction.  You mentioned there is something more that you can tell us about UNIFIL if, in a situation like this, the UN Headquarters gives special instructions on how to operate and… in a situation like this. 

And then the other part of the question in another part of the world, of course, I asked… I have to ask… I probably know already your answer, but about Mario Paciolla's death, if you know the result of the autopsy, if you can share with us any more information today.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, I don't have anything, Stefano, to share with you about the autopsy at this time.  I think that is something that's in the hands of the Colombian authorities.  So, you might get better information from them directly. 

But as far as that goes, what I can tell you about Mr. Paciolla, I do have a little bit of additional information about him, which is that, yesterday, the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, led by the Secretary—General's Special Representative, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, along with national and international officials, paid tribute to the memory and work of Mario Paciolla. 

Mr. Ruiz Massieu remembered Mr. Paciolla's life and dedication to the Mission during the two years he was on assignment.  There was also a video message from the Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers Programme, Olivier Adam.  And, so, that's all I have on that. 

And regarding the work of UNIFIL, that work, as I had mentioned to Benny, is ongoing.  As you know, most of the personnel of the Interim Force are based in Southern Lebanon, which is away from Beirut.  The people who were affected were mainly personnel of the Maritime Task Force, who were at the port, and so that was a separate group of UNIFIL personnel.

I have a question from Lenka White.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Please, I was wondering how many times has the current Secretary—General invoked the Article 99 and actually brought into attention a topic in front of the Security Council.  And why do you think it has been so rarely used in the history?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  It has been brought to the attention of the Council from time to time.  I believe, for example, there was a case… a situation involving bringing in, if my memory serves me right in recent years, the topic of Myanmar.  But as you know, this is something that is weighed carefully, and it is not used as a regular tool.  There are many times when the Security Council itself brings issues up, and we brief at that point.  So, that is how we tend to respond.

And with that, I have a question from Dulcie.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Did you ever announce that the Secretary—General was on vacation?  How long is he away?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we did.  And if you look at the appointments, we have mentioned that he is currently away for two weeks.  He will be back in New York next week, where he will be working from the residence in accordance with the quarantine procedures.

Question:  But the UN is reopening on 24 August in a bigger way?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's a stepping up of activity.  We will be at phase 2, so the idea is that we will basically go up to about 30 per cent capacity.  And each office is making its own preparations for a greater presence, a stepped—up presence.  But it will be gradual, and it will be in accordance with the health protocols.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.