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10 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Lebanon

All right.  I can try to take some more Lebanon questions as part of the briefing anyway, but I wanted to let you know on the political front that we have seen the reports regarding changes in the Lebanese Government.  It’s our understanding that the Prime Minister is set to address the Lebanese people a bit later today.  So, we may have a bit more later or tomorrow on the political situation.

As the Secretary-General said in his remarks this morning, Lebanon is going through a very difficult period but it’s a resilient country, it’s a resilient people, it has immense spirit and we at the UN will continue to support Lebanon in every way possible through the current emergency and in these difficult times.

Staying on Lebanon, as you saw, the Secretary-General this morning briefed Member States on the situation there.  He expressed his total solidarity with the people of Lebanon in the aftermath of the horrific explosion.  He offered condolences to the families and the loved ones of all those who were killed and a full recovery to the many thousands who were injured.

The Secretary-General in his remarks called for robust international support for all people in need in Lebanon, especially women and girls who are most vulnerable in any time of crisis.  He urged donors to give speedily and generously.

He recalled that yesterday’s Conference in support of Beirut, which was co-chaired by the United Nations and the French Government, generated much-needed financial support and reaffirmed the commitment of Lebanon’s many partners, including world leaders, international humanitarian organizations and key multilateral and regional financial institutions.  He added that we are assessing the results and are committed to quick and effective follow-up and as you know the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, represented the UN during that briefing — the conference on Sunday, excuse me.

**Belarus

Turning to the situation in Belarus, I can tell you that the Secretary-General continues to follow with great concern the ongoing situation in that country, including reports of post-election protests and violence overnight in the capital, Minsk, as well as other cities.  The Secretary-General calls on the Belarusian authorities to show maximum restraint and to ensure full respect for the rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.  He emphasizes the importance of its citizens exercising their rights peacefully in accordance with the law.  The Secretary-General urges all relevant actors to avoid actions that would further enflame tensions and to approach the issues in the spirit of dialogue.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen and the ongoing issue with the tanker.  The tragedy we saw in Beirut last week only underscored the urgency of resolving the ongoing threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, which is anchored off the coast of Yemen.  The aging vessel is carrying more than 1 million barrels of oil and has had almost no maintenance since 2015.   Two months ago, seawater began leaking into the engine room, which could have destabilized and sunk the entire vessel, potentially releasing all of the oil into the Red Sea.  A temporary fix was applied, but it is unclear how long this might last. 

A major spill would be catastrophic for the environment and would destroy livelihoods of coastal communities in Yemen.  Most of the oil would likely wash up on Yemen’s west coast in areas controlled by Ansar Allah.   As you will recall, on 14 July last month, the UN submitted an official request to Ansar Allah to undertake an assessment and initial repair mission to the Safer tanker.  We are in contact with the authorities on this and urge them to expedite the necessary procedures so this work can begin.

**Niger

Turning to Niger, as you will have seen, eight people, including six aid workers, were killed in a brutal armed attack yesterday in Kouré, 60 kilometres east of the capital, Niamey.  Two of them were from Niger — a driver and a guide.  The six aid workers were from the French international NGO ACTED-Niger.  The staff from ACTED had recently arrived in Niamey and had just completed their 14-day quarantine.  The group was visiting the Kouré Giraffe Park when they were shot, and their car set ablaze.

The Secretary-General condemns this brutal killing.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the bereaved families, as well as to the Governments and people of Niger and France.  The Secretary-General calls on the Nigerian authorities to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.

[The Spokesman later clarified that seven of the eight people killed were aid workers with the NGO ACTED-Niger.  The driver of the vehicle was also employed by ACTED.]

**Nagasaki

You will have seen that, yesterday, the Secretary-General had a message to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city.  The Secretary-General noted that, sadly, three quarters of a century after Nagasaki was incinerated by an atomic bomb, the nuclear menace is once again on the rise.  He said that the historic progress in nuclear disarmament is in jeopardy, as the web of instruments and agreements designed to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and bring about their elimination is crumbling.  This alarming trend must be reversed, the Secretary-General underscored, and he added that 75 years is far too long not to have learnt the lessons of the nuclear horror and the hibakusha.  He emphasized once more that there can be no more Hiroshimas, no more Nagasakis.  His message was delivered by Izumi Nakamitsu, who, as you know, is the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and who was present there.

**Cameroon

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim in Cameroon, Siti Batoul Oussein, strongly condemned the killing of an aid worker in the north-west region of the country.  The staff member of the Community Initiative for Sustainable Development (COMINSUD) — an implementing partner for several UN agencies — was kidnapped from his home on Friday and later killed by unidentified armed individuals.  This killing is the latest in a series of attacks, violent extortion and harassment against humanitarians in the south-west and north-west regions of Cameroon and it comes barely a month after the killing of a community health worker in the south-west region.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is concerned about the escalation of intercommunal violence in several areas of the South Kivu province.  Violent clashes between armed groups and the country’s armed forces, as well as attacks against civilians in the region of the Hauts Plateaux in South Kivu, including villages and camps for the displaced, have left at least 128 dead between February [2019] and June [2020].

The Head of the UN Mission, Leila Zerrougui, said that “violence is neither a viable option, let alone a solution to resolve grievances that may exist between communities”.  With the support of the UN Mission, the defence and security forces deployed in the region have stepped up efforts to neutralize the armed groups involved in the attacks and ensure the protection of the civilian population, in particular in sites for displaced people.

**Mauritius

An update from our UN team in Mauritius, where there are more than 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths:  Our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Christine Umutoni, has been working with our partners to respond to the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the Ministry of Health on technical matters and to implement a system to share information in real time.

Also, in Mauritius, a state of environmental emergency was declared on 7 August after a ship ran aground and began spilling oil.

The UN team has been mobilizing in full emergency mode to support local authorities and is coordinating with international development partners and civil society organizations.  The UN agencies are providing rapid on-site expertise, including technical support for the assessment of the impact of the oil spill, as well as on public health, support for vulnerable people and forensic investigations.

The UN team in Mauritius is working closely with other UN offices in the region, including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission there (UNMISS) says that its engineering troops, together with local youth, are working to repair levees damaged by flooding in Bor in Jonglei State.  This swift action has helped to save the main market and Jonglei’s only hospital from being submerged.  A temporary drainage system was also created to steer water from the overflowing White Nile River away from critical roads and from the town.  Some 135,000 people are believed to be displaced across Bor due to the flooding.

**Iraq

Today, our friends at the World Health Organization and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, kick-started the second phase of a COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign in the high-risk areas of Thi Qar and Missan, south of Baghdad.

Later in the month, the campaign — whose theme is “Your health is important” — will be rolled out to the governorates of Basra and Wasit, and to Sulaymaniyah, north of Baghdad.

**COVID-19 — Migrants

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) today released employer guidance for measures to protect migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The guidance includes a set of general principles for employers, such as treating all workers with “equality, dignity and respect”, notwithstanding their gender or migratory status.

IOM noted that migrant workers are susceptible to job loss, salary cuts, and various health and safety concerns.  Apart from often being far away from family support networks, they face language and cultural barriers, as well as lack of social protection and many of them suffer from discrimination.

In addition, overseas economies that rely on financial contributions from migrant workers face a steep decline in those cross-border cash flows.

**Security Council

And last but not least, this morning, during an in-person Council session on Guinea-Bissau, the Head of the peacebuilding mission (UNIOGBIS), Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, said that with dire health infrastructure and limited resources, the country is in a particularly fragile situation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the Mission scheduled to close at the end of the year, the Special Representative said that Guinea-Bissau needs to remain high on the international community’s agenda, with a focus on reforms and the strengthening of State institutions.

She said that the recent political crisis, linked to the electoral dispute, highlighted the structural weaknesses of the country.  Regretfully, therefore, Ms. Coulibaly added that the Mission’s mandate is unlikely to be fully implemented before its departure.  Coordination with the UN Country Team on the transition is ongoing, she said.  She also called for more contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund, to help ensure long-term sustainable support for the implementation of peacebuilding priorities that remain crucial.

Her remarks were shared with you.  We expect the President of the Security Council to speak at a stakeout before the meeting is over.

All right.  I think that’s it from me.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Let’s go to… Samira, you had a question.  Samira?

Correspondent:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Hi, hi.  Good to see you.  Steph, so, my question is regarding both Lebanon, as well as the report that just came out about migrant workers, and migrant workers in Lebanon have already been a vulnerable community for a long time, even before the blast, especially under the [inaudible] situation.  So, do you have any measures that are being taken especially for that community in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Well, I think Najat [Rochdi] was very clear in saying that the needs of people will be assessed on the needs of ind… as individuals.  The aid will go to individuals, regardless of their status as a refugee or migrant and so forth.

In his remarks this morning, the Secretary‑General also said it was very important to take a look at the needs of the most vulnerable population.  So, I think this is something that we will very much be focused on in making sure that all those who need help get help, especially those who may be living in the shadows.

Okay.  Sorry.  Evelyn, you had a question and then Abdel Siyam.  Evelyn?

All right.  Abdelhamid, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Friday morning, in the city of Jenin, a mother woke up to give bottle to her infant.  The Israeli army shot her through the window and killed her in her own house.  She’s 23 years old.  Her name is Dalia Smoudi, and that is spelled S‑m‑o‑u‑d‑i, because every time I give a name, it comes out in the text completely wrong.

So, not only I am really wondering why Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov did not issue a statement, but I really compare that to a statement he made when a settler was killed when he mentioned her name, her parents, her age, and he condemned it with the strongest words.  This is a woman with an infant in her own house in early hours of the morning.  She was shot through the window.  Why he did not say one word on that and… if he going to mention something about it?  I looked at his Twitter, and there was nothing of that kind.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you.  I was not personally aware of the case, but we will look into it, and I will come back to you.

Maria Khrenova.  Maria?

Question:  Hi, hi.  Hi, Steph.  So, yeah, I was… I had a question regarding Belarus.  You mentioned the protests there, but I do have a comment on the election itself, because the opposition claims that there were massive frauds and that the election results would be quite different.  There… was the UN in touch with international observers maybe and in your opinion, how credible are these elections?

Spokesman:  Listen, we… I have no further comment on the election.  As you, I think, we’ve been telling you guys, we had no involvement in the organizing of the election or coordinating observers or so on.  So, we have no… at this point, we have no mandate to make a comment on the handling of the mechanics, shall we say, of the election.

That is not stopping the Secretary‑General from being concerned about what we’re seeing, the reports of the post‑election protests, the violence that we saw in Minsk and other cities, which is of concern to him.

Okay.  Nabil, do you have a question?  Okay.  I think… he’s texting me the question.  The question was about the issue of an investigation into what happened in Lebanon.

I would refer you to the comments made in the joint… in the communiqué issued by the conference yesterday for the… that was co‑hosted by the United Nations and France and agreed to by the participants, which is the need for a credible and transparent investigation.  And, of course, we stand ready to assist, should there be a request from the Lebanese authorities.

Okay.  Let’s see who else has a question.  Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About Lebanon, the fact that the Special Tribunal for the death of the former… the Prime Minister [Rafik] Hariri that had to… was going to have the verdict, I think, last Friday and it was postponed, what… does the Secretary‑General think there was a… you know, the right choice in the moment or… or not?

And in this linking with the question that you just read from before, the truth, to know the truth in this moment in Lebanon, not only about Hariri, in general, is… is important and is healthy for the country, or there is some… somebody or something, some force, that says that the truth for Lebanon is not good?

And then allow me just a question on Mario Paciolla’s death in Colombia, if you have any news that you can share with us.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  So, on your last question, I have no updates, I think, to what Farhan [Haq] gave you last week.

As a matter of principle, the truth is important.  The truth is always important and should always be important, regardless of the context.  So, that’s a pretty clear position.

As far as the Hariri Tribunal, the Special Tribunal, that… they are an independent entity, independent from the Secretary‑General, as tribunals should be.  So, I have no comment to make on the decision that they’ve taken regarding the verdict that was, I think, from what I understand from press reports, scheduled to be announced.

Okay.  Amy Lieberman.  Amy, please, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Hi, Stéphane.  How you doing?

Spokesman:  Good.

Question:  Good.  I had a question about the WHO.  I understand the Secretary‑General was reviewing the US’s request… plans to withdraw from it and the legality of that last month.  Do you have any update on kind of where that stands right now?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  That is a complicated situation, and the language that we used about a review remains valid as far as I know.  If something changes, I will let you know.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Evelyn, you had a question.  I don’t know if we could hear you.

Okay.  Iftikhar…

Correspondent:  Stéphane, no, you answered it.  Thank you… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Evelyn and then Iftikhar.  Go ahead, Evelyn.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Correspondent:  It’s okay, Stéphane.  You answered it.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Iftikhar, go ahead.  Iftikhar?  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Steph, you do look well rested and fresh.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Let’s hope that lasts more than a day.  [laughter]

Question:  Okay.  Apart from devastation in… of a different kind in Lebanon, there were heavy rains across the South Asia, causing huge damages, especially in the city of Karachi, Pakistan, where more than 50 people have died after three days of rain in low‑lying areas.  Do you have any reports from South Asia?

Spokesman:  No.  I’ll ask OCHA colleagues if they have any updates on what we may be doing to support the Government.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Gloria, you had a question.

Question:  Yes, sir.  I’m very involved in the Cameroon and those problems on the outskirts.  Is there a way, when these people are attacked — are also the Congo — is there a way… do they have a way to immediately give an alert?  Do they have cell phones?  Do they have buzzers, like they have here in the schools, in case of a problem that they can press a button?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  I don’t know is the short answer.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Don’t know.

Okay.  Okay.  Unless I hear anybody wave… see anybody wave their hands frantically, I will leave you in peace, and we’ll all go about our day.  And I will see you tomorrow.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.