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11 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.

All right.  Good afternoon to you all.  Happy Tuesday, I think, because I think that’s what I’m told today is.

**Lebanon

Let’s start with an update on Lebanon, where the UN system is stepping up its efforts to help the people in Lebanon following the explosion one week ago in the port of Beirut.  A rapid assessment of the 55 primary health centres in the blast areas show that some 35 per cent sustained moderate to severe damage.  Damage to the port could also worsen problems in providing food to Lebanon.

The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, is currently in-country at the moment to assess needs there.  As an immediate response following the blasts, WFP allocated food parcels for 5,000 highly vulnerable households and is preparing to scale up as needed.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that an 18-ton shipment of personal protective equipment landed in Beirut this morning.  Early reports indicated that many health centres and primary care facilities were also damaged or are out of action.  WHO is supporting the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health in a detailed assessment of the damage to and functioning of the health facilities in Beirut.

In coordination with Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese Red Cross, a rapid shelter assessment identified districts in close proximity to the blast site as priority districts.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), meanwhile, reports that education assessments indicate that some 20 technical schools were damaged.  Providing precautionary tetanus shots for the injured was among the priorities, and personal protective equipment supplies are on their way, according to UNICEF.

And you will have seen that the pledging event co-chaired by the Government of France and the United Nations on Sunday has so far yielded more than €250 million in pledges.

And, back here, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, briefed the Security Council’s members in a closed session on the developments in the country since the publication of the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, also briefed in respect to developments in the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) area of operations, as well as the mandate renewal of UNIFIL.  The mandate renewal is expected to go to a vote in the Security Council on 27 August.

On the ground, UNIFIL continues to work in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces and stands ready to assist the Armed Forces and the Lebanese people during these difficult times.  The Mission remains fully committed in fulfilling its mandate in accordance with resolution 1701 (2006) and UN peacekeepers are working 24/7 in order to monitor and maintain the cessation of hostilities along the Blue Line.

**Yemen

Let’s turn now to Yemen, where heavier than usual rains throughout 2020, including monthly flash floods since March, have affected at least 16 of the country’s 22 governorates.  Local authorities estimate that 130 people have died and more than 120 people have been injured across the country’s northern governorates.  The floods have led to the repeated displacements of people, with about 29,000 people already displaced in the affected areas.

Humanitarian organizations are assessing the situation and mobilizing emergency assistance, including relief items for flood-affected families.

Movement restrictions due to COVID-19 and limited non-food supplies are challenging the humanitarian response.

To date, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is only 21 per cent funded.  Donors are urged to pay all outstanding pledges immediately and to consider increasing their support.

Limited donor funding is forcing core programmes to close or reduce support across different sectors, including food, water, health and nutrition.

**South Sudan

And we have some updates from our peacekeeping colleagues in South Sudan.

The UN Mission in that country (UNMISS) says that it has received reports from authorities in Tonj that more than 70 people were killed and dozens injured during clashes between members of the South Sudan People’s Defence Force and armed civilians over the weekend.  The violence was sparked by a disagreement over a disarmament exercise being conducted in the area.  During the fighting, the local market in Romich was reportedly looted and some shops were burnt to the ground.  Many women and children fled in fear of their lives.

A UN peacekeeping patrol is on its way to assess the security situation.

The Mission is urging all those involved in the violence to lay down their weapons and to help restore calm for the sake of their communities.  The Mission continues to engage with political and community leaders to prevent further conflict.  It will support locally led reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts.

**Sudan/Chad

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that clashes in Sudan’s Western Darfur region have forced refugees to seek safety in neighbouring Chad.

Since the end of July, the unrest has impacted some 20,000 people in Western Darfur in Sudan, with dozens having been killed.

At least 2,500 people have fled to Chad, the vast majority of them being women and children.

**Abyei

And, from neighbouring Abyei, the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNISFA) says that, on Saturday, there was an attack in the village of Ibrahim, in which three people were killed, one of them a four-year-old boy.  UN peacekeepers were immediately deployed to the area when they heard gunshots but did not find the attackers.  UN Police also visited the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief to help de-escalate tensions.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

We also have an update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where, as we mentioned yesterday, violence in the South Kivu province has been impacting a growing number of people.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is now providing assistance to 40,000 people who have fled violence since May and have taken shelter in the forest, near Mikenge.  The agency warns that thousands of displaced people in the South Kivu’s highlands, or Hauts Plateaux, are in dire need of food, shelter, health and education assistance.  UNICEF calls on humanitarian partners to step up their responses in the area.

**Flooding in Asia

An update for you from our humanitarian colleagues on flooding in Asia:

In Bangladesh, people are experiencing the worst and longest monsoon flooding in years, with a quarter of the country being inundated.  At least 5.4 million people have been affected by severe flooding, with 11,000 households displaced and 135 people killed.  Humanitarian partners are working with the Government to provide food, shelter, clean water, hygiene supplies and other supplies.

A $40 million response plan has been launched to help the more than 1 million of the people most in need in the country.

In neighbouring India, the monsoon there has reportedly claimed more than 770 lives.  According to authorities, more than 500,000 people have been evacuated.  The UN stands ready to provide humanitarian support to the most vulnerable and affected communities in India.

And the Korean Peninsula has also experienced heavy rainfall.  In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the unusually heavy rains this month have resulted in flooding.  The UN team is in contact with authorities and stands ready to support its response to the most vulnerable communities if required and requested.

**COVID-19 — Pacific

And some COVID-19 related news from the Pacific region:  the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha in Fiji, is organizing a virtual concert called “Pacific Unite:  Saving Lives Together” and that will take place on 15 August and will bring together local, regional and international artists to pay tribute to essential workers across the region and will help renew the Secretary-General’s call for global solidarity in the fight against the virus through music and art.

The event will invite global leaders to build a more inclusive and resilient Pacific and a more sustainable and equitable global community.

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will participate by video.  Also participating will be His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales; Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama; and New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern.

The concert will be shown across some 17 countries in the Pacific and will be streamed live on UN WebTV on 15 August at 7 p.m. in Fiji, 3 a.m. in New York, but it will also be available on demand, no doubt.

**Polio Vaccines

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that the polio immunization campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, months after COVID-19 left 50 million children without their polio vaccines.  In Afghanistan, polio immunization programmes restarted in three provinces in July.  A second campaign covering almost half of the country will start this month.

In Pakistan, an initial round of vaccinations took place at the end of July, covering about 780,000 children.  A nationwide vaccination campaign is scheduled to start later this month.

UNICEF said that while every effort will be made to reach children in both countries, there is concern that up to 1 million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations are not possible in some areas.  In Pakistan, the suspension of vaccination drives has also resulted in the expansion and introduction of the disease into new areas of the country.

**Education

Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies, launched its annual report today.  Last year, activities financed by the fund reached 2.6 million crisis-impacted children and youth.  Nearly half of those who benefited were girls, and over a third of them were refugees or internally displaced. 

As the world tries to address the pandemic’s impact on education and to answer the Secretary General’s call to avoid a generational catastrophe that could undermine decades of progress, Education Cannot Wait and its partners are working to urgently mobilize an additional $310 million to support the COVID-19 emergency education response, as well as other ongoing crises.  The head of the Fund, Yasmine Sherif, said they are aiming to reach close to 9 million children annually.  The report is available online and there will be a high-level advocacy discussion on the launch tomorrow morning.

**United Nations Virtual Tours

While the UN Headquarters remains closed to the public, the UN Visitor Centre announced today that it is offering of virtual tours and briefings.

By taking the one hour virtual tour with one of the multilingual UN tour guides, participants will go on a live journey through the UN’s history with a focus on the current work of its principal organs.  They will learn how the UN addresses issues such as disarmament, peace and security, development and human rights.  Through this interactive experience, the online visitors will also be able to admire the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council Chamber, as well as some of the works of art that are in the UN Headquarters.

Visitors Services has also created an online tour specifically for younger children, mirroring their on-site children’s tours.  Hopefully, the children will not have access to the press briefing, as it is not safe for them — but, all joking aside, it’s a great, great initiative by our tour guide colleagues, and visitors can book at visit.un.org.

**Financial Contributions

And, after somewhat of a dry spell, we get to thank our friends in Tunis, as Tunisia has paid up its regular budget dues for 2020, bringing us up to 108 Member States of these United Nations.

So, this is the moment I take on my glasses and I see who wants to ask questions. 

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Ibtisam.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Welcome back.  And…  so, my first question is regarding Lebanon.  Do you have any comment on the way Lebanese security forces are dealing with demonstrators?

And I have another question on Yemen later.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Any violence against demonstrators exercising their right to demonstrate is not acceptable.  In any country, we would call for the same thing, which is for people to be allowed to demonstrate peacefully, for security forces to show restraint. 

I think, as the Secretary‑General said in his remarks yesterday, the people of Lebanon want to be heard.  And, so, it is important that people be allowed to express themselves freely and peacefully.

On Yemen?

Question:  On Yemen, do you have any updates on the political track?  Because we have been hearing a lot of things, and what's your update?

Spokesman:  The work is ongoing.  When Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has something to say, he will raise his head above the water line and will do so, but the work and our efforts are continuing.

Okay.  Yes, Pamela.  The UN press corps can book a virtual tour.  In case you've forgotten what the UN looks like.

Alan, please. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I continue to hear you loud and clear. 

Question:  Great.  I have a couple of questions on Belarus.  Dozens of journalists been detained over there.  So, the authorities now expel part of those journalists.  Part of those journalists is still in detention.  Do you have any comment on such a treatment?

And the second part of question is regarding the main candidate from the opposition.  As far as I understand, she left Belarus today.  So, I recall, I remember that the UN doesn't have the mandate to observe the elections in Belarus, but maybe you have any assessment on such a step by the candidate from the opposition…

Spokesman:  No, we've seen the press report of her departure from Belarus.  I mean, the situation, I can tell you, is being followed very closely.  It's a fast‑developing situation.  I think we're very concerned about the latest reports of violence and escalating violence that we've seen during the protests.  We've seen some very serious, including fatal, injuries, as well as reports of mass detentions and excessive use of force by security forces. 

And I would add that it is essential that journalists, in Belarus and everywhere, be allowed to do their work and conduct their work freely.  Once again, we're calling on the authorities in Belarus to show…  exercise restraint, to ensure respect for human rights, the democratic process, the rule of law.  And citizens, obviously, need to exercise their rights to demonstrate peacefully.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Sorry.  I have two follow‑ups from previous week and a question.  I asked about the…  do you have any language about the young Palestinian woman, Dalia Samoudi, murdered in her house?

Spokesman:  Yes.  On that, I can tell you that our colleagues from the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Jerusalem are aware of the case, and they are looking into it.

Question:  No, I am asking for language that…

Spokesman:  They're trying to gather some facts.  That's what I can…

Question:  Yeah.  The second question I asked before about the detention of the Governor of Jerusalem.  His name is Adnan Ghaith.  He was taken from his home, and he's been there for about three weeks.  So, I also asked about that.  And I have…

Spokesman:  You…  I have nothing on that.  What is your question?

Question:  No, I asked about the position of [Nickolay] Mladenov about the detention of the Governor…

Spokesman:  I need to…  I need to ask.  I have not seen anything on that, but I will ask.  And your…

Question:  My question is about Libya.  On the 8th of this month, I mean, a few days ago, the DPA German agency issued a statement quoting a German official, saying that Germany, Italy and France are monitoring the Mediterranean now to see the…  to see the embargo…  arms embargo in Libya.  And they've identified three companies, one in Germany, one in Kazakhstan and one in Turkey, and two Libyan nationals who are in violation of the arms embargo.  Are you aware of this reports, and can you tell us more about it?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of these particular reports.  If you want to send me the details, I will look into it.

Correspondent:  I will do that.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Pam.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Yes.  So we don't forget the UN building, serious question about the ventilation.  I asked before if the UN has complied with New York State requirements and checked the airflow system within HQ.  What was on the HQ…  what's on the website on the building is a statement that Headquarters will not spread through the ventilation system, given the filtering and airflow capacities, because recirculating air systems does not change the droplets because they fall to the surface one to two metres.  That's old news, and that's been updated. 

Has there been any attempt or efforts that you can describe to check the air filtration system at UN Headquarters since so many countries come into the building?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, I'm not an expert on many things, and AC, whatever, is not one of my off‑the‑top‑of‑my‑head expertise.  I know our colleagues have been working very hard in ensuring that the building is as clean and safe as possible, and that, of course, includes the ventilation system.  But I will speak to them to try to get some information on the exact specs.

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Thank you so much.

Spokesman:  Mr. Vaccara.

Okay.  Edie.  Edie?

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph…

Correspondent:  Sorry.  I had the microphone off.  Not working.

Spokesman:  Edie will yield.  All right.  Go ahead, Stefano. 

Question:  Okay.  So, it's about the Colombia issue that with the Mario Ciapolla's death…  Paciolla's death.  You…  we just heard Foreign Min…  Italian Foreign Minister [Luigi] Di Maio had a conversation yesterday on the phone with the Secretary‑General [Antonio] Guterres, specifically called for this.  He wanted to know how…  practically, he was calling…  no more but probably was more successful than me because I've been asking every day.  I think he was more successful.  So, can you share more about…  I know you release…  I mean, we have a few lines, but can you share anything more on the conversation that the Secretary‑General had with Minister Di Maio on…  and Mario Paciolla? Thank you.

Spokesman:  I'm aware that was one of the issues that was supposed to be brought up, but I have nothing…  no details to share with you, unfortunately.

Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A few follow‑ups on Lebanon.  We've had David Beasley there.  I understand Filippo Grandi is also going to be there.  Is there any chance that we can get to talk to either of them, since…

Spokesman:  We're trying…  we're in touch with Beasley's office, trying to pin him down.  So, we will continue that effort, and we'll be in touch with Filippo, as well. 

Question:  My question is a follow‑up on Belarus.  Is the UN or any senior UN officials talking to the Government at all about the results of these elections, making the figures and the results public, for example, and, you know, expressing the concerns that you raised here today?

Spokesman:  Right.  No, I mean, our public message is very clear.  I have nothing I'm able to share with you at this time on private communications, but our public position is very clear.

Maria Khrenova?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  Edie just asked my question so…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Good.  All right.  Genji?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday in Hong Kong, ten people, including media mogul and an activist, were arrested for alleged breaches of national security law.  Can we have Secretary‑General's reaction to it, please?

Spokesman:  I mean, I would refer to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said…  her office said about expressing her concern about the number…  the arrest of a number of people, including Jimmy Lai.  So, I would refer to what she…  what her office said.

Okay?  Oh, Iftikhar.  Sorry. 

Correspondent:  Steph, I see that your tan has lasted one day, definitely. 

I wanted…

Spokesman:  So has my good mood, yeah.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about your readout about polio campaign…  UN's polio campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Who else is involved in this campaign?  I mean, like, the Gates Foundation is always…

Spokesman:  WHO, obviously, and none of these campaigns can be done without local partners.  So, we rely on local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and, obviously, on the Government in different parts and on local implementing partners.  But we can try to give you a contact for UNICEF to give you more details.

Question:  And, also, I asked yesterday about Karachi situation, where 64 people have died in three days of rain…

Spokesman:  I know.  We asked…  I asked, and I was not successful in getting any information, but I will continue to persevere for you.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Mr. Barada.  Ali?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you.  I have a question about the injured UNIFIL personnel in that explosion and what's the situation now and whether the UN is worried about other allegations about the arms talks and caches near the airport and in the area of operation of UNIFIL.  Are you…  is the UN worried about those allegations?  Are you trying to verify whether they are correct or not correct?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It's very important that, I think, the authorities take a look at any dangerous materiel that may still be unsecured in the area.  That's clear.  We have no mandate to investigate those allegations.  Our focus right now is on the humanitarian end, on making sure that the Lebanese people, refugees and migrants and others who are in Lebanon, get the help they need as quickly as possible.

Question:  Sorry.  A follow‑up.  There are serious allegations that the airport has been used to store some…  store other dangerous material, and the UNIFIL is using that airport, and I wonder whether the UN has taken any precautions.  I know that you…  it is prohibited, kindly speaking, but is the UN taking any precautions to protect its own personnel?

Spokesman:  Well, we do that all the time to make sure that people go in and out of the airport and in and out of the harbour safely as possible.  We always take the security precautions that we need and that we're able to control.

Question:  What's the status of the injured people…?

Spokesman:  I need to get…  I'll get an update for you on that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Seeing no other questions, wish you all a good day, and see you mañana.

Correspondent:  Can I…  sorry.

Spokesman:  Yes, Pam.  Go ahead.

Question:  I did have one last follow‑up.  On a very bigger picture, is the Secretary‑General pleased with the amount of money that has come in for Lebanon? because there have been great efforts, obviously, on…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Come in for?

Question:  Lebanon.

Spokesman:  Look, I think we're, obviously, pleased with the generosity shown by those who have given, and we encourage those who have not and who are able to to do so in the most generous manner. 

Lebanon will need help for quite some time.  The people of Lebanon need help urgently, and we will do whatever we can to support them.

Correspondent:  Stéphane, I asked for a question.  I sent you… 

Spokesman:  Sorry, I didn't see…  I wish I could tell you I'm ignoring you on purpose, but I'm not.  Hey, you're at the UN.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  You're conducting a virtual tour.  You could do a virtual tour for us, Nabil.

Correspondent:  Okay.  You're welcome.  Stay online after the briefing.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  So, my question is about UNIFIL.  The Security Council is discussing the implementation of [resolution] 1701 (2006) today, and we know that the Secretary‑General sent recommendations to the Council on the mandate.  Can you please remind us, what are the main recommendations?  It's important to have them on camera and on record from you, please.

Spokesman:  I understand.  I'll be honest with you.  I don't have them off the top of my head.  So, I will…  I don't…  there are certain things I can try to fake my way through, but I won't do it on that.  So, you've caught me coming…  it's my second day back, and I can't tell you that I've reread those recommendations in the last 24 hours.

Question:  Okay.  Another last question…

Spokesman:  So, not important.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  The last question is about the ammonium that exploded in the Port of Beirut.  It does not fit in the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) mandate.  I asked Farhan [Haq] about this last week, and he said it's not part of the chemical weapons that the OPCW controls or regulates.

Spokesman:  That's correct.

Question:  So, do you…  does the Secretary‑General…  because of the scope of the explosion and how dangerous these materials are…  especially that they are used in several industries, in agriculture, et cetera, so, does the Secretary‑General see that there is a need to regulate the use of these…

Spokesman:  Well, I think…  let me say this, and I hope I'm not wrong, but, obviously, these are elements in chemicals that are used in everyday…  especially in agriculture.  They have another use.  We've seen the devastating and terrifying use of these compounds in many places around the world, sadly, where they're used in bombs, but they are also used…  very much used in agriculture. 

It's very important…  and I think most countries have regulations on how to handle this, on how to sell these.  What's important is that regulations be respected and, most importantly, is that safety, basic safety concerns be respected in handling very volatile chemical compounds. 

As the Secretary‑General said, it's important that there needs to be a transparent and credible inquiry into this, but this is… this appears to be an issue of not properly handling these very, very dangerous substances.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you so much.

Spokesman:  All right.  Anybody else?  Nope?  Okay. 

Nabil, enjoy the UN.

All right.  Take care.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.