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13 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.  I am really sorry for this delay.  We will get under way in a few seconds if you just give me… if my computer decides to work.  We will get under way.

All right.  Good afternoon.  Again, apologies for all this delay.

**Lebanon

I just want to start with an update on our UN’s response to humanitarian needs in Lebanon following last week’s blasts in Beirut.

A mobile health clinic run by UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) [is] providing medicines and health services to those most in need.  More than 2,000 people are receiving medication for acute and chronic conditions.

Hundreds more have received first aid services and psychosocial support.  A dedicated helpline is being established for timely response to requests for assistance.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has facilitated the logistics and distribution of 10,000 tetanus vaccines, 42 emergency kits and emergency drugs to primary health-care centres in need.

Some 5,000 female hygiene kits have been provided to impacted women and girls, following a UNICEF rapid needs assessment.  UNICEF is also providing food and water, along with clothes and detergents, to 700 children, as well as their caregivers.

And the container terminal at Beirut’s Port has re-commenced operations on 10 August at approximately 30 per cent capacity. The first ships have already docked, and the offloading of wheat is under way.  The capacity at the Beirut Port is expected to increase over the coming week.

A World Food Programme (WFP) shipment of 17,500 metric tons of wheat flour is due to arrive by 20 August.

**South Sudan

And also, as promised, we have an update from our peacekeeping colleagues on the situation in Tonj in South Sudan.

A patrol from the UN Mission (UNMISS) arrived in Tonj on Tuesday evening, following clashes over the weekend between the South Sudan’s People’s Defence Forces and local youth.  Dozens of people were reportedly killed.

The UN Mission says that the security situation is calm although tensions remain high.  Peacekeepers met with local officials and military leaders, including the commander of the disarmament forces, as well as with community members and youth groups.

Peacekeepers set up a temporary operating base to help deter further violence and are supporting local reconciliation efforts.

They are also trying to make their way from Tonj to Romich, which is the village that was reportedly worst hit by the violence.  Unfortunately, the road to Romich is currently impassable due to heavy flooding.  The Mission is also trying to launch an air patrol instead.

Also, on South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a response is under way to help 26,000 people in Bor impacted by flooding along the Nile River.  The total number of people who have fled to Bor to escape flooding and conflict is now around 53,000.

The UN Mission has sent engineering troops and the World Food Programme has sent supplies to repair damaged levees, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency have donated more than 10,000 sandbags.

Yesterday, OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) — together with the Government, donors, and our partners — visited Bor and Pibor, to see the affected areas and to meet with authorities and people impacted by floods.  Food, health, water and sanitation, hygiene, livelihoods support and protection, among others, have been identified as the main needs.

**Central African Republic

Now turning to the Central African Republic.

In a joint statement, by the so-called group of G5, which brings together the UN, Member States and international institutions that are partners of the Central African Republic — in a statement, they have expressed their concerns at reports of obstruction of voter registration, as well as threats and assault of members of the national elections’ authority by armed groups who are signatories of the peace agreement.

They also noted with concern the allegations of fraud related to the voter registration process and stressed that free, fair and credible elections can only take place if all citizens have confidence in the integrity and transparency of the process.

The G5 is calling on the signatories of the peace agreement to publicly reaffirm their support for the elections scheduled later this year, and to facilitate every step leading to them.

**COVID-19 — Haiti

In Haiti, as part of the country’s COVID-19 response, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) tell us that they have trained more than 2,800 community health workers to support the Ministry of Health.  The health workers have also been equipped with personal protective equipment and communication support such as megaphones.

In addition to this, PAHO has met with community leaders, including voodoo priests, catholic priests, pastors, and traditional birth attendants, to help them share accurate information about the virus and treatment centres.  The agency said that this outreach is crucial to reach isolated communities, as well as those who believe in traditional medicine.  Innovative measures developed during the country’s fight against cholera are also being used to tackle the pandemic.

For example, field nurses from the “Labomoto” programme — a testing initiative in which nurses on motorcycles travelled to isolated communities to ensure the sampling and transportation of suspected cholera cases to labs for testing — have now been deployed to help carry out testing of suspected COVID-19 cases in hard-to-reach areas.

**COVID-19 — Sanitation

And a new report released today by the UN Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization shows that 43 per cent of schools around the world lacked access to basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019.

According to the report, 818 million children lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools.  This puts them at increased risk of COVID-19 and other transmittable diseases.  In the least developed countries, half of schools lack basic sanitation and water services.

The report stresses that Governments seeking to control the spread of the virus must balance the need for implementation of public health measures versus the associated social and economic impacts of lockdown measures.

**Tunisia

The World Food Programme — in cooperation with the Tunisian Ministries of Agriculture and Education — has started its first ever cash transfers in Tunisia.  The three-month initiative is designed to help more than 530 families whose children are no longer receiving school meals, because their schools are closed as a result of the pandemic.

**Resident Coordinators

And we have two new Resident Coordinators to welcome, the first in Costa Rica and the second in Morocco.  Their appointments follow confirmations from the respective Governments.

Maria del Pilar Baiocchi of Italy will serve as the Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica, and Sylvia Lopez-Ekra of Côte d’Ivoire will now be the new Resident Coordinator in Morocco.  With the current travel restrictions, they will work remotely until they are able to join their respective duty stations.

As you know, resident coordinators work to boost the development coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes, as they also mobilize resources to support Government and local partners on the COVID-19 response, activating the UN’s full capacity on all fronts.

This is fundamental to supporting countries in this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We are also proud to announce that we remain with full gender parity among all our resident coordinators serving in 162 countries and territories.  The biographies of the two newest resident coordinators are online.

**Thérèse Gastaut

Sadly, I have to end with some sad news.  For those of us who have been here for some time, you will remember our dear colleague Thérèse Gastaut.  She sadly passed away last night.

A former Spokeswoman for the UN in Geneva, she ably served the United Nations for 37 years and had held positions in the Department of Public Information in New York, Geneva and Brussels.

Thérèse had the UN in her blood and in her heart.  I often benefited from her advice and guidance, and we will all miss her terribly.

**Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we will be joined by Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly and hopefully David Beasley, but that is not yet guaranteed.

I think you may have some questions for me, if I can get my computer to work and if I can get my glasses to work.  We will go to our chat.

**Questions and Answers

Iftikhar and then Edie.

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

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Iftikhar.

Question:  Any com… reaction to President [Donald] Trump’s announcement in Washington about the re‑establishment of… or establishment of a diplomatic relation between Israel and UAE (United Arab Emirates)?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We have… I’m sorry.  I’m just… I’m having really a lot of computer problems today, with my apologies.

Yes, of course.  We have just seen, in fact, the joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  The Secretary‑General welcomes any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region.  But I expect to have a much more formal and longer statement on this important event a bit later on this afternoon.

Question:  A follow‑up.  Was the Secretary‑General kept informed of this development?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any information to share with you on that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  First, I would also like to pay tribute to Thérèse Gastaut, who was a terrific communicator, not only in Geneva but for many of the major UN conferences and here in New York as the UN’s Director of Strategic Communications.  As Steph said, she loved the UN and what it stands for, and she spent nearly four decades promoting and trying to achieve its goals.  Rest in peace, my friend.

My question actually was Iftikhar’s question, but I have another question.  On Lebanon, the US has said that Lebanon has asked the U… the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) to take part in the investigation of the explosion at Beirut’s port, and I wonder whether Lebanon had made any overtures to the United Nations for help.

Spokesman:  As far as I’m aware, as of now, there’s been no formal requests for assistance from the UN.  And, again, I think it’s important that the Lebanese conduct a very thorough and transparent investigation.  And, obviously, there are… they can ask for help from whomever they choose.

Toby?

Question:  Hi there, Steph.  Thank you very much.  So, the [United States] Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo, speaking in Czech Republic, said that he is working with our friends… our UN friends to protect UN bodies from CCP (Chinese Communist Party) “malign influence”.  I’m just wondering if there’s any formal coordination between the Secretariat and the US about “malign influence” from the CCP and also if you… if the Secretary believes that malign influence from the CCP is a problem at the UN.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I have absolutely no comment on those statements.

All right.  Maria Khrenova.  Maria?

Correspondent:  Yeah, I have [inaudible] as well.

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  I have some issues with my computer as well, thanks.

So, the question on Belarus, I just… yeah, I’m still relatively new in the UN so I will allow myself probably a stupid question, but while United Nations comment on some elections, like in Haiti, why you don’t comment on the elections in Belarus and whether there could be any frauds or not?  And also taking into account the continuous protests and escalating, I would say, situation in Belarus, does Secretary‑General consider to get [inaudible] with Belarus authorities?

Spokesman:  Okay.  You’re breaking up a little bit, but I think I get the gist of your question.  A couple of things.  One, on a procedural matter, you know, we’re not going to comment on the technical aspect of elections we’re not… we’ve not been involved in, right, whether it’s observers or any other technical support.  There are a lot of places where we offer technical assistance, coordination of observers.  There are places where we have special political missions, peacekeeping missions, where our involvement is much greater.

That being said, I think the Secretary‑General has expressed his concern about the crackdown.  I would also point to you the very strong statement issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, which the Secretary‑General stands fully behind.  It is important that people be allowed to demonstrate peacefully, to express themselves peacefully.

I don’t know if you noticed, but I think yesterday or a few days or… the days go by all too quickly, but I think it was on Tuesday, in fact, the Secretary‑General tweeted out the following statement, referring back to his [Nelson] Mandela Day message, where he said, “There should be no prisoners of conscience in the 21st Century” and everyone should be able to express their political views freely.  And this applies to many situations around the world when we’re seeing the civic space shrink, so to speak.

Question:  Can I follow up?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Yeah.  I saw the statements, and of course, they are quite strong, and I totally agree.  But my question was about delivering the statement directly, not through Twitter or other means… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Right.  I don’t have anything to share with you at this point on political contacts between us and the authorities in Belarus.

Gloria?

Question:  Lebanon, which is not the UN, has been under torturous attack by protesters, signs on their windows, bottles thrown at the consul general.  What about the UN Mission?  Has there been a problem there?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of any violence against the UN Mission.  And, again, whether it’s in Beirut or Minsk or anywhere else, people should be allowed to demonstrate freely to express their feelings and their anger, and it’s very clear that the Lebanese people are angry.

Question:  Yes, but against the UN officials, it sounds like… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of any demonstrations against any UN officials in Beirut.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you, all.  We shall see each other tomorrow.

And I do… as I mentioned, I expect two things this afternoon.  One is a statement on UAE and Israel and a second, we hope to have a note to correspondents with some more detailed background on the situation involving the tanker off the coast of Yemen.

Okay.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.