21 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.

It’s Friday, so maybe with your indulgence we will start again.

**Secretary-General on Victims of Terrorism

This morning, the Secretary-General said that the third commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism takes place while the world is in turmoil.  Vital services for victims, such as criminal justice processes and psychological support, have been interrupted, delayed or ended while Governments focus their attention and resources on fighting the pandemic.  This includes the first UN Global Congress of Victims of Terrorism, which has been postponed to next year because of the virus.  Despite that, the Secretary-General said, it is important to keep a spotlight on important issues.

He said the UN will continue to support Member States’ efforts to draft and adopt legislations and national strategies to help victims, adding a call to move forward on the establishment of a voluntarily funded programme to support Member States to provide long-term, durable assistance to victims.  Victims should remind us every day of the importance of our counter-terrorism efforts, he concluded.  Let us put in place measures that uphold their rights to justice, protection, support and rehabilitation, so they can rebuild their lives better, he said.  Also speaking at the conference was Mr. Voronkov, the Under Secretary-General and head of the counter-terrorism department.


Our colleagues in Mali report that, yesterday evening, a team of un human rights officials from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) gained access to President Keita, as well as other detainees, held by the mutineers since Tuesday.  The Mission continues to closely monitor the situation and reports that Bamako remains relatively calm, with no major security incidents, despite the ongoing rally in support of the recent days’ events.  The Mission reports that the CNSP — which is the Comité National pour le Salut du Peuple — has ordered Mali’s borders to be reopened, including the airport.  Two UN flights took off today.  We repeat our call to reject violence, to respect the rule of law and to preserve the rights of all Malians, including those of the President and the senior Government officials who remain in detention.

And now, turning to the situation in northern Mali, the Mission reports that intercommunal riots and looting took place in Gao overnight.  Peacekeepers are on high alert as they patrol the city.  The Mission is also reinforcing its good offices and meeting community leaders to prevent an escalation of violence.  And we have an update on the incident that we mentioned yesterday.  We can confirm that the MINUSMA logistics convoy hit by an improvised explosive device in the Gao region, and came under attack by unidentified assailants.  Four UN peacekeepers were injured, but others successfully repelled the attack and the Mission was able to successfully carry out medical evacuations for the injured.

**Lebanon — Humanitarian

Turning to Lebanon, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the first shipment of 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour from the World Food Programme (WFP) was offloaded at the port in the Beirut [today].  The shipment will help to stabilize national bread prices and supplies.  WFP has also distributed food for some 3,600 people.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed 25 metric tons of personal protective equipment to 25 hospitals receiving both trauma and COVID-19 cases in Beirut and surrounding areas.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has distributed more than 2,500 shelter kits.  For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners are engaging more than 1,100 young people, including Palestinian [volunteers], to clean and rehabilitate homes.

A quick funding update for you:  as of today, the $565 million appeal for Lebanon is 8 per cent funded, with a total of $43 million received.  This amount is likely to increase as Member States continue to report their contributions.  Our friend, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has just wrapped up a four-day visit to Lebanon.  He reaffirmed UNHCR’s immediate support to the more than 100,000 people who were severely impacted by the blasts in Beirut.  During his visit, he saw the devastating impact of the blast and met with Lebanese and refugee families.  He also called on the international community to continue their generous support and stand by the people of Lebanon at this trying time.

**Lebanon — Peacekeeping

And one more item for you on Lebanon, this time to show our peacekeepers are helping to address the COVID-19 pandemic and help people in the wake of the explosions.  Peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon have donated four ventilators to intensive care and pulmonology units in public hospitals in Tyre in south Lebanon.  And 100 peacekeepers have donated blood for the victims of the explosions.  The initiative, organized in coordination with the Lebanese Red Cross, seeks to address gaps in blood supplies.  There was a similar event last week in the Mission’s headquarters, during which nearly 100 other peacekeepers also donated their blood.


Turning to Yemen, we are told that we along with our partners are unanimous in saying that we can and are delivering principled aid across Yemen, despite the challenges.  The biggest problems that aid agencies are now facing is the lack of funds.  The Acting Deputy Relief Coordinator for the UN, Ramesh Rajasingham, warned the Security Council this week that key humanitarian programmes are shutting down because of lack of funds.  As you will recall, Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator made a similar appeal later in the week.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen is only 21 per cent funded out of $3.38 billion requested — the lowest funding level ever, this late in the year.  Much of this gap is due to the decreases in support from Yemen’s neighbours in the Gulf.  We call on all donors to pay outstanding pledges immediately and call on those who did not pledge, or pledged less than last year, to increase their support.

Staying in that country, UNHCR said today that some 300,000 people in the country have lost their homes, crops, livestock and personal belongings in the last three months due to torrential rains and severe flash floods.  Among those who are newly displaced are people who already had to flee due to conflict and who are once again having to rebuild their lives and communities.  More online on UNHCR’s website.


A quick Ebola update for you on the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Equateur Province.  The number of cases of Ebola there have now reached 100, including 43 people who have died.  The cases have also spread from the city of Mbandaka to 11 of the province’s 17 health zones.  Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, said that with 100 Ebola cases in fewer than 100 days, the outbreak in the Equateur Province is evolving in a very concerning way.  WHO says the outbreak presents significant logistical challenges.  It can take days to reach affected populations, with responders and supplies often having to traverse areas without roads and requiring long periods of river boat travel.  Most of the responders have been mobilized locally under the leadership of the Congolese Government.  There are currently 90 WHO experts on the ground, as well as experts from other 20 partner organizations.  Since the beginning of the outbreak, WHO has supported the vaccination of more than 22,000 people at high risk.  Despite these efforts, WHO said the response is underfunded and there is a critical need for additional support.

**Burkina Faso

We have another update from Burkina Faso.  According to new estimates, about 3.3 million people are currently facing acute food insecurity.  This is an increase of more than 50 per cent since March.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are calling for urgent action.  Two provinces in the Sahel region — Oudalan and Soum — have been driven into the emergency phase of food insecurity.  Some 3 per cent of people in these northern areas are said to be experiencing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity.  They face extreme food consumption gaps, also resulting in alarming levels of malnutrition.  While urgent life‑saving humanitarian assistance is needed to address immediate needs, the agencies says, longer-term investment in rural livelihoods and social services are also essential — especially so they can help reinforce social cohesion and contribute to peace.

**South Sudan — COVID-19

And a quick update from South Sudan, where our peacekeepers there continue to help local authorities in their fight against the virus.  We have donated 6,000 face masks to internally displaced people at the protection of civilians site in Malakal and other locations.  Together with our partners, the Mission also commissioned the local production of large numbers of face masks to be given to displaced people and others in need.

**Latin America

Turning to Latin America, a new survey released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that almost 60 per cent of those intending to migrate decided to postpone or cancel their plans due to the pandemic.  In addition, over 20 per cent of those already living as migrants are considering returning to their country of origin as soon as their economic conditions or the health measures adopted by their countries allow them to do so.  About half of all migrants in Central America and Mexico lost jobs due to the pandemic.  More than 1,600 people participated in this survey, which was launched in June to measure and understand the impact of the pandemic on migration plans.  The survey also found that four out of 10 migrants with jobs saw their working hours cut or had wages reduced due to the virus.  Okay.  Apologies again for the technical issues, but let's see if we have any questions, which I'm sure we do.  Okay.  Toby?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I wasn't first in the queue.  But, my question is, does the Secretary‑General view today as day one for the sanctions snapback process beginning?

Spokesman:  Look, the interpretation of the resolution of the timeline is… sorry.  You're, you're break… are you still speaking?  I can't hear you.

Correspondent:  Nope, I'm not.  Go ahead.

Spokesman:  Okay, sorry.  The interpretation of the resolution of the timeline is up to Security Council members.  The Security Council members will need to interpret their own resolution.  All right, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have a question about Libya.  As I'm sure you've read, Libya's UN‑supported government announced a ceasefire across the country today and called for demilitarizing the strategic city of Sirte, and that initiative was supported by the rival parliament in the east.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction?

Spokesman:  Yes, we very much welcome this development.  It was also welcomed by Stephanie Williams, our Acting Special Representative.  And I'm waiting, we should, I was expecting a statement, but we'll have something more official very shortly.  Okay, Maria.

Question:  Hi, Steph, everyone.  Thank you.  So, I have a question regarding the meeting between SG and Mr. Pompeo yesterday, as I saw a tweet from the US Secretary of State about the meeting, where he's saying — sorry, I wanted to read it directly — where he's saying that they discussed the actions which SG must take after… post-snapback.  So, I wonder what, according, first of all, I wonder what they think about the wording, because covering a lot of bilaterals, I didn't see it, when one party says to another what they must do.  And according to US, what… what is SG part in [inaudible] SG… which actions SG should take?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General, as you know and as we told you, met Secretary of State Pompeo.  The Secretary of State delivered to the Secretary‑General a letter regarding resolution 2231 (2015) concerning the implementation of the resolution.  We gave that letter to the Security Council presidency, which was then circulated.  As for the rest, again, I'll repeat what I just told, what I just told Toby, which is, it's for the Security Council members themselves to interpret their own resolutions.  It's not the Secretary‑General.

Correspondent:  Yes, but according to the tweet, United States clearly expects some actions from Secretary‑General.  So, I just wonder what actions they expect.

Spokesman:  Well, I think you will have to ask them what they expect, but I can only say, for us, the Security Council needs to interpret its own resolutions.  Abdelhamid, and then Margaret, which I think I skipped.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In fact, Edith read my mind and then asked the same question I was preparing to ask you, but since I have the floor now, I will ask you about the rising tension in Gaza.  For the last couple of days, there have been bombing by Israel the… of Gaza Strip.  The Palestinian resistance will respond with fire kites.  Is Mr. Mladenov involved in trying to calm things down and talk to the parties?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, we're very much, not only aware, but I think we're concerned by the increased violence that we're seeing in Gaza and in southern Israel.  The launching of indiscriminate rockets, mortars, incendiary devices by Palestinian militants into Israel must immediately cease.  We also urge Israel to exercise restraint in responding to these incidents.  Israel's ban on fuel entering Gaza via Kerem Shalom, including donor‑funded fuel for humanitarian purposes, needs to be immediately reversed.  As you know, there's only one power plant in Gaza, and it's shutting down its turbines.  So, we've seen reports of less than four hours of electricity available to many parts of Gaza, and that is of particular concern to us about the impact that this reduced electricity supply will have on health facilities, on schools, and also on conditions at some of the quarantine centres at the Rafah crossings.  These UN‑supported centres are a critical element to the efforts to prevent an outbreak of COVID‑19 in the strip.  The Special Coordinator, Mr. Mladenov, is working with all sides right now to try to ease tensions and, more, most importantly, to prevent further escalation that may endanger the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike and would only deepen the already critical humanitarian situation in Gaza.  I skipped a couple of people on my list.  Margaret and then Evelyn.

Question:  Okay.  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Question:  Okay.  Hi.  So, following up on Maria's question, then, did the Secretary‑General tell Secretary Pompeo that the Security Council must interpret their own resolutions, because he specifically said he gave him actions.  So, can you clarify?

Spokesman:  I think, the Secretary‑General's position is pretty clear.  It's the same in public and in private, and it's been [inaudible] for quite some time at the UN.

Question:  That's it?  I have one more if… on Mr. Keita, President Keita, what was his condition?  I don't see anything on the MINUSMA website further…?

Spokesman:  No, I have no… all I… the information we have is we were able to go and see him, which is good, but I have nothing to share on his condition.

Question:  Could you try and get some more for us on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.  Evelyn?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  While we're all very preoccupied with Iran and its desire to re-arm, meanwhile, the UAE has received an arms supply from the United States.  And Saudi Arabia is planning a nuclear reactor.  Has the Secretary‑General reacted to any of that?

Spokesman:  Look, we've seen the report of the various arms sales.  I mean, as a matter, I have no specific comment on those developments.  Okay.  I'm having a little trouble with my computer today.  Michelle?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Sorry to harp on this, but it is Iran, Iran, Iran all the time.  Has any country asked the Office of Legal Affairs for an opinion on whether the US can trigger a snapback?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any request.

Question:  And would they grant such a request if it was made?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into hypotheticals.  We get requests all the time.  We try to fulfil them as much as possible, but… which doesn't change the bottom line.  For us, it's that it's… the interpretation of Security Council resolutions is the job of Security Council members.

Question:  And just one quick follow‑up, just to have another go on previous questions asked by my colleagues, what did Pompeo ask the Secretary‑General to do?

Spokesman:  I think you'll have to ask the Secretary of State's office to give you, to tell you what he asked.  Mr. Iftikhar Ali, and then we'll go to Ibtisam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As time is running out, do you have any update on the situation of this oil tanker off the Yemen coast?

Spokesman:  No, we’re very much aware of the clock, kind of a clock ticking, but we… we're continuing our discussions with all the relevant authorities, and as soon as we have something to share with you, we will.  Ibtisam, and then Mr. Sato.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, I had a question on Iran, but, a technical one, but before that, something struck me in your statement regarding Gaza, Palestine and Israel.  So, you said you, you said that Palestinians should practise… the actions from Gaza should immediately cease.  And then, in the same sentence almost, you said that Israelis should practise maximum pressure regarding their attacks in Gaza.  So…

Spokesman:  Maximum restraint.

Question:  Maximum restraint, sorry.  So, don't you think that their action also should immediately cease?

Spokesman:  We would like to see the cycle of violence, this current cycle of violence, end, and we call on the parties to do whatever they can to reach that goal.

Question:  Okay.  So, my question on Iran is, then, a technical one, if you want.  What exactly is the role of the Secretary‑General?  Why is… so, his role only just to get the proposal from another, the letter, sorry, from Mr. Pom… Secretary of State Pompeo and then to circulate it to the Security Council?

Spokesman:  That is a big… I mean, that is part of the responsibilities of the Secretariat in general, is to make sure that the documents are circulated, that we receive letters — and we receive letters all the time — with a request to be circulated as documents, and that is being done.  The Secretary‑General has responsibilities in terms of [resolution] 2231 (2015), reporting responsibilities, which he has lived up to.  But, on the questions of the interpretation of actions, that is up to the Security Council.

Question:  So, the foll… if I may, a follow‑up.  We know and from all the comments from the different, the two different parties that the Security Council is not united in this issue.  So, what's… from your office point of view, what should happen next?  What is the role of the Secretary‑General in this case?

Spokesman:  Well, they… we would hope that Security Council members engage in a substantive and productive discussion, but I can't read the future.  This development, as we know, just happened.  Let's, we can only take it one day at a time.  Mr. Sato, and then Gloria.

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

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, that is just… the size of that mug, Ibtisam, just… I don't know how much you have in there.  Sorry, Sato.  Go ahead.

Question:  [Inaudible] small square in my computer but… my question is about logistics.  Next Monday, UN Headquarters coming into the phase 2, which they go up capacity of 40 per cent.  So, do you expect many more staffs come back to the UN, or still most of the keep… most of them, they keep teleworking?

Spokesman:  I think it will depend.  That is a ceiling.  Obviously, staff who are able to still come… who are, for whatever reason — and those could be health reasons, those could be childcare reasons, transportation issues — that will need to continue to work from home will continue to work from home.  We're trying to re‑open slowly with keeping in mind all the constraints that we all face… all of us face, at this particular junction.  Just to give you a head's up, we will, next Wednesday and Thursday, we will try to have, to test out hybrid in‑person briefings.  So, I expect to be in the briefing room Wednesday and Thursday for… to answer questions from you in‑person if you're there.  There's, obviously, a limited capacity in the briefing room.  I think Tal will have the information on exactly how many people can come in.  And I will be able to take questions both in‑person and through the WebEx.  We're just… I wanted to test it out, as I think that will become the norm starting in September when we do expect to be a bit… be… for… at least for my office to be in the building at a slightly higher level, not fully, but a slightly higher level.  Gloria, please.

Question:  Yes.  As press, I get these questions all the time.  How can the various international corporations that have overflow of their manufacturing products — food, clothing, health care, vintage hospital equipment — what department in the UN should they contact?  With the UN so closed down, the various foundations you could contact, there's silence, unfortunately.

Spokesman:  No, I mean, UN Foundation is very much working, and they're our biggest partner with the public sector.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  Okay.  Dulcie.  Dulcie?  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  So back to Iran, please, did the Secretary‑General share information from this meeting with the Security Council members?

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General has been… is in regular touch with members of the Security Council.  Whether or not he had specific debriefs with… about the meeting with Mr. Pompeo, I doubt he did.  But, I… as you also know, the Secretary of State met with the President of the Security Council yesterday.  So, one would assume information would flow from there, as well.

Question:  Oh, okay.  Also, did Pompeo talk to the Secretary‑General about the possibility of President Trump coming on 21 September to the UN to speak?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that that was raised by the Secretary of State.

Question:  Okay.  It would be great if we could just get some vague idea of what they talked about besides…?

Spokesman:  Well, they… that was the main point of the conversation.

Question:  What?  What was…?

Spokesman:  …was… was resolution 2231 (2015) and for the Secretary of State to deliver [inaudible].  Maria, did you have another question?

Correspondent:  It was asked.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It was asked.  Excellent.  Probably not answered, but at least it was asked.  Okay.  Anybody else have any questions? Excellent.  Have a great weekend, and see you all Monday.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.