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24 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.

Apologies for making you wait.  Happy Monday, because it is Monday and we have no choice.

**Counter-Terrorism

This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for the UN Office of Counter‑Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, briefed Security Council members on the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of UN efforts of Member States in countering the threat.  He said that in conflict zones, the threat of Da’esh has increased, as evidenced by ISIL’s regrouping and increasing activity in Iraq and Syria.  However, in non-conflict zones, the threat appears to have decreased in the short term.  Measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19, such as lockdowns and restrictions on movement, seem to have reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in many countries.  Mr. Voronkov said the pandemic’s impact on recruitment and fundraising activities remains unclear, as its socioeconomic fallout could exacerbate conditions conducive to terrorism and increase the medium- to long-term threat, both within the outside and inside conflict zones.  Meanwhile, there is no clear indication of a change in ISIL’s strategic direction under its new leaders.  He stressed that decisive action is required from Member States on humanitarian, human rights and security grounds and reiterated that the United Nations system stands ready to support their efforts in this regard.  Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate also briefed Council members.

**Mali

On Mali, I can tell you we are, of course, continuing to follow very closely the situation in that country especially following mediation efforts being led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) delegation which, those efforts are reportedly focused, among other issues, on the modalities of the transition.  On the ground, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), reports that, on 22 August, the ECOWAS delegation had a number of individual meetings, including with UN peacekeeping officials.  MINUSMA reiterates the UN’s support to the ECOWAS mediation efforts and updated the delegation on the UN activities since 18 August.  The Mission continues to work with all stakeholders in support of a negotiated solution.

**Tourism

The next in the series of the Secretary-General’s Policy Briefs on the impact of COVID-19 will be published shortly just a few minutes after midnight New York time.  This latest Policy Brief provides an overview of the socioeconomic impacts from the pandemic on tourism, including on the millions of livelihoods it sustains.  It highlights the role that tourism plays in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, including its relationship with environmental goals and culture.  The Brief calls on the urgency of mitigating the impacts on livelihoods, especially for women and youth in the informal sectors.

**Syria

And on Syria, as you will have seen, the Special Envoy’s Office has received confirmation that three members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee’s Small Body have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.  Following a constructive first meeting, this session of the Constitutional Committee is currently on hold.  Members of the Committee were tested before they travelled to Geneva and again upon arrival.  Mask wearing and social distancing measures were in place when the Committee met at the Palais des Nations today.  Having informed the Swiss authorities and the UN Office in Geneva immediately measures have been taken consistent with protocols to mitigate any risks, and tracing of anyone who may have been in close contact with the affected persons is under way.

**Libya — Humanitarian

We have a humanitarian update for you on Libya, where we remain concerned about a possible humanitarian disaster should the continued escalation and mobilization around Sirte lead to military operations.  The lives of more than 125,000 people in and around Sirte remain at great risk.  Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers continue to attempt to cross the Mediterranean, at great risk to their lives.  Last week, at least 45 people, including 5 children, drowned in the worst shipwreck reported so far this year, when the vessel’s engine exploded off the coast of Zwara.  We reiterate the joint statement issued by our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urging States to review their approaches in search-and-rescue operations at sea.  More than 6,700 migrants and refugees who tried to flee Libya have been intercepted or rescued and returned so far this year.  COVID-19 cases in Libya continue to increase exponentially, with more than 11,000 cases and nearly 200 deaths as of yesterday.  While confirmed cases are now higher in the west, particularly around Tripoli and Misrata, a larger proportion of the people in the South have been affected.

Capacity for testing, tracing and treatment of people remains extremely low across the country and there are shortages of equipment and supplies all over.  Fuel shortages and electricity cuts of more than 18 hours a day are making living conditions even worse.  Health facilities have also suffered from electricity cuts, forcing some to temporarily suspend operations.  Access for aid workers continues to be a challenge, which is compounded by the pandemic and virus restriction measures.  We along with our partners are supporting authorities’ response to the virus by providing supplies and personal protection equipment.  We have also reached more than 243,000 people with humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the year, including 66,000 internally displaced people and 58,000 migrants and refugees.

**Libya

Excuse me, you will have seen that late on Friday we issued a statement on Libya in which the Secretary-General said he welcomed the call for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities in Libya, which were announced in separate statements by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh.  The Secretary-General hopes the calls for a ceasefire will be respected immediately by armed forces from both sides and that its implementation will be taken up quickly within the UN-facilitated 5+5 Joint Military discussions.

**Haiti

Turning to Haiti, Tropical Storm Laura passed the country yesterday causing heavy rains, strong winds and dangerous sea conditions.  We, along with NGOs and governmental partners are already on the ground to respond and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is supporting the Government-led efforts to coordinate potential evaluation missions to the most impacted areas.  Nine fatalities were reported, 2 people are missing, and 35 people have been evacuated.  Preliminary reports indicate that numerous houses were flooded, destroyed or damaged and some roads were blocked; telecommunications have also been affected.

**Mauritius

I have an update for you on the oil spill off the coast of Mauritius.  As you know, the Resident Coordinator there, Christine Umutoni, is bringing together various UN entities to support the Government’s response.  Today, the group of regional UN entities launched a $2.5 million recovery fund to support national efforts.  Those efforts focus on women, men and children whose livelihoods have been impacted by the oil spill, especially the fishing community.  The UN Regional Directors for Eastern and Southern Africa have also pooled an initial $250,000 to kick-start this fund, which was launched during a meeting between President Roopun of Mauritius and the Regional Director for IOM for Southern Africa, Charles Kwenin, and that was done on behalf of the regional group.  Also, today, the rear part of the ship — which had split in two — has reportedly sunk, and despite the sustained winds, the oil clean-up continues.

**Philippines

The UN team in the Philippines, led by the Resident Coordinator there, Gustavo Gonzalez, has strongly condemned the attack today on one of the Philippines’s southern islands, with preliminary reports saying dozens of people have been killed and more than 70 wounded.  The UN team expressed its deep condolences to the Government and the affected communities and wishes a speedy recovery for all those injured.  And I think I that is actually it from me, so let's go to the chat.  And… bear with me two seconds.  I apologize, it's Monday.  Okay, Nizar, you have a question?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Hope you are hearing me.  Stéphane, first of all, what's the situation regarding Al‑Hasakah, who is denying water to the whole city for weeks now?  And I understand that there was some communication between the Secretary‑General and the Syrian Ambassador about that, and Mr. Guterres has promised to do some mediation in this regard.  Has he done anything?  Has he been in touch with the Turkish authorities?

Spokesman:  I will check on you.  I'm not… I will check.  I expect to have an update for you a bit later.

Question:  About the terrorist attack today on the gas pipelines supplying Syria's power stations, do you have any statement on that?

Spokesman:  No, of course, I mean, listen, we… what we do know is that there was an explosion.  We, obviously, we, as UN, have no… I don't have any update as to exactly what happened, but should this be a deliberate attack on civilian infrastructure, it is something that we will condemn and that we have condemned in the past, whether it's on natural gas facilities, on water, access to electricity.

Question:  One more question regarding Lebanon.  There was a lot of complaint by many organizations in Lebanon about the distribution of aid, which is not going through the State, of course, as you well know.  The NGOs are arbitrarily distributing the aid.  People who have been struck by the explosion, 20 days now, have… still have not been visited by assess… for assessment, at least, let alone being given any aid.  I know that OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] has been distributing some, but many people are still starving.  Some of them are starving, especially the elderly, who has seen their houses destroyed.  They haven't been given any aid.

Spokesman:  I mean, listen, if your correspondents have information, we will put them in touch with our local OCHA officials.  It's obviously important that everyone who needs aid gets aid regardless of who they are, where they live or… or any other distinctions.

Question:  Does that include the refugees and foreigners [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, I think we were very clear that anyone who needs aid, regardless of their status, whether they be a refugee, a migrant, whether they are legally in the country or not, needs to get aid.  Okay.  Any other questions?

Correspondent:  Steph, I had a question…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Edie, and then Abdelhamid.  Go ahead.

Question:  My question is on Libya.  The… Haftar's people have dismissed the ceasefire proposal by the Government, calling it a deception.  His spokesman said yesterday that the proposal represents nothing but throwing dust in eyes and deceiving the local and international public, and that was a quote.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Look, it is clearly extremely important that all the parties involved work on the same basis, and that is for a ceasefire, cessation of military activities, for the good of the Libyan people themselves.  I mean, I think I've just read out a rather comprehensive humanitarian update, which underscores a very dire situation.  And that situation is dire, among other things, because of the continuing fighting, the continuing risk of escalation, especially around Sirte.  It is important that, whether it's the Libyan National Army or others, the Government of National Accord, that they all the work together with the UN, within the UN-facilitated 5+5 Joint Military Commission, to put a halt to the fighting for the good of the Libyan people.  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up on the Libyan issue.  I want to ask if Ms. Stephanie Williams is following up with the initiative that the UN had issued about welcoming the declaration of the two ceasefire from both sides and she said she would secure this armed region between Sirte and Ras Lanuf, that’s the Oil Crescent.  Is she trying to…?

Spokesman:  I mean, she… yes, our work and her work very much continues and is in touch with all the relevant parties.

Question:  And my second question — I might missed it — do you have any comment on the suspension of the Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva? If I missed it, I apologize.

Spokesman:  No, I… we did.  We put out the Note to Correspondents and we flagged it that, obviously, because of three members of the Committee testing positive for COVID‑19, we've informed the Swiss authorities, and obviously, our… the UN Office in Geneva, who are providing the technical support, and right now everything is on hold.  Okay.  Evelyn?  And then Stefano.

Question:  Hello, Steph.  There was a story — I believe it was the New York Post — of a Burkina Faso diplomat [inaudible], and sent her to the hospital, and there was a police report filed.  But, because he has diplomatic immunity, everything can [inaudible] as before.  What happens in that case?  Can the United Nations tell the Mission to please send the man home?

Spokesman:  Of course, we've seen… we've seen the reports in the press, and I would, these reports of what happened are very concerning, indeed.  We expect the Mission of Burkina Faso and the host country authorities to address the manner bilaterally, which is in line with how the Headquarters Agreement works.  We will, of course, continue to follow up the matter and engage with the Mission and the host country as appropriate, but, at this point, I don't have any further question.  But it is, at this point, a bilateral issue between the host country, being the US, and the Burkinabe Mission.  Mr. Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions.  One is about the migrants in the Mediterranean.  The President of Sicily region, Nello Musumeci, yesterday ordered all the hot‑spot where the migrants are, put it in in the beginning of the arrival, to be closed if they don't… for sanitary reason.  If they, you know, because they think that the COVID‑19 is spreading through Sicily because the migrants' arrival with the large percentage, they say, they are positive.  So, he gave a deadline of tonight of less than six hours, at 12… at midnight, Europe time, Italian time.  So, the Italian Government responded in a way that we, it's not really clear that if they responded that he can do that or not.  They say that for, for practically for migration policy, a national policy cannot act, but for sanitary policy, then he could have something to say about that.  So, my question is, in few hours, according to the President of Sicily, many hot‑spot will be closed with thousands of migrants in, and he want to… we don't know exactly how, but he want to expel all those migrants and send them to Italy or send them to [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  Stefano, I can't…

Question:  I come with a question.  The Secretary‑General, what advice has for the President of Sicily and also, eventually, the Government, the national Government of Italy, on resolve this issue?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not going to mediate on issues of having… provincial versus central powers in Italy.  What I can tell you is that every Government needs to live up to its responsibilities in dealing with refugees, in dealing with migrants.  We all need to show compassion and solidarity, and I think it is, you know, whether it's in Italy or other places — and we've seen it in other places — it is very important that every human being on that territory receives the… receives access to health care, because no one in any community is safe until everyone is safe.

Question:  Another part of the question is, it's still related, is that still the President of Sicily say that he will not let any ref… any migrants’ ship or boat arrive to Sicily or land to Sicily if they arrive from Tunisia, because he said that Tunisia is not at war, so they are not refugee, and he will just send them back.  What do you think about that?

Spokesman:  Again, that's an issue that is between the national and the provincial government.  I would refer you back to my first answer.  Okay.  My chat function doesn't seem to be functioning.  So, if anyone has a question, wave or open up your mic or just say goodbye.

Correspondent:  Hi, Stéphane.  Nizar again.  Stéphane, you do hear me?

Spokesman:  [Speaking another language].

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any monitoring mechanism in Lebanon to see that the aid is going to the right people and not being used for political purpose by some organizations in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  As a standard policy, all the aid that is distributed, either UN aid or distributed with UN money, is monitored and reported on.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Let's go, Stefano.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  And I go back, of course, Colombia, do you have any, any news that you want to share with us about that…?

Spokesman:  I have, unfortunately, no update for you on that tragic case [of Mario Paciolla].  Okay.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.