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28 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.

So, Friday, and I am back in my undisclosed location, and I am already missing the ones that… I can’t speak anymore.  Anyway, missing the ones I was able to see yesterday and Wednesday.

**Climate

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General delivered the nineteenth Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture in India.  It was, of course, delivered by video, given the time difference, a pre-recorded video.

The Secretary-General in his remarks stressed that clean energy and closing the energy access gap are good business and that they are the ticket to growth and prosperity.

He said continued support for fossil fuels in so many places around the world is deeply troubling and reiterated his call to all G20 (Group of 20) countries, including India, to invest in a clean, green transition as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution and committing to no new coal after 2020,” he said. 

He also noted that in India, subsidies for fossil fuels are still some seven times more than subsidies for clean energy, and research on G20 recovery packages shows that twice as much recovery money has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.  Mr. Guterres underscored that this strategy will only further economic contraction and damage health consequences and urged for a clean recovery. 

He also called on India’s innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders to spearhead the global search for a solution to solar cooking at the household level, and on the country’s leaders to adopt the policies necessary to combat climate change. 

**Syria

A quick update from our friends in Geneva on the Syria talks, which, as you know, resumed yesterday.  The Small Body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee met again today and intends to meet again tomorrow.  As the Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, has noted, there is a clear agenda for this session, and the discussions have been constructive.  He added that useful points have been raised.

**Middle East

And turning to the situation in Gaza, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, tweeted today that the situation in and around Gaza is rapidly deteriorating.

He said that militants continue to launch projectiles and incendiary devices.  The tightening of closures is making life inside the Strip unbearable, with electricity down to 3 hours a day and hospitals barely functioning. 

Mr. Mladenov noted that, while the situation in Gaza gets worse, there is a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases.  With a failing health system, no electricity, unemployment soaring, continuing militant activity and closures, he said that he is very concerned that escalation is imminent.

Mr. Mladenov stressed that the Palestinian militants must immediately stop the launching of projectiles and incendiary devices.

He also said that Israel must restore fuel deliveries for electricity.  Under the current circumstances, no mediation efforts to prevent escalation and improve the situation can succeed, in these circumstances.

**Lebanon

And turning to Lebanon, we, along with our humanitarian partners, are now seeking $344 million to help 300,000 people with immediate life-saving needs, as well as to help move the country towards recovery, for the next three months following the Beirut explosions earlier this month.

The Flash Appeal, which was initially launched on 14 August, has been revised downward to reflect operational realities and evolving needs. 

Aid agencies are focused on getting assistance to people who need it.  Pledges from donors have been encouraging, but right now the Appeal is only 17 per cent funded. 

Beyond humanitarian assistance, Lebanon requires substantial and long-term assistance to support reconstruction and economic recovery. 

**Security Council

And, staying in the same area, at 6:30 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council is meeting to announce the results of the adoption of resolutions, of the votes on resolutions on women in peacekeeping, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.  Those results will be announced at 6:30 p.m. 

**Dr. Denis Mukwege — Threats 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today expressed deep concern over a recent death threats directed at the Congolese human rights defender and Nobel Prize Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege. Ms.  Bachelet called for swift action to investigate who is behind the threats and bring them to justice. 

Dr. Mukwege, as you know, founded and runs the Panzi hospital in the eastern part of the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  He has received threats in the past and survived a major assassination attempt in October 2012. 

The recent alarming surge of threats against him have been conveyed via social media and in direct phone calls to him and his family. 

The threats followed his condemnation of the continued killings of civilians in the eastern DRC and his renewed calls for accountability for human rights violations and abuses. 

**Democratic Republic of Congo — Measles 

And, also from the DRC, we have an update from our Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator David McLachlan-Karr.  He said that the UN team on the ground in the DRC tells us that the measles outbreak in the country is now under control, with a [nearly] 90 per cent drop in weekly cases compared to last year. 

7.5 million children were vaccinated during a two-year measles response campaign in the most affected areas, an initiative led by national and local authorities. 

We, along with our partners and NGOs, contributed to the progress with vaccination, surveillance, case management, logistics and strengthening of routine immunization. 

**Madagascar

And in Madagascar, the UN Human Rights Office said it is very concerned by reports of excessive use of force by security forces at a jail recently when 22 inmates were killed and eight injured.

This occurred amid concerns that Madagascar’s squalid and overcrowded detention facilities are a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19. 

More information on the High Commissioner’s website. 

**COVID-19 — Myanmar

Also, moving on to Myanmar, to give you an update on what our colleagues there are doing on the ground to prevent to fight the pandemic. 

The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ola Almgren, is concerned about the spike of COVID-19 cases in Rakhine State. 

We, along with our partners, have reaffirmed our continued commitment to support Myanmar as it tackles challenges in Rakhine, including COVID-19.  We have helped to increase preparedness for the pandemic in camps and sites for internally displace people across the country by distributing hygiene, personal protective equipment, and other supplies.

In Rakhine, we, along with our partners, have also provided 30,000 face masks, dozens of handwashing facilities, food, water, sanitation and shelter for nearly 700,000 people.  The colleagues, as well as NGOs [non-governmental organizations], excuse me, a number of colleagues and NGO [staff] have tested positive for COVID-19 in the area.  They are receiving treatment and [their] contacts are under quarantine. 

Urgent work continues across the country and we continue to apply prevention measures. 

**Pakistan

Turning to, an update on a number of devastating floods that have been hitting different parts of the world.  Yesterday, Iftikhar had asked me about Pakistan and I can tell you that heavy monsoon rains and flooding have continued across Sindh Province, impacting several districts.

Local authorities and humanitarian organizations are providing aid to those impacted, while the military is carrying out rescue operations. 

We, the UN, and humanitarian partners are also supporting needs assessment missions.

**Floods — Ethiopia and Sudan

And, in Ethiopia, heavy rains continue to cause flooding in several parts of the country.  Nearly 455,000 people have been impacted by the rains, forcing the displacement of 120,000 people. 

We are working in support of the Government-led response efforts, providing food, shelter and non-food items, water, sanitation and hygiene to the impacted population, working alongside partners.  At least 67,000 people have received emergency assistance. 

And, in neighbouring Sudan, heavy rains and flash floods since mid-July have also affected more than 380,000 people and killed nearly 90 across 17 states. 

More than 37,000 homes have been destroyed, forcing impacted families to seek shelter with relatives across communities.  Also, many, many thousands of acres of crops have been lost.

The Government, UN agencies and our partners pre-positioned supplies to respond to the needs of 250,000 people before the rains started.  But stocks are being depleted rapidly and more support, including from donors, is urgently needed.

**International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

And this Sunday, 30 August, is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that the crime of enforced disappearance is rife across the world.

He notes that we see new cases almost daily, including the disappearance of defenders of the environment, who are often indigenous people.  Meanwhile, the excruciating pain of old cases is still acute, as the fate of thousands of disappeared people remains unknown, making the crime a continuous presence in the lives of the loved ones of the lost.

For the Secretary-General, impunity compounds the suffering and anguish.  Under international human rights law, families and societies have a right to know the truth, and he called on Member States to fulfil their responsibility. 

**Women’s Town Hall

I want to flag one event for the next week.  At 10 a.m. on Monday, the Secretary-General will hold a virtual Townhall Meeting with Women’s Civil Society groups in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

As you know, the Secretary-General’s annual consultation with women’s civil society during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was postponed earlier this year due to the pandemic and the lockdown in New York.  So this townhall will provide an opportunity for women’s civil society groups to engage with the Secretary-General, share their experiences with him on the impact of the pandemic and their recommendations in addressing the crisis and building back better. 

That event will live streamed on UN Web TV.

**Financial Contribution 

And, last but not least, we say thank you to our friends in Uganda for their full payment to the regular budget, bringing us up to the magic number of 111 fully paid-up Member States.   

**Questions and Answers

Let’s go to the chat.  Ooh, lots of chatter.  Let’s see.  Okay, I can’t really see what was for me and… Okay, I’ll start with Edie. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Couple of questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to step down early for health reasons? And after that, I have another question.

Spokesman:  Of course.  The Secretary‑General’s been following the situation.  He wishes Prime Minister Abe a full recovery, and we salute the Prime Minister’s distinguished career as the longest‑serving Japanese Prime Minister and his consistent and constructive engagement with the UN to address global challenges.

I think the Secretary‑General has had a very productive relationship with Prime Minister Abe.  They’ve worked closely on a number of issues, notably, I would say, what comes to mind first is on the universal health-care initiatives.

Your second question, Edie.

Question:  Yeah, my second question is, normally, during the time of the general debate, the Secretary‑General holds hundred, well over 100 bilateral meetings.  Is he going to do bilateral virtual meetings this year?  What’s going to happen?

Spokesman:  So, you know, obviously, everything is still in flux.  But he’s not going to… if he needs to, he will, but given that, given the time difference, given that people won’t travel, he’s not… one should not expect hundreds of Zoom, video calls that the Secretary‑General will be on.  If people are here, he will, obviously, see them, but when he needs to talk to foreign leaders, he picks up the phone and talks to them.

So, the reason he has the bilaterals is because of the physical presence of Heads of States, Heads of Governments and Foreign Ministers.  Without their physical presence, those bilaterals will likely not take place.

Question:  And as a quick follow‑up, has he received any indication that any leaders will physically be president, present at UN Headquarters?

Spokesman:  No, nothing confirmed at this point.  Again, and I think we’re still a few… we’re still a ways away from those confirmations, given the changing nature of what is going on with the pandemic and so on.

Okay, Abdelhamid and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Palestine, and I’ll start with Libya.  Yesterday, the forces of General Haftar fired couple of missiles against the GNA forces west of Sirte.  Apparently, General Haftar is trying to sabotage the momentum created by accepting ceasefire from both sides.  Is there any contact with Haftar and trying to calm him down because he opposed the ceasefire openly.

Spokesman:  We’re aware of the…

Question:  Did Ms. Williams reach out to him?

Spokesman:  I mean, Ms. Williams has been in touch, and her staff have been in touch, with all of the parties.  Getting…

Question: Does that include Haftar?

Spokesman:  Yes, of course.  I mean, you can’t… of course, that includes Mr. Haftar and his team.  We have seen over, since this latest round of violence really started in Libya when the Secretary‑General was there more than a year ago, longer… at different points, different parties have aligned themself towards a ceasefire.  The work that we are leading, that we are working… the work… our work, working in cooperation with those Member States who have influence on the parties is to make sure that all the fighting parties in Libya are aligned on the same, in the same place, which was accepting the cessation of hostilities, ceasefire, and restarting the, first and foremost, the [5+5] military talks format. 

Your second question?

Question:  My second… yes.  Hamas issued a strong statement today against the report submitted by Mr.  Mladenov to the Security Council on [inaudible].  And again, in his statement, which we just read, he again blamed the victims.  He started with militants and he appealed to the militants.  But once why he did not mention straightforward that is to blame the occupation and the siege imposed on Gaza?

Spokesman:  I think…

I think he’s been… he has been very clear in, he’s… sorry.  Edie’s drinking a huge cup, and I’m, it’s a little distracting.  She’s front and centre.  Sorry. 

Listen, I think he’s been very clear on the need to lift the, all the measures and get the oil in.  And his concern is, first and foremost, with the victims, with the civilians.  Right?  That has been his message throughout.  So, I’ll, that’s where I stand.

Toby and then Pam.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Is there a readout of the Constitutional Committee talks?  Or where can we find more about the substance of those discussions?

Spokesman:  Reach out to our colleague and our friend Jenifer Fenton at Mr. Pedersen’s office in Geneva.  If you don’t have her contacts, we’ll send them to you.

Okay, Pam and then Kristen.

Question:  Yes, hi, Steph.  One substantive question and then more on the general debate.  The question is, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the military run‑in between Russia and the United States in the de‑confliction zone in Syria yesterday?  Russia says the United States was violating rules of de‑confliction.  And then I’ll ask the technical…

Spokesman:  No, no particular comment except to call on all the parties to support what is going on in Geneva so the Syrians can have a future of peace without any foreign interference, without any foreign armies on their soil, but no comment specific to that incident.

And your second question.

Question:  On that one, has anyone asked you, I mean the Secretariat, the Secretary‑General or any UN agency to determine who violated the rules…

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  …in that case?

Spokesman:  And that’s not, we do not have a mandate.  That is not our, we do not have a mandate in that area. 

Question:  Wait.  Sorry.  And now the technical question.  Will press be allowed to bring cameras into the [General Assembly] Hall during the general debate?  And will the, and then a request.  Can UNTV do their usual thing, even though they’re virtual talks, of showing the hall in case there’s a virtual or real walkout?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, UNTV will cover as usual.  I’ll pass on that message. 

And for the, your first question, if you can just reach out to Tal, who has all the details.

Correspondent:  Thanks so much.

Spokesman:  Kristen Saloomey.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  On the renewal of the UNIFIL mandate, looks like it gives the Secretary‑General 60 days to present a plan to better access southern Lebanon.  How confident is he that that’s possible given past issues, attempting to do just that?  I know his recommendations included… 

Spokesman:  Let…

Question:  …some changes to equipment and things that presumably would require investment and funding.  Given all that, I’m just wondering if he thinks he can live up to that request to present a plan for better access in 60 days.

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I don’t want to get ahead of anything.  Let’s wait for the official announcement for, that the resolution has been adopted, which I think is step one. 

From there, the Secretariat, Secretary‑General, the Secretariat will execute any requests given to it to report, to suggest, to do more work on this issue.  If we’re asked to report within 60 days, we’ll report within 60 days.

Obviously, any work that we do in Southern Lebanon on UNIFIL will also demand the cooperation of a number of key Member States.  But let’s wait for the resolution, and we will, of course, abide by the requests and asks of the Security Council and its members.

Iftikhar Ali and then Margaret Besheer.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is about UN anti‑COVID operations in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine State.  Do I take it that the protective gear and the relief material is actually distributed by UN personnel to Rohingya [inaudible] through Myanmar authorities?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  What was the question?

Question:  I’m asking whether the, the protective gear and the relief material is being distributed by UN personnel in Rakhine State are through Myanmar authorities.

Spokesman:  It is through the UN and local partners. 

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay, Ms. Besheer.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Am I there?  There we are.  Hi.  What’s the status on the deployment to the Safer oil tanker in Yemen? Have you gotten those…

Spokesman:  Unfortunately, no update to share with you.  Discussions are ongoing.  Meanwhile, the tanker sits there with all the risks that we’ve talked about.

Okay, Pam, did you have another question?  Pamela?

Correspondent:  Sorry, no, I’m all set.  Thank you, Steph. 

Spokesman:  Okay… I’m sorry, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes.  Today, Stéphane, Greece announced the arrival of seven fighting jets coming from United Arab Emirates to join the manoeuvres.  Turkey threatened that any UAE plane get closer to the border of Turkey will be shut down.  So it is obvious the situation is escalating, and so far, we did not hear any word from the Secretary‑General or his good offices to talk, to call, to make forward to try to…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the Secretary‑General is following this situation, especially, as you mentioned, these heightened tensions we’ve seen the last few days, with concern.  For him, it’s critical that these differences be resolved peacefully.

Our understanding is that Greece and Turkey have been engaged in bilateral discussions until recently, and he urges them to continue with that dialogue.  He’s also aware of diplomatic efforts being undertaken and supports these efforts that could contribute to a lowering of tensions in the region.

Okay?  Any other questions?  Excellent.

We will advise you as to whether… we may go on a lighter briefing schedule next week, as we usually do at the end of August.  So we may not brief every day, but we’ll send you a note by the end of today, and any updates will be posted on, online.

Okay, have a great end-of-August weekend.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.