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1 September 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.

**Secretary-General — Youth

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the virtual High-Level Meeting on Generation Unlimited on the theme “Connecting Half the World to Opportunities.”

He told the young people who joined the meeting online that his generation has failed to respond properly to the global challenges we face, but that youth are leading the fight against inequality, discrimination and division, and for climate action, human rights, gender equality, and sustainable economies and societies. 

He added that without the energy, technological savvy, optimism, and sensitivity to injustice of young people, we have no hope of achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] or implementing the Paris climate agreement. 

He stressed that putting resources into digital learning and training of young people is an essential investment as countries recover from the pandemic.  Mr. Guterres reiterated the UN’s commitment to ensure that young people can access opportunities for education, training and entrepreneurship. 

And he also encouraged them to speak up and to tell him about the challenges they face today.

**Sudan

You will have seen that we issued a statement on Sudan last night, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the initialing in Juba, in South Sudan, of a peace agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) and Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Minawi. 

The Secretary-General congratulated the people of the Sudan for this historic achievement.

He said that… the Secretary-General is fully committed to supporting the implementation of this agreement, which marks the start of a new era for the people of the Sudan and for people living in Darfur and the Two Areas, in particular.

This will require sustained commitment and collaboration between the parties and the people of the Sudan.  The UN will offer support, as requested by the parties and within its capacity and mandate, to the implementation of this and future peace agreements during the transition period.

The United Nations will also support the Sudanese stakeholders in longer-term peacebuilding efforts aimed at achieving accountability and consolidating peace and security gains. 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also welcomed this development. 

**Sudan Floods

And also, on Sudan, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency said today that some 125,000 refugees and internally displaced people have been impacted by heavy seasonal rains that have caused flash floods and rivers to burst their banks. 

Homes and community buildings are badly damaged and destroyed, and this, obviously, has an impact and a danger that hygiene and sanitary levels will plummet due to flooded latrines and contaminated water supplies.  This is even more dangerous in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even before the floods, the funding levels have been low.  This year, UNHCR has received just 38 per cent of the nearly $275 million needed for its operations in Sudan, and to face the floods, UNHCR is working with the Government and partners in providing emergency aid to people in the White Nile region.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And, also in Sudan, this time more particularly in Darfur, our colleagues at the joint African Union-UN mission have recently held a workshop on preventing and mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the women’s wing of the Nyala Central Prison.  The training also sought to enhance safety in the delivery of justice services and to increase compliance with the guidelines of the WHO (World Health Organization) and Sudan’s Ministry of Health.

And in Mali, while addressing the pandemic, our peacekeeping colleagues there continue to deliver on their mandate to help protect civilians and stabilize the country.  The Mission supported a meeting to strengthen the peace and social cohesion in the Gao region.  This meeting aimed to reinforce inter-community dialogue between Arab, Tuareg, Songhai, and Fulani communities, as well as young people, women, civil society groups and others. 

During the gathering, there was also a symbolic signature of a protocol by representatives of the communities, following violence in the city of Askia that took place two weeks ago.

**Africa Amnesty Month

And today is the start of Africa Amnesty Month, an initiative that has taken place every September since 2017.  It is designed to reduce the flows of illicit small arms and light weapons on the continent.

Throughout the month, anyone can hand in illicitly owned weapons, as part of this initiative, that is also linked to Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020. 

This year, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the African Union Commission (AUC) are supporting a wide range of activities, including capacity building of law enforcement, weapons collection, safe storage and destruction.

The project, launched in [March] 2020, is supporting activities in many African countries.

**Syria

And a brief update for you on Syria, where the cross-border operations from Turkey into Syria are continuing to provide life-saving assistance to people in the north-west. 

Today, 24 trucks of the World Food Program supplies… which included supplies for 74,000 people in Idleb crossed at the only crossing point of Bab-Al-Hawa.

Despite the removal of one of the border crossing points by Security Council in their resolution 2533 (2020), the UN continues to reach people in need throughout the north-west.

We are taking steps to mitigate the impacts of losing one crossing point, including in expanding the size of the transshipment hub, and engaging in humanitarian access negotiations with parties to the conflict. 

However, the Secretary-General, as he said in his last report to the Council, operations have proven to be more risky, costly and time consuming, resulting in less efficiency.

**COVID-19 — Costa Rica

And just a quick update from our colleagues in Costa Rica and what they are doing to address COVID-19: The UN team there, led by the Resident Coordinator Allegra Baiocchi, is supporting efforts to tackle the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic. 

To support frontline responders, the UN team has provided 2 million items of personal protective equipment.  The team also donated 27 tons of emergency medical equipment for the most vulnerable communities. 

One of our top priorities is to protect indigenous groups, Afro-descendants, people with disabilities, older adults, children and youth.  The UN contributed to the national plan to curb the pandemic among indigenous peoples. 

And a UN-led campaign is working to curb the increase in sexual and gender-based violence.  We are providing hygiene kits and lifesaving cash assistance to prevent families from falling into poverty.

We are also boosting temporary employment for women and indigenous people.  The UN team is supporting migrants and those in transit and is promoting remote learning during school closures, while preparing for the safe reopening of schools.

**Press Conference Today

Lastly, at 1:30 this afternoon, the President of the Security Council for the month of September, Ambassador Abdou Abarry, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Niger, will brief you on the Security Council’s Programme of Work, and that will be done through the magic of the interweb and doing it virtually.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Madame, Célhia. 

Question:  Merci, Stéphane.  Khaled Drareni, who is an Algerian journalist, has been sentenced to three years in prison for covering a peaceful demonstration.  What I would like to know is, is the [Secretary-General] concerned about it, and did he talk to the authority?  Because it seemed that Algeria is getting on the wrong direction when it comes to the press freedom.

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that, for the Secretary‑General, it’s very clear, is that journalists need to be able to do their work, their critical work for any democracy free of harassment, free of fear and to be able to do it in peace, whether it’s in Algeria or any other country.  And we are concerned that we have seen, over the, throughout the world, over the past months, as the Secretary‑General said, a reduction of the space given to civil society. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A question is, the Secretary‑General has to be probably in regular contact with the Security Council.  Is he doing that only during the monthly lunches, or is it also the wrap‑up sessions of the Security Council or anything else?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, he’s, he discuss…  I mean, the set meetings are the monthly virtual lunches.  I don’t know if they eat in front of their computers, but they’ve taken the place of the virtual lunches and very informal; the monthly meeting with the President, the incoming President of the Security Council; and obviously, the Secretary‑General is in regular contract with various members of the Council as needed either from his side or from their side; and, as you know, he regularly briefs, when requested, Security Council members.

Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  But not wrap‑up sessions.  Right?

Spokesman:  I do not believe so, but I can check. 

Let me go to our friends who are working hard from home.

Edie.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  First, a follow‑up…

Spokesman:  Edie?  I can’t hear you.

Correspondent:  Sorry, can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  If someone could un‑mute to help Edie.

Correspondent:  I un‑muted. 

Correspondent:  We can hear Edie.

Spokesman:  Edie, let me come back to you… 

Correspondent:  Maybe it’s tech…  I can hear you… 

Spokesman:  …and then we’ll see if we can get the problem fixed. 

Kristen.

Question:  Stéphane, some UN human rights experts have spoken out about the situation in Belarus, a concern about the torture of protesters.  They said there’s 450 documented cases, forced disappearances and so on.  I know the Secretary‑General has expressed some concern about the situation there.  Does he have anything more to say about this situation…

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, any report of torture is very concerning, and he has been following the situation with concern, as you say.  He has and continues to urge the authorities in Belarus to respect the right of people to peacefully express themselves.  No one should be harassed or detained for what they think for their politics, and it’s important that they do not face the threat of violence, and that includes not only protesters, but journalists, as well.

Let’s try Edie one more time, and then we’ll go back to, we’ll go to Sato otherwise.

Edie?

Correspondent:  Can you hear me now, Steph?

Spokesman:  Perfect, I can hear you.

Question:  Great.  First to follow up on the press briefing by the Ambassador from Niger, are we going to be able to ask him questions virtually?  Is it going to operate like this?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  I believe so.  I have to check with my office.  I understood it was maybe on Zoom, but we’re…  let me check, because they’re obviously organising the briefing themselves.  But what’s your question?

Question:  My second question is, could you give us an update on what Martin Griffiths is doing?  I noted that the Saudi Coalition was protesting yesterday at reported attacks by land and sea by the Houthis.

Spokesman:  Look, Mr.  Griffiths is continuing to talk to the parties, to work with them, to try to bring them back to the table.  The situation for the people of Yemen continues to be dire.  We’ve seen the floods, COVID.  We’ve seen all these other challenges of these, the people of Yemen have had to face. 

We’re also working, continuing to work with the de facto authority, with the Ansar-Allah to finalize the technical arrangements so we can have a UN team aboard the tanker.  So, Mr. Griffiths is continuing his work.

Sato‑san.

Question:  Thank you.  That’s my question today about the tanker situation in [inaudible] area, so you just answered to my question.  Do you have any other update around when will the UN be able to board on the tanker itself for environmental measures?

Spokesman:  Look, my understanding, what I’ve been told is that there was a meeting at the technical level over the weekend.  Our technical team met with Ansar-Allah, with the local authorities to clarify the potential scope of work for the assessment of the repair mission.

Our experts are reviewing the outcomes from the meeting carefully.  We’re also working with other Member States to ensure that we’ll have full funding available for any additional repairs that may be feasible.

Our approach remains that this is a purely technical issue.  We want to get the assessment done right away, and we want to be able to conduct whatever repairs can be done urgently during the assessment mission.

All right.  James Reinl.

Correspondent:  Hi, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Correspondent:  Sorry, just checking one more time.  Can you hear me?

Hello, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Two thumbs up.  If you can see me, I can hear you. 

Question:  Yeah.  It’s another question on…

Spokesman:  Okay?

Question:  Hi.  Can you hear me?  It’s another question on the Safer oil tanker if that’s okay.  In your discussions with the Houthis, have the Houthis ever told the UN that if the UN sends a team on board the Safer oil platform without their permission, that they will open fire on the vessel?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any such threats being made.  What is clear is that we are an organization based on rules.  There are local authorities.  We have to respect the authority of the authorities, so to speak.  We cannot…  whether it’s…  the UN doesn’t barge into places.  We have to negotiate, and we don’t want to put anybody at risk, especial…  from our side, on the technical experts.

Madame.

Question:  It’s about Mali.  It seemed that the UN Mission had no clue about the coup.  So, what I would like to know is, is it because the UN is not close enough to the people?  because they knew…  the people knew.  So, what is going on?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, listen, I’m not a coup plotter, but if I were a coup plotter, I would try to keep things as close hold as possible.  Right?  The UN does not run an intelligence service. 

Our operations, as you know, are mainly in the north, working to help the Malian State.  So, the mandate of the mission is not to run an intelligence operation on political or military activities in Mali.

Okay.  Hold on.  Let me go to my chat here.  Abdelhamid, and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Recently Hamas declared an agreement on cessation of hostilities in Gaza.  Do you have any details of that? because I think the UN was involved in one way or the other.  I don’t know exactly the role of the UN… 

Spokesman:  Look… 

Question:  …but do you have any details on that?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any details.  What I can tell you is that Mr. Mladenov very much welcomes the agreement to de‑escalate tensions in and around Gaza.  Ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles, restoring electricity will allow the UN to focus on dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with the COVID‑19 crisis in Gaza, which we’ve seen over the last few days grow worse. 

It’s very important that all the parties do their utmost to make sure to return to calm.  Mr. Mladenov and others have always been involved in trying to mediate and encourage dialogue between the parties with the aim of helping civilians, the civilians in Gaza, who are suffering the way we know, and the civilians on the Israeli side, who have also had to suffer due to these incendiary devices.

All right.  Let’s go to…  let’s stay in the screen.  Iftikhar. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Number one, [inaudible] report on the work of the organization is expected…

Spokesman:  You’re breaking up a little bit, Iftikhar. 

Question:  When is the Secretary‑General’s report on the work of the organization is expected?

Spokesman:  I…  my understanding is that the parliamentary version of the report, the straight document, was posted not too long ago on the website.  We are working on a glossier online and more user-friendly version, and that should be ready soon.

Question:  And secondly, there have been several reports by UN agencies on the adverse impact of the coronavirus on the children’s education, but we have not heard from the UN’s Special Envoy on global education, Mr. Brown, who always comes out with solutions.

Spokesman:  No, I think Mr.…  we flagged a letter that Mr. Brown had sent to the G20 (Group of 20), if I’m not mistaken, him and other leaders.  He continues to work with all the various components of the UN, whether it’s UNICEF, UNESCO, and others.  UNESCO, I think, issued a report also underscoring the iss…  the problem of schools not re‑opening and then of children who…  when schools do re‑open who may not be able to re‑attend school.  And I’ve been in touch with Mr. Brown and his office, and we’re trying to get him to come to the briefing at some point virtually.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Okay.  Pam, and then Gloria.  Pam Falk?

Question:  Yes, thanks, Steph.  On Friday, there’s a…  it just announced an Arria formula meeting…  can you hear me?  I’m hearing feedback.

Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you.

Question:  …by…  with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Belarus.  Do you know if the [Secretary-General] has reached out to her or will on Friday?  I mean, it’s all virtual, but has there been any relationship of any UN officials with the Belarus dis…

Spokesman:  I…  the Secretary‑General has not been in touch with her.  I don’t know what other contacts may have been taking place.  We can see if we can find something out.

Question:  And any comment about the dissidents and the arrests of journalists in Belarus?

Spokesman:  I think I…  I answered that…

Correspondent:  Earlier.  Okay.

Spokesman:  …just a few…  a few minutes ago.

Question:  Generally speaking.  Okay.  And just finally…

Spokesman:  No, I… 

Question:  …I don’t see any…

Spokesman:  No, pretty focused.  My answers were pretty focused. 

Question:  Okay….

Spokesman:  I’m sorry.

Question:  Just, we haven’t…  I haven’t seen anything on the 1:30 from Niger, so if you…  just repeating Edie’s request…

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ll try to send…  we’ll make sure you have the information you need.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Gloria. 

Correspondent:  Yes.  I worked for years with the Sudan, with the former Foreign Minister Ali Karti, and I have to congratulate the UN if you’ve been able to get all of those rebel groups united.  He always repeated, over and over again at all the sessions at the UN, it was the rebel groups that could not all be assembled together, and I think that’s a major achievement. 

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Okay.  Any other questions?

All right.  Nice to see you all.  Masks back on, and we’ll see you tomorrow back in this room.

For information media. Not an official record.