2 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.

Good afternoon.  Apologies for the delay.  As you can imagine, I had some stuff to do.

Starting off with the Secretary-General, as usual.

**Aqaba Process

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Aqaba Process dedicated to the COVID-19 response, the Secretary-General said today that the pandemic is more than a global health crisis — it is a game-changer for international peace and security.

Terrorists are exploiting the social and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to radicalize and recruit new followers.

Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists are stirring up division and polarization in the wake of the virus and protests around the world, he said.

The lack of international cooperation to tackle the impacts of the pandemic has been startling, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres added.

There is an urgent need for global unity and solidarity.

The Secretary-General called for enhanced information-sharing and technical cooperation between countries and regions to prevent terrorists from exploiting the pandemic.

He added that we need to put people first in our fight against terrorists, and we need to build a better tomorrow with a new, inclusive and more effective multilateralism, based on the values of the United Nations Charter.

The window of opportunity is closing, he said, before concluding with a call to seize the moment.


And he also spoke virtually to the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) Centenary Summit.  He said that the IOE has made significant contributions to global policymaking for economic and social progress, job creation, and a mutually beneficial business environment.

He pointed out that today, growing inequalities between and within countries, boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic, are fuelling ethnic nationalism and protectionism.  For the Secretary-General, the private sector, employers’ organizations and those they represent have a real capacity to make a meaningful difference and ensure more effective multilateralism.  But they must be given the space to do so.

His full remarks are online for both speeches.


I want to flag that tomorrow the Secretary-General will be speaking at the virtual ministerial meeting on recovering from COVID-19.  The meeting will be chaired by Japan and co-hosted by the Executive Secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa.

The Secretary-General will once again urge all countries, especially G20 members, to commit to carbon neutrality before 2050.  He will also stress that it makes no economic sense to burn money on coal plants that will soon become stranded assets and that there is no rational case for coal power in any investment plan.

More than 60 countries have confirmed participation in the event and more than 50 have submitted measures to recover from the pandemic.

We have shared with you the link to follow procedures online and the Secretary-General will be speaking with a pre-recorded video message, which we’ve shared with you under embargo.


Back here, so to speak, Stephanie Williams, the Secretary-General’s acting Special Representative for Libya, told the Security Council today that the country is at a decisive turning point and the Council’s support, not only in words but most importantly in action, will help determine whether the country descends into new depths of fragmentation and chaos or progresses towards a more prosperous future.

She said that, on the ground, an uneasy stand-off continues around Sirte, imperilling the lives of 130,000 vulnerable inhabitants of the city, as well as the country’s vital oil infrastructure which comprises its economic lifeline.

In recent days, Ms. Williams said that Libyans have come out in force throughout the country, most notably in Tripoli, to express their anger over the lack of basic services, widespread water and power cuts and rampant corruption.  She has personally communicated the United Nations’ concerns to the Libyan authorities at reports of excessive force used against peaceful demonstrators and reiterated our calls for the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression to be respected.  Those who have been arbitrarily detained by armed groups must be released immediately, she added.

**Central African Republic

We have an update from the Central African Republic, where the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) continues to support the authorities with preparations for the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections on 27 December.

The Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, through his good offices and political facilitation mandate, continues to engage national stakeholders, including political actors and civil society, to create a conducive environment for the elections.

As part of these efforts, he has met with several groups to encourage them to promote dialogue and consensus on the electoral process.

The UN Mission is also working in close coordination with the G5, which includes Member States, regional organizations, as well as the UN, to help ensure a peaceful, credible and inclusive electoral process.


Turning to Niger, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that torrential rainfall since June has affected more than 281,000 people, destroying 26,000 houses and killing 51 people, according to the Government data.  In addition, several thousands of hectares of cultivated farmland have been swamped, which would harm food production. 

The UN, along with our humanitarian partners, and in support of the Government’s response efforts, supplied non-food items to various regions.  We have provided 4,700 shelter kits to refugees and internally displaced people in Niamey, and in the Diffa region. 

So far, more than 72,000 people have received assistance.  The priority needs are food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and protective services.

Additional funding is required to continue providing timely aid to the impacted population.


And a few COVID updates:  UN Women and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) today released new data showing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line, reversing decades of progress to eradicate extreme poverty.

The poverty rate for women was expected to decrease by 2.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021, but projections now point to an increase of 9.1 per cent due to the pandemic and its fallout.

By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty — that means living on $1.90 a day or less — there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per [100] men by 2030.

The agencies called for Governments to implement strategies to improve access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers.

More information online.


Also, from Myanmar, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Ola Almgren, yesterday reiterated the UN’s commitment to continue supporting the Government’s response to the pandemic, with a surge of cases in Rakhine State.

As of today, 400 cases have been confirmed in Rakhine since mid-August, with more than 4,000 people having been placed in quarantine in the area as of two days ago.

Mr. Almgren said that the recent rise in cases complicates the provisions of ongoing humanitarian aid and the protection to more than 670,000 vulnerable people by the UN and our partners.

The UN along with our partners have provided 95,000 test kits and other medical supplies, support to migrant workers, and livelihood assistance, among other activities.

While addressing the pandemic, the UN and the international organizations we’re working with have worked to ensure that humanitarian and development programmes continue.

Almgren also called for the need to restore full internet services to all areas; for parties to the conflict to heed the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and for unimpeded humanitarian access.


From Peru, our team there on the ground, I can report that the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) donated $1 million in supplies, including 130,000 tests.  Together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), they also donated 40 oxygen concentrators and $24,000 in personal protection equipment for the indigenous communities.  For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) helped incorporate 20 Venezuelan doctors and 80 nurses into the health system; these were either refugees or migrants.  UNHCR also repurposed $1.6 million for urgent cash transfers to refugees, and together with the UN Migration Agency (IOM) is managing [$1.1] million provided by the European Union for cash assistance.

And UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) boosted a virtual schooling system for the country, while UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) supported authorities to address violence against women.

We also want to express our condolences to the Government and the people of Peru for the nearly 30,000 deaths due to COVID-19, and we mourn the loss of our own colleague, Julio Gamero Requena, a renowned Peruvian economist from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

**International Criminal Court

Lastly, since a number of you have called or texted asking me about this latest announcement by the State Department here in the US, concerning the ICC, I can tell you that the Secretary-General takes note with concern of today’s statement by the United States Secretary of State announcing the designation of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Head of the Jurisdiction Complementarity and Cooperation Division pursuant to US’ Executive Order on Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the ICC.  That executive order is dated 11 June 2020.

We continue to closely follow developments on this matter.

Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Criminal Court is founded on their Relationship Agreement, which was approved by the General Assembly on September 2004.  We will be analysing any possible implications that this development may have with respect to the implementation of this Relationship Agreement.

In line with previous statements of the Secretary of State, we trust that any restrictions taken against individuals would be implemented consistently with the Host Country’s obligations under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement.

Voilà.  Priority to those in the room.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  So, the concern being that she would be able to still travel to the UN and conduct business here in… in regards to the ICC prosecutor, I guess is what you’re saying, that’s… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  That would be the correct interpretation.

Question:  Okay.  Do you have any… does the Secretary‑General have any other concerns about what message this sends internationally regarding the Criminal Court’s ability to prosecute cases and so forth, number one?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Look, I think you would have to ask the ICC how this impacts their ability to do their work.  The ICC, as you know, and especially the prosecutor, are independent of the Secretary‑General and of the UN.

We have always stood for the need for international justice and for the issue of accountability and the fight against impunity.

Question:  Okay.  And any reaction to the revelation by German authorities that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned by Novichok?

Spokesman:  We’ve just seen the media reports not too long ago regarding Mr. Navalny.  At this point, we’re not in a position to comment on the substance of the claims.

All right.  Let’s go to the videotape, as Warner Wolf would say, except it’s live.  All right.  Let me look in the… hold on, figure this out.  Chat.  Okay.

Iftikhar’s question is:  When will the briefing start?

It starts whenever I start, Iftikhar.  [laughter]

Edie.  Edie Lederer.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I also was going to ask, first, about both issues you mentioned.  But on Alexei Navalny, you said you’re not in a position to comment.  Is the UN or any branch of the UN going to look into the German report that he was poisoned by Novichok?

Spokesman:  Look, what we’ve said and previously mentioned that, if warranted, the issue should be investigated by relevant authorities.  I can only speak for the Secretariat and… yes, I can only speak for the Secretariat, full stop.

Question:  Would… following up on that, would you… would the UN consider, for instance, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as a relevant organization?

Spokesman:  I think you’d have to ask the OPCW.

Okay.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  I would like to go to the ICC issue, if I may, and Mr. [Michael] Pompeo, when he made the announcement, he described ICC as a broken and corrupted institution.  Do you have a comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think I’d refer you to what I just said to Kristen.  I mean, the ICC is independent, and we’ve always supported the calls for international justice.  You’d have to ask the State Department what the basis of those comments were.

Question:  And I have a follow‑up… not a follow‑up, another question on Libya, if I can?

Spokesman:  Yes, please, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  So, in her remarks, Ms. Williams talked about the fact that there is about, at least 7,000 migrants and refugees who tried to cross the Mediterranean and that 300 of them died, and she appealed to the Europeans to… countries to rethink their approach.  So, my question to you is, what do you expect from the European countries regarding the issue of migrants and Libya?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  First of all, we stand fully behind what Ms. Williams told the Council.  What the Secretary‑General has said repeatedly is that there should be solidarity, both for the migrants and for the refugees, but also amongst European countries, right, in terms of sharing the responsibility.

What is clear and what the IOM has said, what UNHCR said, what Ms. Williams and other UN officials have said is that Libya is not a safe place for refugees and migrants.  Refugees have certain rights under international conventions.  Migrants need to be treated with the full respect for their human rights and for their human dignity.  It is a global responsibility, and there needs to be global solidarity.

Sorry.  Let me go to the chat.  Abdelhamid, and then Maggie.

Correspondent:  Thank you…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid Siyam?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Okay.  I have two questions on the issue of Palestine.  First, yesterday, in a clash between the arm… Israeli Army and the Palestinians who were protesting the confiscation of their land near the town of Tulkarm, a few soldiers grabbed a senior man of 64 years old.  His name is Khairi Hanoon, and they throw him to the ground, and one of the soldiers put his knee on his neck, exactly like what happened to George Floyd.  And the video went viral; everyone saw it, probably, except [Nickolay] Mladenov didn’t see it, yes.  And luckily, because there was so many cameras, the man was saved, so many journalists around there.

So, why these incidents do not make it to the office of Mr. Mladenov?  Again, I raised the issue of the two disabled Palestinians.  I raised the issue of the woman who was killed in her home, and this time, it’s also another… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We will check with our colleagues to see if we have any information on this incident.  And your other question?

Question:  The other question is, when he… when Mr. Mladenov issued a statement yesterday, he said, I — you read it yesterday — I welcome the agreement, and he said to de‑es… the de‑escalation of tension in and around Gaza, ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles.  He didn’t finish saying “and ending the air raids and missiles thrown by Israel to Gaza”.  Why he didn’t miss that… that part?  Palestinians… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think he was very clear in the need also for the blockade to end, the fuel blockade to end and for humanitarian aid to go in.  We have spoken out… [cross talk]

Question:  [inaudible] was conducted raids on Gaza… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We’ve spoken out on the missile strikes.  We’ve spoken out on the incendiary devices.  For us, what is important is that there was an agreement, which would lead to a better life… you know, alleviating of the suffering of the people in Gaza.

Okay.  Maggie?

Question:  Can I?

Spokesman:  Yes, please, go ahead.  Go ahead, sorry, Abdelhamid.  [cross talk]

Question:  I’m just saying that there is something incomplete.  He welcomed the ending of the incendiary devices and projectiles, but on the other hand, Israel was raiding Gaza for the last week, for last few weeks.

Spokesman:  Look, there has been… [cross talk]

This latest round was a cycle of violence.  I… listen, I think you and I, as I’ve said, will never see eye to eye on this.  Mr. Mladenov…

Question:  I can… yeah.

Spokesman:  Walter’s forgotten what good manners are.  It’s been months.  You and I will never see eye to eye on this.  What is… Mr. Mladenov has been working tirelessly to try to bring an end to the violence in this cycle and to make lives for the people of Gaza and the surrounding communities in Israel better.


Correspondent:  How are you?  Can you hear me?  Yeah.

Spokesman:  I can hear you.  Can’t see… can’t see you yet.  Yes, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Can you see me?  Oh, there we go.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  The Southern District of New York has just charged a former UN employee with making false statements to cover up sexual assaults while he was working for the UN in Iraq.  Two counts… it says two counts of making false statements to special agents of the FBI.  His name is Karim Elkorany.  They’re charging him this afternoon.

And it says the UN investigated in 2016.  Do you have any results of that investigation?  Because they don’t say there what it was.  And do you have any comment on the charges against this former, it looks like, UNICEF employee?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t… I’m not aware of the particular case, but we have said, I mean, very clearly… and I’m… I don’t want to comment on the case, because, A, I don’t have information, but just to repeat what is a principled position is that we would never stand in the way of any criminal investigation into sexual abuse or exploitation by anyone affiliated with the Organization.

Question:  Can you find out what the results of the 2016 UN internal investigation was?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Let me look into… [cross talk]

Question:  I’ll send you the information.

Spokesman:  Yeah, and I will figure out what… if and what we can say.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  We are… unless I see somebody… let me go back into the chat here.  Okay.  Unless I see somebody waving their hands furiously or opening up their mics, we will end this briefing.  I will see you tomorrow back from an undisclosed location, and thank you.

Correspondent:  Hello.  Hello.

Spokesman:  Yes?

Correspondent:  Can I pose a question?… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Stéphane?  It’s Joe Klein.

Spokesman:  Yes, Joe.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I was putting my hand…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I couldn’t see it.  That’s okay.

Correspondent:  That’s fine.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  You said earlier that the ICC is totally independent of… not part of the United Nations.  So, I guess I… I’m not clear as to why the Host Agreement, which is a [inaudible] between the United Nations and the United States as the host country, would apply to ICC personnel.  The General Assembly, as I understand it, has not issued findings or declarations nor binding law…

Spokesman:  What I said is that the cooperation between the United Nations and the ICC is founded on a Relationship Agreement.  So, there is a Relationship Agreement.  It does not impact the independence of the ICC, at least… especially from the Secretary‑General, who has no authority over it.  That was approved by the GA in 2004, and it’s a public document.

From our end, we’ll be looking at any possible implication that this announcement may have with respect to the implementation of the Relationship Agreement, which, obviously, can have an impact… could have an impact on the Host Country… on the Headquarters Agreement.  So, I would encourage you to take a look… I would take a look at the relationship Agreement.

Question:  Just to clarify:  Is the Relationship Agreement between the ICC and the United Nations or…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  That’s correct, approved by the General Assembly in 2004.  That’s a public document, which you can take a look at.

Question:  Except… except that when the… since the United States is not a member of the ICC and, therefore, not bound by agreements that the ICC enters into, could you explain why that Relationship Agreement is relevant to the Host Agreement?

Spokesman:  The Relationship Agreement is between the United Nations, the General Assem… which was approved by the General Assembly, which includes all 193 Member States.

I will leave the legal interpretations to lawyers, which include yourselves and lawyers for the US and for the UN, which does not include myself.  So, I will leave it at that.

Correspondent:  Fair enough.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Did you have another question, Joe?

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  And then Sylviane.  Yes, Sylviane, okay.  Joe, did you have anything else?  Okay.  Sylviane, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m… President [Emmanuel] Macron travelled to Beirut Monday and yesterday, and he promised a new international meeting… aid meeting for Lebanon that will take place in mid‑October with the UN.  Any comment on the subject?  What kind of preparation will be put in place as part of this effort, and which country will be taking part?  Can you have… do you have any idea?

Spokesman:  No, I think those questions are best raised to the French, who are organising the meeting, but the United Nations will be represented in a senior fashion in one way or another.

Question:  That’s all… I have another question regarding the… there are many calls for… to put in place an international inquiry on the explosion of Beirut, 4 August.  Any… do you have any idea if there is a… these calls have been listened or… by the Secretary‑General, by the United Nations to put in place an international inquiry on this matter?

Spokesman:  Couple of things.  One, we obviously stand ready to assist the Lebanese Government, should we be officially requested to do so, and second, otherwise, they… for an international inquiry, there would need to be some sort of legislative body of the UN to create such an inquiry.  So, that’s an issue for Member States.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me go back to the wave board.  No waving.  So, hasta mañana.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.