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3 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.

Reem, Nice to see you at the podium.  The real podium, as opposed to my bunker.

All right.  Good morning, and Happy Thursday.  As a reminder, and to honour the three-day weekend, we will not brief in person tomorrow.  We will post highlights around noon and if you have any specific questions, we remain available to you 25/8, as usual.

**Climate

Early this morning, the Secretary-General spoke by pre-recorded video message to the Japan Ministerial Meeting on Sustainable and Resilient Socioeconomic Systems in the Process of Recovery from COVID-19. 

In his remarks, he stressed that the decisions being taken now will have consequences for decades and urged Governments to incorporate climate action in their recovery plans.

To recover better, he said, countries need to invest in green jobs, end fossil-fuel subsidies, not bail out polluting industries, and leave no one behind. 

He emphasized, as he did in recent remarks to audiences in China and India, that it makes no economic sense to burn money on coal plants.  He also urged G20 (Group of 20) members to commit to carbon neutrality before 2050. 

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres also urged Japan and other donors to maintain their climate finance commitments and continue to support the most vulnerable. 

Those remarks were shared with you.  They are online and everywhere. 

**Women

This morning, the Secretary-General also hosted a meeting with young women economists to discuss the pandemic recovery and rethinking global economic models with a focus on jobs and climate action. 

The Secretary-General said that even before the pandemic, the quality of jobs was deteriorating, and with COVID-19, unemployment, underemployment, and unpaid labour have reached crisis proportions.  He added that we must do all we can to consider new ways of providing new skills to young workers and ensure that they have the right abilities for the economy of the future. 

He also underscored that we must not lose sight of the long-term threat of climate change, and that recovery strategies must take this threat into account. 

The Deputy-Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, also addressed the round table and thanked the participants for their insights, adding that it’s important at this moment to be willing to discuss the hard questions, including our economic models and financial architecture, and to pursue innovative solutions that perhaps were not considered feasible before the pandemic. 

All those remarks were shared with you, as well.

**Group of 20

Also this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the extraordinary meeting of the G20 foreign ministers.  That was with a live video link.  He told them that COVID-19 respects no borders — and that demands that we strengthen cooperation across our own.

He has said that concerns are growing that some of the current movement restrictions could outlast the immediate crisis.  Furthermore, he warned, the adoption of ad hoc measures could create a patchwork of unworkable travel requirements, creating significant obstacles to global economic recovery. 

The Secretary-General urged the G20 to agree on common objective criteria in relation to the removal of travel restrictions, based on scientific evidence. 

He also called on the G20 countries to increase investments on systems and practices that support safe travel; to boost coordination in preventive measures; to ensure full respect for international human rights and refugee law and to agree that future vaccines will be considered a global public good to be available and affordable everywhere for everyone.

He added that we still have a long way to ago in our capacity to fight the pandemic together and that we still lack effective international solidarity to respond to the economic and social impacts and the underlying fragilities exposed by the pandemic.

**Cameroon

Turning to Cameroon, the Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack on civilians in a village hosting internally displaced persons in the Far North Region of Cameroon that took place on Tuesday, this week.  The suicide bomb attack led to the killing of at least seven civilians and wounded another 14. 

This horrifying attack comes just a month after 18 people died and 15 were injured by an armed group attack against a site for internally displaced people in the same area on 2 August. 

Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable.  International human rights law and international humanitarian law must be fully respected and all civilians in Cameroon must be protected. 

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, our friend Geir Pedersen, is in Moscow today, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.  

The Special Envoy expressed his appreciation for the Russian Federation’s support of the UN facilitation and implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) — that is including the work of the Syrian-led and owned Constitutional Committee, which convened in Geneva last week. 

Mr. Pedersen added that the suffering of the Syrian people is acute after nearly a decade of conflict and stressed the importance of sustaining calm and building confidence. 

**Security Council — Afghanistan

Today, the Security Council held a virtual meeting on the latest report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on its work, and that was a report by the Secretary-General.  During the meeting, the Council members heard a briefing by Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative in Kabul for the UN.  We have yet to receive her remarks for some reason but as soon as we do, we will share them with all of you.  [The remarks were later shared.]

**Yemen

Turing to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues report that in late July and August, for the third time in 2020, torrential rains and flooding hit governorates across Yemen, damaging infrastructure, destroying homes and shelters, causing deaths and injuries, ruining crops and killing livestock.  This makes an already catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse.  That includes the growing risk of famine and the devastating impact of COVID-19.

Estimates indicated that more than 62,000 families were affected across the country.

The UN and our humanitarian partners provided emergency food supplies, hygiene kits and other essential items to more than 7,600 families affected by the floods across the country, while nearly 8,000 families have been verified for emergency assistance. 

Across Yemen, 24 million people need humanitarian aid, and that includes 14 million in acute need. 

By the end of August, the Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen was 24 per cent funded, the lowest figure ever seen in Yemen so late in the year; so far, we have received only $811.5 million of the $3.38 billion that we need.  We urge donors to pay all outstanding pledges immediately and we urge those who have yet to pledge or pay to do so and increase support. 

**Lebanon

And on Lebanon, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that response activities a month after the explosion in Beirut are keeping pace with evolving needs. 

Following the immediate distribution of more than 7,300 weatherproofing kits, the shelter response is moving into cash for shelter, as well as on medium-term repairs and longer-term rehabilitation projects.

A range of medical services, including 2,800 consultations and at least 1,100 wound-care sessions, were provided to almost 8,000 patients. Three emergency medical teams initially deployed for the explosions are now being paired with six Government hospitals to increase the capacity due to COVID-19 case management, as well as infection prevention and control. 

Some 12,500 metric tonnes of wheat are being offloaded at the Beirut Port in response to the loss of the 15,000 metric tonnes of stocks stored in the silos [at the time of] the explosion.  The wheat will be distributed to millers across Lebanon to support food security far beyond the immediately affected area. 

To date, the UN-coordinated response to the explosions is seeking $344.5 million to address the immediate lifesaving needs for three months, and that response is less than 17 per cent funded. 

**Central African States

And I wanted to flag letters sent to both the departing President of the Economic Community of Central African States — otherwise known as ECCAS — and the new President of the ECCAS Commission, the Secretary-General congratulated the organization for ambitious institutional reforms initiated.  These reforms have led to the creation of the new Commission. 

The Secretary-General said the establishment of the new Commission will provide ECCAS with a mandate and adequate tools to respond more effectively to the challenges facing the region.

He reiterated the UN’s continued support for ECCAS in its efforts to consolidate regional integration, to build peace, security as well as economic and social development throughout Central Africa. 

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And a quick update for you on what our peacekeeping colleagues are doing to fight the virus:

In Lebanon, peacekeepers from the UN Mission there (UNIFIL) provided medical supplies to the villages of Al Qulaylah and Zibqin, in the country’s south-west.  The supplies included surgical materials, infrared thermometers and surgical masks.

The UN Mission also finished renovating a Government hospital in Bint Jbeil, which I am mispronouncing, also in the south-west of Lebanon.  The repairs were made at the hospital’s haematology department at the request of the local authorities.  This will help ensure better treatment of patients suffering from serious blood diseases such as leukaemia, lymphomas and myelomas. 

In South Sudan, the UN Mission (UNMISS) and our partners there recently refurbished a COVID-19 critical care unit in Yambio in Western Equatoria.  The renovated centre will have a fully equipped isolation facility.  The Mission contributed a generator, beds, mattresses, bed linen, and a water tank to this facility.

**COVID-19 — Kyrgyzstan

And an update on what we are doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Kyrgyzstan. 

Our team, led by Resident Coordinator Ozonnia Ojielo, is working with authorities to address the impacts of the pandemic, including on the most vulnerable. 

The UN team has delivered personal protective equipment — including gloves, gowns, and respirators — to 20 medical facilities in the capital and other hard-hit provinces.  These facilities include hospitals for infectious diseases and centres for maternal and child health. 

The supplies were purchased with money from the UN’s “Recover Better Fund”. 

Health workers are still among the most vulnerable, being infected at a higher rate than others.  Women are especially impacted, as they comprise more than 80 per cent of the health-care force in the Kyrgyzstan.

**Education

And a new report by our good friends in Geneva, UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency), predicts that unless immediate and bold action is taken by the international community, millions of young refugees living in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities will have fewer opportunities to begin or to continue their education.  The report, entitled “Coming Together for Refugee Education”, states that in the current context, many refugee children may not have an opportunity to resume their studies.  The agency says that even before the pandemic, a refugee child was twice as likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child.

Filippo Grandi, who heads UNHCR, said he was especially concerned by the impact on refugee girls.  The full report is with you and on the interweb. 

**Global Food Prices

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations today said that the global food prices rose for the third consecutive month in August.  This was influenced by generally firmer demand and a weaker US dollar.  The FAO Food Price Index averaged 96.1 points in August, up 2.0 percent from the previous month, reaching its highest level since February 2020. 

**West Bank

And I was asked yesterday by you, Abdelhamid, I believe, about an incident depicted in a video from two days ago which appears to show Israeli soldiers violently restraining an elderly man, Al-Haj Khairi, during a demonstration in Tulkarem in the occupied West Bank.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said that such incidents risk heightening tensions and that they must be avoided.  He also said that Security forces should show restraint in responding to grievances. 

**Financial Contribution

I am also delighted to announce that Paraguay and Zambia have both paid their regular budget dues in full.  This takes the number of fully paid-up Member States to 114.  And we thank them both.

And I think that’s it from me.  Let me get my glasses so I can see what’s going on.  They’re here.  Okay.

Oh, and I should add, on the note to Nickolay Mladenov, that he also said that grievances must be heard and expressed peacefully.

Okay.  Let’s see.  Where are we going?  Let’s go to the chat.  Okay. 

**Questions and Answers

Toby, you have a question. 

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks very much.  Same question actually that I had for Reem [Abaza] a second ago.  She referenced a DGC (Department of Global Communications) document on deadline by which a Member State must let the UN know that a leader is coming in person.  I haven’t checked that document, but I just wondered if you knew offhand when those arrangements need to be formalized from your end.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  There’s a very useful information note that has been distributed to Member States, which we will share with you right after the briefing.  It has tons of details.  So, I will share that…  we’ll send that out by email as soon as I’m done.

Okay.  Ali and then Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  one question about Libya.  We know that Stephanie Williams’ tenure will finish this month.  We would like to know whether her term is going to be extended or she is going…  or the Secretary‑General is going to appoint somebody for this position.  This is on Libya.

And also, what is your reaction to the Panel of Expert report about Wagner and the mercenaries to Libya?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Look, I’ve seen the press reports on what is, I believe, a report that is leaked, so I haven’t seen the full report.  And I think the answer to the question about what we think about violations of the embargo, I would refer you to what Ms. Williams told the Security Council yesterday, which really could not have been clearer.

As to the leadership, I don’t have anything to share with you, but what I can tell you is that there will not be a leadership vacuum at the head of that Mission.

Abdelhamid?  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  A quick one on Lebanon.  I know that the explosion inflicted a lot of damage within the UN offices everywhere in Beirut.  Do you have an estimate, what will the cost be for that?

Spokesman:  No, it’s a good…  it’s a good question.  I know there was a Bangladeshi Navy ship that was damaged, but we’ll see what we can get in terms of the broader UN system in Beirut.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid and then Mr. Evansky. 

Abdelhamid?

All right.  Ben, why don’t you go ahead while Abdelhamid connects.

Question:  Thank you.  Just wanting to get the Secretary‑General’s reaction to the double death sentence for the Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari, who was participating in 2018 protests against the regime.

Spokesman:  Look, our position is…  has always been clear.  We firmly stand against the death penalty, and people should not be punished for their political views or their beliefs. 

Question:  Has the [Secretary-General] reached out to the Iranian Government on this?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any contacts at the SG’s level.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Alejandro?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  I have a question on Venezuela.  Has the SG…  or does the SG have an answer on the letter that was sent to his office asking for a mission of observation for their electoral process in December?

Spokesman:  No, we do not have an answer.  We do have the letter.  We’ve received the letter.  We’re, obviously, taking a look at it, but I do not have an answer to share with you at this point.

Question:  And just a quick follow‑up, Steph.  In principle, could you remind us which are the main conditions that could lead the SG to decide whether or not he will send an observation mission?

Spokesman:  Look, there are a number of possible ways…  and I say this without any link to the letter, right, which will be studied, but it can be man…  it can be mandated.  It could be done at the request of a Government.  So, there are different options, but I don’t want to get ahead of the answer to the letter.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Did I get everybody? Abdelhamid, you want to try to connect again?

Okay.  Let me see if I can go to the all‑screen function so…

Correspondent:  Steph, one more question.  Ali, Ali speaking.

Spokesman:  Yes, Ali.

Question:  Yes, on the…  the designated Prime Minister in Lebanon is just starting his deliberation to try to form a government.  Is there anything from the SG regarding this specific issue?

Spokesman:  No.  I think it’s up to the Lebanese, obviously, to choose their leaders.  We hope the government will be formed quickly, and I would refer you to what are our Special Coordinator on the ground has said, Ján Kubiš, and is that [he is] encouraging the new government to go through with the much‑needed reforms that the people of Lebanon have been asking for.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Glor…  Stefano and then Gloria. 

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  This is about the case of Mario Paciolla in Colombia.  An article…  a recent article came out on the daily El Espectador in Colombia.  Is…  we…  so, this article, we find out that Mario Paciolla…  well, he really knew that he was in danger.  And apparently, the reason was because he got…  he denounced it in the summer 2019 a bombing of a village where children had died, and that situation had been brought inside the Colombian Government a discussion whether Defence Minister had to resign.

After that, he…  that’s what the article from the Colombian newspaper suggest that, inside the UN Mission there in Colombia, there was a discussion with somebody didn’t agree with him denouncing that and was practically preventing the work of the…  the functioning of the work of the UN Mission in Colombia. 

Now, these are things…  again, these are things that we know, we find out from the work of journalists in Colombia.  I would like to know what the UN and here the Headquarters know about this, the fact that Paciolla knew that he was in danger and whatever you discover.

Spokesman:  Stefano, Stefano, I think what we know is that there was a tragedy.  A young man, Mario Paciolla is dead.  Right?  We are cooperating with the Italian authorities, with the Colombian authorities.  We’re responding to all the requests. 

I think it’s inappropriate, for us at least, to comment on allegations or to speculate about what happened.  There are a number of investigations that need to work their way through.  Journalists have a job.  I respect that, but from us, we’re not going to start to speculate on what may or may not have happened to this young man or why it happened.

Question:  Okay.  Just a quick follow‑up.  In the article, it suggested that…  it said that the mouse in the computer of Paciolla that was removed by…  in his apartment by UN officer had blood on it.  Now, do you know anything about this and… 

Spokesman:  Mario [sic], as I said, there are investigations going on.  There are live investigations, meaning they’re ongoing.  We’re cooperating with them.  We have made our staff available to all…  to the investigators as they’ve been requesting.  It’s ongoing, and I’m just not going to get into a game of speculation here.

Gloria.  Gloria?  You’re muted.  I can’t hear you.  Okay.  Go ahead.  Please start again.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Steph, would it be possible for your VIP correspondents to arrange special interviews with the permission of the dignitaries on the UN terrace outdoors or in front of the visitors’ entrance, where it’s safe outdoors?  This would make it a lot easier for the old pros who know some of the diplomats who would be willing to be interviewed.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the…  first of all, we have to figure out who are the VIP correspondents, and who are the old pros?  Because often, the VIPs and the old pros are one and the same. 

It’s a good question, Gloria.  I think the space…  obviously, the space outside of the UN is beyond the control of the UN.  And inside, the moving around would be very, very limited, and I think the number of Heads of States who show up will be very limited, as well. 

Question:  But, Steph, it would be outdoors, in front of the visitors’ entrance… 

Spokesman:  No, I understand that.  Listen, first of all, we have to see who comes.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  And then steps can be taken from there.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  I believe some would accept personally.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Kevin.

Question:  Yes.  This is probably a question for the United States themselves, but they announced that they would be redirecting assessments due to the World Health Organization (WHO) to other UN bodies.  Have they made it clear to you which… 

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I think that is a question for them, because, as you know, one thing the UN has a lot of are bodies, and so it’s…  I don’t know which…  to which bodies they’re redirecting.

Okay.  We will not see you tomorrow.  We will see you Tuesday. 

As a reminder, on Wednesday, there is a joint press briefing by the Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General of the WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, to launch a new climate report.  So, that will be about 11.  We will not have a briefing on that day.  Then we’ll resume…  we will have a briefing, however, on Tuesday.  Have a wonderful end of day, and we shall see you Tuesday.

Hasta la vista.

For information media. Not an official record.