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8 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, and welcome back.  I hope you guys all had a long and happy weekend.  Reminder please to close your mics, because some have their mics open. 

**International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

All right.  Today, we held a virtual observance event on the first International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, which was marked yesterday, officially.  The theme for the Day is clean air for all. 

In a video message, the Secretary-General noted that around the world, nine out of every ten people breathe unclean air.  Air pollution causes an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year.  It also threatens the economy, food security and the environment. 

The Secretary-General said that as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the world needs to pay far greater attention to air pollution, which also increases risks associated with COVID-19.  He added that this year’s lockdowns have caused emissions to fall dramatically, providing a glimpse of cleaner air in many cities.  But emissions are already rising in some places, surpassing pre-COVID levels.

The Secretary-General called on Governments still providing finance for fossil fuel-related projects in developing countries to shift that support towards clean energy and sustainable transport.  He also urged all countries to use the post-COVID recovery packages to support the transition to healthy and sustainable jobs.

**Climate

And tomorrow at 11, our Secretary-General will be joined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas, to brief you on the United in Science 2020 report.

The report provides the latest information on greenhouse gas concentrations, the impact of COVID-19 on emissions, and the emissions gap compared to the Paris Agreement targets.

The Secretary-General will brief in the press briefing room and Mr. Taalas will brief remotely.  The Secretary-General will make the opening remarks, followed by a presentation by Professor Taalas.  Our SG will then take a few questions before leaving Professor Taalas to continue with his briefing.  And since we will have not one, but two Secretaries-General tomorrow at 11 a.m., we will not have our own briefing, but we will update everything on the web. 

**Korea Global Forum for Peace

Yesterday, António Guterres spoke by video message to the Korea Global Forum for Peace. 

He stressed that it is important that the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Republic of Korea, and the United States continue the dialogue that they started in 2018.  He added that diplomacy is the only pathway to sustainable peace and denuclearization.

“You have our solidarity as the Korean Peninsula faces the pandemic, floods and typhoons.  It is crucial that the two Koreas address these and other challenges together,” he added.  He encouraged all parties to imagine a future of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. 

The United Nations fully supports your efforts, he added.  Those remarks have been shared with you.

**Security Council — Francophonie

This morning, members of the Security Council were briefed on the cooperation between the “Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie”, or OIF, and the United Nations.  Bintou Keita, the Under-Secretary-General for Africa, said that, as the OIF marks its fiftieth anniversary, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for strengthened and renewed multilateralism to face challenges of our times. 

She reminded members of the Council that cooperation within and between international organizations is one of the pillars of multilateralism, adding that the close partnership between the UN and the OIF is fully in line with that logic. 

Her remarks have been shared with you. 

**South Sudan

And I have an update from our Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on the Protection of Civilians sites.  These sites, as you all recall, were set up to provide sanctuary to thousands of people fleeing violence when the civil war erupted in 2013.  The security situation has improved significantly since the signing of the peace deal in 2018 and the formation of a new Government. People in the camps are moving freely each day between the sites and towns to go to school, shop in the markets and to work. 

Last September, the UN Peacekeeping Mission provided a report to the Security Council on future planning for the Protection of Civilians sites in country, at the Council’s request. 

Since that time, the Mission has been working to gradually transition the sites to more conventional camps for internally displaced people where humanitarian services will continue.  In this regard, it has carried out security assessments on each of the sites and found no external threat.

The Mission has, therefore, withdrawn its troops from the Bor and Wau POC sites and will continue with others as the situation permits.  Ultimately, all Protection of Civilians sites will transition to be the responsibility of the South Sudan Government.  The UN Mission continues to do its utmost to ensure the protection of civilians.  Importantly, withdrawing from these sites means that the troops who were assigned to these Protection of Civilians sites can be redeployed to hotspots to protect people whose lives are in immediate danger, in line with the Mission’s mandate.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And I’ve been asked about the situation in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as it relates to the protection of Dr. Denis Mukwege. 

I can tell you that the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) remains committed to the security of Dr. Mukwege and the Panzi clinic in Eastern DRC.  Although a number of COVID cases among our peacekeepers have had an operational impact, we have continued to work closely with Dr. Mukwege and the Congolese authorities, as well as international partners to ensure that his security needs and those of the clinic are addressed in an effective and sustainable manner.  This approach requires us to continue developing greater local capacity among the national police, with support from the Mission and other international partners. 

The personal security of Congolese personalities is a responsibility of the national authorities, but the Peacekeeping Mission is providing all possible support within its limited means.

**Rohingya Refugees

And turning to the situation around the Rohingyas.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) today welcomed the disembarkation of 300 Rohingya refugees in Indonesia. 

The group had repeatedly tried to disembark over the past seven months to no avail.  Refugees reported that dozens passed away throughout the journey from Cox’s Bazar. 

UNHCR staff in Aceh are supporting local authorities to assess the needs of the refugees.  The immediate priority is to provide medical care as required.  IOM is working with its partners to ensure shelter, water, and core needs are met in the coming days.  All of these disembarked Rohingya refugees will be tested for COVID-19, in accordance with standard health measures in Indonesia for all arrivals.

**COVID-19 — India

And staying on the COVID-19 issue, we have an update from our UN team in India, led by Resident Coordinator Renata Dessallien, on their work to support Government-led health and socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic, with over 4.2 million confirmed cases to date. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has assisted with contact tracing of 8 million cases, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trained 2.2 million health workers in Infection Prevention and Control, reaching 650 million children and families with life-saving information.  The UN team has also supplied personal protective equipment.

To reach the most vulnerable, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) helped 100,000 migrant workers access social protection and reached 100,000 sanitation workers with safety kits and 4,000 metric tons of dry rations. 

And the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) trained 5,300 sanitation workers on safe waste disposal.  UNFPA also helped develop a helpline directory for women in distress and supported guidelines on reproductive and adolescent services during lockdown, while the International Labour Organization (ILO) colleagues supported guidelines for gender responsive job recovery. 

The UN in India is also supporting the Government’s anti-stigma campaign, with over 170 million social media impressions in August alone. 

**Amazon

And turning to the Amazon region:  We, along with our humanitarian partners, today released a Tri-national Action Plan seeking $10.4 million to support Government responses to the urgent needs in the border area between Colombia, Peru and Brazil over the next year.

This triple border area is home to nearly 209,000 people and [57] per cent of them are indigenous.  The area, which has been traditionally neglected, is currently witnessing the highest COVID-19 mortality rates per 100,000 people in the world.

The Tri-national Action Plan has an emphasis on the initial response in the sectors of health, food and nutrition, emergency shelter and water, and basic sanitation and hygiene. 

**Sustainability

And a new report released today urges Governments to ensure public procurement increases sustainability and does not harm people or the environment. 

The report, released by the UN Forum on Sustainability Standards, explores how Government spending can drive the uptake of special rules and standards that guarantee that the products we buy do not hurt the environment and the people who make them. 

The Forum is made up of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, otherwise known as UNIDO, and the UN Conference on Trade and Development, otherwise known as UNCTAD. 

**International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day.  This year the Day is focusing on “literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”, especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies. 

The theme highlights literacy learning in a lifelong learning perspective, with an emphasis on youth and adults… including myself, clearly… The Day also aims to give an opportunity to analyse the role of educators, as well as to formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning.

**United Nations Resident Coordinators

And last, and definitely not least, our colleagues from the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that four new UN Resident Coordinators (RCs) are ready to be announced.  Those are for Albania, Cameroon, Ecuador, and Jamaica.

All of them are appointed by the Secretary-General and follow the confirmations from the respective host Governments. 

Fiona McCluney of the United Kingdom is the new Resident Coordinator in Albania, while in Cameroon the new Resident Coordinator is Matthias Z. Naab of the United States.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, Lena Savelli of Sweden will serve as our RC in Ecuador and Garry Conille of Haiti is the new Resident Coordinator in Jamaica. 

In this leadership position they will boost the coordination among UN entities to support national and local efforts to address and recover better from COVID-19 and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

We are also proud to announce that we will remain with full gender parity among all our RCs covering 162 countries and territories.   More information on the UN Sustainable Development Group website where you will find the list of all our colleagues. 

All right.  Let’s see what we can do for humanity by answering some of your questions.  I will go to the chat.

**Questions and Answers

Pamela, and I see Ali waving.  So, I will get to you, Ali. 

Pamela, please. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  We asked the outgoing PGA (President of the General Assembly) about what’s the bigger picture of why people should tune in to the UNG… to UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) and the debate since it’s virtual.  Can you answer that question?

And do you have any information?  This hashtag seemed to have popped up, "De‑fund the UN," and is there any hashtag plan for "fund the UN"?  Thanks so much.

Spokesman:  No, I’ve seen the hashtag.  I think we prove every day the worth in investing in the United Nations for the betterment of peoples everywhere and the value that it brings, whether it is helping during the pandemic… I mean, every day, I’m updating you on what we’re doing all over the world, what we’re doing in our peacekeeping missions, as I’ve just mentioned in South Sudan.  So, we do our utmost to prove our worth every day by the work that we do.

This General Assembly will clearly be like no other.  And I think we will have an opportunity to hear from world leaders on the state of the world in this dramatic time that we live in, and I think that is clearly worth tuning in and make it, you know, appointment television, so to speak.

And the Secretary‑General, I think, will deliver very important remarks.  Not only this is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, it’s a time to reflect how we move forward to defend multilateralism and at a time where it is greatly threatened and how we can as a world and how we need to be united to fight this pandemic and in order to build… to recover better, in a sense, from the pandemic, whether it’s on issues of human rights, of health and, of course, very importantly, on climate change.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A question about Belarus.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the Government’s driving three of the main opposition leaders left in the country to the border with Ukraine and demanding that they leave the country.  Two of them did.  One of them remains in the country.

Spokesman:  Look, I think the recent detentions that we’ve viewed, the repeated use of force against peaceful protesters, as well as reported pressures on opposition civil society activists, is one that is of very serious concern to us and to the Secretary‑General.

It bears… I think it bears repeating what the Secretary‑General’s core message on this is that the people of Belarus, the Belarusian people, should be able to exercise their political and constitutional rights peacefully in a democratic environment.  And I think the current crisis that we’re seeing in Belarus needs to be resolved through an inclusive dialogue amongst the Belarusian people. 

And I would also refer you to some of the comments that the High Commissioner [Michele] Bachelet made on the situation in Belarus, which we fully support. 

Okay Ali.  Bless you, Edie.  Ali and then Toby. 

Ali, I can’t hear you.  You’re muted still.  There you go.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.  So, I have three questions.  One is whether the Secretary‑General is going to have any high‑level meeting in person here at the United Nations.  I’m in the Headquarters now, and we’re wondering whether any large meeting… high‑level meeting is going to happen here. 

My other question is about Libya and whether the Secretary‑General was able to have a… the security… common ground for the Security Council to name a new Special Envoy.

And, please, if you have anything on Lebanon, please let us know.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  On Lebanon, we’ll try to give you an update tomorrow on the humanitarian situation. 

On Libya and the leadership, obviously, as we’ve said, Ms. Stephanie Williams remains in charge of the Mission.  If there was an announcement to be made on a new SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) following an agreement by the Security Council, you would be the second or third to know, and I would be… I’ve been waiting to announce that.  I assume the SG will be the first, and others would then follow, but that’s not something I would want to keep for myself, Ali.

On bilateral meetings, I think we have… I think the President of the General Assembly, I think, had a strong message on encouraging… on the fact that most the… the leaders will talk via video message.  So, they will not be… the Secretary‑General will… is not expected to have virtual bilateral meetings, because that doesn’t really serve any purpose.  We’ll, obviously, wait to see who may show up.

It’s also important to note the quarantine restrictions and quarantine regulation put in place by the City of New York for a two‑week quarantine, and that has been conveyed to Member States by the City of New York.

Question:  And may I just a quick follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  So, by next week, eventually, we will know whether any foreign leader is coming to the General Assembly in person.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, in the best of all worlds, we know these things in advance.  The Secretary‑General is not one who control… I mean, let me put it this way.  World leaders will decide what world leaders will want to do.  This will, obviously, need to be… have an impact on the Host Country, because they will be providing security and everything else outside of the UN.  It will have an impact on us. 

But right now, the vision is for a General Assembly where messages will be delivered by video. 

I will add that the President of the General Assembly, as I understand it, and the Secretary‑General, as I know it, will deliver their remarks in person.  And we’ve told… Member States have been told that at least one… that one person per delegation will be permitted in the General Assembly Hall.  So, the GA Hall will not be empty.  It will be with fewer people than we’re all used to, but it will not be empty.

Okay.  Toby, and then Evelyn. 

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you.  Have you seen the reports about two Myanmar soldiers who have reportedly admitted to participating in a [inaudible]?  Has the SG seen these reports?  And can you… apparently, they’ve been moved to the Hague.  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  Okay.  You’re breaking up, but I think get the gist of your question.  Yeah, I got the gist of your question.  On… yes, we’ve seen the press reports.  There were two very interesting articles today, I think, The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  As far as the ICC (International Criminal Court) and what will happen to these two individuals, you should talk to the ICC. 

As far as the Secretary‑General is concerned, I think he has called for accountability for the crimes that may have been committed in Rakhine State, but I don’t have… any details to what exactly happened really should go to the ICC.

Okay.  Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It’s about the case in Colombia, Mario Paciolla.  As you know, in those last days that been… confirmation that… from the autopsy that was a homicide, an investigation by the Italian authority, also Colombian on this.  Now, it looks like that… they trying to interrogate or have… have questions for certain people, the work of the UN Mission there, and they been… they had difficulty in having the authorization to interrogate them.  So, what you know about that?

And how that… the Headquarters is following this investigation?  Again, it’s not anymore about suicide; it’s about homicide.

Spokesman:  Well, as I’ve said to you… and I don’t… I think the term “interrogation” may be an issue of translation.  No one is being interrogated, but I know what you mean. 

We are continuing to work very closely with the Colombian authorities, with the Italian authorities as they move in their investigations.  UN staff has been made available to these investigations, and we will continue… hold on.  Hold on.  We will continue to make UN staff available.  As far as I understand it, there may have been some scheduling issues as, you know, people are in different places.  But the underlying principle is that people have been and will be made available. 

I think we all want to get clarity as to what happened to… it’s a tragedy that befell this young man, who had… who was working and then was with us as a UN volunteer.

Question:  Yeah, can you just… just a follow‑up, very quick.  Can you give me a reaction that the Secretary‑General had when he find out that the autopsy had confirmed that he’s… that Paciolla was already dead when he was… and didn’t die for hang [inaudible] for hang…

Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General, what we all want is for these investigations to be completed and for the truth to come out. 

Okay.  Evelyn, and then Abdelhamid. 

Correspondent:  Hi.  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Yeah.  Stéphane, in the DRC, Dr. Mukwege in Eastern Congo is in trouble and has threats against his life.  The peacekeepers used to guard him but don’t any longer.  Do you have any further information on that?

Spokesman:  No, Evelyn, we do… we’re doing our utmost to keep him safe, and I read out quite a long, detailed note at the start of the briefing on this.

Correspondent:  I’m sorry.

Spokesman:  That’s okay.  That’s okay.  Don’t worry. 

Abdelhamid, and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you, Steph… thank you, Stéphane.  Oh, sorry.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know what’s wrong.  Anyhow, my… I have two questions.  One question on the east Mediterranean and the tension is rising by the hour.  The European Union is standing behind Greece.  Greece is threatening.  Turkey said it will not budge.  Russia issued a statement.  The only one who’s absent from all this theatre is the Secretary‑General.  I mean, this is an international crisis with the biggest magnitude, and the SG should be involved.  Is he doing anything to this? Is he calling anyone?

Spokesman:  We’re following the situation very closely.  He has been in… we, the UN, have been in touch with various parties at different levels.  As you will recall, the Secretary‑General has, at different times, spoken to both the Turkish and the Greek authorities.  He met with the Greek Foreign Minister recently, where they discussed regional issues. 

We, of course, remain very concerned about the ongoing tensions and underscore the need for these tensions to be resolved through dialogue.

Question:  I have a second question, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.  Yeah.

Question:  Serbia and, I think, Kosovo decided to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in violation of international law.  Is there a clear position from the UN about this in writing or in public?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think we have repeatedly said at different points that the issue of the status of Jerusalem needs to be decided by the parties.

Okay.  Pam, did you have another question?

Question:  Yes.  Thanks, Steph.  Just a clarification.  Is the… is your guidance to diplomats at this point in conforming with New York State that a foreign Head of State should self‑quarantine or is recommended to quarantine for two weeks when they arrive?  And is… does diplomatic immunity kick in at any point there?  Is there a clear recommendation…?

Spokesman:  It’s a complicated issue.  We have no way of… our staff… the Secretary‑General himself, I think, led by example and remained at his residence for two weeks both times that he left the country over the summer.  We would encourage Member States to follow the directives of our Host Country and our Host City.

Question:  I’m sorry.  Which means they should come in and self‑quarantine before…

Spokesman:  I mean, that’s… the Host City has put out a directive, which has been shared with the Permanent Missions, and we would encourage everyone to follow those directives.  And, as I said, for his part, the Secretary‑General and UN officials follow those directives.

Question:  And just to be clear, that’s to self‑quarantine for two weeks.

Spokesman:  To… just to be clear… you need to check the exact wording with the City of New York.  [Cross talk]

Correspondent:  All right.  Thank you so much.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  Anybody else? Let me go to the grid view.  Nobody waving their hands.  Nobody’s asleep.  So, that’s a good sign. 

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you again, Stéphane.  In Yemen, the Houthis decided… can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, yes.

Question:  Yeah.  The Houthis, I think, yesterday decided to close the airport of Sana’a even for the UN humanitarian flights.  Are you aware of this development? And what triggered this development?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes, we are.  Bear with me two seconds.  I’m trying to work three computers at once here, and I’m not as technically savvy as you all are.  Bear with me two seconds.

Yes.  So, I… sorry.  Yes.  As I said, we are aware of the announcement.  It’s, obviously, clear… it’s obvious to anyone that fuel shortages are making humanitarian needs worse.  I mean, in these situations, you need fuel to deliver goods, to pump drinking water, to deal with sanitation networks, run hospitals, et cetera.  The current shortages are impacting many sectors and hampering our and our humanitarian partners’ ability to do their work.

We are, at this point, engaging with the de facto authorities, the Ansar Allah de facto authorities, to identify different ways we can keep the airport open for humanitarian agencies.

Access to the airport, for us, for NGOs (non-governmental organizations), is critical.  Right?  We rely on it for… to import medicine, all sorts of cargo, to rotate staff.  To have a safe and reliable transport in and out of the country is, I think, one of the key security guarantees that we’re seeking from the authorities in the places that we work everywhere around the world.  We need access to airports, and this is no different. 

I think we’re fairly optimistic that the authorities are going to work with us to find some sort of a solution quickly so the UN presence can remain in place and continue to deliver assistance.  And I think it’s important to underscore that the fuel shortages are the result of a political dispute between the parties, which has greatly reduced access to fuel ships serving Hudaydah since 8 June. 

And, so, we’ll continue to urge all the parties to come together to try to solve this.

Okay.  Thank you, all.  We’ll share details of exactly how we’re going to handle the presser tomorrow… yes, Iftikhar.

Question:  Yes.  Since you just answered a question about Yemen, please also tell us and update us on the situation of that oil tanker.

Spokesman:  Yes, we will try to do that, but I have… the fact that I haven’t shared anything with you is that the situation, unfortunately, remains the same, as far as I am aware. 

Take care.  Bye‑bye.

For information media. Not an official record.