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10 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 to you all, and welcome to this new day.  It’s Thursday.

**Secretary-General — COVID-19

As you saw, the Secretary-General this morning spoke at the virtual inaugural meeting of the Facilitation Council of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.  The Secretary-General pointed out that we continue to struggle to collectively to make all the decisions and devote all the resources we need to defeat the COVID-19 virus.  If it’s not too late, he said, we must start immediately by massively expanding new and existing tools that can rapidly respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.

He said that, although many pin their hopes on a vaccine, that alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term.  The Secretary-General stressed the need for important political choices to be made, calling for a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again.  He also said that we must overcome the worrying trend of numerous parallel initiatives and nationally focused efforts that would undermine an effective global response.  Lastly, the Secretary-General called for greater trust in vaccines.  We’ve shared his full remarks with you that were delivered live.

**Culture of Peace

He also spoke by video link at the opening segment of the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace.  He warned that COVID-19 is exposing and exploiting risks not only to our health, but to our economies, societies and our future.  In the face of this grave danger, he said, it is more important than ever to work for a culture of peace as the essential foundation for global cooperation and action.  He said that a culture of peace must be centred on human rights, an end to injustice and discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, religion, disability or sexual orientation.  We must tackle the deep-rooted inequalities that work against the dignity and opportunities for all, he added.  As we respond to the pandemic, and work for a strong economic recovery, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres urged all to redouble their commitment by making a culture of peace our everyday reality.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan.  In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack in Kabul on the official convoy of First Vice‑President Amrullah Saleh, which resulted in dozens of civilian casualties.  The Secretary-General extended his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  He added that we reiterate the urgency of achieving a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan and reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to supporting the people and Government of Afghanistan in this endeavour.

**Security Council

This morning, at an in-person session of the Security Council, members adopted a presidential statement on the protection of schools from attack.  This was followed by a briefing on the same topic.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, welcomed the progress accomplished in the past decade to improve the protection of schools, but she also warned that attacks on schools seem to be emerging as a tactic of war, particularly in the Sahel.  She urged all parties to the conflict to respect the civilian nature of schools.  Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reminded Council Members that COVID-19 has been disrupting learning for over 1 billion children worldwide, including many of the 75 million children who live in countries in conflict.  Her remarks have been shared with you.

**Libya

The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Stephanie Williams, warmly welcomed the outcomes of consultations among key Libyan stakeholders that took place in Montreux under the auspices of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.  Those took place between 7 and 9 September.  The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) commends the goodwill and national dedication of the Libyan participants, who seized the opportunity to put aside their long‑standing differences and disputes to recommend a Libyan-Libyan solution that can be put on the table for the early resumption of the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.  The Mission notes the consensus view of the participants in Montreaux consultations that presidential and parliamentary elections must be held at the end of an 18-month period on the basis of an agreed constitutional framework.  Building on these and other consultations, including those under way in the Kingdom of Morocco, and following weeks of extensive talks with key Libyan and international stakeholders, the Mission will now launch the arrangements needed to resume the fully inclusive Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, with an announcement to be made forthcoming.

**Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, the emergency humanitarian response continues to keep pace with the evolving needs before longer-term recovery and reconstruction begins.  Regarding our own relief efforts, the World Food Programme (WFP) completed the delivery of 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour at the Beirut Port.  This supply has helped replace the 15,000 metric tons stored at the silos at the time of the [explosions].  More than 74,000 hot and ready-to-eat meals have been provided to affected people, and 21,200 households have received food vouchers or in-kind parcels.  Since the beginning of the response, more than 7,060 shelter kits have been distributed, more than 7,900 people have been reached with re‑established water supply and 5,740 buildings have been assessed for water and sanitation interventions.

Many of the affected families have moved to other parts of Beirut due to the lack of affordable and safe shelter in areas severely affected by the explosions.  Meanwhile, UNICEF has warned that 1,000 of the 6,000 people injured in the blast were children.  In addition, UNICEF estimates that up to 600,000 children could suffer from psychological shock or distress.  Meanwhile, in the southern part of the country, our peacekeeping colleagues report that peacekeepers deployed as part of the Mission’s Force Commander’s Reserve Unit donated personal protective equipment to the municipalities of Bourj al Malouk and Marjayoun in south-eastern Lebanon to help with the fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic.

**Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, according to a nutrition survey recently done by UNICEF, the agency said today that over 535,500 children under the age of five year are acutely malnourished, including 156,000 who suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are at imminent risk of death.  UNICEF is working with its partners to ramp up the responses on the ground.  Community health workers have been mobilized to travel to the most remote areas in order to screen and treat malnourished children at the community level.  They are also providing advice on best feeding practices for infants and young children, including in emergency situations.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) hosted a special peace conference in Juba yesterday to help end ongoing fighting between armed groups in the Jonglei region.  The fighting has caused more than 600 deaths and the displacement of thousands of people.  The mediation forum involved dozens of high-ranking national and state political leaders, community elders, civil society and other key stakeholders.  Opening the forum, the Head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, noted that Dinka, Murle and Nuer groups were all involved in the violence and were, therefore, responsible for finding a solution together.  He also called on external actors to stop supplying weapons and fuelling violence.  At the end of the conference, the participants committed to an immediate cessation of hostilities, creation of buffer zones, formation of a joint committee to recover abducted children, increased policing and to support much-needed infrastructure to support communities.  On the COVID-19 front, the UN Mission provided solar-powered radios to 500 families in Western Equatoria State to ensure that children have access to lessons broadcast twice a day on Radio Miraya, the UN radio station.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that its Permanent Operation Base in Nana-Bakassa, in the Ouham Prefecture, was attacked on Monday by armed anti-Balaka combatants.  No UN personnel were harmed but there was minor damage to the base, including the burning of a vehicle belonging to the Mission.  The attack is the latest in a series that took place over the past days, targeting the peacekeeping mission.  The Mission also reports attacks by elements from the armed group 3R in which one civilian was killed and vehicles burned.  In response, the Mission has deployed patrols to protect civilians in Bokaya, in the Ouham-Pendé Prefecture.  MINUSCA also exchanged gunfire with suspected 3R elements on Tuesday night, while providing assistance to the national defence forces who were under attack.

MINUSCA condemns these unacceptable attacks against civilians and peacekeepers by armed groups, who are reminded to respect their commitments under the Political Agreement of February 2019.  The Mission continues to work closely with international partners to advance peace and stability in the Central African Republic, particularly in the context of the upcoming elections in December.  With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Central African Republic, the peacekeepers there helped construct a building at the Ndoka primary school, in Ndele.  This is part of the Mission’s quick-impact projects implemented in the Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture to support the safe resumption of classes throughout the country.

**Brazil

Now we move across the world to Brazil, which has over 4 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Niky Fabiancic, joined a national meeting with congress and civil society representatives to boost prevention among people without homes or living in the streets.  This is part of the UN socioeconomic response and recovery plan, which targets the most vulnerable groups.  The UN team continues focusing on the Amazon region, with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNICEF and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), distributing over 5,000 masks and thermometers and hundreds of hygiene kits for refugees and migrants living in the northern region and border towns with Venezuela.  The UN team is also using social media and text messages to boost information about the pandemic for people in the Amazon, including in hard-to-reach areas.  And the International Labour Organization (ILO) is working with authorities to improve safety for health workers across the country.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is focusing on curbing sexual violence against girls, a problem that has been aggravated during the pandemic.  And very importantly, to halt the spread of misinformation, the UN has partnered with a comic book character, Monica, and her friends, who have joined the UN’s “Verified” campaign to ensure that science-backed information is disseminated on COVID-19 throughout the country.

**COVID-19 — Data Portal

An update from the Development Coordination Office on the COVID-19 Data Portal, which tracks our work to recover better from the pandemic.  One hundred and twenty countries and territories are covered by 104 UN country team-backed response plans.  The total cost for these plans amounts to $35 billion.  To finance these, UN teams have repurposed existing programmes and resources towards COVID-19 actions for a total of [almost] $3 billion.  Additional resources were mobilized through the UN’s Recover Better Fund, the Joint SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Fund, bilateral donors and others.  But, more resources are needed to fully roll out the socioeconomic response.  Working with Governments, the UN teams have often benefitted from partnerships with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the five regional economic commissions for the plans to recover better.  The data in the portal is public, and you can go to data.uninfo.org to check out the latest figures.  Okay.  Let's rock 'n' roll.  Let's see if we have any questions.  I'll go to the chat.  Okay.  I don't see anything in the chat.  If somebody has a question, feel free to wave.  Ah, Edie, thank you.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question about Belarus.  The opposition activist who the Government was trying to forcibly expel from the country to Ukraine has issued a complaint, saying that she was threatened to be killed and is demanding action.  I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comment on these latest allegations and the continuing protests in Belarus and the Government’s actions.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We've seen these latest reports, and we're, frankly, very concerned about reports of detentions, reported use of force, and as you mentioned, the pressure that has been put on by the authorities on the opposition, on civil society activists.  It's very important that the people of Belarus be able to exercise their political and constitutional rights peacefully in a democratic environment.  Now, we have been in regular contacts with the authorities in Belarus at various levels since the beginning of the crisis, and these contacts are continuing to take place.  And our message privately to these contacts has been the same as we've been delivering very publicly.  Okay?  Wave if you have a question, because I'm not seeing anything… or open your mics.  I'm not seeing anything on the chat for some reason.  Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the Lebanese army fired at an Israeli drone and downed it in south Lebanon.  So, when does these things considered a great violation and should be condemned by the UN — on case‑to‑case basis, not in a comprehensive matter at the end of a periodical reporting?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we'll check with our colleagues at the Mission.  I've not received anything as of now, but we'll check with the Mission.  If you look at the regular reports, the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] report, they are usually very detailed in outlining the incidents that have taken place.  But, again, that's more broadly.  I will check with the Mission to see if we have anything.  Okay?  Any other questions?  Well, I'm glad to be able to leave you speechless on this Thursday, and we shall see you mañana.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.