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14 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.  Happy Monday.  Good afternoon to all of you.

**Libya

I’ll start off with Libya, where the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) expressed its grave concern yesterday regarding reports that one civilian was killed, and three were injured, and a number of other demonstrators were arrested on 12 September.  This followed the reported excessive use of force by eastern authorities against peaceful demonstrators in the city of Al-Marj.  The UN Mission calls for a thorough and immediate investigation into these incidents and for the speedy release of all those arbitrarily arrested and detained.  The Mission reminds all parties in Libya that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental to human rights and fall within Libya’s obligations under international human rights law.

**Afghanistan

And on Afghanistan, you will have seen that the Secretary-General had a video message for the meeting of intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar.  He said that the start of the peace negotiations between Afghanistan and the Taliban presents a major opportunity to achieve the long-held aspirations of the people for peace.  The Secretary-General paid tribute to the resilience and courage of all Afghans, stressing that an inclusive peace process — in which women, youth and victims of conflict are meaningfully represented — offers the best hope for a sustainable solution.

**Belarus

And you will have seen that we issued a statement on Friday afternoon in which the Secretary-General said he remains deeply concerned about the situation in Belarus, particularly the continued use of force against peaceful protestors and the detention of people exercising their legitimate democratic rights.  He is also concerned about reports of intimidation tactics against civil society, media and opposition figures.  He calls on the authorities in Belarus to refrain from the use of force against those engaging in peaceful assembly and to ensure that allegations of torture and other mistreatment of people in detention are fully investigated and addressed.  The Secretary-General underlines that the current crisis can only be resolved by the Belarusian people through a broad-based, inclusive dialogue, which should start immediately in the interest of stability.

Also on Belarus, I wanted to update you on what our UN team there is doing to fight the spread of COVID-19 virus and mitigating its impact.  The team, led by Resident Coordinator Joanna Kazana, has provided some $7.5 million to the national response, including addressing the socioeconomic impact and supporting the health system.  The World Health Organization (WHO) delivered 250 oxygen concentrators, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supplied 40 remote-sensing thermometers to be distributed to educational institutions, as well as 60 air circulators for the capital, for the city of Minsk.  WHO has also helped to enhance the national airport’s prevention and detection programmes.  A recent survey led by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) found that nearly 40 per cent of the population feels the financial impact and emotional toll from the pandemic.  And the UN along with the World Bank are continuing with a campaign, including on billboards, to curb the spread of the pandemic.

**Security Council

Back here, in his annual briefing on peacekeeping reform to the Security Council, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Head of Peace Operations, said that as the peacekeeping missions have been supporting national responses to COVID-19, they are also continuing to pursue their “Action for Peacekeeping” commitments.  The pandemic has imposed new challenges, he said, but in areas such as policy and guidance work, it has also created space for progress.  Looking forward, Mr. Lacroix said he wanted the UN peacekeeping to continue to be an indispensable multilateral tool for the peace and security toolbox.  The missions need to continue to respond to immediate challenges, including weak commitment to peace by the various actors in the conflicts, and the regionalization of conflict.  But, he added, in the coming years, we are likely to see a world transformed by potentially lethal and disruptive technologies, climate-related disruptions, and other challenges.  To have missions fit for purpose for the coming decades, Mr. Lacroix concluded, they have begun an internal reflection on the types of adaptations that will be required for these operations.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as you may have seen, on Friday afternoon, we expressed the Secretary-General’s concern at the ongoing violence in the Irumu territory, notably in the borders of Ituri and North Kivu Provinces.  Recent attacks have once again led to the killing of many civilians.  The area continues to experience intercommunity violence but also remains under threat by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).  The Secretary-General reiterated the support of the UN to the Congolese authorities in bringing to justice the perpetrators of attacks against civilians, national security forces and peacekeepers in the country.  He reaffirmed the commitment of the UN to support the people and Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country.

**Journalists

And our friends in Paris at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today released a report which notes there has been a sharp increase this year in the global number of protests during which the police and security forces violated media freedom.  In some cases, including during protests linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, and others, violence resulted in permanent injuries, such as those sustained by several journalists blinded by rubber bullets or pepper balls.  And you will have seen that, on Friday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General also spoke out on this subject, saying that he is appalled at the continued and increased numbers of attacks against journalists around the world.  He said the recent killing of Julio Valdivia Rodríguez, a Mexican journalist, is yet another example of the hazardous and difficult conditions in which many journalists work globally.  The Secretary‑General reiterated that a free press is essential for peace, justice, and sustainable development and human rights and added that when media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.

**Human Rights Council

At the opening session of the Human Rights Council this morning in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that the pandemic has collided with many slower, and more entrenched, political and social and economic crises around the world.  With poverty and tensions shooting up and a sharp decline in many people's hope for a better life, Ms. Bachelet added that human rights norms provide the tested guidance that can help States de-escalate grievances, deliver appropriate protection, establish a sound foundation for development and security, and ensure freedom and rights.  In this context, she said there are important opportunities for the UN to assist States to devise human rights-based actions that can de-escalate tensions, support sustainable development and preserve people's well-being — even at this challenging time.  And her remarks obviously are available to you.

**Sudan

And just a quick note from Sudan, where our humanitarian colleagues say that nearly 720,000 people have been affected by continued floods in the country, with more than 100 deaths reported.  Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed and thousands of livestock killed.  The UN, together with the Government and our partners, are helping those in need.  We have reached some 200,000 people with health, food and other assistance.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan needs $1.6 billion, but is less than half funded.  Obviously, resources are urgently needed.

**Environment

A new ecolabel launched today by the Sustainable Rice Platform, which is led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), will help shoppers reduce their environmental impact by identifying rice that has been sustainably produced.  Over 3.5 billion people rely on rice as a daily staple, but rice farming consumes up to one third of the world’s developed freshwater resources and generates up to 20 per cent of global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  UNEP has said employing best practices in rice farming can reduce water use by some 20 per cent and methane emissions from flooded rice fields by up to 50 per cent.  With the new label, consumers will be able to trace rice back to its origin country and retailers can make a significant contribution to sustainability commitments and climate change targets.  More information from UNEP.

**Global Goals

And finally, I want to flag to you that this Saturday we, along with our partners from Project Everyone and 72 Films productions, are releasing the film Nations United:  Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times.  That will be at 9 a.m.  The film sets out what must be done to tackle the world’s biggest issues, from COVID‑19 to poverty, inequality, gender discrimination, climate change, justice and human rights.  The film was directed by our friend Richard Curtis, who is also a UN Sustainable Development Goals Global Advocate and features UN Messengers of Peace and Goodwill Ambassadors, including Malala Yousafzai, Don Cheadle and Michelle Yeoh, among others.  And I hear it also features Beyoncé.  The broadcast will be shown to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of these United Nations, as well as the fifth anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals.  You can watch the film’s premiere on the UN’s YouTube Channel and on our webcast on UN WebTV.  All right.  I will stop there.  Let's see if anybody has any questions for me.  Benjamin Avni.  Benny?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Yes, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you.

Correspondent:  Okay, Steph…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  I'm seeing… I hope you're not… I hope you're not driving.

Question:  My wife is driving.  She's laughing.  She's not… we're in a parking lot.  Anyway, Steph, two questions about statements I may have missed, one — speaking of the right to protest, Navid Afkari was executed in Iran, and a lot of world leaders have commented on it.  I haven't seen the Secretary‑General.  He was executed after participating in a protest in… after he… except… confession was extracted by torture.  Anything?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General has been very clear against… his feelings against the use of the death penalty.  He firmly condemns the use of the death penalty in this case, the one you mentioned in Iran, and in every other case that it's been used.

Question:  So, it's about the death penalty, not about this particular case?

Spokesman:  I… well, I think I… my… I may have spoken… maybe you need to pump up the volume on your speakers.  I said, he condemns the use of the death penalty in this particular case and every other case that it's been used.

Question:  Okay.  The second question is, another thing that I may have missed, and that is, what — and I asked you about that before, but now another country has joined in — what is the Secretary‑General's view on the signing tomorrow of agreement between Israel and two Arab countries, the first such signing in a quarter century.  Is that a good thing?  A bad thing?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General hopes that the signing ceremony tomorrow will help create more opportunities for regional cooperation, and he also hopes that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will re‑engage in meaningful negotiations that will end the occupation, realize a two‑State solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and existing bilateral agreements.  That's it.  Okay.  James Bays?

Correspondent:  You didn’t go on to read.  I cancelled because you already answered on Belarus.

Spokesman:  Oh.  Excellent.  All right.  Erol, Avdovic.  Okay.  We'll come back to you.   Edie?

Question:  All right?  You'll come back to me?

Spokesman:  All right.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Erol.  You're up.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Farhan [Haq] sent me something as… in the form of response to my question how the Secretary‑General views this agreement between… in Washington, D.C., between Trump Administration and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and the Kosovo Prime Minister [Avdullah] Hoti a week ago.  Now, since the… as a part of that agreement was the recognition of Israel of Kosovo.  While Serbia and Kosovo would move their embassies from Tel Aviv, obviously, Kosovo will open in Jerusalem.  How the Secretary‑General view that context, moving embassies in the… that context of peace?

Spokesman:  Look, the decision to move an embassy is a decision taken by the different entities.  As for the status of Jerusalem, the Secretary‑General believes that it's an issue that should be decided by the parties.  As for more countries recognizing each other and establishing relations, that's obviously a positive step.

Question:  Do you think… as a follow‑up, do you think that this is a right move in the right direction in the peace process in the Middle East or some kind of peril of moving that way…?

Spokesman:  Listen, I will leave the in‑depth analysis to all of you.  Ms. Lederer?

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I hope you can hear me.  I'm actually at the UN today, and I can't do video…

Spokesman:  That's okay.  I recognize your voice, so I know it's you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on a court in Rwanda today charging Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, with terrorism, complicity and murder, and forming an armed rebel group.  As you know, he was basically kidnapped and taken to Rwanda.  He's denied all the charges.

Spokesman:  Look, I will send you something on that.  I had some language, which, strangely enough, I can't find, because I'm having computer issues, but I will send you… I will send all of you something very shortly on that.  Okay?  Let's see.  Who else do we have?  All right.  I think that's it.  Just as a reminder…

Question:  May I?  I put my name, Stéphane.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I put my name.

Correspondent:  Me, too.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  Okay.  Relax.  Everybody, just relax.

Correspondent:  I also have a question, Steph.

Spokesman:  It's not showing up in the chat.  That's okay.  So, let's go to Abdelhamid and then Mr. Sato and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a follow‑up on my friend's Erol question.  And when you said that moving the embassy, it's up to the sovereign state, but if this move is in violation of Security Council, I think you should say it, because there is resolution 478, which was adopted in 20 August 1980, clearly instructs every country in the world not to move its embassy to Jerusalem.  And this was re-emphasized in the resolution 2334, adopted on 23 December 2016.  So, I think… you said it this way, it looks like…?

Spokesman:  What is clear… what is clear for us and for the Secretary‑General is that the status of Jerusalem is one that should be negotiated between the parties.  And I would refer you to what we… to the statement that we issued when the United States announced its move, and the sentiments expressed in that statement stand today for other countries that may make the same decision.

Question:  With my respect, I mean, the status of Jerusalem is one thing, and moving the embassy is something else.  It is a direct violation of a clearly defined Security Council resolution.  But, my question is about also the welcoming of the agreement between Bahrain and the… and Israel.  [Nickolay] Mladenov, in his statement, when United Arab Emirates decided to recognize Israel, he rushed to say he… to welcome that, and he said it would stop the annexation.  He used the word "stop".  And it was proven that it was wrong.  Again, why he… why you could welcome something that's broke away from the norms of the UN Security Council resolution and Arab League resolutions, as well?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, I will reread what I said, right, and you can then analyse and take out the words of what I… I mean, not take out.  You can analyse and critique what I said.  But, what I said is that the Secretary‑General hopes that the signing ceremony tomorrow will create more opportunities for regional cooperation, and he also hopes that Israelis and Palestinian leaders will re‑engage in a meaningful negotiation that will end the occupation, realize a two‑State solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and the agreements that have already been agreed to, bilateral agreements that have been agreed to.  Okay.  Sato‑san?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Hello, Stéphane.  So, two question to you.  One is easiest one.  On Thursday, we have International Day of Peace, which the Secretary‑General always ring a bell… ring the Peace Bell.  Does Secretary‑General have any message to convey on that day?

Spokesman:  Well, it is… it will be a — excuse for stating the obvious — a message of peace, one of renewal of a commitment to ceasefires that we are… that he had put out a call for a global ceasefire.  He wants to see these things implemented, and I think we've seen, in a number of places, some movement in positive steps or at least no movement in a negative way in various conflicts.

Question:  Okay.  Second question is about climate change.  What we are seeing in the west part of the US is more devastating wildfire still going on, and also, we are seeing the hot… more frequent hurricane from the south coast of the US.  What is Secretary‑General's view on these kind of extraordinary climate?

Spokesman:  Look, I think, if you see everything the Secretary‑General has said, including the last briefing with WMO [World Meteorological Organization], is that all over the world we're seeing an increase in severe weather, in unpredictable weather, in more violent weather, which has… whether it's in the United States, whether it's in the floods that we're seeing in Sudan and the floods we saw in Yemen or droughts in other places, and we firmly believe that this extreme weather is linked to climate change, is linked to human activity dealing with climate change.  Now, on specifically what's going on in the US and the fires, the Secretary‑General will be writing to the President of the United States to express his condolences on the loss of life that we've seen during these horrific fires in California and Oregon, Washington and other states and say that… express his thoughts are with the people and Government of the United States as this crisis continues.  Okay.  Pam, I think you had a question?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  First question is, the Secretary‑General is speaking with Volkan Bozkir, with the President of the General Assembly, but I thought I saw somewhere that he's also having a sec… his own separate speech.  Is this on… on some topic, on the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  He's speaking… there are two events.  One is the UN75 event, which takes place on Monday, which the Secretary‑General will speak, and the other one is the traditional General Assembly speech that he will deliver on Tuesday.

Question:  Okay.  And on 21 September, he speaks live?

Spokesman:  Yes.  They're… all these… those two events are live.

Question:  Okay.  And on his speech, any previews about whether he'll speak about COVID, climate change or whatever?  And can you share that letter that he's writing to the President of the United States?

Spokesman:  No, I can't share the letter at this point.  On the other hand, he will speak about the challenges to multilateralism.  He will speak at the main challenges that we are facing today, including COVID, including inequalities.  But, we will be able to preview the speech a little closer to the date for you.

Question:  Okay.  Final one is just any indication if President [Donald] Trump will be virtual or in person?  And if he does come in person, will the SG have a bilateral?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Of course, the Secretary‑General will have a bilateral with him if the President of the United States comes.  I have absolutely zero information on whether or not he will be here physically or virtually.  I think those questions are best answered by the Permanent Mission to the US or by the State Department.  Okay.  Stefano Vaccara?

Correspondent:  I also had a question, Steph.

Spokesman:  Oh, okay.  Sorry.  Go ahead, Betul.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Yemen.  Human Rights Watch released a report on aid obstruction in Yemen today and called for the UN to launch an independent investigation.  I was wondering how the work of the UN being impacted and who's obstructing and if the SG is considering to allow to an investigation.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report, but what I can tell you is that we have… I'm sorry.  We've publicly raised the issue of aid blockage in Yemen with various authorities on the ground.  As you will recall, at some point, the WFP [World Food Programme] also pulled back on some of its aid delivery because of the blockage, because of the administrative procedures.  So, this is something that we're keenly aware of and that we've raised both publicly and privately with the relevant authorities.  Signor Vaccara?

Correspondent:  Grazie mille.  Thank you, Stéphane.  An organization based in Berlin today issued a press release.  It's called… the organization is called Democracy Without Borders and it's asking… recommends for the UN to elect a global parliament.  A new parliament body of United Nations will strengthen democracy in global collaboration.  They say they also can be done by the General Assembly without changing the Charter, and they say it will also help about the issue of the climate change and COVID‑19, because they say that citizens of the world have…

Spokesman:  Stefano, Stefano, Stefano, you… Stefano, Stefano, hold on.  You got cut off, if you could just repeat the question but in a very shortened manner, please.

Question:  Okay.  So very short manner is there is… can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  There is an organization that's called Democracy Without Borders.  It's based in Berlin.  It recommends an elected global parliament at the UN and that this General Assembly should organise this without even amending the Charter, a parliament that is elected directly from the citizens of the world.  So, what the UN Secretary‑General thinks about this idea?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen this particular report.  What I can tell you is that that sounds to me, first, like an issue for Member States, but let me take a look at it, because I haven't seen it.

Question:  And then, if you allow me, if you have any news about the investigation of Mario…?

Spokesman:  No.  No news on that.  Erol, you had one more question?  Erol?  Go ahead.

Question:  You hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Question:  Okay.  First of all, Steph, do we know how many people are not going to be virtual, but they are going to come actually to GA meeting?  So far, do we have any confirmation…

Spokesman:  No, as far as I know right now, no Heads of States or Government have confirmed a physical presence.

Correspondent:  Okay.  In that connection, is the Secretary‑General… I don't like to put too much on your Monday plate, but I really have…

Spokesman:  That's okay.  It's better… better on the Monday plate than a Friday plate.

Question:  All right.  So, I think it's a question for Secretary‑General.  How… again, how he sees the future of this organization after these virtual move in the microcosmos of virtual diplomacy?  How he see the future of the UN?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I think all of us very much hope that a virtual General Assembly is not the future of the UN.  It is something we have to deal with this year for the particular circumstances that we're currently facing.  We very much hope that next year will be different and we will be able to meet again in person.  On one hand, it does create an opportunity for every Head of State or Head of Government to speak to the General Assembly without having to travel.  So…

Question:  What is visa travel?

Spokesman:  But… sorry?

Question:  Visa travel?  What travel?

Spokesman:  Without having to travel.

Correspondent:  Oh, we… okay, all right, thank you.

Spokesman:  Without having to travel.  But, on the other hand, what we'll be missing is the human aspect of diplomacy.  We organize every year hundreds and hundreds of bilateral meetings between Heads of States, right, who, for various political or other reasons, won't travel to each other's countries or can't do it.  And this provides a huge amount of positive informal diplomacy.  The Secretary‑General will not be having the bilateral meetings that he usually has.  I mean, you know that list.  I mean, on the positive end, you won't have to have deal with the hundreds of readouts that we issue every year and that are so full of vivid information.  But, it's something that's missing, and it's something that's missing from all our lives.  But, I… we very much hope that this is not the future of the UN, but of course, we're learn… this will have an impact, and we're learning to work in new ways, as well.  Okay.  Karina, you have a question.  Karina?

Question:  Yes, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, perfectly.

Question:  So, yes, KSrelief called on the UN to take immediate action to address oil tanker in Yemen.  Has there been any update on that situation?

Spokesman:  No.  Sadly, no.  We are continuing the discussions with the Ansar Allah authorities, the de facto authorities.  It is vital that we move on this as quickly as possible, because every day that there isn't positive news is every day it adds to the ecological and human risk of the tanker disintegrating or exploding or whatever.  Okay.  All right.  Unless… Abdelhamid, please.

Question:  Yes.  Yesterday… I think this morning, Turkey decided to withdraw its exploration ship from east Mediterranean, cooling off the tension.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No, I do not at this point.  Okay.  Unless somebody waves their hand… Toby, you're not wearing your mask properly.  There we go.  Okay.  We'll be the mask police today, though you don't need to wear a mask when you're talking to me over the video.

For information media. Not an official record.