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15 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.

**Reham Al-Farra

All right.  Good afternoon, and happy whatever day it is.  I think it’s Tuesday today?  And I just want to take a moment and give a warm welcome to more than 30 young journalists from the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship, some of whom are joining us today virtually.  This year’s group will be with us through early October.  As you recall, the Programme was named in honour of our colleague Reham al-Farra, who at the age of 29 was killed in the terrorist attack on the UN compound on 19 August 2003.  So, we welcome all of them and look forward to working with them.

**General Assembly

This afternoon, the Secretary-General, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres, will speak in person at the closing session of the seventy-fourth General Assembly.  He will also speak at the first plenary meeting of the seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly.

Then tomorrow, at noon, the Secretary-General will speak to you in the press briefing room as an opener to the seventy-fifth session.  That press conference, as you might expect, will replace my noon briefing.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General laid a wreath in memory of the Organization’s second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, who died 59 years ago in a plane crash.

The Secretary-General said he welcomed the General Assembly’s resolution passed in December 2019 to continue the inquiry into the causes of the plane crash.  We have a responsibility to all the victims and their loved ones to learn the truth of what happened, and the Secretary-General reiterated his personal commitment to that quest.

He added that today, Dag Hammarskjöld’s words and vision are more timely than ever.  As the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world, the Secretary-General said, we have once again seen that international solidarity is no longer a choice, but an obligation.

And as reminder, the President of the seventy-fifth General Assembly will hold a press briefing at 4:30 this afternoon.  It will be a hybrid briefing.  He will be in the press briefing room.

**Cameroon

I’ve received a question about Cameroon, and I can say that the Secretary-General strongly condemns the suicide bombing last week in the border village of Zeleved in the far north region of the country.

He expresses his deep sympathies to the families of the victims and the Government and people of Cameroon.  It is essential to hold those responsible for the attack to account.

The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ unwavering support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin and their collective fight against Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations, as well as their efforts to address the security, humanitarian and socioeconomic needs of the affected populations.

He calls on the countries of the Lake Chad Basin, with the support of the broader international community, to maintain their resolve and find a sustainable solution to the crisis and address its root causes.

**Yemen

Turning to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for that country, briefed Security Council members via videoconference this morning, and he told them that increased fighting, greater humanitarian needs, and the COVID-19 pandemic are still taking their toll on Yemen.

Now is the time for the parties to swiftly conclude negotiations and finalize the Joint Declaration, he told members of the Council.  He urged the parties to choose peace, end this conflict and work with us urgently on the Joint Declaration.

He added that the current situation in Marib is concerning in a number of ways, with a high level of loss of life and a real threat to hundreds of thousands of displaced people and people in need.  In Hudaydah, meanwhile, reports of ceasefire violations continue daily, he added, saying that the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) continues to experience restrictions that hamper the Mission’s work.

For his part, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who also briefed the Council, warned that the spectre of famine has returned to Yemen.  He added that he is deeply concerned that the Ansar Allah authorities have closed Sana’a airport to UN and humanitarian flights.

Regarding the Safer oil tanker, Mr. Lowcock said the UN team has submitted a revised proposal for the assessment and initial repair mission and held several rounds of constructive technical discussions with the de facto authorities.  Frustrating as the endless delays have been, he added, we are not giving up, and we hope the new proposal will be quickly approved so the work can start.

**Lebanon

Yesterday, 36 people were rescued by a ship from the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) Maritime Task Force.  They were transferred to the Lebanese Armed Forces Beirut Naval Base.

During the trip back to Beirut, the 36 individuals were provided with immediate assistance.

The Maritime Task Force has rescued 21 men, 10 women — including one pregnant woman — and five children, among them one in critical condition.

**Syria

Turning to neighbouring Syria, our humanitarian colleagues there report that yesterday, unknown armed men reportedly attacked a Turkish Red Crescent vehicle near the al-Bab town in the northern part of Aleppo governorate, killing an aid worker and wounding another.

We condemn any attacks against humanitarian workers and remind all parties, and those with influence over the parties, of their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, as required by International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law.

**Collective Security Treaty Organization

You will have seen a joint statement we issued earlier this morning.  It’s a joint statement by the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Stanislav V. Zas.  They jointly welcomed the steady progress and positive dynamic in the strengthening of relations between the Secretariats of the two organizations in the 10 years since the signing of a Joint Declaration on Cooperation.

They also noted the importance of cooperation, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law, to advance global and regional peace and security.

As the international [community] commemorates the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN, the Secretaries-General reiterated their strong commitment to the Joint Declaration and their intention to further enhance the scope of cooperation at all levels.  These include key areas such as early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, peacekeeping, and preventing and countering terrorism, the fight against international crime and illicit arms trafficking, as well as disaster preparedness and response, and information-sharing.

That statement is online and was shared with you.

**Central Sahel

A record 13.4 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger need humanitarian assistance and protection this year, as complex and fast-growing crises continue to cause record levels of suffering in the Central Sahel region.

That’s according to our colleagues in the Office [for the Coordination] of Humanitarian Affairs.  The number of internally displaced people has increased by 20 [times], going from 70,000 to 1.4 million in less than two years.

Compared to last year, the number of severely food-insecure people has almost quintupled in Burkina Faso, almost doubled in Mali and increased by 77 per cent in Niger.  There are now 6.6 million severely food-insecure people in the region.

While needs are at an all-time high, it is increasingly difficult to access vulnerable people due to insecurity, including attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers, as well as their assets.

The effects of climate change are also complicating an already dramatic humanitarian situation.  As of today, more than 500,000 people have been affected by floods in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

The Humanitarian Response Plans for the three countries, seeking $1.4 billion, is severely underfunded.  A ministerial-level pledging event is scheduled for 20 October in Denmark.

**Somalia

On Somalia, the UN and our international partners welcome the resumption of dialogue between the Federal [Government] and the five Federal member states.

We urge all Somali leaders to engage fully in serious dialogue aimed at reaching broad agreement on a credible and implementable electoral [model].

We also appeal to Somalia’s leaders to be guided by the national interest and the democratic aspirations of the Somali people at this historic moment.

The full statement is online.

**Timor-Leste — COVID-19

We have an update on what we are doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Timor-Leste.

The UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Roy Trivedy, has mobilized $18 million to respond to COVID-19 and has provided essential medical supplies, including 180,000 masks and 100,000 items of personal protection equipment.  That was done through the World Health Organization (WHO).

Through seven World Food Programme (WFP) charter flights, more than 300 aid workers and nearly four tons of life-saving goods have been transported in the past two months.

We are also rolling out a back-to-school campaign with messages on handwashing, social distancing and ensuring continued learning, with nearly all schools having reopened to date.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is delivering 13,000 handwashing buckets for schools and led UN’s efforts to collect data on food and nutrition.

We have also focused on preventing violence against women and girls as part of the Spotlight Initiative.

And UN agencies are also working together to assess the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods.

**Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, the World Food Programme has signed an agreement with the Government in Rakhine State to provide short-term food aid at quarantine centres in eight townships.

Since mid-August 2020, Rakhine State has seen an increase in local transmission of COVID-19.  As of 10 September, some 1,500 people are under quarantine at Government-managed centres across the state.

The agency stands ready to expand its support, if necessary, to Government efforts as it deals with food and nutrition needs of the people in Rakhine and elsewhere in Myanmar.

**Moria Camp

Turning to Greece, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that it is stepping up its support to help 11,000 asylum seekers who are without adequate shelter, after the Moria Reception and Identification Centre burned down last week on the island of Lesvos.

Greek authorities have identified a location on the island to temporarily house the most vulnerable people.  UNHCR is helping to set up this new temporary tented facility and has provided 600 family tents, chemical toilets and handwashing stations.

For its part, the International Migration Agency (IOM) is calling on European States and the EU to both urgently support the immediate shelter and other needs while also finding longer-term solutions rooted in European solidarity.

**Climate Change

Today, the Fashion Industry Charter, convened by the UN Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC), released a Playbook to help businesses in the fashion industry take climate action.

This Playbook is primarily intended for less experienced fashion companies that have not yet taken action on climate change but want to join the sector to deliver net zero emissions by 2050.

The Playbook is also valuable for more experienced companies as they need to bring their suppliers along on their journey.

The fashion sector, as you know, is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, and faces growing risks from increasing emissions and the resulting changes in climate, such as water scarcity, facilities and infrastructure threatened by more frequent and severe climate events, price volatility of raw materials, and much more.

You can find more information on UNFCCC’s website.

**Tourism

Our friends in Madrid at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said today that international tourist arrivals dropped by 65 per cent during the first half of the year.  This represents an unprecedented decrease, as countries around the world closed their borders and introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.

According to the World Tourism Organization, the massive drop in international travel translates to a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about $460 billion in export revenues from international tourism.

They’ve also noted that over recent weeks, a growing number of destinations have started to open up again to international tourists.  As of early September, 53 per cent of destinations had eased travel restrictions, but many Governments remain cautious.

**International Day of Democracy

Today is the International Day of Democracy, something we like.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that as the world confronts COVID-19, democracy is crucial in ensuring the free flow of information, participation in decision-making and accountability for the response to the pandemic.  Yet since the beginning of the crisis, we have seen the emergency used in a range of countries to restrict the democratic processes and civic space.

The Secretary-General noted this is especially dangerous in places where democracy’s roots are shallow and institutional checks and balances are weak.  He added that the crisis is also highlighting — and aggravating — long-neglected injustices and that along with the profound human toll, these inequalities are themselves a threat to democracy.

Since this is a democratic briefing, I will entertain some questions, so let’s see.

**Questions and Answers

James Bays, please, go ahead.

Question:  Yes, Steph, I have some questions on Libya.  There are reports that the new UN envoy for Libya will be Mr. Nickolay Mladenov.  Can you confirm that he is going to take that job?

Spokesman:  No.  That’s the short answer.  The longer answer, as always, when there is jockeying for… well, when there are posts open, there are all sorts of rumours flying around.  I think we have to wait for the usual procedure to take place.

What I can tell you is that Ms. Stephanie Williams remains and actively remains the acting SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), and there will not be a leadership vacuum at the head of the Mission.

Question:  Are you confident that that post will be filled very soon?

Spokesman:  I’ve been here slightly longer than you, and expressing confidence when there’s a process that involves others besides the Secretary‑General as to the timing, I won’t opine.

Question:  Okay.  Couple more follow‑ups… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  But what I will tell you is that, for his part, the Secretary‑General is working as quickly as possible on this.

Question:  And, of course… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We have to wait for the resolution to pass, if it hasn’t already done so.

Question:  Couple more follow‑ups on Libya.  We remember when the Secretary‑General took office that he said Libya was one of his priorities that he hoped would be one of the things that he would be able to solve first.  Clearly, that wasn’t the case.  He was thwarted at that stage.  He was thwarted again when General Haftar marched on Tripoli.  It became a priority again this year when the Berlin process began; that fell apart.  Now you have a new UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) resolution.  Does he see this as a new start and a new push by the international community on Libya?

Spokesman:  Look, for his part, he’s continued to push.  We have been disappointed by what we’ve seen on the ground by the continued fighting.  The Secretary‑General and his representatives, I think, have been very vocal in their disappointment at the flagrant and blatant violations of the arms embargo in Libya.  We will continue to push and remain realistic.

Question:  Okay.  The last one, if I can, with regard to Libya… and it’s gone completely out of my mind, what I was going to ask, so why don’t you go to somebody else, and I’ll come back to you.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  All right, James.  Nabil?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  And good to see you again.  What’s your comment or the Secretary‑General’s comment on the signing of new agreements or treaties between Israel and Arab countries in Washington today, please?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think, for the Secretary‑General, I think it’s been very clear that he hopes these agreements will enable the Palestinians and the Israelis to renew negotiations.  He also hopes, obviously, it will be a new opportunity to develop regional stability in the Gulf.  And I would also refer you to the statements he’s made about the issue related to annexation.

Rick Gladstone?

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  I have a question about the General Assembly.  The… has there been an assessment made of how much money, if any, is being saved through the virtual General Assembly or all of the meetings that will be held not physically?

Spokesman:  No, it’s… as any question with the UN, it’s a complicated answer, because, on one hand, it’s easy to imagine there’s some staff costs saved by overtime on security and so forth, probably — and I’d have to check — I assume fewer interpreters because there are fewer side meetings having to be… extra interpreters having to be hired.

That being said, there are costs that we’ve incurred due to the high level of cleaning and disinfecting that we do on a regular basis.  And, obviously, this is a big hit for our host city, for the hotel, car services, all the people that supply services to the UN, to visiting delegations, to visiting journalists.

So, it’s… we don’t see it as a positive money‑saving measure for us.  And, obviously, the big loss will be the human interaction of diplomacy, the side events, the side discussions and the bilateral meetings that won’t be happening.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  James Bays, has the brain restarted?

Question:  The brain has been found again.  So, back to Libya, there are reports that Prime Minister [Fayez] Serraj is planning to resign and stay on in the caretaker role in order to allow some space, I think, ahead of the UN’s proposed political talks.  What is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to that?

And does he think it would be hope… helpful given how polarized and difficult things have become and if General [Khalifa] Haftar also was to step down to provide… allow the country for new unified leadership?

Spokesman:  We’re not going to comment on these… I mean, I saw the press reports.  I saw the Bloomberg piece this morning and others.  We’re not going to comment at this point.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  And going back to Nabil’s question, how could the SG interpret this agreement as opening new opportunities for middle… peace in the Middle East?  When this agreement involved in Israel to expedite annexation, threatened the Palestinian that there will be no Palestinian State, and even [Benjamin] Netanyahu, before he departed to Washington, threatened that he will throw out the Palestinians who came after 1993 Oslo Agreement to make peace with Israel, and he said he could send them back out of the country.

So, don’t you see that this agreement will embolden Israel and will increase its aggressiveness against the Palestinians?

Spokesman:  For the Secretary‑General, he continues to hope that Israelis, the Palestinian leaders will re‑engage in meaningful negotiations, that will end the occupation, that will realize a two‑State solution in line with all the UN resolutions.  That is, for the Secretary‑General, the only path forward.

Okay.  I don’t… oh, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Good to see you in a sweater today.  And my question is, we heard the… Mr. Griffiths’ reports on Yemen but not a word about the oil tanker, which is about to explode, as we are told, and which threatens the regional countries.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar, the thing I like to do the least is to contradict you, but I did mention what Mr. Lowcock had said about the tanker, and he referred to it extensively in his remarks, which we shared with you.

Correspondent:  I’m sorry.  I missed that.

Spokesman:  That’s okay.  That’s okay.

All right.  If anybody else has a question, wave or open your mics, because I don’t see anything in the chat.  Okay.  Seeing none, hearing none, we will see you tomorrow for the SG’s press briefing.  And do remember the PGA’s (President of the General Assembly) press briefing, the new President of the General Assembly, his press briefing, which is a hybrid briefing.

All right.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.