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17 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.  After we are done here, Brenden Varma will have the pleasure to take your questions.

**Protection of Journalists

I just want to start off with an issue that I know is important to all of you, on press freedom.  I have been asked about the Secretary-General’s response to a recent letter sent to him from the Committee to Protect Journalists concerning restrictions on the press, as well as the death of journalists while in detention.  It’s clear that, during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General has been concerned about the number of restrictions and attacks against journalists, who are just doing their job.  Many have been subjected to harassment, acts of intimidation, sanctions, killing and also arbitrary detention.  We know that prisoners, detainees and those deprived of their liberty in general are highly vulnerable to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.  The Secretary‑General calls on governments to immediately release journalists who have been detained for exercising their profession.

It is the Secretary-General’s firm belief that a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights.  No democracy can function without press freedom, which is the cornerstone of trust between people and their institutions.  When media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.  You will recall that we issued a statement last week saying that the Secretary-General is appalled at the continued and increased numbers of attacks against journalists and media workers around the world.

**Yemen

So, going on to… earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the high‑level ministerial meeting on Yemen, with the coronavirus pandemic, the urgency of reaching a negotiated political settlement to end the conflict has only grown.  He added that there are more than 2,000 confirmed [cases] of COVID-19 in Yemen, but experts estimate that there are possibly up to 1 million affected people impacted by the virus, with a fatality rate as high as 30 per cent.  The Secretary-General urged all parties to cease hostilities.  He said he was also deeply concerned about the status of the Safer oil tanker, moored off the western coast of Yemen.  An oil spill, explosion or fire would have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences for Yemen and the entire region, he warned.  The Secretary-General added that, to date, only 30 per cent of the UN response plan is funded — the lowest level ever this late in the year.  Fulfilling all pledges to date, and increasing them wherever possible, is vital to prevent a devastating famine.

**Secretary-General — Peace Bell Ceremony

Earlier today the Secretary-General spoke in person at the traditional Peace Bell Ceremony on the thirty-ninth anniversary of the International Peace Day.  He said that peace is never a given — it is an aspiration that is only as strong as our conviction and only as durable as our hope.  The Secretary-General noted that, today, the COVID-19 pandemic is expanding risks to peace everywhere, stressing that we need to silence the guns and focus on our common enemy:  the virus.  Following that, the Secretary-General spoke to a virtual student observance of the International Day of Peace.  He told them that he is always inspired by how much meaningful action young peacebuilders take every day to make our world a better place.  Now, he stressed, we need them to inspire combatants engaged in battle to stand down and think of the common good.  We’ve shared both sets of remarks with you earlier.

**Environment and Security

And in the Security Council, this morning, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Ibrahim Thiaw, briefed Council members on the humanitarian effects of environmental degradation.  He said that a large number of threats to international peace and security today are linked to the environment.  He stressed that conflicts over access to natural resources are not new, but he said the intensity and the frequency are unprecedented.

**Syria

Just to remind you that yesterday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, told Council members, about the grave humanitarian situation in Syria.  He highlighted the impact on the humanitarian situation of the economic downturn, noting that the price of a standard food basket has increased by 250 per cent since last year.  On humanitarian access, he highlighted that the UN is adjusting its cross-border operations into the north-west to meet the needs of millions who rely on these operations for lifesaving goods.

**United Nations Resident Coordinators

And our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that Arnaud Peral of France has taken up his new post as Resident Coordinator in Tunisia this week.  His appointment follows confirmation by the host Government.  He and 128 other Resident Coordinators are boosting coordination among UN entities to support national and local efforts to address and recover better from COVID-19 and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  And we remain a full gender parity in our Resident Coordinators.

**Sudan

And just to highlight the situation in Sudan, where the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it is scaling up its efforts to reach nearly 160,000 people impacted by devastating floods, the worst the country has seen in a century.  Some 650,000 people are believed to have been impacted by the floods so far.  WFP says it is working tirelessly with the Government of Sudan and our partners to ensure that food reaches those who need it and to increase the number of people who receive aid.

**Financial Contribution

And I want to thank our friends at the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who have paid their regular budget in full, bringing us to 116.

**Sustainable Development Goals Moment

And as you heard the Deputy Secretary-General and Richard Curtis, I want to remind you that the SDG Moment event with leaders and stakeholders convened by the Secretary-General will take place tomorrow, and that will be visible on the web.  And the SDG broadcast moment, the film that Richard was mentioning, will air Saturday, 9 a.m. New York time, on the UN’s YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter and WebTV, and also on a number of other partner broadcasters.  Okay.  Let me go to your questions.  While I log on, let me turn to Mr. Sato.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Let me clarify, if I missed some of the word of the opening statement.  Did you say 1 million possible cases in Yemen, according to experts?

Spokesman:  You would think that I actually listen to what I actually say, so let me go back and make sure I said the right thing.  I know I said the right thing, as long as I'm… what I said, there are 2,000 confirmed cases, but experts estimate there are possibly up to 1 million people affected by the virus, with a fatality rate of as high as 30 per cent.  So, that's an estimate.

Question:  Can you elaborate what expert they… from WHO, or…?

Spokesman:  Let me get a bit more information on that, because that is a very valid question.  Okay.  Alan, RIA Novosti, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Stéphane, I have a question regarding Nobel Prizes.  Maybe you have heard that former Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, has proposed to nominate the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya for Nobel Peace Prize, and also I've heard some reports that Alexei Navalny is also proposed… is advised to be proposed for this Nobel Prize… Peace Prize.  Have you… do you have any position, any comment regarding these candidates?  Do you think it's… does make sense?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It's not… first of all, the Nobel Peace Prize is not ours to give.  So, it is not for us to comment on reports of who may be or not be nominated.  It doesn't involve the UN in any way.  As we usually do, we will, obviously, congratulate the person, the entity or whoever wins the prize.  And I do congratulate you on the artwork behind you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Appreciate it.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  It's very nice.  Okay.  Let's see.  I don't have any more… oh, Stefano Vaccara.

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  It's about the investigation on the death of Mario Paciolla in Colombia.  Do you have any information about the… there are journalists in Colombia that they say that they waiting practically for the recall of certain officer, UN officer, from Colombia because… for the way they handle the situation.  So, do you have… can you confirm or not that… even at the top level of the Mission there, they're going to be…?  I can't hear you.

Spokesman:  We've seen all sorts of press reports.  Those are… you're always… press reports are always interesting.  We're reading them, but we are not going to comment in any way on speculation.  We are focussing on supporting the investigations being done by the Colombian authorities and by the Italian authorities.

Question:  You are saying that these are not truth, or there is something that maybe is…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not saying… I'm not commenting one way or another on those reports.  Abdelhamid, and then James Bays.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  I don't have a question.  I'm sorry.

Spokesman:  Oh.  Okay.  Sorry.  I'm having trouble with the chat.  James Bays, no doubt, you have a question.

Question:  I do have a question, Steph.  So, following up from the Secretary‑General's non‑answer on snapback yesterday, where he referred us to the UN Security Council to come up with a position, clearly, the UN is not just in an ivory tower on 1st Avenue.  It's an operational organization.  You have people going about their business all around the world, and they, one assumes, have to obey international sanctions.  So, from Sunday, what is the UN's position?  Will it be obeying all the sanctions that are on Iran that are back in place, or will it not be obeying them, because nothing will have changed?

Spokesman:  We may have something to say publicly on Sunday, but at this point, I'm not going to go any further or in a different direction than what the Secretary‑General said yesterday.

Question:  But, nothing actually changes between now and Sunday either than… other than the fact that they either come back into force or they don't, but you should be able to determine a position now, just as you should… can on Sunday, surely?

Spokesman:  Well, surely, we will wait till Sunday to say anything further if we can.  And I look forward to taking your call on Sunday.

Correspondent:  I have a question now.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Probably you heard, Stéphane, that Fayez Sarraj of the National… Libyan National Accord Government is thinking of resigning by the end of October in order to bring the Libyan parties together and allow this new formation of an executive body to appoint whoever they think can bring the Libyan parties together.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We've seen the comments made by Mr. Serraj, I think, earlier today and the various reports earlier in the week.  For our part, we… UNSMIL, the Mission on the ground, led by Stephanie Williams, is continuing its intensive — excuse me — its intensive efforts to resume fully inclusive intra‑Libyan political dialogue.  I think we need to build on the recent meetings and the recent statements made by Mr. Serraj, as well as by Aguila Saleh, the head of the House of Representatives, late in August.  And I think, while we move on facilitating the intra‑political dialogue on Libya, what is just as critical is for the international community to fulfil its responsibilities in terms of respecting the sovereignty of Libya, to cease interference in Libya's internal affairs and, as we have been saying very clearly for some time, respect the UN arms embargo that was imposed by the Security Council itself.  Okay.  I'm having trouble with my chat function.  If… all right.  I'll take a question there.  Otherwise, just wave if you have a question on video.  Please, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My name is Ray Youssef.  I'm with the Sky News Arabia.  Yesterday, the President of the European Union Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, said, “Turkey has no excuse to intimidate neighbours and warned the Turkey for the military manoeuvres in the east Mediterranean”.  You have any comment regarding these manoeuvres and intimidations?  And also, if you allow me a second question, the Security Council had urged the Secretary‑General to appoint a Special Envoy in Libya.  Any ideas when this going to happen?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On your second question, we understand the urgings of the Security Council.  We want to appoint a Special Envoy on Libya through the new format.  I would add that, while that process is ongoing, Stephanie Williams is leading the Mission in Libya with the Secretary‑General's full support.  That process is ongoing.  The Secretary‑General has said he would… he is working very hard and very quickly on that, but that will, obviously, also involve Security Council and the members of the Security Council to reach an agreement.  On your first question, I would just reiterate what we've already said, which we… the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is one of concern to us.  We very much hope that the parties will settle these issues through dialogue.  We understand there have been direct discussions, I think, under the auspices of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], if I'm not mistaken, between the Greeks and the Turkish authorities, and we hope that discussions will bear fruit.  Okay.  If anybody on the screen has a question, open your mic or wave.  Excellent.

Correspondent:  Question, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.  Go ahead, Ben.

Question:  Yeah.  Just a question on… you mentioned… you were talking about press freedoms, a different part of the press.  What's the latest with Inner City Press?  They've apparently asked to be credentialed, and that's been ignored.  They've played an active part in uncovering UN corruption over the years.  Where does… where do they stand regarding UN credentialing?

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee's status remains unchanged.  Okay…

Question:  And does that mean that that's going to stay unchanged, meaning he's banned for the next… for this General Assembly?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there's no… we're not issuing any new credentials for this General Assembly, because there's really nothing… there are no physical… barely any physical events here.  So, there's no… no temporary credentials are being given, anyway.  All right.  Thank you very much.  I will leave you in the capable hands of Mr. [Brenden] Varma, and I will see you tomorrow.  Tomorrow, we'll be doing the briefings from an undisclosed location; at least I will.  Brenden will be here.  On Monday, we will be here in this room.  And on Tuesday, we will not brief.  On Wednesday, we will likely not brief, as well, given all the speeches going on in the GA.  We should resume Thursday, briefing here in person through the hybrid system.

For information media. Not an official record.