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28 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.

**Guests

Happy Monday.  As soon as I am done here and you are done with me, we will be joined by Amina Mohammed, our Deputy Secretary‑General.  She will be here to give you a preview of tomorrow’s High‑level Meeting with Heads of State and Government on “Financing for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in the Era of COVID‑19.” That meeting is being co‑chaired by the Secretary‑General and the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada.  She will also talk to you about the ACT‑Accelerator/COVAX Facility event, which will take place on Wednesday, and that meeting is being co‑organized by the Secretary‑General, the Director‑General of WHO (World Health Organization), and the Governments of South Africa and the United Kingdom.

I also just want to give you a heads up that, tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m., the Secretary‑General will be here to brief you, along with the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada, and that will be almost at the end of the Financing for Development event.  For those of you in the building, the Secretary‑General will be here in the Press Briefing Room and the Prime Ministers will join by WebEx.

Then, at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a briefing by Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), along with Elizabeth [Maruma] Mrema, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  They will be here to brief you on the UN Summit on Biodiversity, which begins on 30 September.

**Nagorno-Karabakh

I also wanted to confirm to you that we did issue a statement yesterday on the situation in Nagorno‑Karabakh, in which the Secretary‑General said he is extremely concerned over the fresh resumption of hostilities along the line of contact in the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone.  He condemned the use of force and regretted the loss of life and the toll on the civilian population.

The Secretary‑General strongly called on the sides to immediately stop fighting, de‑escalate tensions and return to meaningful negotiations without preconditions or delay.  He reiterated his full support for the important role of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group Co‑Chairs and urged the sides to work closely with them for an urgent resumption of dialogue without preconditions.

The Secretary‑General just advised me that he just spoke to the President of Azerbaijan and he will be speaking very shortly with the Prime Minister of Armenia.  And he delivered, in his phone conversation, the same message which he had in the statement to the President of Azerbaijan, meaning the need for an immediate stop to the fighting and resumption without precondition of meaningful negotiations without delay under the umbrella of the Minsk Group Co‑Chairs, and also for the immediate redeployment of OSCE monitors to the region.  And he will say the exactly the same thing to the Prime Minister of Armenia.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN remains concerned about the spread of COVID‑19 cases across Syria, considering the low level of testing and tracing masks the real scope of the pandemic.

To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has confirmed 4,072 cases, including 192 deaths.  In the northeast, the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, with the last report two days ago identifying 1,464 confirmed cases, including 63 deaths.  Some 825 lab‑confirmed COVID‑19 cases have also now been reported in northwest Syria, including six deaths.

As noted by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, in his latest Security Council briefing, it would only be possible to get a clearer picture of the situation once testing was stepped up.

Infection rates among health workers are also concerning throughout the country, including in the northwest where some one third of all confirmed cases are health workers.  WHO continues to lead efforts to support increased distribution of Personal Protective Equipment where needed and to ensure the protection of healthcare workers, as well as training on their use.

WHO is leading UN preparedness and mitigation measures across Syria, including in the northwest and in the north-east.

**Yemen

In a statement we issued yesterday on Yemen, the Secretary‑General welcomed the agreement between the parties to the Yemen conflict to release immediately 1,081 individuals who had been detained in connection with the conflict.

Mr. [António] Guterres urged the parties to build on this momentum and finalize arrangements for the release of all remaining detainees.  He is also grateful to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its tireless efforts as co‑chair of the Supervisory Committee to ensure the implementation of the prisoner release agreement brokered, as you will recall, in Sweden in 2018, as well as to the Government of Switzerland for hosting the parties over the past week.

He calls on the parties to engage with Martin Griffiths, his Special Envoy, to agree on a Joint Declaration encompassing a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, and the resumption of a comprehensive and inclusive political process to end the war.

Mr. Griffiths also added that, for [his part], the prisoner release will indicate that when the parties show good faith and willingness to compromise, peaceful negotiations can succeed.  He called on the parties to build on this very important achievement and to move together towards a negotiated solution bringing lasting peace to Yemen.

**Nature

And, in a video message today, addressed by the Secretary‑General to leaders who took part in the virtual Pledge for Nature, he said that a planetary emergency is upon us, driven by the dual threats of the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse.  The Secretary‑General added that we have failed to meet any of the biodiversity targets that were set in Japan 10 years ago and called on countries to raise our ambition in the vital months between this week’s Biodiversity Summit and the Biodiversity COP15 (15th Conference of Parties) next May in Kunming, China.

The Secretary‑General also commended governments for participating today on the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which calls for 30 per cent of land and marine resources to be protected by 2030.

**Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, following a request from the Lebanese Armed Forces, the UN peacekeepers in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today deployed a detachment of multinational forces to Beirut to assist Lebanese authorities with their efforts to deal with the aftermath of the tragic 4 August explosions.

The deployment early this morning follows the authorization by the Security Council for the Mission to take “temporary and special measures” to provide support to Lebanon and its people in the aftermath of the explosions.  UNIFIL peacekeepers deployed to the Lebanese capital with heavy machinery and other equipment.

The assistance, which will be executed in three phases in about three weeks, is operating at the port, as well as in the city centre, with an engineer-centred task force.  The main areas of support will be clearing of debris and construction work in order to facilitate the rapid resumption of operations in the Beirut harbour.

**Libya

Today in Hurghada, Egypt, military and police teams from eastern and western Libya met and began security and military talks, in the framework of the ongoing 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks, with the facilitation of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

The UN Mission expects that the outcome of these face‑to‑face meetings will be mainstreamed into the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.

**Côte d’Ivoire

Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, at the end of a weeklong pre-electoral mission in Côte d’Ivoire, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, reiterated his call to all political actors to maintain their commitment to the organization of a peaceful and inclusive election in full respect for human rights.

The objective was to renew the UN’s support for the organization of the country’s presidential election, scheduled for 31 October, and to encourage all those involved to work together in favour of peace and stability.

His full statement has been made available to you.

**COVID-19/Zimbabwe

A quick update from Zimbabwe, where our colleagues there are working to help address the COVID‑19 pandemic.  The team, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, is supporting the new national strategy to recover better from COVID‑19 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  This plan targets 5.6 million people.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, are helping some 4.5 million students with remote learning and advising on how to open schools safely.

The World Health Organization and the [UN Office for Project Services] this month helped more than 20,000 people in communities affected by last year’s Cyclone Idai.  For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) reached more than 320,000 people across 22 districts in September.

In rural communities, the UN Development Programme is supporting 840,000 farmers, while UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) continues to provide free anti-retroviral therapy to more than one million people living with HIV.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has helped some 20,000 migrants return to Zimbabwe, while UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) helped more than 3,000 survivors of gender-based violence this month.

**COVID-19/Women

New data released today by UN Women and the UN Development Programme shows that most countries are not doing enough to protect women and girls from the economic and social fallout caused by the COVID‑19 crisis.

The agencies found that 42 countries — or one‑fifth of those analysed — have no gender‑sensitive measures in response to COVID‑19.  Only 25 countries, or 12 per cent of the world, have introduced measures that address violence against women and girls; support for unpaid care of children and the sick; and strengthening women’s economic security.

The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo‑Ngcuka, said that it is clear that the COVID‑19 pandemic is hitting women hard, and Achim Steiner, the head of UNDP, said the crisis provides an opportunity for countries to transform existing economic models towards a renewed social contract that prioritizes social justice and gender equality.

More information on the web.

**Universal Access to Information

Today is the first International Day for Universal Access to Information, and this year, the Day focuses on to the right to information in times of crisis.

To mark the day, this morning, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, held a virtual high-level event entitled “Access to Information — Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope.” The event examined issues affecting access to information in times of crisis, as well as constitutional, statutory and policy guarantees for public access to information during and beyond COVID‑19.

**Financial Contribution

Today, we say thank you very much to our friends in Trinidad and Tobago for their full payment to the regular budget of 2020.

So far, 122 Member States have paid in full.

And I will stop here.  I'm having trouble logging in, so we'll go to the room first, because that I can see, and then we'll go to the web.

**Questions and Answers

Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Ray Bouchefra from Sky News Arabia.  I'm going to talk about part in the world, which are northern Syria, part of Iraq, Libya, Cyprus, Greece, eastern Mediterranean and now the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Don't you think as United Nations that President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan of Turkey is creating chaos everywhere in the world?  I mean, all these countries are complaining against him.  I mean, any comment on that?

Spokesman:  You're linking situations that may or may not be linked to each other.  What we call for is international cooperation around established talks that are already in place for certain countries.  There are different formulas.  Whether it's in Syria or in Libya, it's around UN‑led talks.  In Azerbaijan and Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict area, it's with the OSCE in the lead.  So, I will leave the analysis to the analysts.

Okay.  Abdelhamid…  sorry.  [Cross talk]

Correspondent:  I'm really sorry.

Spokesman:  That's okay.

Correspondent:  The way Turkey's moving foreign fighters to Libya is the same way they are moving it in Armen…  in Azerbaijan.

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to comment further than what I've already said.

Abdelhamid, I see you waving.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I am referring to the statement issued by the Secretary‑General on Armenia‑Azerbaijan, and the statement failed to mention a reference to the Security Council resolution.  I want to remind you that UN adopted four resolution in 1993:  822, 853, 874, and 884.  And the last one, 884 on 12 November 1993, it specifically asked Armenia to withdraw from occupied land it took over from Azerbaijan.  I mean, he's calling for negotiation, but he didn't mention in the framework of UN Security Council resolutions.  Why is that?

Spokesman:  Look, our work is clearly guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions.  That's a matter of principle.  That's where the Secretariat gets its instructions from, whether it's the Security Council or the General Assembly.

For the Secretary‑General, at this point, because we're not talking about…  we're talking about a conflict and exchange of fire that is ongoing, and it's an appeal for a ceasefire, for meaningful dialogue to resume without preconditions and without delay and along the Minsk format and also…  Minsk co‑chairs and a resumption of OSCE monitors on the ground.

Question:  Can I just follow up?

Spokesman:  Yes, yes, of course.

Question:  The Minsk Group opposed the conflict but did not settle the conflict.  And calling back on Minsk Group, which they didn't do anything since 1993, and there were skirmishes many times during the last 27 years.  So, why the Secretary‑General didn't go straightforward to the issue that is a land occupied by Armenia?  It belongs to Azerbaijan.  The Security Council…  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  I mean, the relevant UN resolutions stand, and they're critical.  At this point, there is a process led by a regional organization, the OSCE, and we feel that the parties should support it.

This goes…  really refers…  I can refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said, not only in the General Assembly speech but in other places, this need for networked multilateralism, for also the importance of regional peace and security organizations, whether it's the OSCE, whether it's the AU (African Union), whether it's ECOWAS.

So, I think it's very important — and that's his message to the parties — to rejoin and support the OSCE mechanism.

Okay.  Wave your hands in the air if you have a question, yes, like you just don't care.  Go ahead, Toby.  Go ahead, Toby.

Question:  Thanks very much.  I apologise.  This is probably a remedial question for people who are more familiar with the high‑level week than I am but…  so, the PGA (President of the General Assembly) received a right of reply from China, but because it was to a Head of State…  because it was from the Mission level, it means it can only be circulated as a UN document and not verbally read.  Is that correct?  I'm just trying to understand what is different about the virtual setting this year.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Toby, you and me both.  I need to figure that out.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  Alan, I think that's you.

Question:  Yeah.  Correct.  I'm sorry.  Can you hear me?  Oh, I'm sorry, all the troubles.

Spokesman:  Yes, I can hear you.  Yeah.

Question:  I have a follow‑up on Armenia‑Azerbaijan conflict.  Several parties, including Armenian side, some parties from the Syria claim that Turkey is sending the mercenaries to the conflict zone.  Does the SG have any comment regarding this, these messages?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We have no information to the veracity of this claim or many other claims that are being made.  We have no way to check them.  And then we've seen, in press reports, claims…  different claims made by different parties.

One of the important things is to get OSCE monitors back on the ground.

Okay?  Any more questions?

All right.  I will ask you, please, to be patient.  We'll have the Deputy Secretary‑General with us in just a few minutes.  Let me go get her, if you can stay connected.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.