1 October 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.

After we’re done here, and you’re done with Brenden.  At 1 p.m., Ambassador [Vassily A.] Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation and President of the Security Council for the month of October, will be here in this room to brief you on the work of the Security Council for the month of October.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Meeting on the twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.  He said that women and girls are bearing the brunt of the massive social and economic impact of the pandemic.  “Twenty-five years after Beijing, we are facing a women-led recession as women employed in the informal economy are the first to lose their jobs,” he said, adding that unless we act now, COVID-19 could wipe out a generation of fragile progress towards gender equality.  The Secretary-General said that the pandemic demonstrates that we urgently need a strong push to meet the unfulfilled promise of Beijing:  ensuring that there is equal representation of women in leadership positions and everywhere decisions are taken that impact people’s lives.  He encouraged all Member States to make concrete and ambitious commitments to women’s leadership and full participation and urged to step up support for the grassroots civil society organizations that have always been at the vanguard of the women’s rights leadership.

And on that note, tomorrow, Friday, I will be joined by the Heads of UN‑Women, the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Deputy Director‑General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  They will be here to talk to you about the Education Plus Initiative:  Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women in sub-Saharan Africa.  I will be in the room, the Executive Director of UNFPA will be in the room, and the rest will join us virtually.

**Central African Republic

Also this morning, during a high-level meeting on the Central African Republic, the Secretary-General said that the coming period will be decisive for the country.  Authorities and all national stakeholders have a historic responsibility to ensure the proper conduct of the forthcoming elections, he added.  The Secretary-General highlighted progress in the implementation of the Political Agreement in areas such as legislative reforms, as well as the extension of State authority across the country.  He also noted that the security situation has improved in some areas.  However, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres expressed his concerns about the significant number of human rights violations and breaches of the Peace Agreement.  These attacks must stop immediately, he said.  He called upon authorities to redouble their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, protect civilians and strengthen measures to address violence against women.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, the Secretary-General noted that again this year, the humanitarian community has received less than half of the funds required to meet the needs of the 2.6 million people in a precarious situation.  Let there be no mistake, he added.  He said lasting peace will not be possible without compliance with the Agreement and without real progress on the development front.

**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), welcomes today’s announcement of a framework agreement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on maritime and land border demarcation between the two countries.  The UN Mission stands ready to extend to the parties all the support at its disposal and facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this issue and move forward with Blue Line demarcation.  Under Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), UNIFIL is supporting any agreement between the two countries aimed at reinforcing confidence in getting the parties to re-commit to the sanctity of the Blue Line and the broader border demarcation process.  I also expect to have some more language from the Secretary‑General later.


Turning to Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that the number of people impacted by the unprecedented floods affecting the country now stands at 860,000 and continues to increase.  More than 120 people have also died.  More than 400 schools and thousands of health facilities have been damaged, compromising education and health services.  Nearly 30,000 latrines have collapsed, which could hinder the prevention and treatment of potential disease outbreaks.  We and our partners are continuing to support the Government’s response efforts to help those in need.  So far, we have reached more than 400,000 people.  The lack of funding is posing a serious challenge, especially for the health sector, as well as in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene, for which aid is critical to respond to both the floods and the current pandemic.

**India — COVID-19

And speaking of the pandemic, I have an update from India [on what] the UN team, which is led by our Resident Coordinator, Renata Dessallien, is doing to address the COVID-19 pandemic:  The UN team continues to stand with India as it battles the unprecedented challenges of more than 6.3 million cases of COVID-19.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has helped trace 10 million case contacts and supplied more than 1 million test kits.  WHO and UNICEF have trained nearly four million front‑line health workers.  UNICEF has also reached 40 million children through education initiatives and 5 million women and children with essential health care.  For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) distributed nearly a million pieces of safety equipment to eight health departments across the country.  The agency also provided nearly half a million safety kits and 60 million kilogrammes of food to 200,000 sanitation workers.

A World Food Programme (WFP) mobile app has helped link 8 million people to the public food distribution system.  And to support businesses, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are providing support to medium and small businesses.  To help women impacted by violence, UN‑Women has trained 100,000 people to help women impacted.

**Nansen Award

And today, our colleagues from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have announced that Mayerlín Vergara Pérez, from Colombia, is this year’s laureate of the Nansen Refugee Award.  As the Caribbean Regional Coordinator for the Renacer Foundation, she has devoted more than two decades helping the Colombian non-profit reach its goal of eradicating sexual exploitation and abuse of children and adolescents.  Founded 32 years ago, the organization has helped over 22,000 child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and survivors of other types of sexual and gender-based violence.  The Nansen Refugee Award honours outstanding service to people who have been forcibly displaced.  In the announcement for this year’s prize, Filippo Grandi, the Head of UNHCR, said Mayerlin’s unwavering dedication has saved the lives of hundreds of refugee children and restored their hopes for a better future.  And we and the Secretary-General join in congratulating her.

**Nuclear Weapons

I was asked yesterday about Malaysia’s ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and I can say that we are aware that the Foreign Minister of Malaysia signed the country’s instrument of ratification on 30 September.  It was subsequently received by the UN.  As of now, 46 States have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  According to the provisions, the Treaty will enter into force 90 days after the fiftieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been deposited with the UN.  The Secretary-General repeatedly said that he looks forward to the entry into force of the Treaty which, once in force, would constitute a pillar of the disarmament regime.  The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons reflects the desire of a large number of States to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons – the UN’s highest disarmament priority. 

**International Day of Older Persons

And today is one of these international days that I care more and more about each year.  It is the International Day of Older Persons, and will highlight the role of the health‑care workforce in contributing to the health of older persons, with special recognition of the nursing profession and with a primary focus on the role of women.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General emphasizes that older people must be a priority in our efforts to overcome COVID-19.  He says that as we seek to recover better together, we must make concerted efforts across the Decade of Healthy Ageing to improve the lives of older persons, and their families and communities.  The Secretary-General stresses that, more than ever, we must listen to their voices, suggestions and ideas to build more inclusive and age‑friendly societies.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, we are delighted to thank Grenada and Honduras, who have both paid their regular budget dues in full.  This takes us to 124 [Member States that have fully paid].  And to add to good news, I think we’re on track for some sort of stakeout after the Libya event next week.  It's like Christmas for you, James Bays.  Coffee… what else?  What… you can't have one without the other.  That's for sure.  All right.  If you have a question, indicate it to me.  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Well, yesterday, for when the Russian Federation presidency started, you said you'd try and get some idea on the arrangements of the return to the Security Council from the Secretariat and from your health people?

Spokesman:  It's not completely Christmas for you.  I completely forgot to ask that question.  But I'm sure Fedor and the ambassador can answer some of your questions.

Question:  Okay.  Libya, I've asked a lot of questions about Libya recently, but one is about the recent Panel of Experts report.  First… sorry.  I'm being… probably being dumb here, but Panel of Experts reports to the Security Council.  I'm assuming the Secretary‑General gets a copy of each of those reports, doesn't he?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that the Secretariat officially… that a report is officially given to the Secretary‑General until it is given by the… officially handed over to the committee to the whole of the Security Council.

Question:  Well, the latest report, whether you have seen it or not, again, makes numerous allegations of breaches of the arms embargo.  So, could we just have the Secretary‑General's position on that again?  He's said it so many times.  We had this coming together of all the nations at Berlin, and then they continued to flout the arms embargo.  He said, stop flouting the arms embargo.  They're still doing it.

Spokesman:  I think you've stated a fact, and this is something that we have, that the Secretary‑General has spoken out against repeatedly, that you cannot have more and more weapons, more and more armed men — I assume they're mostly men — pour into Libya.  The people of Libya need peace.  The people of Libya need their leaders to recommit themselves to the political process, and we need all the countries, whether in the region or beyond, who have an influence to support that political process.  Now, we're seeing some good news.  We have the… we've been flagging… the talks have been going on in Egypt.  So, there are some movements in the right direction, but it is clear that we want to see an immediate and complete halt of the violations of the arms embargo.  All right.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Yes, my question is about Lebanon and the negotiation.  Could you say a little bit more on that framework?  Because as I understood from the Americans, they are also going to be there.  So, which role are you going to play? Which role are the Americans are playing?  And then is it… is this negotiation going to be typical UN negotiations? Like, you talk to one party and then go and talk to the other party, or are you going to have Lebanese and Israelis in the same room talking and you are there?   Could you be more specific?  Thank you, if you can.

Spokesman:  We are there to support the parties and facilitate the efforts.  It is my understanding that the United States are in the lead on this.  And as I mentioned, I expect a more detailed statement from the Secretary‑General to be coming shortly.

Question:  Would that… sorry.  Would that include also details about the details of the framework, like, what's… how do we expect… like, if they are going to negotiate directly, or they will be in different rooms or can we have more detail about that?

Spokesman:  Yes, we'll try to get you a bit more information on that.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Good afternoon.  I'm just hoping you can clue us in on the diplomacy that the Secretary‑General is engaged in now, related to Nagorno‑Karabakh and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  And is he… has he spoken to President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan of Turkey?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any direct conversations between the Secretary‑General and the President of Turkey.  As you know, he spoke directly to the President of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of Armenia.  We have also and are staying in touch with our colleagues at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe].  We believe that there… that the parties should recommit to the Minsk process led by the co‑chairs, and we are there to support those efforts.  Okay.  Let's see if anything in the chat.  Wave your hand if you have a question.  Yes, Abdelhamid, please, go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  As a follow‑up to Toby's question, were there any other attempt or any contact after the Secretary‑General's call to both the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia?  And the Security Council issued a statement.  So, any follow‑up to that initial contact?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we have been staying in touch with the parties at different levels, but the talk… the discussion… the initial discussions were initiated by the Secretary‑General, and he delivered the messages which I've underscored here on a number of times.  Okay.

Question:  I have another question, Stéphane, on Gaza, two things on Gaza.  First, the humanitarian situation is reaching all‑time low and dangerous.  Would there be any kind of rescue operation to Gaza, especially that COVID‑19 is spreading fast in Gaza?  The second, a week ago, three brothers and they were fishing with their boat in the Gaza sea, and they came close to the Egyptian territorial water.  They were shot at.  Two of them were killed.  One was severely injured.  Were there any attention paid to that incident?

Spokesman:  Yes, we're aware of the incident, which needs to be fully investigated, especially given that civilians lost their lives.  On the general humanitarian situation in Gaza, I think Nickolay Mladenov gave a very detailed and rather bleak overview of the situation in Gaza in his briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday afternoon.  And my OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] colleagues are preparing an update, which I could have had today, but I think I will have tomorrow, on the situation, especially related to the virus outbreak and the situation with the COVID pandemic in Gaza.  So, I will have that for you tomorrow.  All right.  I'm sorry.  Yeah, Ray?  Then we'll leave you to Brenden [Varma].

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In a couple of days, there will be a UN conference about Libya, I guess, on 5 October.  I just want to confirm the venue, because some Libyan news outlets, they say it will be in Djerba Island in Tunisia.  It's still virtual?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, people will participate from different places, so it will be virtual.  No one that I'm aware… no one is travelling to New York, as far as I'm aware, to attend the conference.  So, people… different parties will be participating from different places.  My assumption is that the German Foreign Minister will be participating from Germany.  The Secretary‑General will be here.  And as I told James in the beginning, we're working on some type of a virtual stakeout for you afterwards.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You're welcome.  Okay.  I will now leave you in Brenden's hands and then the German… the Russian Permanent Representative, Mr. Nebenzia.  Just don't tell him.  Don't rat me out.

For information media. Not an official record.