5 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.


As you know, the Secretary-General just addressed the High‑Level Ministerial Meeting on Libya, and he did so virtually, of course, and he said that the conflict there has been going on for far too long and today we have an opportunity to recommit to its ending.  In recent weeks and months, he has been encouraged to witness a lull in the fighting.

The Secretary‑General called on all Libyans to continue to work towards a lasting ceasefire, to contribute constructively to the UN‑facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, and to always act with the interests of the country’s people foremost in mind.  He added that the commitments made at the Berlin Conference on Libya in January of this year must be upheld and implemented.  He said that we must come together to restore Libya’s ability to provide basic services and security to its population, whose living conditions have continuously deteriorated, not only as a result of the conflict, but also due to poor governance and rampant corruption.  The text has been distributed to you and we expect Stephanie Williams [the Acting Special Representative for Libya] to join us virtually as soon as she’s ready, hopefully around 12:30, but we’ll try to give you around a 10 minutes’ heads up.  She will be joining us virtually, but I’ll be moderating from the room.


Over the weekend, you saw the Secretary‑General issued a video message for the signing ceremony of the Juba Peace Agreement, which he said signals the dawn of a new era for the people of Sudan.  He commended the signatories for working towards the common objective of peace, despite the difficulties posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The Secretary‑General noted that the signing ceremony has a special meaning for the people of Darfur, offering hope for a more peaceful and prosperous future.  He underscored that achieving an inclusive, comprehensive and countrywide peace requires all parties at the table.


I have a humanitarian update on Nagorno-Karabakh:  the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today said that they remain deeply concerned about the ongoing hostilities along the line of contact in the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone.  They urge an immediate end to the fighting.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the hostilities reportedly continue to cause the loss of civilian lives and injuries, as well as damage to civilian properties and infrastructure.  From the beginning of the latest round of hostilities to today, more than 40 civilians have reportedly been killed and more than 200 others have been wounded on both sides.  Hundreds of houses have been seriously damaged.

We call on all sides to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular by ensuring the protection of the civilian population and by preventing damage to essential [civilian infrastructure].  The UN country teams in both Yerevan and Baku stand ready to respond to humanitarian needs as they emerge. Neither government has requested international assistance from us.


A couple of notes from Yemen:  The UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) says that it is alarmed by the recent escalation of violence in various districts of the Hudaydah Governorate.  The Mission calls on all sides to de‑escalate to prevent a spiral of violence that could lead to more human suffering, loss of life and destruction.  The UN Mission urges all parties to immediately stop the fighting and return to the joint mechanisms established over the last two years, so as not to put the population at further risk and jeopardize the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

And, also, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today that closure of its vaccination programme in Yemen has increased animal disease and mortality.  More than 215,000 rural households facing crisis and emergency food insecurity are now without part or all of their main source of income.  FAO says that $3 million is urgently needed to restart the programme.

And also on Yemen, I have an update on the SAFER tanker.  I can tell you that we remain extremely concerned about the oil tanker off the coast of Hudaydah, which is at risk of spilling more than 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.  A major spill would create a major humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, as we’ve been saying.

We remain eager to assist on this issue.  For months, we have been proposing to send an experts’ mission to the tanker to conduct a comprehensive technical assessment and complete any feasible initial repairs that would minimize the risk of a spill.  The assessment would then provide evidence for longer‑term options to address the tanker issue safely and sustainably.

Over the last several weeks, UN experts have had several rounds of constructive technical discussions with representatives of the Houthi de facto authorities who control the area.  These discussions have sought to agree on technical specifications for the proposed mission.  Based on these recent discussions, the UN has submitted a comprehensive mission proposal to the de facto authorities, and we are optimistic that this will be quickly approved.  International donors have also committed to cover costs associated with the mission.

The UN needs formal approval of the mission from the de facto authorities in order to begin procuring specialized equipment and making other arrangements.  Based on current market availability of required equipment, we would need up to seven weeks from receipt of approvals until the mission staff could arrive on site with necessary equipment.  The sooner the approvals come together, the sooner the work can get started.


We have an update on COVID‑19 in Syria.  To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has confirmed 4,366 cases of the virus, including 205 deaths.  This is in addition to the 1,839 cases and 69 deaths reported in the north‑east and 1,190 cases and 14 deaths in the north‑west.  While the official number of COVID‑19 cases remains relatively low, all factors point to widespread community transmission.

In addition, given the limited testing across the country and challenges in contact tracing, it is likely that the actual number of cases far exceeds official figures.  The WHO [World Health Organization] is leading UN preparedness and mitigation measures across Syria.


Also an update on COVID‑19 in Kosovo which, as you know, we are talking about within the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999):  the UN team there, led by Development Coordinator Ulrika Richardson, is helping to address the multiple challenges posed by the pandemic.

We have reached 2 million people through social media and outreach campaigns and have distributed thousands of posters on COVID‑19 prevention in multiple languages for refugees.  UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] and its partners have a toll‑free number to support hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), as well as the UN volunteers, are providing personal protection equipment and allowances for food and transportation for dozens of volunteers in COVID‑19 call centres who provide information and psychological support free of charge.

Several UN agencies assessed the socioeconomic impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, finding that 56 per cent of businesses were forced to close and around half of the households surveyed experienced a significant drop in their incomes.


Back here at the Security Council, Helen La Lime, head of the UN Office in Haiti, said that the country is once again struggling to avert the precipice of instability.  In the 12 months since the departure of peacekeeping troops, the UN Office has carried out its mandate by seeking to foster a conducive environment to overcome the impasses in the country and set it on a path towards long‑term stability and sustainable development.

However, Ms. La Lime said, apprehension about the future has been increasingly palpable, especially since the shocking assassination of the president of the Port‑au‑Prince Bar Association at the end of August.  In the past months, she said, unrest has become increasingly prevalent, and perceptions of insecurity have grown more acute.

She said in conclusion that the ability of Haiti’s political and economic classes to compromise and resolve their differences without violence, as well as the capacity of the country’s institutions to take the necessary steps, will determine whether free, fair and inclusive elections will be held in a conducive climate; whether attempts to put the country back on a positive development trajectory will succeed; and whether the [issue of] impunity will finally be addressed.


And a quick update from Chad, where floods have now affected an estimated 388,000 people across the country.  In support of the Government‑led response, the UN and our humanitarian partners have provided initial support – including food and non‑food items – to nearly 2,650 households in the capital, N’Djamena.  We have also provided food to 12,000 displaced people in the Lake area.

In the capital, an emergency accommodation site is being prepared with the construction of 100 shelters funded by the Government and tarpaulins provided by the UN.  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] will assist more than 36,000 people with water treatment products, as well as the construction of 827 latrines.

In the eastern, central and southern provinces, which are the most impacted, very little to no response has been [possible] so far due to a lack of resources and access constraints.  An interagency needs assessment mission is scheduled to take place next week in the southern province of Mayo‑Kebbi.  Immediate needs include water treatment, food, non‑food items, and support to health structures to prevent the spread of COVID‑19.  We will continue to work with the Government to monitor the evolving situation and to track the responses so far.


You will have seen over the weekend we issued a statement from Nangarhar [in Afghanistan] and that took place on 3 of October and claimed the lives of at least 13 people.

**World Teachers’ Day

Today is World Teachers’ Day, and the theme is “Teachers:  Leading in crisis, reimagining the future.”  Celebrating the central role of teachers in supporting students during COVID‑19, this year’s theme highlights the need for better training, professional development and leadership skills to mitigate learning disparities and support inclusive education.  In a video [message] for the day, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, stressed that teachers are the backbone of all education systems and key to ensuring a quality and inclusive education.


And on that same issue, in Yemen, for this World Teachers’ Day, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], UNICEF and the Global Partnership for Education called for the resumption of salary payments for around half of the Yemeni teachers and school‑based staff who have not received regular payments in salaries since 2016.  They warn that further delay in paying teachers will likely lead to the total collapse of the education sector and impact millions of Yemeni children, especially the most vulnerable.  More information online.


Today is also World Habitat Day, highlighting the centrality of housing as a driver for sustainable urban development.  There is a message from the Secretary‑General.

**Financial Contribution

And we thank our friends in the Seychelles for their full payment of their budget dues in full, bringing us up to 125.  Before I can turn to the chat, I’ll turn to the room.  Mr. Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I know we’re doing more Libya in a moment, but on Libya… sorry.  First, just, are there any pictures of the Secretary‑General participating in the meeting, stills over there?  Be useful if there are.

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  And with regard… the Secretary‑General’s used the same line he’s used before, says it’s a scandal, but he doesn’t seem to be naming names, still not naming names, even though the names are out there; they’re in the recent Panel of Experts report.  Isn’t it time to name names?  Because he’s said this before, and people keep ignoring his words.  Isn’t it time to actually name the countries responsible?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General’s message has been very direct.  His aim is to bring the political parties together for the sake of the Yemeni people to ensure that all Member States respect the arms embargo, and we think other parts of the systems, including the Panel of Experts, has been very clear in naming names.  Maria?

Correspondent:  Hi. Thank you.

Spokesman:  That is you. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure but yes.  [Laughter]

Correspondent:  Yeah.  Just give me a sec.

Spokesman:  Sorry.

Question:  I’m not sure if you are following the situation in Kyrgyzstan today.  There was some unrest after parliamentary elections, and there are reports that police is using teargas and water cannons against the people protesting.  So, I wonder if you have any comment on that.

Spokesman:  I don’t have any direct comment except to say that people anywhere should be able to protest peacefully, that security forces always need to show restraint, and I think any issues having to do with elections need to be addressed through constitutional means.  Okay?  Unless there’s more questions in the room, I will go to the chat… let me… let me go… Iftikhar, and then we’ll go back to the room.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Yes, thank you, Stéph.  My question was about Nagorno‑Karabakh, but you have read a statement.  However, you must have seen reports today with Azerbaijan claiming that Armenia missiles even hit suburbs of Baku, the capital.  Does the UN have any confirmation of that?

Spokesman:  Look, we don’t have anyone on the front lines on the line of contact, but what I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General, very directly, condemns the escalation of violence that we’ve seen in the conflict zone in the past few days despite, I think, repeated calls from the international community to immediately stop the fighting.  We’re very concerned about what we’re seeing as kind of an extension of hostilities and especially what we’re seeing, which is reported targeting of civilian areas.  As if it needed to be repeated, but there is no military solution to this conflict.  It is important that all the parties immediately cease military operations, and all relevant regional and international actors need to actively exercise their influence accordingly to achieve an urgent end to the fighting and return to negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group Co‑Chairs.  Okay.  Ray, and then we’ll go to Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you know, there has been many cases of COVID‑19 in the current administration, I mean like [audio gap, inaudible] people in the administration.  Is the UN building...

Spokesman:  Hold on.  Toby, I need you to mute your mic, please.  Thank you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Do you want me to repeat the question…?

Spokesman:  No, it’s okay.  I got it.

Question:  Yeah.  So, in the UN building, are you thinking to change the protocol of the screening since there has been many cases either in Washington, D.C., or even here, the nine zip codes mayor talk about?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re in touch with the city health authorities on the situation in New York.  Right now, our procedures have not changed.  I think we have been extremely cautious right from the beginning, and we continue to be guided both by science and caution.  So, the occupancy of the building… of the campus remains very low, and we continue to encourage people to wear masks, wash hands, use hand sanitizer.  But at this point, there’s no change in the procedures for the building.  All right.  Toby, you may un‑mute yourself, and then we’ll go to Edie.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Stéph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.

Question:  My question is, we learned from Bloomberg today that forecasts for carbon emissions from the energy giant ExxonMobil are projected to increase actually by 17 per cent by 2025.  So, my question is, does the UN still think it’s worth it to partner with the private sector when they’re on such a different page about fundamental environmental issues?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry.  We’ll be joined by Stephanie Williams very shortly.  Of course, you need to… we need to partner with the private sector.  We can’t address climate change; we can’t address climate mitigation without a strong partnership with the private sector.  Obviously, certain parts of the private sector have… are moving in a certain direction, but it is… I think the report that you see does… I think, would only strengthen our need to be in full discussion with the private sector and especially the energy sector.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéph.  Two quick follow‑ups.  Can we get a reaction from the Secretary‑General to the outcome of the talks?  I know we saw his remarks but not his feeling on what happened at the meeting.  And secondly…

Spokesman:  Stephanie Williams, the acting SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General], will be in a few minutes to speak on his behalf.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  And is there any indication that the Secretary‑General plans to raise the 40 per cent occupancy limit here at UN Headquarters?

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of.  As I said, we’re being… we continue to be very cautious, especially given what is a bit of a changing landscape in New York City.  And there are two issues.  There’s, obviously, the raising of the ceiling, but there’s also the ability of staff to travel safely to and from the building, issues relating to education and childcare, so it’s… at this point, I’m not aware of any plans to immediately raise the ceiling.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’m going back to the issue of Nagorno‑Karabakh.  My question is, first, why the SG is not taking further step to send somebody to the region, a Special Envoy or at least someone to talk to the parties?  The fire is going on.  You cannot put fire by giving speeches.  You need to send a fireman.  That’s one thing.  The second, not even once the SG referred to the Security Council resolutions.  He refers to Minsk Group, but going back to negotiation, on what basis… there are four Security Council resolution that calls explicitly on Armenia to withdraw from the land it occupied, and it never did.  If they…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s not questioning the Security Council resolutions.  What we have and what we’ve had in very recent history is the parties engaged with the Co‑Chairs of the Minsk Group of the OSCE.  We believe that there is… the Secretary‑General is not advocating for a second track, where he would be in the lead.  He believes that the parties and those who have influence over the parties should recommit to that track.  I mean, I think, as you heard the Secretary‑General say in various speeches, including General Assembly, he believes in the central role of regional peace and security organizations to also manage regional conflicts.  The Secretary‑General has been in touch with the parties.  He spoke to the President of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of Armenia.  We’ve been… other officials have been in touch with the OSCE, been in touch with the missions here.  So, we remain engaged.  I’m going to go to Stefano, and then we’ll bring Stephanie Williams in.  Thank you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. Question on Libya.  It’s been a month already the 18 fishermen been captured by the militia of [Khalifa] Haftar when they were working.  And there’s been a request for four Libyans.  They are in Italian prison for accused with trafficking the people.  So, now my question is, does the Secretary‑General is in any way involved in a way to find a solution to this?  It’s been already a month.  Did the Italian Government ask the help of the UN?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any requests from the Italian Government.  What I can tell you is… refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said in his remarks underscoring the risks that the ongoing… the fact that there is no political solution in Libya, underscoring the risks… the activities of criminal human trafficking networks that need to be dismantled, the inhumane ways that refugees and migrants have been treated.  So, let me welcome Stephanie Williams.

For information media. Not an official record.