8 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.

**Women, Peace and Security

All right.  Good afternoon.  We are on our way to Friday, which is always a good thing.  This morning, the Secretary‑General took part in a round‑table discussion on women, peace and security in peacekeeping contexts.  He reiterated that women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in achieving and sustaining peace is a priority for the UN, as well as a centrepiece of his Action for Peacekeeping initiative.

The effectiveness of women’s leadership has been particularly evident during the pandemic, Mr. [António] Guterres added.  Yet women are under siege, bearing disproportionate care and economic burdens and facing an alarming surge of violence in the home.  Mr. Guterres pointed out that in situations of conflict, it is often women who are brokering peace at the community levels.  However, he added, they continue to be actively sidelined once those processes move to the national and international levels.  This must change, he said.  The Secretary‑General called on governments, the UN system, regional organizations, civil society, and the wider international community to take bold actions to translate commitments into reality.

We must prioritize women’s leadership, he said, invest in community‑based women’s networks as equal partners and we must adopt feminist approaches to accelerate women’s full, equal and meaningful participation.  Today, women’s leadership is a cause.  Tomorrow, it must be a norm.  His opening remarks will be available as soon as ‑ on UN WebTV on video ‑ early this afternoon.


And I know that I have been asked by a number of you about the situation in Kyrgyzstan, and I can tell you that we continue to be very concerned about the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic.  The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, has been following the situation very closely, and is in touch with senior Kyrgyzstani officials to explore ways in which the United Nations can assist the country in finding a peaceful resolution of the current situation.

The Resident Coordinator is also in touch with the authorities in Bishkek and until a negotiated solution is reached, we urge Kyrgyzstanis to uphold the rule of law in the country and continue to exercise restraint, and refrain from violence.


Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, says that he is following with deep concern the recent military escalation in Hudaydah Governorate and the reports of a number of casualties among the civilian population.  That includes women and children.  He said that the military escalation not only constitutes a violation of the Hudaydah ceasefire agreement but it runs against the spirit of the ongoing UN‑facilitated negotiations that aim to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures and the resumption of the political process.  Mr. Griffiths called on the sides to immediately stop the fighting, respect the commitments they made under the Stockholm agreement, and engage with the UN Mission in Hudaydah’s joint implementation mechanisms.


Turning to Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that the Syria Humanitarian Fund has released $40 million, its largest ever allocation, to enable life‑saving assistance for 1.3 million people across the country.  This includes support to families in underserved areas where humanitarian needs are particularly acute and worsening under the added strain of COVID‑19.

Announcing the record release from the Humanitarian Fund yesterday, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Imran Riza, said that the $40 million allocation will bolster health‑care systems, augment food security and livelihood opportunities, and enhance important protection services.  Since its creation in 2014, the Fund has supported 65 humanitarian organizations in Syria.


This morning at the Security Council, the head of the peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said that peace is close at hand, but the ball remains in the court of the Malian people, the Malians.

With the formation of a Government and the lifting of sanctions, Mr. Annadif said he hoped for a rapid establishment of the National Transitional Council, which will be the country’s legislative body.  He added that the organization of credible elections that can lead to a return to constitutional order will be based upon political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms, as set out in the Transition Charter.  From this point of view, he said, the transition constitutes an opportunity for Malians to get out of an infernal cycle punctuated by a succession of periodic coups.

He reiterated the UN’s commitment to work with Malians and emphasized the importance of seizing this opportunity to end the crisis in the country and to support this important phase in coordination with the international community, in particular the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In a tweet earlier today, Mr. Annadif welcomed the release of Boubou Cissé, as well as other officials detained since August, describing this as another positive gesture towards a successful and peaceful transition.


And a couple of COVID‑related notes.  An update from Brazil, on what we are doing there to address the pandemic.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Niky Fabiancic, continues to work with authorities to flatten the curve and lift livelihoods.  Near Brazil’s border with Venezuela, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing mobile health units for indigenous people and refugees and, together with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), is offering hundreds of free medical consultations every week.

Also, in the Amazon, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF)delivered 200,000 medical, protective and cleaning items to front‑line health workers serving 80,000 indigenous people in more than 700 villages.  UNICEF has also provided 15,000 Venezuelan migrants with cash and food.

And for its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) helped the Government and civil society to compile reliable data on the impact of COVID‑19 on maternal health, highlighting the need for uninterrupted services for women of all ages.

And UN‑Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women] is working on a campaign to prevent violence against women, while also involving women in decision‑making for the COVID‑19 response.

**COVID-19/Stigma and Discrimination

And UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, issued new guidance today on how to reduce stigma and discrimination in the context of the COVID‑19.  The guidance is based on the latest evidence on works to reduce HIV‑related stigma and discrimination and applies it to COVID‑19.

UNAIDS notes that since the start of the pandemic, numerous forms of stigma and discrimination have been reported.  These include xenophobia directed at people thought to be responsible for bringing COVID‑19 into countries, attacks on health‑care workers and verbal and physical abuse towards people who have recovered from COVID‑19.  According to UNAIDS, as with the HIV epidemic, stigma and discrimination can significantly undermine the response.


And a quick note on the Caribbean, where our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they are bolstering their presence in the region during the hurricane season.  OCHA has now established a humanitarian advisory team in Barbados that adds to the teams already in place in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as well as a country office in Haiti.  The new advisory team will play a key role in strengthening the response capacity in 10 countries and territories under the coverage of the Resident Coordinator’s Office in Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.  The team will provide support for national disaster management organizations, facilitate rapid resource mobilization and promote information‑sharing between partners.


And I want to flag a joint report by UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on stillbirths, which says that nearly 2 million babies are stillborn every year, or one every second.  And that is according to the first‑ever stillbirth estimate, that is included in the report.  In 2019, 3 in 4 stillbirths occurred in sub‑Saharan Africa or Southern Asia.  The new report warns that the COVID‑19 pandemic could worsen the global number of stillbirths.  A 50 per cent reduction in health services due to the pandemic could cause nearly 200,000 additional stillbirths over a 12‑month period in 117 low- and middle‑income countries.  More online.

**Space Week

And as you know, this is Space Week.  So I want to flag that, tomorrow, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, based in Vienna, is organizing a webinar on KiboCUBE programme to mark the Space Week.

The KiboCUBE programme is a collaboration with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and gives developing countries the opportunity to deploy a satellite from the Japanese module of the International Space Station free of cost.  Kenya and Guatemala have already deployed their first satellites into orbit through KiboCUBE, building their space technology skills and gaining access to data and imagery.  In the webinar, past and current winners of KiboCUBE will discuss how the programme has helped them with access to space exploration.  Other winners, such as Mauritius, Indonesia and Moldova, are set to deploy their satellites through KiboCUBE in the coming months and years.

**Food Price Index

And lastly, our friends in Rome at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that the Food Price Index rose 2.1 per cent in September and is 5.0 per cent higher than its value in September 2019.  The increase was led by vegetable oils and cereals.  The FAO Cereal Price Index rose 5.1 per cent from August and is now 13.6 per cent higher than last year, a year ago.  The FAO Vegetable Price Index rose 6 per cent in September, hitting an eight‑month high as quotations for palm, sunflower seed and soy oils all rose in step with firm global demand.  Speaking of global demand, Mr. Bays.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  I have two questions on different subjects.  The authorities in northern Cyprus have reopened part of the seafront in Varosha.  I know that the Secretary‑General had spoken about this before it happened, but it’s now happened.  And in the light of the fact there’s a Security Council meeting on this Friday afternoon, can we please have the Secretary‑General’s comment?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General’s comment is… remains the same, that our view and our position is guided by resolution 550, which states that… that considers any attempt to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible.

Question:  So, you condemn it.

Spokesman:  I think we’ve stated our position, which is guided by Security Council resolution.

Question:  Okay.  Other question is about the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.  He has contracted COVID‑19, he says on Twitter.  Do you have any details of where he contracted it?  I know he was recently in Syria.  And what contact tracing is now under way?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I know our colleagues at UNHCR are very much on top of it.  After being tested, he’s following all medical procedures and guidelines, following the guidelines not only of WHO but the Swiss authorities, as he is based in Switzerland.  In total, seven other people who were in close contact with the High Commissioner on Monday are now self‑isolating for 14 days, watching for any symptoms.  So far, as of yesterday, no one had developed any symptoms.  Over the past two weeks, as you know, he’s been moving around.  And according to the medical protocols, 48 hours from the time of the symptoms are the period to be considered for tracing.  So, UNHCR’s following this established protocol and all close contacts were informed about the High Commissioner’s situation.  And in the past two weeks, he’s been in Geneva and travelled to Brussels, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.  And I would add that the Secretary‑General has… obviously, wishes him well, as we, I’m sure, all do.  I mean, as I know we all do.  All right.  Edie, and then we’ll go to the screens.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  It appears that there’s a stalemate over the Secretary‑General’s latest candidate to be the new SRSG  [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for Libya, and I… we heard this from several ambassadors today.  Does the Secretary‑General plan to nominate another candidate to be the Special Representative post that’s been open since March?

Spokesman:  Yes, very much so.  I mean, we… obviously, the Mission currently has very strong leadership from Stephanie Williams, as she led the… she participated in the meeting on the Berlin… the meeting we just had here, I mean virtually here.  She spoke to you.  She’s clearly leading the Mission.  Of course, the Secretary‑General will nominate someone to take up that role, as well as… the role of Special Envoy, as well as the role of coordinator, as outlined in the Security Council resolution.  Those… it’s not a secret that the process has not been an easy one.  If it had been easy, we would have found a replacement for Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé quite a while ago.  And the Secretary‑General and others are involved in discussions, and as soon as we have a clearer path forward, there will be an announcement.

Question:  And how soon do you expect these new candidates to be announced?  I mean in the… even… even to the Security Council, not…

Spokesman:  As I said, this has not been an easy process, and so I will hold back on making any prediction or putting any money down anywhere.  James, and then we’ll go to Carla.  Yeah?

Question:  On that, because your answer to Edie’s first question was “yes” when she said, is he going to put forward and nominate another candidate?  He has informally, I understand, nominated Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.  We know that there is objection to Mr. Mladenov.  Edie and I were just told by the South African Ambassador, Mr. Mladenov is doing an excellent job in the Middle East; he should stay there.  Could you just… because I didn’t really understand whether you meant Mr. Mladenov is now… is no longer a candidate, and he’s nominating someone else, because I know he’s not formally been nominated.

Spokesman:  No, no… Let’s be clear.  From this podium, I will… and I don’t think I ever have speculated about who may be in… which horse may be in the lead, what’s going on informally.  I’m talking about the formal nomination process.  I won’t comment on speculations, based or un‑based, that have been going on in the corridors.  Yes, Carla?

Correspondent:  Thank you…

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry, and I keep forgetting we have people on the screen, but go ahead.

Question:  There was, recently, a huge article in The New York Times science section, about the fact that the scarce resources that are available in many of the Asian, African and Latin American countries have medical re… treatments have been diverted to treating COVID‑19.  And, so, tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria are resurging in huge numbers.  And because of the quarantine, the people are unable to get to the medical facilities to get sufficient medication to take it as it needs to be taken.  And, so, resistant strains of these horrible diseases are developing.  So, how is the UN planning to address this?

Spokesman:  That’s a fact.  It’s something we’ve been highlighting for quite some time, which is one of the many side impacts of the lockdown is lack of access to regular health‑care, and it’s true for just about every country, especially when schools were a big place where children were immunized.  So, I know our colleagues at World Health Organization and UNICEF are trying, by whatever means they can, to overcome this situation to ensure that there is not a growing gap in the needs of people being immunised.  Mr. Abdelhamid Siyam.  Welcome.

Correspondent:  Thank you. I just want to comment on what Mr. Bays said about the excellent job Mladenov is doing in the Middle East.  I wonder what kind of an excellent job…  but that’s not my question.

Spokesman:  I… Abdelhamid, I’m always glad to be part… to be an observer in discussions journalists have amongst themselves, but if you have something with a question mark at the end, fire away.

Correspondent:  No, I have a question, in fact, on Kashmir.

Spokesman:  Please.

Question:  Drawing the lessons from the Nagorno‑Karabakh, because freezing the conflict does not mean it is done.  It will come back, and it will come back again.  There are a few resolutions on… by the Security Council in 1948 and 1949 and 1950 on Kashmir, similar to those resolution 1993 on Nagorno‑Karabakh.  Why the Secretary‑General does not play a more act… proactive role and explore the situation what can be done?  The situation in Kashmir cannot… is not sustainable.  950,000 troops are in the enclave.  There are… completely, the Kashmiris cut off from the rest of the world.  Oppression is reaching all‑time high, and yet there is no movement toward addressing that conflict.  What could be done…?

Spokesman:  I mean, in terms of frozen conflicts, there are a number around the world, and it is not for lack of trying from this Secretary‑General and his predecessors as trying to pick at the ice, so to speak.  Right now, we’re seeing a conflict that is anything but frozen, but it is very hot and active and, sadly, in the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone.  We’ve seen the… we know… very well know that there will be a meeting in Geneva and in Moscow with the Co‑Chairs of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group.  We encourage, yet again, all sides to work closely with them to achieve a ceasefire immediately and create a return to negotiations.  There is… in this particular conflict, there is a mechanism, and we want the sides to re‑engage with this mechanism.  Okay.  I think that’s it unless somebody waves their hands in the air… yes, Ray, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Talking about the US elections, in case Mr. [Joe] Biden wins this election and there will be no smooth transition in the… Mr. [Donald] Trump will refuse to leave the office, will the UN get involved to assure a smooth transition, this case?

Spokesman:  I don’t like to speculate, and I really am not going to speculate in this case.  Carla, a quick question, if you wish.

Question:  Any possibility, since there is a dearth of resources for dealing with the COVID‑19 globally, is there any possibility of some suggestion of a diminution of money and resources spent on the military and diverting it toward medical needs?

Spokesman:  That’s… that is something… hold on a second.  I’m sorry.  That is something that is sadly out of… whether sadly or not, but is firmly out of the hands of the Secretary‑General, and I think he’s often spoken and many parts of the UN spoken about the over‑expenditure that we’re seeing in military budgets.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.