9 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.

**World Food Programme — Nobel Peace Prize

Good afternoon on this good day for the Organization, and big Hats Off to our World Food Programme colleagues for a job well done.  The Secretary‑General is delighted by the decision of the Nobel Committee to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).  He warmly congratulates David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director, and the entire staff of the World Food Programme.  The Agency is the world’s first responder on the frontlines of food insecurity, the Secretary‑General said, adding that he has seen our WFP colleagues in the most remote and dangerous locations, serving the most vulnerable of this world with enormous courage, dedication and competence.

In a world of plenty, it is unconscionable that hundreds of millions go to bed each night hungry.  Millions more are now on the precipice of famine due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said.  We know that achieving zero hunger is an imperative for peace.  A hungry world is not a peaceful world, he concluded.  Also, this morning, in a tweet, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, warmly saluted David Beasley and our WFP colleagues.  She said the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes their tireless efforts to ensure children and families have access to life‑saving sustenance.  The Secretary‑General’s statement and video message have been shared with you.

**World Bank-International Monetary Fund Meetings

This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the second High‑Level event on “Mobilizing with Africa” as part of the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  The Secretary‑General said that since the beginning of the crisis, African countries and the African Union have shown commendable leadership and unity in response to the pandemic.  He stressed that the international community must continue to show commitment to Africa’s health and well‑being.  The Secretary‑General said the pandemic has resulted in acute liquidity constraints for African countries that without bold measures could spiral into a solvency crisis.  He called on development partners to broaden the eligibility of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative so that it includes all highly indebted and vulnerable countries that have been adversely affected by the emergency and also urged developed countries to support the Liquidity and Sustainability Facility, and to support efforts to prioritize green growth and environmental conservation.  He also reiterated the UN’s solidarity with the people and governments of Africa at this pivotal moment for the continent.

**Security Council — Cyprus

This afternoon, the Security Council will hold closed consultations on Cyprus.  The Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Elizabeth Spehar, is expected to brief Council members.


We welcome the liberation of the four hostages in Mali yesterday.  We wish them well as they reunite with their respective families.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today expressed alarm at the suffering of civilians as hostilities continue to widen along the line of contact in the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone.  She called for an urgent ceasefire due to the impact on civilians.  Since the latest violence started on 27 September, artillery strikes have reportedly hit several cities, towns and villages.  Information from different sources, which the UN Human Rights Office has not been able to independently verify, suggests that as of 8 October, some 53 civilians had been killed, including children.

Many buildings, including houses, schools, and other civilian facilities are reported to have been destroyed.  Ms. Bachelet highlighted deeply troubling reports that cluster munitions had been used in the conflict area.  She voiced concern at how the outbreak of renewed hostilities is posing a direct health threat amid the COVID‑19 pandemic.  For its part, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned that the fighting is likely to result in significant displacement.  IOM said that it is closely following the developments in the region and that it stands ready to assist those in need via its missions to Armenia and Azerbaijan.

**Sudan Floods

Turning to Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the devastating rains that have left more than 875,000 people in need of aid and claimed more than 150 lives since July have started to subside.  However, our colleagues warn that the full extent of the unprecedented flooding will only become evident in the months ahead.  More than 10 million people risk contracting waterborne diseases following extensive damage to hundreds of water sources and the collapse of several thousand latrines.  Malaria and other vector‑borne diseases are expected to rise, and Sudan’s already fragile food security situation will likely worsen due to the destruction of thousands of hectares of crops just before the harvest.  As you know, Sudan is already facing dire humanitarian needs, compounded by a deteriorating economic situation.  Humanitarian organizations have reached over 400,000 people to date, but low funding is hampering aid workers’ capacity.  Overall, the humanitarian appeal in Sudan has received less than half of the $1.6 billion requested.

**COVID-19 — Malawi

 An update on what our colleagues around the world are doing to address COVID‑19, today from Malawi:  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, is supporting efforts to save lives, protect livelihoods and leave no one behind in the recovery process.  The team has mobilized more than $70 million in funding.  We have also opened a COVID‑19 Treatment Centre, set up 16 mobile medical isolation units, trained more than 9,000 health workers to boost treatment capacity and reached more than 80 per cent of the population to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.  Through its Staff Solidarity Fund, the UN team also contributed protective equipment to frontline workers.  The team is also supporting the design of a national socioeconomic recovery plan and is providing seeds to 300,000 families ahead of the upcoming lean season, while supporting the school reopening process by providing food for 600,000 children.

**United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

Turning to UN efforts related to COVID‑19:  As part of ongoing efforts by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to support the fight against the virus, UNIFIL contingents donated a wide range of medical supplies to local communities in southern Lebanon.  In Marjayoun, peacekeepers provided first‑aid kits, antiviral drugs and other medicines to a public hospital.  In Tyre, peacekeepers donated medicines and other medical supplies to the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

**COVID-19 — Migrants

The International Organization for Migration today called for effective global cooperation to help the at least 2.75 [million] migrants who are stranded around the world due to COVID‑19 restrictions, including border closures and nationwide lockdowns.  IOM’s Director General, António Vitorino, said that, where governments have taken action, tens of thousands of migrants have been able to return home in a manner that takes into consideration the significant health challenges the pandemic poses.  More on this on IOM’s website.

**World Post Day

Today is World Post Day.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary‑General offered his sincere thanks to the world’s postal workers who have continued to deliver during days of trial and challenge during the COVID‑19 pandemic.  He said that these workers have risked much, and they have delivered more than mail.  The Secretary‑General noted that postal workers have launched innovative community services, tending to older people and those who are socially isolated.  They have delivered life‑saving medicines and equipment and helped ensure that food parcels and funds reach those in need.  The Secretary‑General highlighted that their dedication, innovation and creativity has undoubtedly helped save lives.

**Conventional Weapons

Tomorrow will mark the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects — better known as the CCW.  To mark this milestone, the Secretary-General says in a message that the CCW has proven to be an effective and dynamic instrument.  Since its adoption, the Convention has strengthened the regulation of landmines and its scope of application has been expanded to cover non‑international armed conflicts.  The Secretary‑General says that the CCW is an essential humanitarian arms control instrument to protect civilians from the harm caused by conventional weapons.  He urges the High Contracting Parties to the CCW to work together to keep up the momentum and pave the way for the Convention to remain a strong, agile instrument for the pursuit of disarmament that saves lives.

**Mental Health Day

Tomorrow is Mental Health Day, and in a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary‑General warns that every 40 seconds, someone dies from suicide.  And depression is now recognized as a leading cause of illness and disability among children and adolescents.  He adds that we are now seeing the consequences of the pandemic on people’s mental well‑being, and this is just the beginning.  Yet in low- and middle‑income countries, more than 75 per cent of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment at all.  He says that we can no longer ignore the need for a massive scale‑up in investment in mental health.

**Burkina Faso

And on that note, I think… Oh, sorry, just forgot to read a note on Burkina Faso.  Turning to Burkina Faso, our humanitarian colleagues say that humanitarian needs are increasing, following a rise in intercommunal tensions interwoven with security‑related protection concerns.  From January to the end of September, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased by 30 per cent, from 2.2 million to 2.9 million.  Food insecurity is also rising at alarming levels.  Nationwide, 3.4 million people are facing critical food shortages — twice as many as at the same time last year.  Access to education and healthcare is also limited.  More than 350,000 children were deprived of their right to education and 200 health centres were barely functioning before COVID‑19 hit.  Despite the high level of needs, humanitarian organizations are saving lives and have reached 1.8 million people since the beginning of the year.  The Humanitarian Response Plan is only 38 per cent funded.  Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  We have seen the statement from the Secretary‑General on the Nobel Peace Prize, and we’ve seen a very short social video filmed on the 38th Floor.  Does he have any plans to talk to us, a stakeout or something, on this important moment?

Spokesman:  Not… we’re working on that…  I know… unlikely today but we’re keeping a bit of a hope.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have a plan to go to Oslo for the ceremony?

Spokesman:  I think that’s very premature.  First of all, I don’t know if there will be a ceremony.

Correspondent:  Well, apparently there will be…

Spokesman:  You’re well… you’re better informed about this ceremony than I am.  Second, the invitees and guests are really those of the World Food Programme.  I don’t…

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any plans to travel anywhere anytime soon?

Spokesman:  At this point, there are no plans to travel given the state of the world and the risks that entails for the Secretary‑General to travel.  However, we are constantly looking at possibilities, at opportunities, but there are no plans as of right now.

Question:  The reason I ask that question is Mr. Beasley — you mentioned Burkina Faso — he was there, and then he was also in Nigeria when he… so, he is travelling out of Rome… But it seems no officials of any note seem to be making any important visits from New York.  Is that because of the quarantine regulations in New York?

Spokesman:  Listen, I can only speak for the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, we’ve seen heads of agencies out of Geneva and out of Rome travel.  They, by the very nature of their job, have a smaller footprint when they travel.  But at this point, there are no plans for the Secretary‑General.  And also, there are… the Secretary‑General has been able to conduct… deliver speeches and conduct diplomacy via video.  Heads of humanitarian agencies have also a different responsibility in terms of being on the front lines of where humanitarian aid is delivered.

Correspondent:  You say you only speak for the Secretary‑General, but you speak for the UN as a whole, but you also speak for all the officials in the Secretariat…

Spokesman:  No, I’m saying there’s no…

Question:  …Mr. [Mark] Lowcock would normally do a great deal of travel. Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix would normally travel, Ambassador [Rosemary] DiCarlo, and none of them seem to be doing any travel.  And I want to know if that’s specifically because of the problems of… the restrictions in the Host Country, the quarantine restrictions.  Are they limiting the work of the UN?

Spokesman:  Look, the… COVID‑19 and the situation here, obviously, has an impact on our travel.  The fact that travel would have… anyone returning from travel would have to quarantine for two weeks, because we honour the restrictions and recommendations put forward by New York City and by New York State, has an impact on people’s travel.  Often senior officials don’t travel alone.  They have to travel with one or two other people, sometimes with security, so it has a whole impact on staff.  So, it’s always a risk and reward.  But, obviously, I think every UN entity has a need to respect and honour the restrictions put in place by the COVID‑19 situation in their home base.

Correspondent:  Last… last follow‑up, I promise.

Spokesman:  And then we’ll open it up to others.

Correspondent:  No, I agree.  But just a follow‑up on that.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Has the UN applied for humanitarian visits that had got conducted by senior officials, in New York, for example, for any exemption on humanitarian grounds…

Spokesman:  No, no.

Correspondent:  Mr. Lowcock, for example, could travel if he wanted to travel.

Spokesman:  I know, but we do… I think it’s very important that the United Nations in New York be good neighbours.  Right?  And the Secretary‑General has made it clear that he has never… he’s not going to ask for an exemption.  He’s travelled twice outside the country, as you know, since the pandemic lockdown, to visit his family.  He did exactly what he was told, which is he stayed home for two weeks, and every other UN official would do that, as well.  Madame and then Betul.

Question:  Steph, I would like to know the state of the pandemic in South Sudan.  And is the Mission able to do its work?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Mission continues… I mean, the Mission, like all other missions, continue to do their work, adapted, of course, to the local conditions, which has had an impact.  The Mission itself has had, since the beginning, I think, 115 cases in South Sudan.  My… out of 115, there were five fatalities, so all the others have recovered.  It has an impact, but I think, as we’ve pointed out, the Mission has continued to do its work, deploying forward bases, deploying peacekeepers when needed, continuing to deliver humanitarian aid, often at great risk.  We had WFP barge convoy being attacked, with contractors being shot at.  So, like everywhere, the UN is continuing to deliver on its mandate but, obviously, adapting that delivery to the situation on the ground, whether it’s Khartoum… whether it’s Juba or New York, not that we deliver humanitarian aid in New York.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph. On the…

Spokesman:  Don’t misinterpret me.

Question:  Sorry.  On the meeting… Cyprus meeting in the afternoon at the Security Council, it would be nice to have a virtual stakeout with Elizabeth Spehar, especially it’s a closed meeting.  Is she planning any or would you make such a request for us?

Spokesman:  I’ll ask.

Question:  And also, today, the Prime Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are having talks in Russia.  Did the Secretary‑General talk to any of the ministers ahead of the meeting in Russia?

Spokesman:  No, he’s spoken… as you know, he’s spoken to both leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan.  We have stayed in touch with the various parties, both at the country level and other levels.  We’ve also stayed in touch with the Minsk Group.  We very much welcome the efforts and the meeting that will take place, and we hope that it would lead to, first and foremost, a cessation of hostilities.  I think we’ve seen the very disturbing reports of civilians continuing to be killed or wounded.  I just highlighted today the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ own concern for the use of cluster ammunition in the conflict zone.  Oh, sorry.  We have people on screen.  I keep… now that we have people in the room, I forget about those joined by video.  If you have a question… Edie, please.  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Steph. I was also going to ask about the Armenia‑Azerbaijan meeting in Moscow.  But could you… are there any follow‑ups on what Martin Griffiths is doing and what Stephanie Williams is doing to follow up on ceasefire peace efforts in both Yemen and Libya?

Spokesman:  No, they’re both continuing to stay in close touch with their respective parties. My understanding — and I will check — that Mr. Griffiths may have some travel coming up in the not‑too‑distant future, but we’ll try to get something a little bit more granular for you.  Okay.  Who else has a question? Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, the FBI unveiled a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan, Ms. [Gretchen] Whitmer.  [Audio gap, inaudible] persons were arrested in what is called domestic terrorism.  Is there any statement to condemn an internally domestic homegrown terrorism?

Spokesman:  We’ve had no… I have nothing to… I have no comment to say on this.  It’s my understanding and from what I read in the press, it’s being very well‑handled by the national law enforcement authorities.  Yes, please, Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah.  I wanted to go back to the World Food Programme.  Do you know offhand if the funding by the US to the agency has remained at its levels under the Trump Administration, whether the levels have gone down?

Spokesman:  I think you’d have to check with WFP.  I do not believe the levels have gone down. I know the US continues to be a very strong donor and the leading donor, if I’m not misspeaking, though I don’t want to speak on behalf of WFP, but my understanding is that it has not gone down.  But it’s… you should check with… I can give you the name of their person here.  Okay?  Wave on the screen or raise your hand in the room.  Excellent.  All right.  Let’s go to our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.