Print
14 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.

Good afternoon.  Apologies for the delay, the confusion.

**Noon Briefing Guests

In a short we will be joined by UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General Elliot Harris and Leila Fourie, the Chief Executive Officer of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Co-Chair of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance.  They will be here to discuss their action plan to scale up investment in sustainable development. 

The Secretary-General spoke this morning to the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance and we will hear more from them. 

**Climate

Also this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke virtually at the Green Climate Fund Private Investment for Climate Conference. 

She said we are entering a new era of climate disruption and we need all hands on deck now to tackle this crisis. 

Ms. Mohammed said we must prioritize investments that contribute to a low-carbon, climate-resilient recovery.  She called on Governments to set a long-term vision by aligning their pandemic recovery plans with their national climate commitments. 

She also called on businesses to embed climate risks in their decision-making and align their portfolios with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Ms. Mohammed also noted that scaling up financing for adaptation and resilience will be essential to protect people and stressed that the work of the Green Climate Fund is needed now more than ever as we accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy. 

**Israel/Lebanon

As you will have seen, a note was issued from our Office, jointly by our office in Lebanon and State Department representatives there, to say that representatives from the Governments of Israel, Lebanon, and the United States met on 14 October, that is today, to launch discussions aimed at reaching consensus on a common Israel-Lebanon maritime boundary.   The negotiations were mediated and facilitated by the U.S. team, led by Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker and Ambassador John Desrocher, and the discussions were hosted by the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis.

And I can tell you that during this initial meeting, the representatives held productive talks and reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month. 

Those talks took place in Naqoura.  The full statement is online. 

**Azerbaijan/Armenia

Turning to the situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  I can tell you that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), continued hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan will cause direct disruption to health care and a further burden on health systems that are already stretched due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both countries have seen recent increases in COVID-19 transmission.  As of 11 October, Armenia’s newly reported cases have doubled over the last 14 days.  In Azerbaijan, new cases have increased by approximately 80 per cent over the past week.

WHO stressed that COVID-19 does not respect borders or lines and that escalations in military conflict will create the environment for the virus to spread. 

This is yet another clear example of why the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire needs to be respected.  As he has said often, as long as humans keep [fighting] other humans, the only winner will be the COVID-19 virus. 

We once again call for the parties to respect the humanitarian cease fire and engage with the Minsk Group co-chairs on meaningful discussions. 

The UN teams in Armenia and Azerbaijan continue supporting the COVID-19 response in both countries to save lives and livelihoods impacted by the pandemic.  WHO is also expanding its operations to respond to increased health needs that continued hostilities will inevitably incur.

**Mali

The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tells us that they condemn two successive attacks against Malian Armed Forces in central Mali yesterday.  The attacks by unidentified armed elements resulted in the death of at least eleven Malian soldiers and twelve civilians. 

The UN mission immediately deployed air assets to secure the area, while UN peacekeepers provided first aid to the wounded and evacuated the most critical cases by helicopter to the appropriate medical centres. 

We join our colleagues in Mali in sending our condolences to the Malian Government as well as to the grieving families and wish a speedy and complete recovery to those wounded. 

**Libya

Turning to Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says humanitarian partners are concerned about the fragile situation and a possible humanitarian disaster should the current escalation and mobilization around Sirte lead to military operations. The lives of more than 125,000 people in and around Sirte remain at great risk. 

COVID-19 cases have increased exponentially across Libya, with 44,985 cases and 656 deaths confirmed, as of yesterday. 

Health systems have been affected by the closure of health facilities, due to a lack of resources and staff contracting COVID-19.  In addition, fuel shortages and power cuts have affected the functioning of health services. 

A recent rapid survey carried out in Tripoli found that of 92 primary health care facilities that were functioning before the pandemic, only 54 are still operational. 

Across the country, humanitarian organizations have reached nearly 268,000 people, two thirds of the overall target, with humanitarian assistance since the beginning of the year. 

**Myanmar

In Myanmar, in a statement issued by the UN and our NGO (non-governmental organization) partners on the ground, they expressed their sadness and shock concerning the killing of two children in fighting between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army in Rakhine State on 5 October.

The children were part of a group of local farmers allegedly forced to walk in front of a Myanmar army unit to ensure a path was clear of landmines.  The two children died of gunshot wounds after fighting broke out. 

You know, we read these stories and talk about these cases everyday and it’s really quite shocking.

The statement called for a full, transparent, and expedited investigation of the incident and for anyone responsible for the killing of the children to be held accountable. 

It also expressed deep concern over the alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar.  More than 100 were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018. 

As Myanmar tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, we and our partners urge all parties to the conflict to intensify efforts to ensure that children are protected from all grave violations, to ensure access to humanitarian aid, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force where civilians are present.

**COVID-19 — Dominican Republic

Quick update from the Dominican Republic, where our team there, led by Resident Coordinator, Mauricio Ramírez Villegas, is doing to address the pandemic. 

UN agencies, together with non-governmental organizations, surveyed more than 6,300 households to gather data for the Government on the pandemic’s impact on employment, food security and education.  The survey results will support the Government’s recovery programme to provide a safety cushion to prevent people from sliding into poverty and boost the livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

The UN and our partners are helping to set up a Health Situation Room and a Public Health Intelligence Centre.

Food aid has reached more than 90,000 vulnerable people, including children, pregnant women, older people, people with disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS.

**Tuberculosis

A new report today released by our friends at WHO shows that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries were making steady progress in tackling tuberculosis.  There was a 9 per cent reduction in incidence between 2015 and 2019 and a 14 per cent drop in deaths in the same period. 

However, the report says that access to TB services remains a challenge.  It also warns that global targets for prevention and treatment will likely be missed without urgent action and investments.

WHO says that funding is a major issue.  In 2020, funding for TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care reached $6.5 billion, representing only half of the $13 billion target agreed by world leaders in the UN Political Declaration on TB, adopted in 2018. 

Disruptions in services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have led to further setbacks.  In many countries, human, financial and other resources have been reallocated from TB to the COVID-19 response.

According to the report, approximately 1.4 million people died from TB-related illnesses in 2019. 

**Financial Contribution

I want to end on some good news, and thank our friends in faraway Dili, as they have paid the regular budget dues in full for Timor-Leste.  Their payment takes us up to 126. 

Khalas.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays.  And then Madame Célhia.

Question:  I have three different questions, three different continents.  First, tensions in Thailand where there are protesters protesting the king.  The UN’s reaction?

Spokesman:  Our reaction to those protests and reactions to protests just about everywhere is that people have a right to demonstrate freely and that it is important for security services to exercise restraint and to ensure that people have that right and that right be respected.

Question:  Next question regarding Uganda, the main opposition politician, Bobi Wine, is reporting intimidation.  Recently, his campaign headquarters was ransacked.  As you’re aware, he is probably the most serious challenger to President [Yoweri] Museveni since he came to power in 1986.  And some commentators are suggesting that the incumbent President doesn't particularly want him to run.

What is your reaction given those important elections coming up next year?

Spokesman:  Let me get you something on Uganda.  I was expecting something I don’t have, but I will get you something.

Question:  And last question, just an update for us, you'll remember during the General Assembly week, there was an offer from President [Vladimir] Putin to vaccinate the UN staff.  That’s now some weeks ago.  You were going to evaluate the offer and look into it.  What now is your position?

Spokesman:  I think those discussions are ongoing.  For us, it's important that any vaccine be cleared by WHO, but discussions are ongoing.

Madame Célhia, please.

Question:  This is on Mali.  It seems the situation is getting worse with the killing of the Malian soldiers and civilians.  Do you think that it has to do with the release of the 200 prisoners? [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, no, I'm not…  I would never edit your question.  I'm not in a position to give you a position on a clear link between the two incidents.  What we have seen — and not just since that release but even before — is continued attacks on the Malian armed forces, continued attacks on the UN peacekeepers.  So, I'm not in a position to link the two.

Let’s go to the screen.  If anybody has a question on video, just wave. 

Yes, Alan, please.  Is that you?  Yes.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the Security Council is going to discuss situation in Colombia.  And as far as I’ve seen, in the report by the SG, it stated that, during the recent protests over there, 13 people, I guess, have been killed or died, and over 300 persons were injured.  Regarding that, I have actually two questions.  First, please, does the UN have any official statistics overall on how many people all over the world were killed or were injured during protests?

And the second question, please, don’t you find that the UN, the UN bodies, the SG, to some extent, paid more attention to protests in Belarus rather than some other places like, for example, Colombia or — I don't know — Haiti, in spite of the fact that just literally the number of deaths in Colombia is higher than in Belarus and number of injuries is higher?  Could you please comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think…  I'm not sure I agree with your analysis.  I answer questions as they’re asked.  Whether or not reporters are paying more attention to Belarus than what’s happening in Colombia is another issue.  But if questions are asked, I answer.  And you will find that my answers are basically within the same principled parameters. 

Do we have…  whether or not…  I don't know and I don't think we, in the Secretariat, have those kinds of numbers.  You may want to check with our good colleagues at the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva if they have those numbers.

As for the situation in Colombia, as you said, the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) will be briefing…  is briefing the Security Council.  So, we'll…  those remarks will be made available, and that will reflect the Secretary‑General’s position.

Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There are some media reports that mention the…  Turkey is about to build a military base in Libya.  It's kind of a foothold based in North Africa or that area of the Mediterranean.  As UN, do you think that’s something good for the stability of the region or is something bad for that country?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I have no information one way or another on this.  Our position remains the same, is that I think all external parties — and there are quite a few who have different levels of involvement in the Libyan conflict — should work to ensure that the parties in Libya work cohesively towards a political agreement.  And we announced a number of different talks, political, military talks, which is a really positive step in the right direction.  And we hope that, during those discussions, all those who have an influence on the parties will focus on making those talks a success so that peace can return to Libya. 

I mean, I just read some pretty horrifying numbers on the humanitarian situation in that country, and I think that should all be kept in the forefront of the minds of all those who are involved in the Libyan conflict.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, I ask Farhan [Haq] about the situation of the Palestinian POW, Maher al‑Akhras, who enters today his 80th day of hunger strike, if there is any language from [Nickolay] Mladenov. 

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that Mr. Mladenov, our Special Coordinator on the ground, is deeply concerned about the deteriorating condition of Maher al‑Akhras, a Palestinian being held in Kaplan Hospital, who began a hunger strike over 79 days to protest his administrative detention by Israeli authorities.  The Special Coordinator reiterates his call for all those held under administrative detention to be either charged or released immediately.

Question:  Thank you so much.  And I have another question.  Today, Israel approved building 2,166 units, expanding current settlement or building new settlements.  Are you aware of this development?

Spokesman:  I personally had not seen that report, but our position on settlements remains unchanged.  [He later added:  We are concerned about the reports of Israel’s settlement advancements in the occupied West Bank and will continue to follow developments closely, as the Israeli High Planning Committee finalizes its meetings tomorrow.  The Secretary-General has consistently reiterated that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.  We urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.]

Okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, Ali, Iftikhar, please, then we'll go to our guests. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can.  Thank you.

Question:  Okay.  Yesterday, Farhan gave a report about fighting in Afghan's Helmand Province that has displaced thousands of people.  Do you have any update?  And what are the relief efforts that UN is engaged in?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have an update to what Farhan said yesterday, but we’ll see what else we can get.

Okay.  Thank you very much.  We are now delighted to turn to our guests, Elliott Harris…

Correspondent:  Steph, you missed…  Steph, you missed two questions online. 

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  I'm having a problem with the chat, but who else had a question?

Correspondent:  I have a question.

Spokesman:  I apologize. 

Correspondent:  Ben has a question, Evansky.

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Ben.  Ben and…  sorry.  Ben and then we’ll go to Karina.

Question:  Thanks.  Just to go back to Israel region, Israeli NGO Regavim has claimed that the UN funds has given its political support to the PA (Palestinian Authority) to illegally build in parts of Area C in what they say is the area of Peduel in Samaria region.  Do you have anything on this, or can you get me something on this, please?

Spokesman:  I will try to get you something on this.  If you could just email me that…  email me some information, I’ll look into it for you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Karina?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  I have a question on Kyrgyzstan.  Is there any meetings being planned or contacts being made in the recent days and days ahead?

Spokesman:  Yes, there are contacts at various levels by UN entities, and I should have a bit more details on that later this afternoon for you.

[At the end of the briefing, the Spokesman read the following note:  We remain concerned about developments in the Kyrgyz Republic, where no clear political agreement has been reached since protests erupted last week in the aftermath of the 4 October parliamentary elections.

We urge all Kyrgyzstanis to uphold the rule of law and continue to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, is due to arrive in Bishkek tomorrow evening, to engage with relevant actors. 

On Friday, Ms. Gherman is scheduled to meet with a broad range of actors, including President Jeenbekov, (outgoing Foreign Minister) Chingiz Aidarbekov, the Chair of the Central Electoral Commission, the leadership of Parliament, and representatives of civil society organizations.

The Resident Coordinator remains in contact with the authorities.]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Signor Vaccaro, is that you?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  My question is that, about a week ago, I asked you if Italian Government had asked how…  to the UN, to the Secretary‑General, about the situation with Ital…  the Sicilian fisherman, Italian fisherman they have still held in Libya by the Haf…  you know, Haftar… 

Correspondent:  Hello?

Question:  You said last week that you didn't receive any requests.

Correspondent:  Hi.

Spokesman:  No, I have not but I will check. 

Correspondent:  Yeah, yeah.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Somebody has their microphone open who shouldn't.  But we will thank our guests for being patient.

For information media. Not an official record.