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19 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.

**Bolivia

I’ll start off with a statement on the situation in Bolivia on the elections.  The Secretary‑General congratulates the Bolivian people on the holding of highly participative and peaceful general elections that took place on 18 October.  He encourages all political and social leaders to work together with the same commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and national reconciliation in addressing the current political, economic, social and health challenges.  That statement will also be issued in Spanish.

**Secretary-General - Small States

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to the Forum of Small States.  He pointed to challenges that small States face, such as the collapse of the global tourism industry, the contraction of remittances, the major trade slowdown, and the climate crisis.  He said that small States have been vulnerable to the impacts of COVID‑19.  He added that we need effective international cooperation, solidarity and multilateralism to respond to the economic and social impacts and the underlying fragilities exposed and aggravated during the pandemic.

The Secretary‑General also stressed that the responses to the COVID‑19 pandemic must be linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  He noted that we must ensure that a COVID‑19 vaccine is considered as a global public good and be available and affordable to all.

On climate change, he added that we must build a global coalition in 2021 towards net zero emissions.  Small States have a key role to play, he stressed, adding that he counts on their active engagement.

**Central African Republic

Here in the Security Council this morning, members of the Council heard from the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in the Central African Republic, Mankeur Ndiaye.  He reiterated the UN Mission’s (MINUSCA) commitment to support the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections, as well as local elections scheduled next year.

The political situation remains tense, he said, as he encouraged all those involved to view the upcoming elections as an opportunity to consolidate the democratic process and to find lasting solutions to the crisis the country has been facing.  Mr. Ndiaye added that the coordinated and continuous support of international partners will be decisive in the success of the elections.

Turning to the pandemic, he highlighted that socioeconomic vulnerabilities have been exacerbated by the virus.  He strongly condemned the attacks against humanitarian workers, which are worsening the situation of populations in need.  The Special Representative said the UN Mission will continue to take all necessary measures to protect civilians, civilian infrastructure and humanitarian workers.

**Central Sahel

And a reminder that, tomorrow, the Secretary‑General will address the ministerial conference on the Central Sahel by video message.  We will distribute the text of that message to you under embargo.  The conference is organized by our humanitarian colleagues, together with Denmark, Germany and the European Union.

As we have mentioned, the Central Sahel, which includes Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, faces one of the world’s fastest‑growing humanitarian crises, I think as you heard from David Beasley just on Friday.  More than 13 million people now require urgent humanitarian assistance – 5 million more people than estimated at the beginning of 2020.

A press conference is scheduled at 10:00 a.m., New York time, that will include Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, as well as Denmark’s Minister for Development Cooperation and the European Union’s Commissioner for Crisis Management.  Both the ministerial conference and the press availability will be webcast.

And, staying on topic, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that that, unless humanitarian access is urgently granted to organizations like theirs, catastrophic levels of hunger could hit hard in parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  The ability of humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to those most in need has been jeopardized by worsening conflict and insecurity, WFP said in their statement.  Aid workers are also increasingly targeted by non‑State armed groups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  The agency is urging participants at tomorrow’s conference to find ways for organizations to engage with communities and all actors on the ground to open up safe passageways for humanitarian assistance to reach who need it.

**Libya

In Geneva, the fourth round of the Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission talks began this morning.  These are taking place at the Palais des Nations, with the presence and participation of the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Libya, Stephanie Williams.  The launching of this round of talks is marked by in‑person meetings between delegations of the two parties to the Libyan conflict.

The deliberations of this round will continue until 24 October.  The UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) hopes that the two delegations will reach a solution to all outstanding issues in order to achieve a complete and permanent ceasefire across Libya.

**Yemen

In Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us the humanitarian situation continues to worsen as clashes surge in Hudaydah, Taiz and elsewhere.  Our humanitarian colleagues report that more than 8,000 people have been displaced in October due to the recent escalation in violence.  We, along with our humanitarian partners, are providing shelter, non‑food items, food and drinking water to the newly displaced people.

Against this backdrop, COVID‑9 continues to spread unchecked across Yemen.  In parallel, the threat of hunger for millions is on the rise as food prices are 140 per cent higher than the average prices before the conflict.  Some 20 million people are food insecure, including nearly 10 million people facing [acute] food insecurity.  Some 2 million children require treatment for acute malnutrition, of which 360,000 are at risk of dying without treatment.

The lack of funding is crippling humanitarian operations in the country.  Sixteen of the UN’s 41 major programmes have already been reduced or shut down; 26 more will close or reduce services by the end of the year unless additional funding is received.  To date, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is only 42 per cent funded - the lowest level ever so late in the year.  We call on all our donors to pay outstanding pledges and increase support.

**Viet Nam

Turning to Viet Nam, where we have been told that the central region of the country has experienced prolonged, heavy rains since 6 October, provoking widespread flooding and damage impacting some 5 million people.  More than 130,000 homes have been flooded and more than 66,000 people have been evacuated.

We, along with international NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] and the Viet Nam Red Cross, are closely monitoring the situation with the Government and stand ready to provide support as required.  We have already mobilized some funds for assessment and coordination.  The Government says they need shelter, food, water and sanitation, health care and cash assistance as priority needs.  Together with our partners, a UN team will visit flood‑affected areas tomorrow to determine what additional support may be required.

**Resident Coordinators

Our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that we have new UN Resident Coordinators in Indonesia, Madagascar, and Senegal.  These appointments follow the confirmation of the respective host Governments.  The Secretary‑General has appointed Valerie Julliand of France as the new Resident Coordinator in Indonesia; Issa Sanogo of Côte d’Ivoire will be the new Resident Coordinator in Madagascar; and Coulibaly Siaka of Côte d’Ivoire will be the new Resident Coordinator in Senegal.

Resident Coordinators boost coordination among UN entities to support national and local efforts to tackle and recover better together from COVID‑19 and to achieve the SDGs.  We remain with full gender parity among all our Resident Coordinators covering 162 countries and territories, as well as geographic parity between the global North and global South.  The full list of Resident Coordinators is available on the interweb.

**COVID-19/UNICEF

Our friends at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] said today said that it has begun laying the groundwork for the rapid, safe and efficient delivery of the eventual COVID‑19 vaccine by purchasing and pre‑positioning syringes and other necessary equipment.  They will stockpile 520 million syringes in its warehouses.  During 2021, assuming there are enough doses of the vaccines, UNICEF anticipates delivering over 1 billion syringes to support vaccination efforts.  Besides syringes, UNICEF is also buying 5 million safety boxes so that used syringes and needles can be disposed of in a safe manner by personnel at health facilities.

**Afghanistan

You saw over the weekend that we issued two statements - one on Afghanistan, in which the Secretary‑General strongly condemned the indiscriminate attack that took place Sunday on provincial police headquarters in Afghanistan’s province of Ghor.  According to preliminary reports, the attack claimed the lives of at least 13 persons and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children.

**Armenia/Azerbaijan

Also, over the weekend, we issued a statement on the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which the Secretary‑General condemned all attacks on populated areas impacted by the conflict.  He said the tragic loss of civilian lives, including children, from the latest reported strike on 16 October on the city of Ganja is totally unacceptable, as are indiscriminate attacks on populated areas elsewhere.  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, a follow‑up.  I’ll pick up just right there, because this afternoon, there will be a meeting of the Security Council in closed consultations to discuss the situation in Nagorno‑Karabakh.  I’m assuming it’s Under‑Secretary‑General [Rosemary] DiCarlo who will be briefing…?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.  She will be briefing in closed consultations.

Question:  So, can you tell us what she’ll be telling… the idea… the general gist of what she’ll be telling the Council and whether she will - I know I’ve already asked about this but ‑ will be talking about any possibilities that the UN could get involved if there was a more durable ceasefire accepted by both sides, any sort of mechanism that the monitoring could offer, for example?

Spokesman:  Sure, what I can tell you at this point is that she will brief on the situation on the ground, and she will reiterate the Secretary‑General’s message, both on the political end, which is for the parties to abide… to resume substantive negotiations without delay under auspices of the Minsk [Group] Co‑Chairs, and to… very much to focus on preventing any attacks on civilians.

Question:  Very different issue.  Is the UN aware of plans by the Host Country, the United States, to change the rules for the “I” visas, which is how most journalists covering the UN and, in fact, most journalists in the US are able to be here, most foreign journalists, the new rules limiting journalists to 240 days’ stay in the US?  Does the UN have a position on this?  And does it believe it’s consistent with the Host Country Agreement?

Spokesman:  Yes, we’re aware, and I saw… I think I saw the statements put out by the State Department a couple weeks ago.  I will check with… I’ve asked that we check that exactly and how it impacts journalists that cover the UN, if it does.  As soon as I have something, I will get back to you.

Question:  Because certainly, the Foreign Press Association, Ian Williams, has put out a number of statements - he believes journalists are going to be seriously hampered in doing their work, and one assumes that there is an impact on that long‑standing agreement.

Spokesman:  No, I… That’s exactly what we’re checking.  Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I just wanted to know if the Secretary‑General had any talks with presidential hopeful Joe Biden in the last weeks or month and, if yes, what they talked about?

Spokesman:  No, none that I’m aware of.  Yes?

Question:  Well, it’s on Guinea.  Has the Secretary‑General had a talk with Alpha Condé?

Spokesman:  I’ll… I’m not aware of any recent conversations with President Condé, but I will get back to you on that.  Oh, sorry.  We have people on the screen.  I keep forgetting we have all these other people.  Let’s see.  Edie, please, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I was also going to ask about Guinea, but also, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the other election that was held over the weekend in New Zealand?

Spokesman:  We congratulate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and we look… very much look forward to continuing to work with her.  New Zealand’s been a very important partner for the United Nations on a number of issues, notably on climate change.  I’m not getting… if anyone else has a question, just wave, because I’m having problems with my chat function here.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan is in Islamabad.  Is there any special reason for this visit?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say again?

Question:  The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General is in Islamabad today.  I just wanted to know whether this has some special purpose.

Spokesman:  Which Special Representative?  We have quite a few.

Question:  On Afghanistan, Ms. [Deborah] Lyons…

Spokesman:  On Afghanistan.  No.  I will check.  Sorry.  I will check.  And I failed… I apologize.  I know.  It’s Monday, and I think I may have been given decaf instead of regular coffee, but I do have something on Guinea - Guinea, which I can tell you that the Secretary‑General continues to closely monitor the situation in Guinea.  He welcomes the overall peaceful conduct of the presidential elections on 18 October.  As Guinea awaits the election results, the Secretary‑General urges all political leaders and their followers to maintain the peaceful atmosphere.  He encourages all to patiently await the announcement of the official preliminary results and to resolve any potential dispute through established legal channels.  And we’ll share that text with you.  Abdelhamid, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I would be repeating the same question I asked before.  Why the Secretary‑General in his statement regarding Nagorno‑Karabakh did not once refer to the four Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  There’s… the Security Council resolutions are there.  No one is questioning it.  So, I will… I think them not being mentioned, I would not read too much into it.  Any other questions?  Wave or speak up.  James is waving here.

Question:  So, just a follow‑up on Afghanistan.  You read a statement earlier on about yet more violence in Afghanistan.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the level of violence that is ongoing at a time when the Taliban is supposedly taking part in… well, is taking part in talks?  Is he worried that the level of violence is perhaps not consistent with them saying that they’re prepared to negotiate?

Spokesman:  Look, there… I mean, the fact there are discussions going on is very clear.  We have seen an uptick in the violence.  We’ve seen an uptick in civilians being hurt.  I mean, the latest attack was really an indiscriminate attack on an area with civilians going about their business.  I think it’s very important that the focus be on fighting a political solution and on an immediate reduction of the violence.  Yep.

Question:  Another question, if I can.  Tomorrow’s Security Council meeting on security in the Persian Gulf region, is the Secretary‑General speaking tomorrow?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will be speaking tomorrow.  We’ll share that text with you.

Question:  Does he think it’s time… I mean, it’s long past time resolution 598 (1987), which called on the Secretary‑General to set up a new security mechanism in that region - does he believe the time might now be ripe to revisit that idea?

Spokesman:  I think we’ll let… I don’t want to pre‑empt what my boss will say tomorrow.  Okay.  Apostolos, I don’t know if you… I think you may be having connection problems, but Apostolos was asking about the results of the election and the new Turkish Cypriot leader.  I don’t have any language on that, but I expect something this afternoon.  Okay.  We leave you in the hands of Mr. Brenden Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.