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20 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.

After we’re done here, I will leave the podium to my friend Mr. Brenden Varma, who will brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.  [Yes, Benno, that’s him.]

Then at 12:30 p.m., Liu Zhenmin, the Under-Secretary-General and head of the department for Economic and Social Affairs, along with Stefan Schweinfest and Francesca Grum of the Statistics Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), will brief you on the “World’s Women 2020:  Trends and Statistics”.  So, do please stay connected.  That will be done all virtually and while we are on the subject of statistics…

**World Statistics Day 

Today is actually World Statistics Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General stressed that statistics are fundamental for evidence-based policymaking.  Current, timely and reliable data help us to understand the changing world in which we live.

He added that the coronavirus pandemic has further elevated the importance of data to save lives and recover better.

More information on the website.

**Central Sahel

The central Sahel region is at a breaking point; that’s what the Secretary-General said in a pre-recorded video message prepared for today’s High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in that region. 

The security situation has deteriorated sharply, and humanitarian needs in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger have reached record levels, he added.  COVID-19 is making it all worse.

The Secretary-General said that the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire is crucial for the people of the central Sahel.  The downward spiral needs to be reversed with a renewed push for peace and reconciliation.  He also called for more humanitarian assistance, for space to reach people in need and for more investments in development.

With better funding, we can do much more, he said, as he urged Member States for strong support.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also participated in the meeting and sounded the alarm, saying that nowhere in the world worries him as much as the Sahel in the medium-term.  

The results of the conference:  We want to thank over the 20 donors who have pledged over $1.7 billion to scale up life-saving humanitarian aid for millions of people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.  This includes $985 million for this year and $704 million for 2021 and beyond. 

Once released, the funds will help some 10 million people for the remainder of this year and through 2021 with nutrition, food, health services, water and sanitation, shelter, education, protection and support to survivors of gender-based violence.

The final list of pledges and donors will be available later today on the interweb.

**Persian Gulf

And back here, the Secretary-General spoke virtually to the Security Council at its meeting this morning on the Persian Gulf.  He reminded members that he has appealed for an immediate global ceasefire to focus on the one true fight: the battle against the COVID-19 virus, and the Security Council has joined this call.

Regarding Yemen, he said that fortunately, for now, hostilities have subsided, but this is not enough.  He added that we need an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to work out a political settlement to end the war.  Nothing else will suffice.

Looking at the wider Persian Gulf region, the Secretary-General said that it is clear that tensions are running high and confidence is low.  Since May 2019, he added, a number of security incidents have raised tensions to new levels, heightening concerns of a larger conflict.

The Secretary-General recalled the role of the Helsinki process in dealing with the tensions of the Cold War and he hoped that it would be possible to establish a similar platform for the Persian Gulf, starting with a number of confidence-building measures.  These may include, for example, the ways to combat COVID-19, promote economic recovery, ensure unhindered maritime navigation and facilitate religious pilgrimages.

**Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, we, along with our humanitarian partners are continuing to deliver assistance to those most in need following the explosions over two months ago in Beirut.

Since the beginning of the response, more than 36,000 people have benefitted from protection services; nearly 83,000 people received in-kind food parcels, covering 72 per cent of their known needs to date, while 12,500 metric tons of wheat flour have been distributed, covering approximately 80 per cent of affected stocks. 

More than 27,000 people have received cash assistance since August.

Rehabilitation of shelters remains one of the main areas of ongoing work for us and our partners. 

Nearly 4,000 households were reconnected to their water supplies, covering two thirds of the known needs estimated; and more than 3,300 water tanks and 235 pumps were also installed since the beginning of the response.

The UN-coordinated response planned for the Beirut Port explosions is seeking $355 million targeting 300,000 people in need, but it remains less than 29 per cent funded.  Beyond humanitarian assistance, Lebanon will continue to require substantial and long-term assistance to support recovery, reconstruction and economic reform.

**Kyrgyz Republic

I’ve been asked for an update the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic.  I can tell you that we continue to monitor developments in the Kyrgyz Republic closely.   

Our Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, continues her engagements in Bishkek.  Today, she met with the Prime Minister and acting President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Sadyr Japarov. 

In her meetings, she has highlighted the need to ensure that decisions on the way forward are within the country’s constitutional and legislative framework, and are being made in an inclusive and transparent manner. 

We remain ready to support all efforts towards that end.

Ms. Gherman will continue her meetings with relevant interlocutors in Bishkek throughout the week. 

And on the COVID front in the Kyrgyz Republic, our colleagues there from the UN country team, led by Resident Coordinator Ozonnia Ojielo, continue to work with authorities to address the impacts of the pandemic.   

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just delivered 1.5 million medical masks to the Ministry of Health for health workers across the country.

Due to procurement and distribution challenges resulting from the pandemic, we’ve also been providing supplies for people with diabetes.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) provided 4,000 insulin doses, half a million insulin syringes and 230,000 blood and urine glucose test strips, as well as containers for used syringes.  These supplies will be distributed to medical facilities across the country, including in remote areas.  We are also procuring another 20,000 doses of insulin to cover the needs of 650 children and adolescents for a full year.

**Rohingya

Ahead of a virtual donor conference this week to raise funds to help the Rohingya inside and outside Myanmar, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today stressed the need for stronger international support and a redoubling of efforts to find solutions for this stateless and displaced population.   

On Thursday, UNHCR — together with the US, the UK and the European Union — will host the conference, which you can follow online. 

Less than half of the funds requested for the humanitarian response have been received so far.

**Children/Extreme Poverty

An analysis released today by the UN Children’s Fund and the World Bank Group reveals that an estimated one in six children lived in extreme poverty before the pandemic, and this is set to worsen significantly.

The analysis notes that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two thirds of children living in households that struggle to survive on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person — the international measure for extreme poverty.  South Asia accounts for nearly a fifth of these children.

UNICEF and the World Bank warn that any progress made in recent years is concerningly slow-paced, unequally distributed, and at risk due to the impact of the pandemic. 

**Art Trafficking

And our friends in Paris at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) today launched an international awareness campaign, highlighting the devastation of the history and identity of peoples wreaked by the illicit trade in cultural goods, which is estimated to be worth nearly $10 billion each year.

The Real Price of Art campaign shows that in some cases, the looting of archaeological sites, which fuels this traffic, is highly organized and constitutes a major source of financing for criminal and terrorist organizations. 

The campaign marks the fiftieth anniversary of UNESCO’s Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property adopted in 1970.

**UN75/Virtual Photo Exhibition

Just wanted to flag that today we launched a virtual photo exhibit called #TheWorldWeWant, in advance of #UNDay, to mark the 75th anniversary of these United Nations.

The virtual exhibit is a special collection of 75 photos curated from more than 50,000 images from 130 countries.  It is a creative response to the UN Secretary-General’s call to hear directly from the peoples of the world about their vision for the future.

The exhibit features winning images from #TheWorldWeWant campaign, a photo competition hosted by the mobile app Agora in support of UN75. 

You’ll find it [at] un.org

**Press Briefing Tomorrow 

Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

**Questions and Answers

Speaking of human rights, you have rights to ask questions.  Mr. Bays.  For now, that is, yeah. 

Question:  [inaudible] not sort of subject matter.  It’s simply watching this morning’s Security Council debate, which was virtual.  We would like to have seen the Secretary‑General on full screen.  Instead, he was on a tiny little screen.  For television broadcasters, that means that speech is lost to history.  That will never be shown on television, because it’s not of broadcast quality, and this isn’t the first time this has happened.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  I raised this issue with our colleagues this morning.  Part of it has to do with the Interprefy platform that they used for those meetings.  They will work, moving forward, on getting a separate feed of the SG’s speeches when this platform is used.  So, they’re trying to find a work‑around for this.

Question:  Does there happen to be a separate recording of the session…?

Spokesman:  I don’t believe there is.  I asked, and I don’t believe there is, but I will double‑check again.

Okay.  Anybody on…  Apostolos, yes, please, and then Betul. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Apostolos?  If somebody could unmute our…  I’ve never heard Apostolos muted, so let’s…

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, I can…  this…  that’s the voice I know.  Go ahead.

Question:  Could you please provide us some details regarding the next move of the Secretary‑General on Cyprus, following the selection of a new Turkish Cypriot leader?  Do you know if he’s going to deploy Mrs. [Jane Holl] Lute for exploratory talks?  Is Mrs. [Elizabeth] Spehar going to do shuttle diplomacy?

And also, if you can confirm that the UN will host a dinner of the two leaders next week, as it was reported in Cyprus.

Spokesman:  Okay.  On your last question, I’d have to check and get back to you on, but I can tell you that, obviously, we’ve taken note of the election of Mr. [Ersin] Tatar as the new Turkish Cypriot leader.  The Secretary‑General, for his part, remains committed to supporting both sides in revitalizing the political process, to explore the possibility of convening an informal 5‑plus‑UN meeting with both leaders, as well as the guarantor powers, at the appropriate stage. 

I think it bears underscoring again the importance of trust‑building between the two communities, and we encourage the continued development and implementation of confidence‑building measures, which would bring, obviously, the two communities closer together. 

The Secretary‑General further calls on the two sides and all relevant parties to avoid any unilateral action that could undermine the prospect for renewed negotiations. 

As the way forward, I think the best way to resolve disputes is by returning to negotiations, by fostering lasting settlements of longstanding Cyprus problems for the benefit of all Cypriots and greater peace in the region.  And that’s it.  I will leave it at that. 

Betul?  Sorry.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I actually have a follow‑up on Cyprus and a couple of other questions.  Does the Secretary‑General have a time framework to bring the two parties together?  Because what you said before was that he was planning to convene a meeting among the two leaders and the guarantor countries. 

And, if I may, I have another question on Nagorno‑Karabakh issue.  The Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are meeting the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on Friday in Washington.  Does the Secretary‑General have any plans to meet the ministers of both countries?

And another question on the same issue.  You have issued a couple of statements concerning Nagorno‑Karabakh, and I’m just wondering, there was no mention or reference to the Security Council resolutions or the UN generally…  General Assembly resolution, because, I mean, we see that, in some other conflicts, that the UN is guided by Security Council resolutions.  Just wondering why there hasn’t been any reference to those resolutions in your statement. 

Spokesman:  As a matter of principle, we’re, obviously, always guided by resolutions adopted by Member States.  I think, for the current conflict in the region, the Secretary‑General’s message has been clear, is a return to negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Co‑Chairs.  This has been the message that also Rosemary DiCarlo delivered to the Security Council yesterday.

I don’t have a…  sorry.  And on the two Foreign Ministers, no, the Secretary‑General has spoken to both last week, if I’m not mistaken — yes, we’re Tuesday, last week — and delivered the same messages he’s been delivering publicly.  I’m not aware of any plans at this point for either of the two gentlemen to stop through New York.

And, no, I don’t have a time frame for convening of a meeting with the parties, the guarantor powers, and the UN.  Obviously, we will…  these developments are fairly new.  The election took place over the weekend, but discussions will be ongoing.

Okay?  Let’s see if there are any other questions.  Stefano, please, and then Gloria.  Stefano?

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

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  I have two question.  One is about Colombia, the case of Mario Paciolla.  Sunday, the magazine Semana in Colombia published the result of the autopsy done by the Colombian authority, where they confirm that Paciolla committed suicide.  I mean, for them, it was a suicide.  Is not…  you know, they confirm what they had said before. 

So, the Italian authorities said it is still going on with the investigation.  I would like to know what the UN is doing at the moment to…  about this issue. 

The second question is about the 18 fishermen from Mazara, Sicily.  They are still held in Libya.  Sunday, the Pope…  the Pope talked about them and linked that…  they linked the situation to the discussion for…  you know, for peace in Libya, because he was talking about he hoped that the discussion going to have that those fishermen can be freed soon.

So, my question is, what did the UN and the Secretary‑General…  they doing anything for those 18 fishermen?  They’re still held in Libya, and they are…  look like it’s very dangerous to…

Spokesman:  Stefano, we would hope that these people are released.  I will try to check exactly what the UN Mission may be doing, working to that end.

On your first question, I completely understand the continued interest in this tragic case.  For our part, we are continuing to cooperate with the Colombian investigation, as well as the Italian investigation.  And those…  that cooperation and those investigations are ongoing.

Gloria, please, and then we’ll leave it to Brenden. 

Question:  Is it possible…  Sorry.  Sorry, Stéphane.  Just a quick follow‑up on Colombia.  But do you…  does the UN…  what does UN think about the result of the…  of what the Colombian authorities said…?

Spokesman:  It’s not for me to comment while an investigation is ongoing. 

Sorry.  Go ahead, Gloria.

Question:  In the case of the Sahel, where all the villages are being pillaged and where the cattle are being stolen, et cetera, people have heard the need for help and investment, but what investment in agriculture would be safe, where the farmers can still reap the results of these…  of the investment?  Because investment and investors are people who expect financial reward.  They’re not “goody‑good two shoes” people.

Spokesman:  Well, I’m not sure we’re talking about direct private investment.  What we…  obviously, there needs to be an investment in peace, and a peace will create the climate in which people can invest and in which farmers can invest in their own production and reap the rewards, and reap the rewards of that investment for their families and for their communities.  But what we actually need is also peace, which we currently don’t have in many parts of the region.

Okay.  Sorry.  Betul, you had a quick follow‑up?  Betul?  Okay…  I don’t hear…

Correspondent:  Yes.  Thanks.  Sorry.  I couldn’t…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  I can’t hear you, Betul.  You’re breaking up.  Okay.  Listen, I think we’ll move on to Brenden.  If you can hear me, Betul, just give me a call, and I will answer your question. 

I’ll leave you in Brenden’s hands, and then we’ll go to the Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.