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21 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.

**Nigeria

All right.  Good afternoon, and happy noon to all of you.  In a statement that we issued, you saw that the Secretary‑General said that he is following closely developments in Nigeria and calls for an end to reported police brutality and abuses.  He condemns the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos, which resulted in multiple deaths and caused many injuries.   The Secretary‑General expresses his condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He calls on the Nigerian authorities to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The Secretary-General also urges the security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint while calling on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.   The Secretary‑General encourages the authorities to swiftly explore avenues to de‑escalate the situation and reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to support national efforts towards finding a solution.

**Verified Pause Campaign

And as you have seen, the Secretary-General today launched a new global campaign calling on people to #PledgetoPause before they share content about the COVID‑19 pandemic online.  In a video message, the Secretary‑General said that, during the COVID‑19 pandemic, the wrong information can be deadly.  He called on people to take the pledge to pause and help stop the spread of misinformation.

Our hope is that his message will be replicated by other leaders, influencers and concerned citizens.  This new campaign is part of Verified which, as you know, is a UN initiative launched in May to communicate accessible, science‑backed health information in compelling formats and share stories of global solidarity around the fight against the virus.  The press release and other information have been shared with you.

**Secretary-General – Association of Southeast Asian Nations

This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the annual ministerial meeting between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, otherwise known as ASEAN, and the United Nations.  He said that, at this time of global challenge and uncertainty, regional partners remain indispensable allies, stressing that we need to work together to protect lives and jobs, and to keep businesses and economies afloat.

The Secretary‑General thanked ASEAN for its support of his appeal for a global ceasefire and said that he looked forward to its advocacy to help end hostilities around the world, including ongoing conflicts within its region.  He also noted that, today, the second five‑year ASEAN‑UN Plan of Action was adopted, which has many new and expanded priority areas for our future cooperation, including the youth, peace and security agenda, cybersecurity and action to prevent hate speech.

**Deputy Secretary-General - COVID-19

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, this morning delivered remarks at an event on investing in COVID‑19 vaccines and primary health‑care delivery systems.  Amina Mohammed said that the pandemic is undermining our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and secure universal health coverage.  She underscored that the pandemic will need a global response to address both the health and the economic impact, adding that the path out of it is built on strong health systems underpinned by robust primary health care, without which we cannot deliver a vaccine effectively.  Her remarks have been shared with you.

**COVID-19 - Sierra Leone

Staying on the topic of COVID, I share an update from our colleagues in Sierra Leone, where schools reopened this month after being closed for six months.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Babatunde Ahonsi, is supporting the national school feeding programme targeting 330,000 children in 11 districts.  Since March, the UN has been supporting the national response, focusing on providing life‑saving supplies, including food for the most vulnerable people.  We have also transported medical items.

The UN has also been working with farmers to double their productivity and incomes.  Our communications experts have been working side by side with the Government on a communications strategy looking at how women and men are impacted differently by the pandemic.  Gender experts were also deployed to five districts to ensure that gender concerns are a crucial component to the response.  The UN team continues to support authorities in ensuring that gender dimensions are included in data to help them tailor a comprehensive response that saves lives and livelihoods and leaves no one behind.

**Security Council - Kosovo

This morning, here, virtually, the Security Council held a meeting on the situation in Kosovo.  Briefing the Council was the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Kosovo and head of the UN Mission (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin.  He noted that in the UN’s 75‑year history, the need for global solidarity and international cooperation has never been as clearly demonstrated as it is today.  He stressed that for places such as Kosovo, cooperation, unity of political voice and vision, dialogue and preventing extreme polarization should be the highest order priorities.

Mr. Tanin said that during the past seven months Kosovo has persevered through multiple, overlapping challenges, triggered by the ongoing worldwide pandemic.  Severe socioeconomic consequences of the virus have created a negative impact on the economy, particularly affecting youth, women and other vulnerable communities.  Mr. Tanin said that the UN Mission, alongside the UN Kosovo team of agencies, funds and programmes, have significantly adapted their activities to help meet the unprecedented challenges brought by the virus.

Following the Council meeting, there will be a virtual stakeout by the EU4, which are the European Union members of the UN Security Council – namely Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, along… they will be joined with the United Kingdom and incoming members Ireland and Norway.

**Western Sahara

Our colleagues in the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) reports that, as of this morning, it observed some 50 people, including men, women and children, present in the buffer strip at Guerguerat.  They were blocking the traffic that passes through the area.  The Mission deployed additional staff this morning to the area to help defuse any tension and unblock the traffic.  We urge all concerned to exercise restraint and to take all necessary steps to defuse any tensions.  We recall that regular civilian and commercial traffic should not be obstructed and that no action should be taken which may constitute a change to the status quo of the buffer strip.  The Mission will continue to monitor the situation closely.

**Libya

From Geneva, our friend, the Acting Special Representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, briefed your colleagues following the first two days of face‑to‑face direct talks between the two Libyan delegations to the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.  She reported that the two sides have reached agreement on several important issues which directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people.  This includes agreeing to the opening of the land routes that connect all of the regions and cities of Libya, as well as the opening of air routes throughout Libya.

The Acting Special Representative has also said that the two sides today will take up the issue of arrangements for Libya’s central region, paving the way for a ceasefire agreement.  The talks are expected to continue through Saturday and her remarks have been shared.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that hostilities in north‑west Syria continue almost daily despite the 5 March ceasefire agreement, while across the country, civilian casualties continue to be reported.  Despite the reduced air strikes in the north‑west following the ceasefire, there are increasing numbers of reported incidents involving improvised explosive devices, clashes between non‑State armed groups, and targeted attacks across Idlib and northern Aleppo.   Humanitarians continue to be injured and killed by hostilities, including two humanitarian workers and their driver who were injured during an air strike in Idlib on 15 October.

In total, across Syria in August and September, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified at least 117 incidents in which 108 civilians were killed and at least 172 civilians were wounded as a result of the conduct of hostilities.  We once again reaffirm the Secretary‑General’s call for a full countrywide ceasefire, and call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**South‑East Asia

Turning to South‑East Asia, where heavy rains have caused severe and widespread flooding and landslides in Viet Nam, Cambodia and parts of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand since the beginning of the month.  Across the region, more than 100 people have reportedly died, and more than 110,000 people have been displaced.

In Viet Nam, we, along with the Government and NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] are carrying out assessments in affected areas.  We, along with our partners are supporting the Government’s response by providing food and other items.  Nearly 900,000 people been impacted by these floods and landslides in Viet Nam alone.  The UN Resident Coordinator met with the Vietnamese Prime Minister today to offer support in areas where the needs are the greatest, and in Cambodia, we are also working with the Government to assess needs and damage.

**Mediterranean Basin

And just to flag that there is a report today released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) that warns that rising inequality, biodiversity loss, the growing impact of climate change and unrelenting pressure on natural resources could lead to irreversible environmental damage in the Mediterranean basin.  And that is in the report called The State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean.  That is available online.

**Financial Contribution

We end with some good money news.  Our thanks go to our friends in Belarus and Chile, as both Member States have paid their regular budget dues for 2020.

**Press Briefing Today

In addition to the virtual stakeout, at 1:30 p.m. today, there will be a virtual briefing here, excuse me, not here, but a virtual briefing by Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.  He will brief you on this same virtual platform that we use here, so reconnect when needed.  James and then Madame.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’ve got lots of questions I want to ask, but let me just start with a follow‑up to something that you read and one new one.  So, the follow‑up to what you read, very strong statement on Nigeria.  In addition to issuing words, is the Secretary‑General planning to pick up the phone?  Is he going to be calling President [Muhammadu] Buhari?  Are there going to be other contacts between the UN and high‑level Nigerian officials?

Spokesman:  He spoke to the Nigerian President a few days ago, and then there will be contacts on the ground, as well.

Question:  And can I ask you about your statement on Nigeria?  Because, as I just said, it is a very strong statement.  And when you contrast that with statements you’ve issued recently on Belarus, where pretty much the same thing has been going on, when you contrast it to statements that you made in recent months about police violence against Black Lives Matter protesters in the US, where you a lot of the time seem to dance around the subject, seems we have very different rules for some countries than others.

Spokesman:  I think all of the statements we’ve issued have been based on the same basic principles, which is:  people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, security forces have a responsibility to show restraint, and demonstrators need to do this peacefully.  And I think you could argue that different words have been used, but the basic principle applies across the board.

Question:  My new subject is the new statement from the Pope, in which he’s come out in a documentary saying he supports same‑sex civil union.  What’s the UN’s reaction?

Spokesman:  I think it’s a very posit… I mean, I’ve… let me just say I’ve seen the press reports.  I haven’t seen the documentary, but obviously, if it’s quoted accurately, it would be a very positive move.  I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out very forcefully against homophobia in favour of LGBTQ rights, that people should never be persecuted or discriminated against just for who they love.

Question:  And can we get the Secretary‑General’s personal reaction as one of the most prominent Catholics in the world?

Spokesman:  Uh…

Question:  Is that a no or?

Spokesman:  No, no.  I speak on his behalf.  If I can get you more, I will get you more.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Yeah, sorry.  Madame de Lavaréne.

Question:  Stéphane, I did not see any statement from the SG on the murder of the teacher in France.  Did he talk to [Emmanuel] Macron?  Neither did I see a statement from UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], which I believe deals with education.  Why?

Spokesman:  I can’t speak for UNESCO.  The Secretary‑General was absolutely shocked and horrified… [speaking French] Je vais finir ma phrase.  [Laughter]  Sorry.  The Secretary‑General was absolutely shocked and horrified when he saw the news.  He spoke to the French Permanent Representative, Nicolas de Rivière, right after I shared the news with him to express his shock, his condemnation of this heinous act.

Correspondent:  Hi.

Spokesman:  Hi.

Question:  I didn’t want to pre‑empt Célhia.  That…

Spokesman:  Nobody wants to pre‑empt Célhia.  [Laughter]

Question:  Just in terms of the… a readout from that conversation with President Buhari, what did the SG say to him?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have a readout, but I can tell you that the Secretary‑General’s message, both privately and publicly, are based on the same principles I’ve elaborated.  Okay.  Sorry.  Anybody up on screen?  Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stephanie Williams today sounded very optimistic, and I think she has many reasons to do so, but I want to raise a question about the mercenaries in Libya.  She said they would have to be evacuated, effective in Libya in 90 days.  We understand there are some mercenaries who belong to some countries like maybe Turkey, like Sudan, like Chad, who can cooperate with their gGovernments and take them back.  But what about the Wagner mercenaries, who, according to Russian Federation, have nothing to do with it?  Who would take the Wagners?  And who would force them to do that?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions that are going on in Geneva, because I’m not privy to them.  And Stephanie Williams is clearly in the lead.  From here, I mean, our basic message is that there should be no foreign fighters in Libya, no matter under what cover they may be there.  And that’s why it’s so important to have these military talks and these military officials agree on a way forward.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  So, picking up on another statement that you’ve issued on Haiti, you… again, the statement about how bad things have been with cholera but no admission, of course, again of any liability by the UN.  But you do talk about the fund that the UN set up and that Member States need to come forward, provide more money.  What is the state of that fund?  How much… remind us how much you’ve wanted and how much has been…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Since the initial outbreak of cholera in October 2010, the international community has spent over $705 million to fight cholera in support of the Government’s national plan.  This includes more than $139 million mobilized by UN agencies.  On the new approach, more than $80 million has been mobilized by the UN and the agencies since the announcement of the New Approach in August of 2016.

Question:  So what’s the target?  How much do you want to raise?  You’ve got 18 million, and you say it’s from…

Spokesman:  I need to get you… I mean more…

Question:  I’m trying to work out how much Member States have given.  You’re asking Member States to…

Spokesman:  No, I understand.  No, I’m saying 80 million has been…

Question:  From Member States.

Spokesman:  … from Member States, but I will get you… the target is more.  But I will get you a more definite…

Question:  It would be useful to know what percentage is being fulfilled…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I understand.

Question:  And then quickly, following up on Libya, is there any news on the Special Envoy, the new Special Envoy?

Spokesman:  No.  We would like to… obviously, we would like… we’re moving on this as fast as we can.  We would like to appoint… I think the aim, hopefully, will be reached, is to appoint both positions at the same time.

Question:  And the last one, a follow‑up from yesterday ‑ I’m going to say it again ‑ watching the video conference of Kosovo, the sound quality is poor.  There’s sound bleed on it.  The picture quality is nowhere near as good as it was.  The new platform you are using for the Security Council ‑ it’s not their issue; it’s the Secretariat that provide the video platform ‑ is really not good enough.

Spokesman:  No, we’re having… listen, I spoke to our colleagues again about it this morning.  We’re having a lot of issues with this new platform that we’re using which allows for the simultaneous interpretation, and they’re working on it.  That’s the only thing I can tell you.  Okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, Iftikhar, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph. Yesterday…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Iftikhar.

Question:  Yesterday, authorities in Indian‑occupied Kashmir sealed the offices of Kashmir Times, a leading newspaper and one of the oldest in the disputed state.  This, obviously, is part of the crackdown that began in August last year.  And the editor of the paper, Mrs. [Anuradha] Bhasin, has tweeted that this is vendetta for speaking out.  Any comments from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  I had not seen those reports.  Let me look into it, and I will get back to you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Mr. Varma, the floor is not yours, but the podium and the screens are.

For information media. Not an official record.