22 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.

**Secretary-General – United Nations Day

All right.  Good afternoon.  Ahead of UN Day, which is, as you know is on 24 October, here we go, the Secretary‑General is speaking just about now at a virtual event in the General Assembly Hall.  A recorded performance, featuring the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and special guest Roberto Bolle, along with other world class dancers, is being shown.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General will emphasize the importance of culture in the work of the United Nations.  He will say that he hopes that today’s concert will inspire us towards the global solidarity that is needed so urgently at this unprecedented time.  He will also reinforce his appeal for a global ceasefire so we can devote all our energies on fighting COVID-19.

**Global Education Meeting

And this morning, he also spoke by video message to the virtual Global Education Meeting, organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and co‑hosted by the Governments of Ghana, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The Secretary‑General noted that in his recently issued policy brief on the impacts of COVID‑19 on education, he warned that the world was at risk of a generational catastrophe.  He pointed out that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth.  The Secretary‑General emphasized that we now need to support the learning recovery in low- and middle‑income countries, and to factor education into every stimulus package.

Also, through a video message, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, stressed that education is the docking station for all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all, led by the education community.

**Security Council

And here, the Security Council is meeting in person today on Sudan and South Sudan.  Briefing Council members is the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga.  He noted that the preventive measures applied by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, otherwise knowing as IGAD, appear to have been successful in weakening the spread of COVID‑19 in the region.  He added that the focus has shifted to economic recovery and restoring people’s livelihoods.  Mr. Onanga‑Anyanga said that he is happy to report that the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan continues to strengthen.

Also addressing the Council was Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, the head of UN Peace Operations, for the UN.  He noted that the peace process has made little progress in Abyei.  He said that the general security situation in Abyei remained rather volatile, including attacks against UN personnel and instances of intercommunal violence, including armed attacks on villages.  We’ve shared both remarks with you.

**COVID-19 - Africa

And the World Health Organization (WHO) today said that the roll‑out of newly approved antigen‑based rapid diagnostic tests for COVID‑19 in Africa will significantly boost testing capacity and make a game‑changer in the continent’s fight against the pandemic.  According to WHO, many African countries have struggled to test in sufficient numbers to control the pandemic.  The new rapid tests are easy to use, cheaper than PCR and provide the results in just 15 to 30 minutes, enabling countries to decentralize testing.

Globally, 120 million of these tests are being made available to low- and middle‑income countries through the ACT‑Accelerator, a coalition launched by WHO and partners, comprising international organizations, the private sector and philanthropists.  It aims to expedite the development, production and availability of promising tests, vaccines and treatments for COVID‑19.  WHO says that rapid antigen tests are an addition to PCR tests, not a replacement.

**COVID-19 ‑ Colombia

And staying on the topic of COVID-19, I want to give you an update on what our country teams are doing on the ground, looking at Colombia, where the acting UN Resident Coordinator there, Jessica Faieta, is leading our team’s work to support national and local efforts to save lives and livelihoods, in coordination with the UN verification mission on the peace and security front.  Through the “Health for Peace” project, the World Health Organization, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are all boosting access to health services in conflict‑affected municipalities.

The UN team is also working on the pandemic response plan for the Amazon region in cooperation with our teams in Brazil and Peru.  As a result, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided hygiene kits and risk communication support while the World Food Programme (WFP) increased food distribution.

The UN in Colombia is also providing food, sanitation, and shelter to more than 900,000 people while supplying protective equipment, including 15,000 masks, all produced by former FARC combatants.  These were given to indigenous communities.  We also secured more than $50 million to support socioeconomic recovery plan.  A UN impact assessment showed that Colombia’s economy contracted nearly 16 per cent in the second quarter and unemployment rates reached nearly 17 per cent in August.

**Rohingya Conference

And, as we told you earlier this week, today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is co‑hosting, along with the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union, a virtual donor conference to help the Rohingya, both inside and outside Myanmar.

Speaking at the event, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that today’s conference sends a message to the Rohingya, the world’s largest stateless community, and to their generous host communities that the world has not forgotten them.  He noted that the UN, along with our partners, have continued to support more than a million Rohingya refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh.  Mr. Lowcock added that the Rohingya refugees themselves have been the backbone of the response to COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar and stressed that there are still some 600,000 Rohingya inside Myanmar.  Those people continue to have their basic rights denied, they suffer extreme hardships in Rakhine State and elsewhere.  Basta.  Toby and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Good afternoon, and thanks very much, Stéph.  My question is about the unrest in Nigeria.  We saw a counterpart to that unrest here, actually, at UN Headquarters.  And I’m wondering what the Secretary‑General feels is the root of the sentiment behind this unrest and what is to be done about it?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has been… we’ve been very clear that we have called for the demonstrations to be peaceful.  We have called on security forces to show restraint, and we’ve said to the Government we’re willing to accompany them as they deal with issues of police reform and other issues and that those who are responsible for abuses, for rights violations, need to be held accountable.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Can I ask you about leadership in parts of the UN system?  Does the Secretary‑General have full confidence in the Secretary‑General of ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization], Fang Liu, and that she is working in the interests of her organization, not in the interests of China?

Spokesman:  Let me just put it this way.  The head of ICAO is elected by its member States, and the Secretary‑General has no authority [over] ICAO or how its leadership is chosen.  So, it is not for the Secretary‑General to express confidence or no confidence in the leadership of a specialized agency.  So, I don’t… I’m…

Question:  He has no problem with her work, though.

Spokesman:  And ICAO is a member of the United Nations family.  The Secretary‑General works well with ICAO and its leadership, but the leadership of ICAO, the International [Universal] Postal Union, WHO, the International… Intellectual Property Organization…

Question:  Let me ask…

Spokesman:  … those ‑ let me answer ‑ those leaders are always accountable to their governing bodies.

Question:  Does he also then… give you another example.  The International Telecommunications Union, the ITU, Houlin Zhao, does he believe that Mr. Zhao is doing a good job and working in the interests of the international community and not in the interests of China?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has no doubt that the leadership of all of the UN specialized agencies are working in the best interests of United Nations…

Question:  Because the reason…

Spokesman:  And I know where… I mean, I’m sure we’ve all read the same op‑ed, but again, these leaders… as opposed to leaders of funds and programmes who may be appointed by the Secretary‑General, these leaders are accountable to their governing bodies, but the Secretary‑General has no issue with any of them.

Question:  So, you’re aware that the op‑ed was written by Ambassador [Kelly] Craft of the United States.  She’s making allegations against those two individuals in particular, that they’ve been, in one case, covering up Chinese hacking, another case actively promoting Huawei.  Does he think it’s appropriate for the US Ambassador to be making such personal attacks on leaders in the UN system?  And does he plan to talk to the US Ambassador about this?

Spokesman:  Look, everyone is free to express themselves.  It is not for the Secretary‑General to judge on the appropriateness or the non‑appropriateness of any statement made by a Permanent Representative.  The Secretary‑General’s door is always open and literally these days - literally open, because we try to keep that room well ventilated, for any Permanent Representative who wants to speak to him.  Okay.  Hold on a second.  Let me… I’m try… having problems… Sylviane, please.  Sorry.  Go ahead.

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

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  There is any reaction on the… official reaction from the SG on the selection of Mr. Saad Hariri as the new head of the Lebanese Government?

Spokesman:  Look, I…

Question:  I have another question.  I have another question.

Spokesman:  Yes, I would refer… yes.  I would refer you to what Mr. [Ján] Kubiš, I think, said publicly just a few hours ago, encouraging Lebanon to have a pro‑reform effective Government.

Question:  The other question is the consultation… on the consultation of the [resolution] 1559 [(2004)] report that will take place next Wednesday at the united… Security Council.  Who will be briefing this event, this consultation?  Is it the Under‑Secretary, Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, or Ján Kubiš?

Spokesman:  If I’m not mistaken, that briefing is usually done by either the head of the Department of Political Affairs or one of her representatives, but we can double‑check.

Question:  Is it a dual, between Beirut and United Nations?

Spokesman:  Is there a what? A duel?

Question:  Is it going to be dual, yeah, in accordance with Lebanon…

Spokesman:  We’ll check who’s brief… there is no duel between Mr. Kubiš and Ms. Rosemary DiCarlo.  We will see who’s briefing.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Both Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia will be in [Washington] D.C., I think, this weekend.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to meet with both or with either or with none?

Spokesman:  No, he’s been in touch… as you know, he’s been in touch with their… if you could mute your microphone… there we go.  As you know, he’s been in touch with both Foreign Ministers over the different times during this crisis.  Washington… the US is one of the Minsk [Group] Co‑Chairs, along with the Russian Federation and France.  So, we support, obviously, all these diplomatic efforts that could de‑escalate tensions and return to negotiations under the auspices of the Co‑Chairs.  Okay?  Unless I see somebody waving their hands wildly in the air either on screen or in person, I will turn over this august podium to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.