26 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary‑General — UN75

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly’s observance ceremony in the commemoration of UN Day.  He pointed out that 75 years ago, amid the rubble and ruin of the Second World War, world leaders did the audacious.  He noted that many previous attempts to secure peace and progress through international cooperation had collapsed, yet they dared to try again, and they succeeded.  Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said that, at its birth, the UN was a symbol of global unity.  Today it is the epicentre, and our mission is more important than ever.  He emphasized that international cooperation is the only way to defeat the pandemic, the climate emergency, rising inequality and the spread of hatred.  He highlighted that we measure the success of the UN by the lives we save, the suffering we ease, the peace we build, the opportunities we create, and the rights we protect, adding that we will never, ever give up in our mission and in our work to fulfil the enduring vision of the Charter.

**Japan — Climate

You will have noticed at daybreak we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General said he is very encouraged by Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s announcement of Japan’s commitment to get to net zero emissions by 2050.  Japan, the world’s third largest economy, joins a growing group of major economies committed to leading by example in building a sustainable, carbon neutral and climate resilient [world] by 2050.  The Secretary‑General said he looks forward to the concrete policy measures that will be proposed and implemented to reach this goal, adding that he is confident that Japan will also assist developing countries to reach this goal, including through technological assistance and its public and private financing for renewable energy.

**Secretary-General — World Health Summit

In a message delivered to the World Health Summit in Berlin by pre‑recorded video, the Secretary‑General noted that the first hard lesson of the current COVID‑19 pandemic is that we were not prepared for it.  He underscored that universal health coverage is the path to high quality, equitable and affordable health care, adding that we need health systems that work before we face an outbreak of something more contagious or deadly than COVID‑19.  He also pointed out that we are not powerless.  If we follow the science and demonstrate unity and solidarity, we can overcome the pandemic.  The Secretary‑General underlined the need for global solidarity every step of the way and that the virus’s deadliest allies are misinformation and disinformation.

**Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

On Saturday, our friends in Honduras deposited the fiftieth instrument of ratification or accession to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  As a result, the Treaty will enter into force on 22 January 2021.  The Secretary‑General commended the States that have ratified the Treaty and saluted the work of civil society, which has been instrumental in facilitating the negotiation and ratification of the Treaty.  Entry‑into‑force is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this Treaty.  The Secretary‑General added that the entry‑into‑force of this Treaty is the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.  It represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General looks forward to carrying out the functions assigned to him by the Treaty.


And we issued a number of other statements over the weekend, one expressing horror and shock at an attack on a school in Cameroon’s south-west region.  The Secretary‑General urged Cameroonians to conduct a thorough investigation to ensure those responsible are held accountable.  We also took note of the announcement of the provisional results of the presidential election in Guinea and reiterated our call to all actors to resolve disputes through established legal mechanisms and [refrain] from violence.  And we also took note of the agreement to normalize relations between the Republic of the Sudan and Israel, and the Secretary‑General added that he hopes the agreement will further cooperation, enhance economic and trade relations, and bring about new opportunities to advance peace and economic prosperity in the wider Horn of Africa and Middle East regions.

**Middle East

You heard [Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process,] briefing the Security Council this morning on the Middle East Peace Process, saying that the pandemic stretches on and its consequences accumulate, Palestinians and Israelis alike are feeling the effects.  He is particularly concerned about the spread of the virus in Gaza and the long‑term damage to the Palestinian economy and social cohesion, including impacts on education, for the next generation.  His full statement was shared with you.


Our good friend, Geir Pedersen, the Envoy for Syria, has just left Damascus.  Mr. Pedersen had comprehensive discussions with Deputy Prime Minister, [Foreign and Expatriates Minister] Walid al Muallem.  The envoy touched upon all issues related to Security Council resolution 2254, including the Constitutional Committee.  He said he will also continue consultations with the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission.  Mr. Pedersen will brief the Council via video tomorrow, Tuesday.


The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum convened its first virtual meeting today.  The direct, in‑person meeting of the Forum will kick off on 9 November in Tunis.  The UN Mission (UNSMIL) welcomed 75 Libyan participants to the first virtual meeting of this Dialogue.  Participants were briefed on the intra‑Libyan economic and military tracks facilitated by the UN Mission, as well as on the human rights and international humanitarian law tracks.  The overall objective of the Forum will be to generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to holding national elections in the shortest possible timeframe, in order to restore Libya’s sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of Libyan institutions.


A quick update from Chile, where our country team has welcomed the culmination of the Constitutional Plebiscite, calling it a civic act of historical importance, in which citizens have expressed their opinion in favour of the “I approve” option, which opens the process of formulating a new Constitution for the country.  The high participation and civic spirit demonstrated are proof of Chile’s strong commitment to democracy.  We at the United Nations call for the continuing of the constitutional process, strengthening democratic values, equal participation of women and men, and respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression as fundamental principles.  The statement from the UN country team is available on the Internet.


A quick note from Mozambique, where our humanitarian colleagues inform us that, since 16 October, at least 10,000 newly internally displaced people have arrived by boat in Pemba, Cabo Delgado’s provincial capital, in the north of the country.  The displaced people, mostly women and children, are fleeing the ongoing conflict in the region.  In support of the Government‑led response, we, along with our partners, have provided food and water for more than 5,000 people over the last few days.  Humanitarian partners have also put in place measures to prevent possible disease outbreaks, specifically diarrhoea and COVID‑19.  They are installing temporary latrines and handwashing facilities, and they are distributing facemasks and setting up an emergency medical tent.

The humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado has rapidly deteriorated in the last 10 months, due to the conflict and violence.  More than 300,000 people are now displaced and in need of life‑saving assistance.  The Humanitarian Rapid Response Plan for Cabo Delgado has received around 60 per cent of the $35.5 million requested.


And just an interesting report we saw from [the UN Environment Programme], which will ring true to many of us who have travelled:  Millions of used cars, vans and minibuses exported from Europe, the United States and Japan to the developing world are of poor quality, contributing significantly to air pollution and hindering efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.  That’s according to a new report by UNEP, the UN Environment Programme.

The report shows that, between 2015 and 2018, 14 million used vehicles were exported worldwide.  Some 80 per cent of these went to low- and middle‑income countries, with more than half going to Africa.  UNEP said developed countries must stop exporting vehicles that fail environmental and safety inspections and are no longer considered roadworthy in their own countries.  The report also calls for the adoption of minimum quality standards that will ensure that used vehicles contribute to cleaner, safer fleets in importing countries.  Mr. Bays and Ms. Lederer.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have two questions; first, a request.  Do you think it's possible that we could have a stakeout from Mr. Pedersen following the excellent recent examples of Stephanie Williams and Martin Griffiths?  We haven't spoken to him for literally months and months and months.

Spokesman:  I will.  Yes… Yeah, okay.  No, it's fine.

Question:  So, questions:  is the Secretary‑General at all concerned that Egypt might be planning to blow up the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?

Spokesman:  I think, for the Secretary‑General, our position is one of supporting the ongoing efforts of the Chairperson of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is encouraging the parties to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.  The Secretary‑General calls on all concerned countries to take concrete steps to finalise an agreement in the spirit of goodwill, consensus and compromise.  The dam can become an important instrument of cooperation and partnership between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan as they strive towards a peaceful, prosperous future for their own people.

Question:  And has the Secretary‑General any comments on the growing spat between Turkey and France?  Latest development, Turkish President calling for a boycott of French goods.

Spokesman:  No, no particular comment on that.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of questions.  First on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno‑Karabakh; the Secretary‑General welcomed this third attempt to get a ceasefire, and today the Armenians and Azerbaijanis were accusing each other of breaking it.  Does the Secretary‑General have any further comment?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we welcome the agreement that was announced yesterday.  I think we're, obviously, very deeply concerned by the reports that there are already ceasefire violations shortly after the parties agreed to implement their commitments for a third time in recent days.  It is very important that the parties fully implement their agreement, and he expects them to abide by these commitments.  I think what cannot be overlooked is the humanitarian situation in the conflict area, and it is important that all ensure safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian workers, delivery of humanitarian assistance and services to civilians in and around the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone.

Question:  Secondly, there were again massive demonstrations in both Belarus and in Thailand against the governments.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment or any suggestion to those government leaders?

Spokesman:  Well, I think in Belarus, we have been very clear from the start that, first of all, people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, that security forces should always show restraint and that parties in Belarus should engage in a democratic dialogue.  And as far as Thailand is, I think the message is basically the same, and it's a global message that people have a right to demonstrate and that governments, wherever they are, in any country, should listen to the voices of the people.  Mr. Sato, and then we'll go to the screen.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, to my knowledge, that United States is supposed to withdraw from Paris Accord early next month.  So, how worried does the Secretary‑General see this situation?  And what action will Secretary‑General take in order to accelerate the climate action more in the world?

Spokesman:  Well, the date you mention is not a surprise.  Right?  This is part of a legal procedure that was initiated almost a year ago when the intention to withdraw was deposited by the United States.  The Secretary‑General is very focussed on mobilising not only governments — and we saw the brave and very ambitious announcement made by the Prime Minister of Japan yesterday; others have made similar agreements — we are focussed on mobilizing not only governments… governments at every level, national and state and local authorities, civil society, business community.  I mean, the Secretary‑General regularly speaks to business leaders, fund managers and so on, youth groups.  And the Secretary‑General will continue that policy tomorrow and the days… as the days move forward.  Okay.  I, unfortunately, do not have my phone with me, so I'm unable to monitor the chat.  So, if you have a question, wave, and I see Abdelhamid.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  The United States… now in declaring… can you hear me? Can you hear me? I am speaking.  Can you hear me?  Yeah, oh.  The United States now is considering declaring Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch as anti‑Semite organizations.  What is your end take on that? And the second… and I have a second question.

Spokesman:  We've seen the press reports.  We're not going to comment on something… comment specifically on something that has not yet happened I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General has said in the past about the important work that human rights organizations do and that civil society organizations do.  But, obviously, the only thing I've seen is I've read things in the media.  I don't… I've not seen any official announcement.  Your second question?

Question:  My second question, Mr. Mladenov, in his speech, he repeated that Israel is going ahead with plans to build 5,000 units in occupied Palestinian territories.  He also mentioned the situation of Maher al‑Akhras, who's been on… almost 90 days on hunger strike.  However, Israel even chose not to mention in the speech of the Israeli ambassador the settlement or any of these?  What is the UN can do other than just mentioning these developments or appealing to Israel to stop these internal activities?  They have never stopped it, again and again and again.

Spokesman:  Well, each Permanent Representative or senior official who addresses the Council from a Member State is free to say whatever they want.  We stated our position.  It's very clear, and we've made that position known, both privately and publicly, to Israeli authorities.  Okay.  I have my phone back, so my colleagues can tell me who's going on.  So, Iftikhar, please, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on James' question regarding French‑Turkish tensions.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on the derogatory remarks made by President [Emmanuel] Macron on… about Islam?

Spokesman:  Look, I haven't read the full remarks, and I'm not going to do an analysis of something I haven't read fully.  As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General has always called for the respect of freedom of religion and the freedom of belief anywhere in the world.  Okay.  Gloria?

Question:  This is about the Cameroon and about the school that was destroyed.  Was it from the German part of Cameroon, from the French part of Cameroon, or the English part of Cameroon where the school was destroyed?  And are those European interests now helping on peacekeeping there in those areas where the school was blown up?  And maybe that European country that's involved that are close to the Cameroon where they're speaking German, French or English will help to rebuild the school.  That's my question.

Spokesman:  My understanding of the colonial history of Cameroon is that it was… it had been a German colony, and after the first World War, given in Trusteeship, or some other colonial legal term, to France and Great Britain.  The attack took place, as far as I recall, in the English‑speaking… in regions where there is a majority of English speakers.  Regardless of where it took place, it is one of these situations where the words that we use to condemn these attacks cannot live up to the actual horror of what happened.  And anyone… and it is one of these cases where we run out of words.  Okay.  Any other questions?  Oui, madame.

Question:  Sorry.  I know that he was the winner of the election in Guinea.  Is the Secretary‑General worried about what could happen and had already happened actually?

Spokesman:  Well, we're… first of all, it is not up for us to certify the elections.  We saw that the results were announced.  Our concern is some… is related to some of the violence we have seen.  What is very important in Guinea and other… any other countries where there are elections and disputed elections is that the recourse be made through the existing legal and constitutional framework while those processes are going on, that there is an appeal for calm, not only from us but, more importantly, from leaders on the ground.  Okay?  Unless I see a question, someone waving their hands or opening their mics, I will leave this wonderful podium to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.