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29 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

**France

 I will start off with a statement on the events that took place in France.

The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the heinous attack today that took place at Notre Dame basilica in Nice, in which a number of people were killed.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and reaffirms the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of France.

Also, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, also issued a statement, strongly condemning the barbaric attack.

And he added that such heinous attacks targeting civilians, including worshippers, are intolerable and utterly unjustifiable — whenever, wherever and by whoever commits them.

**Security Council

Here this morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the Security Council meeting on women, peace and security.  As you know, today is the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325, which calls for the adoption of a gender perspective to consider the special needs of women and girls during conflict.

The Secretary‑General said that today, the pandemic is having a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls.  He added that as we recover from the pandemic, we face a choice:  to continue down the path of increasing militarization, conflict and intergenerational losses, or to work towards greater inclusion, equality, and prevention of conflicts and crises of all kinds.

“For governments and international institutions everywhere, gender equality is one of the surest ways of building social cohesion and trust, as well as inspiring people to be responsible, participating citizens,” he said.

The Secretary‑General stressed that we cannot wait for another 20 years to implement the women, peace and security agenda, and he called on countries to work together to achieve that goal.

**CARICOM

And this afternoon, the Secretary‑General will speak live by videoconference to the 41st regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM.

He will commend their leadership, which has led to CARICOM countries reporting low levels of COVID‑19 cases and also their efforts to help people and businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Secretary‑General is expected to highlight the UN’s efforts to support a safe vaccine available to everyone as soon as possible, and a relief package for developing economies that amounts to at least 10 per cent of the global economy.

And he will reiterate the UN’s support to Caribbean countries not just in their recovery efforts but also in tackling the climate crisis.  And those remarks will be shared with you.

**Colombia

I have an update for you from the Deputy Secretary‑General’s virtual trip to Colombia.

Yesterday afternoon, she met virtually with the Vice President of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, and heard from her on the first gender parity cabinet in the region, the targeting of women in the socioeconomic response plan in relation to the pandemic, and efforts to address the growing levels of gender‑based violence.

She also met with the Presidential Counsellor on Stabilization and heard the forward movement on implementing the strong gender provisions of the peace agreement.  The Deputy Secretary‑General was joined by the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo Ngucka, and the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten.

Ms. [Amina] Mohammed and her delegation also had meetings with female human rights defenders as well as beneficiaries of projects that facilitate access to transitional justice and economic empowerment.

This afternoon, she is meeting with Ivan Duque, as well as with the UN team in Colombia.  She will be joined by Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the Political and Peacebuilding Affairs department.  And she will have a joint press stakeout with the President of Colombia at 5 p.m., which you can watch on the presidency’s YouTube channel.  We can share those details with you.  (www.youtube.com/SIGCOLOMBIA)

**Israel/Lebanon

Building on progress made from their 14 October meeting, representatives from the Governments of Israel and Lebanon held productive talks yesterday and today, mediated by the United States and hosted by the UN Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL).  The United States and UN Special Coordinator’s Office remain hopeful that these negotiations will lead to a long‑awaited resolution.  The parties are committed to continuing negotiations next month.  And this is from a statement issued out of Beirut.

**Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, our humanitarian colleagues are telling us that Typhoon Molave made landfall yesterday in the central part of the country.  Fifteen people were reportedly killed and 40 people are missing.  Nearly 375,000 people have been evacuated and millions do not have electricity.  An estimated 7.7 million people in central Viet Nam have been impacted by flooding since earlier this month.

We, along with our partners, are supporting the Government‑led response by distributing home repair kits, kitchen sets, household and relief kits, food, water purification packets as well as cash assistance.  The UN country team is developing a Response Plan and providing support in information management, reporting and resource mobilization.

For its part, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] said today that this latest storm will increase the number of children at risk to well over 2.5 million in Vietnam.

Many schools across the central region of the country have been closed for weeks, a situation already constrained by COVID‑19.  The agency is providing emergency help, including water, nutrition, sanitation, and educational assistance.

**Somalia

In Somalia, I can tell you that we strongly condemn the murder of two Somali humanitarian workers who were killed earlier this week in Mogadishu by suspected Al‑Shabaab terrorists.

The aid workers were involved in an ongoing polio vaccination campaign, organized by UNICEF, WHO [World Health Organization] and Somalia’s Federal Ministry of Health.

The killings come at a time when 23 children have been infected with polio in Somalia.  Aid workers have been trying to reach 1.65 million children with polio vaccines across the country’s north and central regions.  This includes nearly half a million children in the capital, Mogadishu. 

This year, 191 incidents against humanitarian operations have been recorded, in which 13 aid workers were killed, 12 injured, 24 abducted and 14 detained or temporarily arrested.

**COVID-19/Myanmar

An update from Myanmar on what our team is doing there to address the pandemic:  Their operations, led by Resident Coordinator Ola Almgren, is supporting authorities to address the recent spike in cases.  We have helped to secure nearly 300,000 test kits and more than 260,000 protection and hygiene items.

The World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund produced information on COVID‑19 in 90 languages, targeting 16 million people.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that people working in the informal sector and rural families have been greatly impacted.  Meanwhile, UNICEF and the World Food Programme are delivering cash assistance to over a million households, half of those led by women, and they are also aiming to reach children and older people. 

With schools being closed, WFP [World Food Programme] is delivering food to 145,000 families every day.  UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and UNICEF prepared guidelines for more than 90,000 teachers, students and families, as well as materials for learning at home.

The IOM [International Organization for Migration] has also distributed water and other supplies to nearly 130,000 people returning to Myanmar, who lost their jobs overseas.

**COVID-19/Education

A report published today by UNESCO and the World Bank reveals that schoolchildren in low- and lower‑middle‑income countries have already lost nearly four months of schooling since the start of the pandemic, compared to six weeks of loss in high-income countries.

**Biodiversity

Also on COVID, future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, and kill more people than COVID‑19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.  This is the warning from a new UN‑backed report on biodiversity and pandemics by 22 leading experts from around the world.

The report, produced by the Intergovernmental Science‑Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — I will spare you the acronym — estimates that there are up to 850,000 unknown viruses in nature that could still infect people.  It says that the economic impacts are 100 times the estimated cost of prevention.

I’ll get to you.  Don’t worry.

**Senegal

We get a lot of tragic stories, and I just wanted to flag that one that really caught our eye, sadly, this morning, from the International Organization for Migration, which says it is deeply saddened by the drowning of at least 140 people off the coast of Senegal.  This is the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020.

Local community members told IOM that the vessel, carrying around 200 migrants, left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal last Saturday (24 October) and was trying to reach the Canary Islands.  The boat caught fire a few hours after departure and capsized near Saint‑Louis, on the northwest coast of Senegal.  Fifty‑nine people were rescued.  The bodies of 20 others were found, while over 120 are presumed dead.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

IOM is calling for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth.

With this tragic shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route since the beginning of this year.  This data was compiled through IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.  In all of 2019, it had recorded 210 fatalities.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

And lastly, tomorrow at 11 a.m., Judge Abdulqawi A.  Yusuf, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), will be joined by Philippe Gautier, the Registrar of the International Court of Justice, in a virtual press briefing about the work of the Court.  President Yusuf will speak about the Court’s role and jurisdiction, its latest activities and working methods during the pandemic.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Célhia, you've been twitching to ask a question so…

Question:  Stéphane, [audio gap, inaudible] Colombia and the virtual trip of Amina Mohammed.  [Off mic, inaudible] trip.  So, could you explain to us…  [off mic, inaudible]?

Spokesman:  It's about keeping the focus on countries that we are working with, keeping the focus on issues that are important to us, notably on the gender angle.  I mean, this...  I think the fact that this visit has a great focus on gender, the role of women in rebuilding following peace accords and that it's taking place around the 20th anniversary of resolution 1325 should not be seen as a coincidence.

We are hamstrung because of the pandemic in our ability for senior officials to travel, though we, obviously, are always looking at opportunities to do so.  This is a way for her to…  and her colleagues, senior colleagues, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Executive Director of UN Women, to engage with local authorities and get to a deeper dive in some of the most important issues that we deal with.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up on that, first.  Does a virtual visit include any virtual press engagement?  Because, again, I keep pressing this point.  The more you do things virtually but you keep leaving out the press parts of it.  Could she, for example, have a press engagement with Colombian journalists…

Spokesman:  She…  she…

Question:  She's doing that?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I read it.  I read that.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Sorry.  My…

Spokesman:  That’s alright. 

Question:  My apologies then.  COVID‑19, first, any update on the outbreak at the Niger Mission and the resumption of business here next week?

Spokesman:  I mean, unless things do not go according to plan, we expect meetings to restart next week, but obviously, the contact tracing needs to continue.

Question:  A wider question, then, on COVID‑19.  In Europe and in some other places, there's clearly a serious re‑emergence of the virus, and new lockdown measures are coming into place.  This time, compared with the beginning of the year, there seems to be much more public opposition in many of these countries.  What is the Secretary‑General's message to governments and to people who are faced with new restrictions?

Spokesman:  First, his message is, we need to be guided by the science, and policies need to be tethered to reality and to science.  And that's…  and every country has its own issues to deal with, its own health system to take into account.

I think the message is also to take the virus seriously, to listen to facts, to try to push away the disinformation that we see all around us.

Madame Lederer, and then we'll go to the screen.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  In Tanzania, the leading opposition candidate rejected Wednesday's election and said whatever happened wasn't an election and was like what...  and I quote, "spitting in the face of democracy," closed quote.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the opposition's allegations of widespread irregularities in the voting?

Spokesman:  Look, we don't have a mandate to assess these elections, right? We're not electoral observers.  Assessing the quality of these elections is the job of election observers.  We welcome the presence of regional, national and some international observers during these elections.

It is very important that the people wait calmly, that all sides avoid any violence, any rhetoric that could lead to violence.

Mr. Sato?

Question:  Stéphane, could you clarify the SG's intervention in the Security Council?  This morning, he mentioned the beginning of 2020, gender parity in the US, full‑time senior leaders, full‑time senior leaders.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  You need to speak…  maybe take off your mask to ask the question, yeah.

Question:  Yeah.  The UN realise the 90 women and the 90 men as full‑time senior leaders.  What does…  what's the definition of the full‑time senior leaders?

Spokesman:  Senior leader…  we're looking at people in ASG…  in positions of Assistant Secretary‑General, Under‑Secretary‑General and, obviously, Deputy Secretary‑General.  So, those are senior leaders who are appointed through a different process than people up to the director level, which go through a more bureaucratic competitive process.  These are senior leaders that are appointed by him, within the Secretariat.  So, it does not include the heads of specialised agencies who are elected through their own governing bodies.

Okay? Sorry.  Let's go to the screen.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions on violation of international law, both of them.  My first question, the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, signed a memo with the Israeli authorities lifting the ban on American companies to invest in settlement.  So, from yesterday on, American companies can invest in illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.  Do you have a statement on that? And have you followed this important flagrant case of violation of international law at a close range?

My second question is similar.  United Arab Emirates decided to open a consulate in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which has not been settled, thus recognizing the sovereignty of Morocco over this territory.  Do you have anything to say on that, on both issues?

Spokesman:  Look, I would just reiterate our positions.  On Western Sahara, it has been outlined regularly by the Secretary‑General in his reports.  I would refer you to that.

On the issue of settlements, our position remains the same and has been referred to in statements by the Secretary‑General and by Mr. {Nickolay] Mladenov.

So, our...  it's up to you to do the compare‑and‑contrast.  Our positions on, whether it's on settlements, on Western Sahara, remains unchanged.

Okay?  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  So, you think such a decision by US to lift the ban on investing in settlement is just a matter of just for me to analyse or to...  just to repeat the traditional position of the UN, is not worth a separate statement?

Spokesman:  Our position on the illegality of settlements is clear and has been clear for a long time.

Okay.  Unless there are any other questions, I will release you. 

There is no Brenden [Varma] today.  I mean no Brenden here, and I think he will be back tomorrow.  Take care.

For information media. Not an official record.