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5 November 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,

Mr. Bays, that looks like a first-notch hotel room. 

All right.  Let’s start at the beginning, and in fact, let’s start about tomorrow.

**Chief Executives Board

The Secretary-General tomorrow will bring together the heads of the UN system organizations in a virtual meeting of the Chief Executives Board.  They will reflect on the main characteristics of a post-pandemic world and brainstorm on possible key elements of a Common Agenda report the Secretary-General has been asked to submit to the General Assembly.  This follows the adoption of the 21 September 2020 Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations. 

The Chief Executives Board members will discuss common approaches to an inclusive, networked multilateralism.  They will also deliberate on salient emerging trends, opportunities and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on the risks for human rights, global economic prospects, deepening inequalities and climate action. 

**Cameroon

Just a note on Cameroon and just to say that the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of violence against schools, students and teachers in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon.  This took place earlier this week on 3 and 4 November.  These reported attacks deprive children of their right to an education.  These reports come on the heels of the horrific attack on a school in Kumba, in the south-west region on 24 October, in which many children were killed and several others wounded. 

The Secretary-General stresses the need for accountability of all these acts of violence against children and education facilities and reiterates his call on all armed actors to refrain from attacks against schools and to respect international humanitarian and international human rights law.  He further urges the Cameroonian authorities to swiftly investigate all attacks on schools and bring the perpetrators to justice.  Attacks on education facilities are a grave violation of children’s rights.

He strongly urges the parties to answer his call for a global ceasefire and reiterates the availability of the UN to support an inclusive dialogue process leading to a resolution of the crisis in the north-west and south-west areas of Cameroon. 

And also on that note, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon, Matthias Naab, also issued a statement condemning the attacks. 

He said these incidents are part of a pattern of violence against education facilities and personnel, as well as kidnapping for ransom of children and teachers in the north-west and south-west.

**Humanitarian Affairs

 The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, says this week we have lost six humanitarian workers in targeted violent attacks in Somalia, in two separate incidents in South Sudan, and in north-west Syria.

This cannot be tolerated, he said in the statement.  Attacks directed against humanitarians are a violation of international humanitarian law and an obscene act against people working hard, often in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to help vulnerable people.

Mr. Lowcock said that those who commit these atrocities must be held to account.  Governments must investigate these killings and prosecute the suspects where appropriate.  International humanitarian law must be upheld.

**Syria

A quick update on the humanitarian situation in Syria, where Mark Cutts, our Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, said he was deeply concerned by the sharp escalation in violence in Syria’s north-west Idlib Governorate yesterday, in which close to 3 million women, children and men, over half of whom are internally displaced, remain caught in the crossfire. 

Initial reports indicate that at least eight civilians were killed by shelling, including four children and two local aid workers, while at least 13 were also injured.  Mr. Cutts condemned the killings in the strongest possible terms and offered his deepest condolences to the families of all those who were killed or injured. 

He continues to call on the parties to the conflict to stop the fighting in line with the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, in accordance with international humanitarian law. 

**West Bank

Quick note on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where on the West Bank, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Yvonne Helle, said that 73 people — more than half of whom were children — were displaced when Israeli authorities demolished their homes earlier this week in the community of Humsa Al Baqi’a. 

Ms. Helle reminded all parties that the extensive destruction of property and the forcible transfer of protected people in an occupied territory are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The humanitarian community stands ready to support all those who have been displaced or otherwise affected and they reiterate their call to Israel to immediately halt these unlawful demolitions.

And her statement has been posted.

**Security Council

And back here, this morning, the Security Council is holding an open meeting by video conference on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  During the meeting, Council members were briefed by the High Representative, Valentin Inzko, on the latest report from his Office. 

Following the meeting, there will be a joint virtual Security Council Stakeout on Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Permanent Representatives of Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom. 

This afternoon, Council members will meet again in an open VTC, followed by closed consultations, regarding the Middle East.  The High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, is expected to brief Council Members. 

**Sustainable Development Group

And a couple quick COVID-related notes.

The UN Sustainable Development Group will meet virtually today to assess preliminary results and challenges of working jointly to support 162 countries and territories overcome and recover better from the pandemic. 

As you know, the group comprises the heads of all UN entities working on sustainable development and focuses on the socioeconomic response to the virus.   

So far, UN teams have repurposed some $3 billion of existing funding, while mobilizing nearly $2 billion to support national and local efforts to respond immediately to the pandemic. 

In the last quarter, the UN teams reached nearly 5 million people through nutrition programmes, with 7 million women receiving maternal health services.  UN teams have ensured that nearly 6 million ongoing vaccinations were continued.  These results are tracked by an online public COVID-19 data portal. 

The Group has vowed to do more, including to boost data collection with authorities to help people who are most in need. 

The Chair of the Group is the Deputy Secretary-General, who said that, for the first time, we all recognize it is a development emergency of global proportions.  Amina Mohammed added that Governments, communities, and citizens have mobilized accordingly — and our UN teams have as well, stepping up together.  She emphasized that much more needs to be done, even faster. 

**COVID-19 — Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned today that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to key health services in Africa, including with births, vaccinations and malaria treatment. 

This could potentially worsen some of the continent’s major health challenges.

More on this online.

**Food Coalition

Also, today, the virtual high-level event of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) formally launched the Food Coalition.  This is a voluntary multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral alliance set up to support innovative initiatives to ensure global food access, increase the resilience of agri-food systems and put them on a more sustainable course.

The Food Coalition was first suggested by the Government of Italy and more than 30 countries have now already expressed their interest in joining. 

FAO warns that the pandemic may add up to 132 million more people to the ranks of the world’s undernourished this year, on top of the 690 million hungry people in 2019. 

**Global Food Prices

And FAO says today that global food prices continued to rise for the fifth consecutive month in October.  The index for October, led by cereals, sugar, dairy and vegetable oils all went up.  The Food Price Index averaged 100.9 points in October 2020, up 3.1 per cent from September and 6 per cent above its value a year ago. 

**World Tsunami Awareness Day

Today is World Tsunami Awareness Day and this year’s theme is “Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance”.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that we live in a multi-hazard world where risk is systemic and embedded in the very fabric of human development.  Currently we are struggling with what some describe as a tsunami of death and disease due to the virus. 

The Secretary-General says the pandemic preparedness can borrow much from the progress we have made in reducing large-scale loss of life from tsunamis; there are now early warning systems wherever coasts are vulnerable. 

**Noon Briefing Guests

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Luis Carrilho, the UN Police Adviser.  He will be here in the room, and virtually we will be joined by Issoufou Yacouba, the Police Commissioner for the UN Peacekeeping force in Mali.  And we will be joined by the Senior Police Adviser of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei, Mary Gahonzire. 

As you know, this week is UN Police Week, and they will be here to brief you on Police Week. 

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Mr. Bays, and then we’ll go to Ibtisam, if that is you.  Yes, it is you.

Question:  Hello, Steph.  Yes, I hope you can hear me.  I’m having a few technical problems here.

My WiFi in this lovely hotel has just failed, so I’m on the phone.

Anyway, can I start with a follow‑up to one of the things that you read, or I’m told you read because I dropped out while you were doing it, which is about the demolition of the Bedouin Village in the West Bank.  You’ve given us the…  what has happened, but you haven’t given us the Secretary‑General’s response.  What does the Secretary‑General think of this?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, Ms. Helle represents the UN’s humanitarian community in the area, and we have always stood against the demolition of property, of Palestinian property, in these circumstances in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Question:  Okay.  Moving to the US election, I know it’s not part of the UN, but the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which you very regularly quote on many issues, has a monitoring mission.  They say there are baseless allegations and systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent President, including on election night, harm public trust in democratic institutions.  Do you agree with that assessment?

Spokesman:  Listen, the OSCE has a mandate.  They were invited to do so.  It is their right and responsibility to speak.  As I said, at this point, we have no comment on what is…  on the process that is being played out here in the US, the electoral process.

Question:  But the Secretary‑General would agree that the OSCE is a respected international organization with a reputation for rigorously monitoring elections worldwide, so there would be no reason to differ from that opinion, one assumes.

Spokesman:  Well, we’re not here to analyse the OSCE, which we work with in many places and, as you say, we often quote, notably in the context of Armenia and Azerbaijan.  I’m just saying that we…  they have a mandate; we do not.  They made a comment, and at this point, we have no comment. 

Correspondent:  I have other questions, but you can go…  I’m sure you want to go to other people first.  Thanks.

Spokesman:  I’ll take a Bays break, go to Ibtisam, and then I’ll come back. 

Question:  Bring you to the…  I have two questions.  The first question is regarding also the subject of Palestine and the statement you read.  My question is, do you…  does the Secretary‑General condemn the demolition of Palestinian houses?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve always…  I mean, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, in his reports and the Secretary‑General’s own reports, we have always stood firmly against this policy, and we’ve made it known both publicly and privately to the authorities.

Question:  But that’s actually different from condemning, so…

Spokesman:  We stand against, we condemn, I mean, we’re…  it’s…  we stand against these acts, and we’ve denounced them.

Question:  My second question on Saudi Arabia and Saudi activist Loujain al‑Hathloul, she’s on hunger strike.  Her situation is deteriorating.  What do you…  what’s your message to the Saudi Government on her imprisoning and other Saudi activists who are in prisons?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not familiar directly with the case, but clearly, she should be…  made sure she has all the access to medical treatment that she needs and all the legal protections that are afforded to her as basic human rights, but let me look in more detail into the issue.

Okay.  Abdelhamid, and then we’ll go to James. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I am following up with James and Ibtisam’s question on demolition and other atrocities committed against the Palestinian people.  The weight of oppression that Israel is subjecting the Palestinian people to had accelerated after the assign…  signing of the normalisation agreement with UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Bahrain.  I can tell you, just this week, Israel wounded six Palestinians, arrested 57, demolished 70 homes, as you said, leaving 60 people homeless. 

The settler attacks is another story, but this is important also.  I want you to hear that.  On 4 November, yesterday, Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, oxygen station shut down due to the Israeli occupation authorities stalling and allowing import of the necessary spare parts for its maintenance, leaving many people in Gaza at risk of dying because of lack of oxygen. 

Don’t you see that Mladenov and the Secretary, when they welcome these agreements with UAE and Bahrain, were, in fact, rushing to wrong conclusion and these agreements give Israel like almost a blank check to accelerate these atrocities?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, on Gaza, on the hospital, I will check.  But as you know, Mr.  Mladenov, the humanitarian team in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have always advocated very, very forcefully with the Israeli authorities and others to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people, especially what we’ve seen in Gaza.  And I think Mr. Mladenov has been working closely with the Israelis, closely with the Palestinians to do whatever he can. 

But obviously, we don’t hold all the cards, but he’s been advocating, I think, very strongly, as I said, both publicly and privately on these issues. 

I would urge you to go back and look at what we said at the…  the different reaction to the different…  to the signing of various agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain and Sudan.  The Secretary‑General has been very consistent in saying that these agreements should also be an opportunity to restart dialogue and talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Question:  But does he agree that the volume of atrocities had been increasing systematically after the…

Spokesman:  We have been reporting very regularly and very transparently on what is going on in the area, and I would refer you…  and you can do a compare‑and‑contrast.  You can do a graph with all that Mr. Mladenov has been reporting on a regular basis. 

Mr. Bays, and then Pam, I think. 

Question:  Yes.  So, I…  we’ve seen that let…  fresh talks on the Nile dam have failed again between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.  Does the Secretary‑General feel it’s now time for a different approach?  And is he offering his good offices here?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General has always supported the role of the African Union in these discussions, and he urges the parties to continue on a road to dialogue.

Question:  A follow‑up question related to one of the parties, which is Ethiopia, mobilizing for a war in Tigray.  On both the GERD (Grand Ethiopian Renaissance) dam and on Tigray, can you tell us what the UN is actually doing?  What diplomacy is taking place?  Who has the Secretary‑General spoken to?  Who has Undersecretary [Rosemary] DiCarlo spoken to to try and deal with the problem in that region?

Spokesman:  Well, there are a couple of things that we need to unpack.  First, it is clear, as we’ve said, that the ongoing situation in Ethiopia poses a risk to the greater region of the Horn of Africa, and that is of concern to us. 

We have a Special Envoy for the Horn, Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, who has landed in Addis early this morning, I’m told.  He’s been working the phones with the diplomatic community in Ethiopia, with Ethiopian counterparts, urging a de‑escalation, trying to get information. 

The Secretary‑General himself will be working the phones today, also on this issue in an effort to de‑escalate.  And…  yes.  Sorry.  And also…  and what I would say is that we are also and we will be in touch both, I think, at the envoy level, at the Secretary‑General level with the African Union and also with IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), the regional authority.

Question:  So, just to be clear, they…  I mean, your Special Envoy is there in Addis because of the Tigray situation and the Secretary‑General making calls on the Tigray situation.  Will they also be raising the problems of the GERD dam in those conversations?

Spokesman:  Look, I think there…  everything is interlinked in some way or another, but I think…  let’s try to keep these two things separate. 

On the dam, there is a strong role and leadership also for the African Union, and the Secretary‑General has supported the role of President [Cyril] Ramaphosa in that as the head of the AU in that effort. 

Pam, go ahead.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just to be a little clearer on the razing of the village.  You said the Secretary‑General reiterates that they call on Israel to immediately…  the humanitarian community called on Israel to immediately halt these unlawful demolitions and that the Secretary‑General stands against these acts and has denounced them.

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, these demolitions are of concern to us.  We urge Israel to cease this practice across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and that would be in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law. 

Question:  And who…  you said Mladenov has contacted the Israeli authorities.  Is that COGAT or is that Israel…?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov is regularly in touch with many different parts of the Israeli authorities.  Whether or not he’s been in touch with COGAT or others today, I don’t know.  But obviously, COGAT is a big and important partner…  interlocutor, rather, for the UN in that area. 

Question:  Okay.  Thank you so much.  And just…  not to beat it too much, but this was the worst demolition in a decade.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment about this one in particular?

Spokesman:  I think I’ve…  I would refer you to what I said to both Ibtisam and Abdelhamid, and I’d share you the statement.  I’ve…  what I’ve said clearly is that we call on the Israelis to cease this practice across the West Bank and including East Jerusalem.

Correspondent:  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  The General Assembly has approved a resolution authorizing a summit on COVID‑19 in early December, and I wonder what the Secretary‑General is hoping that this summit will achieve. 

Spokesman:  Well, we very much hope that this will be an opportunity for Member States to move forward together on facing the virus, both in the immediate term and in the longer term.  I think one of the things the Secretary‑General has expressed is a bit of frustration over the lack of coordinated approach to fighting the pandemic, whether it was initially on closures, whether it’s on the vaccine or whether it’s on long‑term development challenges. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  I will cede the floor to Brenden [Varma].  

Correspondent:  One more, if possible. 

Spokesman:  Once I’m masked, I can’t speak.  No, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry.  We heard from Stephanie Williams yesterday, and you read a statement, but I just wanted to know whether the Secretary‑General is…  what his current view is on the problems of finding a permanent envoy for that Mission and whether he thinks it will be resume…  resolved soon or whether…  and how frustrated he is, given what a significant moment this now is for Libya.

Spokesman:  Insha’Allah

Correspondent:  Can I have follow‑up on this question?

Spokesman:  On that question or on that answer?

Question:  On the…

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah, whatever you consider it.  The meeting in Tunisia will start in a few days, as you know.  Right?  What is the UN doing to make sure that this meeting, which will you call it I think about 90 Libyans, if I’m not mistaken about the number, all together to discuss the future plans for the…  the future of Libya?

Spokesman:  Well, we hope this is yet just another step in bringing peace and stability to Libya and to the Libyan people.  We are there to accompany the political forces in Libya and others in order for them to come together to unify and bring solace to their own people, who have suffered for so long. 

There will be the…  there was the meeting of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.  There’s the other meeting.  Ms. [Stephanie] Williams and her team will be there to support them in any way we can and to help them move on a positive path forward. 

Okay.

Question:  I’m sorry.  You didn’t really answer the question on the envoy.  I mean…

Spokesman:  Listen, on the envoy…

Question:  How frustrated is the Secretary‑General?  And is Mr. Mladenov currently being read in on all of this, given how vital it is and that he is the person, even if you haven’t named him, that has been…  that is suggested will be taking over?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to take the bait on the second part of your question/statement.  Of course, the Secretary‑General would have liked to have seen an envoy and a SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) before that appointed much earlier, but I also have to add that we think Stephanie Williams has been doing an amazing job at leading the Mission in an acting role. 

So, in a sense, there has been no actual leadership void at the head of the Mission, but of course, we would have liked to have a permanent Special Representative or now Special Envoy coordinator named much earlier.  But as you know, the process is not solely in the hands of the Secretary‑General of the United Nations.

Correspondent:  Not a question but a request.  Before any talks in Tunisia start, could we get a briefing from whoever’s in charge, assuming it’s probably going to be acting SRSG Stephanie Williams?  I know she did a briefing with Geneva journalists, but journalists in New York, where the Security Council is based, would like to speak to her. 

Spokesman:  We will try to please the journalists there in New York, in case they don’t have any other stories to cover.

For information media. Not an official record.