10 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.

We’ll give a few seconds for everybody to settle in.  Adjust your virtual backgrounds.

Good afternoon.  I’ll start off with a statement on the passing of Saeb Erekat.

**Saeb Erekat   

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General and Chief Negotiator for the Palestinians in the Middle East Peace Process.  

The Secretary-General was grateful to have known Dr. Erekat and to have called him a friend.  He was dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.  

Now is the time to continue his crucial work and end the conflict that has tragically affected the lives of so many.  The Secretary-General reiterates his own and the United Nations’ commitment to support all efforts to bring the parties together to achieve a long-awaited, just and sustainable two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  

On behalf of the United Nations, the Secretary-General extends our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Erekat’s family, President [Mahmoud] Abbas, the people of Palestine and his many friends and supporters around the world. 

And a statement from the Secretary-General should have been emailed to you as we speak.

**Shanghai Cooperation Council

 The Secretary-General also sent a pre-recorded video message to today’s meeting of the Council of Heads of State of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. 

He said that the pandemic has intensified vulnerabilities, inequalities and fragilities across the world, and that the recovery will require global cooperation to protect lives and livelihoods, and to keep economies and businesses afloat. 

The Secretary-General said that he counts on the strong engagement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s member States and welcomes their support for his appeal for a global ceasefire. 

**Theodor Herzl Award

And, yesterday evening, the Secretary-General spoke by video message to the World Jewish Congress after they conferred upon him the Theodor Herzl Award.  In those remarks, he warned that in recent months, a steady stream of prejudice has continued to blight our world: anti-Semitic assaults, harassment and vandalism; Holocaust denial; a guilty plea in a neo-Nazi plot to blow up a synagogue.  And with COVID-19, another virus has spread, he said — anti-Semitism and hatred of many kinds.  

He said that disinformation and conspiracy theories have gained alarming ground.  They come in different forms, he added, but they all traffic in the same venom: dehumanizing and scapegoating the other, whether it is Jews, Muslims, migrants, refugees, or so many others.

We must stand together against hatred in all forms, he added. 


Today, the Deputy Secretary-General travelled to Borno State, in Nigeria’s north-east.  In Banki, a town located at the border with Cameroon, she visited a camp hosting internally displaced people, as well as Nigerian refugees returning from Cameroon.

In addition to challenges related to security and growing humanitarian needs, Amina Mohammed saw first-hand the efforts undertaken by authorities, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and our partners to respond to the impact of COVID-19 in some of the country’s most vulnerable communities.

Later in the day, in Maiduguri, Ms. Mohammed met with the Governor of Borno State.  She visited a girl’s secondary school, and a discussion with colleagues from the humanitarian community.

She is on her way back to Abuja as we speak and her mission will continue tomorrow. 

**Tropical Storm Eta

And a quick update from our humanitarian colleagues on the impact of tropical storm Eta.  In Honduras, UN agencies and NGOs launched a rapid assessment yesterday that will be completed by Thursday.  To date, we, along with our partners have delivered nearly 19,000 hygiene, health and food kits; 500 shelter and nearly 11,000 food rations and other kits.  Preparations are also under way to distribute more than 150,000 food rations to shelters.  In addition, some 340,000 COVID-19 detection supplies and 46,000 kits of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been distributed to shelters. 

In Guatemala, 135,000 litres of drinking water have been delivered, and our friends at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) are procuring hygiene kits and protective equipment for schools. 

In Nicaragua, PPE is being provided, including 26,000 disposable surgical gowns, caps and masks and 1,370 face shields for frontline health workers in impacted areas. 

And in El Salvador, 7,000 hygiene kits have been distributed.  The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is also supporting impacted families in rural areas with [supplies for] some 20,000 farmers.  And the World Food Programme (WFP) has $250,000 available for immediate food emergency needs. 


Turning to Mali, we are very pleased to announce that Major General Bettina Patricia Boughani of France will be the next Police Commissioner of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  She will lead one of the larger UN police mission components and is expected to assume her post in January. 

Major General Boughani, of the Gendarmerie, also becomes the first woman to lead the UN Police Component in Mali, which currently has almost 1,700 police officers from 29 countries, including 221 women.  Major General Boughani has extensive command experience in various posts with the French Gendarmerie in France, as well as UN experience.  And we thank her predecessor, Police Commissioner Issoufou Yacouba, for his service, and you spoke to him last week on Friday.

**COVID-19 — Migrants and Displaced Communities

And a quick note from our friends at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Food Programme that warns that COVID-19 could push more people to move out of necessity, as hunger surges among migrant and displaced communities.

It shows that the world’s 164 million migrant workers, especially those working in the informal sector, are some of the worst hit by the pandemic. 

The report notes that the World Bank expects a 14 per cent drop in remittances to low- and middle-income countries by 2021, and that will have consequences for food security, and those consequences could be devastating. 

More information online.

**Peace Operations

As you may have seen in a tweet he posted earlier this morning, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under Secretary-General for Peace Operations, has tested positive for COVID-19.  The diagnosis was made while he was in Portugal, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting on Security Council resolution 1325. 

As soon as he received a positive result, he notified local authorities and isolated himself in Lisbon.  He is asymptomatic and will remain isolated for the required number of days as per standard medical guidance.  Contact tracing was immediately implemented accordingly. 

We are grateful for the Portuguese Government for their testing and logistical support.  Mr. Lacroix is in fine spirits, as I can report. 

**World Science Day for Peace and Development 

Today is World Science Day for Peace and Development.  The theme this year is “Science for and with Society”, focusing in particular on dealing with the current pandemic. 

In a message for the Day, the Director-General of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Audrey Azoulay, highlighted that science will play an important role in overcoming this crisis and will also help to build more just, and more compassionate, and sustainable societies. 

That’s it.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays?

Question:  So, start by following up on Mr. Lacroix’s diagnosis.  What has been his recent travel? When was he last in Headquarters?  How…  when did he last meet with the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Okay.  He was last in Headquarters, I think, more than a month ago.  As you know, he had been on a trip to Africa.  I think he’d been in Ethiopia and Central African Republic, to name a few, with his counterpart in the African Union, Smail Chergui, and so we’ve been in touch with the African Union. 

All the contact tracing has been done.  He was…  and I don’t…  he has not physically seen the Secretary‑General in more than a month, if at all.  So, on that part…  and obviously, his plan…  he had been planning to go back to Africa to a number of peace operations, and those trips have been postponed. 

Question:  Situation in Nagorno‑Karabakh, can you tell us what the UN has been doing?  What diplomacy has been taking place with regard…  at the UN level at a time of this deal brokered by Russia?

And does the Secretary‑General feel that this deal now should be commented on in some way by the Security Council?

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General is relieved that the deal has been agreed to on a cessation of hostilities.  I think our consistent focus has been on the well‑being of civilians, on humanitarian access, and on protecting lives.  And we hope that this will now be achieved consistent with the previous important efforts of the Minsk Co‑Chairs. 

Now, there’s obviously — we’ve seen the reporting — implications for the UN, notably UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency).  We, as the UN and UNHCR — I know it’s the same for UNHCR — have not been involved.  We’re not involved in the discussions.  UNHCR, obviously, has a mandate.  They are in touch with the Russian and other authorities to see how we can best support the deal. 

So, we’re reviewing the elements, but the need to respect international humanitarian law, international human rights law remains paramount.

All right.  Let’s go to the videos.  Hold on.  Let me see who has…  let me look at my chat.  Alan, I think you had a question, and then we’ll go to James Reinl. 

Correspondent:  No, no, Steph.  Thank you.  It was a question to Brenden [Varma].  I asked it.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  James Reinl, James?

Question:  Hi there.  Can you hear me, Steph?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  So, yeah, it’s a question about this new coronavirus vaccine.  Pfizer says that they’ve developed a vaccine.  They say it’s a good one.  You guys say that vaccines have got to be rolled out to people in poor countries, basically.  And you’ve got this COVAX facility to make this happen.  But as I understand, COVAX doesn’t have a deal standing with Pfizer.  Is this something that the SG is pursuing?

Spokesman:  Well, we very much hope that our colleagues at WHO (World Health Organization), who are leading on COVAX, and I’ve no doubt that they are in touch with all the leading manufacturers, whether or not they have a deal or not.  It is clear that…  and understandable that Member States will want to protect their own population, but in the medium term, even in the short term, it is important that there be access to vaccines for the population at large.  We don’t want to see, within a year or two years, only those who can afford it have the vaccine, because that will serve no purpose for the recovery of the planet as a whole.

Question:  Yeah, but is the SG, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres, going to get on the phone with the CEO of Pfizer and say that and try and make something happen?

Spokesman:  Look, WHO is in the lead in terms of contacts with the pharmaceutical industry.

Okay.  Evelyn, and Edie then.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Steph.  Yes.  Thank you, Steph.  Yes.  Thank you, Steph…  [technical difficulties]

Spokesman:  Can somebody mute Evelyn, please.  Thank you.  Evelyn, we’ll come back to you, because there’s a technical issue. 

Edie, go ahead.  [technical difficulties]

Evelyn, please mute your…  please mute…  we’ll come back to you. 

Edie, go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question on Nagorno‑Karabakh.  Obviously, there is a ceasefire.  We all heard what the President of Armenia said, but obviously, there are going to have to be some serious negotiations, and I wonder what the UN is trying to do, what the Secretary‑General may be trying to do to ensure that both countries are on the road to peace and not to a resurgence of fighting.

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, initial part…  our colleagues at UNHCR are in touch with the Russian and other authorities to see how they can help implement, because it is part of the deal as we’ve seen it. 

We will be and are continuously in touch with the parties and the Minsk Co‑Chairs to see how we can help and we can facilitate and that this — if I’m not mistaken is the fourth or the fifth attempt — and that this sticks for the civilians in the area of conflict who have suffered long enough. 

All right.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, has been to her home in Nigeria several times.  Has she mentioned the SARS, the murderous police squad, that people are protesting against?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think this is an issue that has come up in her discussions with the Government, and I think she also underscored the need for the Government to listen to the voices of youth and the readiness of the United Nations to support…  [technical difficulties]

Correspondent:  Can’t hear you. 

Spokesman:  …to support [inaudible] as much as possible.  Thank you. 

Okay?  Abdelhamid and then Maria.

Correspondent:  Come back, Steph.

Spokesman:  This is not a good technical day.

All right.  Go ahead…  Evelyn, go ahead.  Did you have another question?

Okay.  Let’s try Abdelhamid.  Otherwise, we’ll go to the room. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I should thank Edith because she normally takes my question.  She reads my mind, and she asked the question I wanted to ask.

Spokesman:  We’ll make sure you go first next time.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Maria, and then James. 

Question:  I’m not sure about my English usually.  Now it seems that it’s really hard to be heard.  Do you hear me okay?

Spokesman:  Perfectly.  Go ahead, Maria. 

Question:  Wow.  Good.  Yeah, Steph.  I just wondered about your answer on Nagorno‑Karabakh.  It’s unusual to hear “relieved”.  It’s quite unclear, so SG doesn’t welcome the agreement?  Does he have doubts about it?

Spokesman:  No, not at all.  And I think relief encompasses welcoming.  Right?  I think we’re very grateful for the Russian authorities, for what they have done, and the sense of relief is really about the hope that this will end the suffering of civilians.  I mean, we have repeatedly, from this podium, condemned the targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure that we have seen.  And, so, by expressing relief, we, obviously, express welcome to the fact that this deal was reached, and we will do whatever we can on our part to support the parties as they implement it.

Correspondent:  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  James?

Question:  So, first a follow‑up on the other James’ question.  I understand COVAX is a very big part of this, and that’s the funding; that’s the money.  But is there any thought here at the UN in collaboration with the WHO about exactly how you operationalize this in terms of the logistics of getting the vaccine everywhere, in addition to the funding, and taking it, for example, to conflict zones so that people can get vaccinated?  Is there any sort of panel or is there anyone in charge of trying to leverage the whole UN system beyond the WHO to try and make sure that happens?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, first of all, it’s important to say that we’re all, I think — what’s the word — optimistic about what we’ve heard, but we’re not there yet with the vaccine.  So, I think we all…  but obviously, we’re…  I think all of us, every one of us on this planet, is very hopeful when we hear things like this. 

The UN’s global supply chain has already been mobilised for COVID in terms of deploying PPE, humanitarian goods, humanitarian workers.  So, it’s there.  The mechanisms and the infrastructure by which our UN agencies, notably WHO and UNICEF, vaccinate people in active war zones with local partners is there, and we’ll keep doing it, because, obviously, as you know, we’ve been very concerned about the impact of not only of conflict but of shutdown on regular immunizations — polio, measles and all that.  So, in a sense, the infrastructure is there.  It will need to be scaled up massively, but on the part of the UN, the know‑how is already there, and it’s something that we do and that my colleagues at UNICEF, WHO and NGO partners do all the time in the most difficult circumstances.

Question:  But, clearly, there are clear challenges.  For example, this Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at an extremely cold temperature and transported like that.  Is the Secretary‑General going to put someone in charge of this global support role to WHO…

Spokesman:  At this point, as I said, WHO is in the lead.  I think we need to see how things evolve in terms of the vaccine. 

Question:  And I have…  oh.

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.  No, go ahead.

Question:  The G20 is coming up in ten days’ time.  The Secretary‑General, quite often, speaks at the G20.  On this occasion, it’s a virtual meeting.  Is he invited?  Is he speaking?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will… 

Question:  Then what…  given where we are with COVID, what will be his message?  And what does he think the G20 can bring to the COVID response?

Spokesman:  He will speak.  He will also send a letter, as he always does, before the G20.  We will share that letter with you in advance.  It will be a message of coordination, of resource mobilization, of ensuring that the resources that are mobilized are done in a way that are green and climate friendly, that we seize this opportunity and ensuring that no one is left behind. 

Okay.  I think I…  Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  One day after Secretary‑General’s congratulatory message to President‑elect [Joseph] Biden, has there been any phone contact or any discussions between the two sides about holding a meeting?

Spokesman:  Which two sides?

Question:  The Secretary‑General and the Biden campaign.

Spokesman:  No.  There’s been no contact that I’m aware of, and I don’t anticipate anything in the near future as…  no.  I’ll leave it at that.  Okay.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you, all.  James, thank you for coming.

And we’ll see you guys tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.