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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.  A few items for you today.

**Javier Pérez de Cuéllar

As you saw in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the passing of his predecessor, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, whom the Secretary-General called an accomplished statesman, a committed diplomat and a personal inspiration who left a profound impact on the United Nations and our world.

Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar’s life spanned not only a century but also the entire history of the United Nations, dating back to his participation in the first meeting of the General Assembly in 1946.

His tenure coincided with two distinct eras in international affairs: first, some of the iciest years of the Cold War, and then, with the ideological confrontation at an end, a time when the UN began to play more fully the role envisaged by the founders.  Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar played a crucial role in a number of diplomatic successes — including the independence of Namibia, an end to the Iran-Iraq War, the release of American hostages from Lebanon, the peace accord in Cambodia and, in his very last days in office, a historic peace agreement in El Salvador.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar’s family, the Peruvian people and so many others around the world and in this building whose lives were touched by a remarkable and compassionate global leader who left our world a better place.

I also want to note that former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written to the President of Peru, saying that Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar, as a protector of peace, believer of human rights and advocate of development, made long-lasting changes that shifted the trajectory of the international community for a better future.  And that letter has been shared with you electronically.

And tomorrow, the UN flag — here and at every duty station around the world — will be at half mast in honour of the former Secretary-General.

**Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

I have a statement on the fiftieth anniversary of the entry-into-force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons:

The Secretary-General congratulates the States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty’s entry-into-force on 5 March 1970.

Throughout the past half century, the NPT has served as an essential pillar of international peace and security, and the heart of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.  It has conferred tangible security benefits on all its States parties.  Its unique status is based on its near universal membership, legally binding obligations on disarmament, verifiable non-proliferation safeguards regime, and commitment to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

At the 2020 Review Conference, States parties will evaluate the implementation of the Treaty’s provisions since 2015 and identify areas and means through which further progress can be made.  The Secretary-General calls on States parties to make the most of this opportunity to strengthen international peace and security through the promotion of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament, as well as measures to strengthen implementation of the NPT and achieve its universality.


Turning to Syria, the Secretary-General was shocked to learn that airstrikes on populated areas are continuing in north-west Syria, just as discussions on a ceasefire are ongoing in Moscow.  He reminds all parties of their obligation under international law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  He urgently calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to the UN-facilitated political process mandated by resolution 2254 (2015).

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of UNICEF and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Henrietta Fore and David Beasley, wrapped up a two-day visit to Syria, and said it is now more urgent than ever to end the violence in the country and to improve access across the country.  The two agency chiefs also stressed the need to provide families with basic services and to improve their economic conditions.  The full statements are online.

The UN continues to step up its cross-border response efforts from Turkey to address the critical humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of newly displaced women, men and children.  In just four days this month, from 1-4 March, 130 trucks carrying food, shelter material, water, sanitation and hygiene and nutrition assistance for over 309,000 people have been sent into the north-west part of Syria through the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam border crossings, as authorized by the Security Council.  This is in addition to more than 2,000 trucks that went through in January and February.

This assistance is saving lives, but as we have been clear, more has to be done to meet these high needs.  The United Nations is currently pushing for more trucks to be able to go through the border.


On COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros, told reporters in Geneva today that the global total of reported cases stands at 95,265, with 3,281 deaths.  He said there are encouraging signs from the Republic of Korea, where the number of newly reported cases appears to be declining.

Dr. Tedros stressed that the epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of Governments.

More funding is being made available to support countries that need it, he said, noting that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have both made resources available to stabilize health systems and mitigate the economic consequences of the epidemic.

He added that the fear surrounding COVID-19 is normal but can be managed with accurate information, so WHO has launched a new social media campaign called Be Ready for #COVID19, which urges people to be safe, smart and informed.

I also want to flag that our colleagues at UNESCO said today that school closures in 13 countries to contain its spread have disrupted the education globally for more than 290 million students, that’s a figure without precedent.

UNESCO will convene an emergency meeting of education ministers on 10 March to share responses and strategies to maintain the continuity of learning and to assure inclusion.


Just an update on the situation on the border between Turkey and Greece:  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is urging all States to exercise restraint and to adopt a balanced, humane approach to population movements across this border.

Over the past days, IOM teams and their partners have mobilized resources to offer support and assistance to groups of migrants moving from various locations in Turkey towards the country’s borders with the European Union.  They have provided direct assistance to more than 2,000 migrants, in partnership with UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and others.

As we mentioned earlier, assessments indicate that many of the migrants are very vulnerable, with a high proportion of women, children and families.  Migrants at the Turkey-EU land border and near the Aegean Sea are without food, water, and many are sleeping outside in harsh winter conditions.

IOM calls for additional efforts to share responsibility towards emergency support and durable solutions.


Also on the topic of migration, IOM has released new data today showing that we have reached a the tragic milestone of 20,000 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea since April 2014.


UNDP says 90 per cent of people globally hold some sort of bias against women.  That’s according to new data released today.

The Gender Social Norm Index measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 per cent of the world’s population.

According to the Index, half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders, and over 40 per cent feel that men make better business executives and that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce.  Twenty-eight per cent think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.

Information is also available on how bias is changing in around 30 countries.  It shows that while in some countries there have been improvements, in others, attitudes appear to have worsened in recent years, signalling that progress cannot be taken for granted.

As the Secretary-General has said, there is a need for pushback against the pushback.

Along with this study, UNDP has launched the social media campaign #CheckYourBias, featuring an interactive online survey where people can assess their own gender bias.


And, on a related note, UNAIDS launched a new report showing that the stark inequalities and inequities between men and women are continuing to make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV.

The report shows that, almost 40 years into the response, AIDS is still the leading cause of death for women aged between 15 and 49, and around 6,000 young women aged between 15 and 24 years acquire HIV every week.

**Food Price Index

Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that the price of food around the world declined for first time in four months, partly driven by fears that the COVID-19 outbreak will slow global demand.

The Food Price Index was down 1 per cent in February from the previous month, but still more than 8 per cent higher than the same period last year.

The decline last month was due to a sharp fall in the export prices of vegetable oils.

**Press Conference

After we’re done here, there will be a press conference by UN-Women on the upcoming International Women’s Day.  Speakers will include the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and UN-Women Research and Data Specialist Silke Staab. 

**Financial Contribution

And we want to thank the 64th Member State for paying its dues in full.  They paid $28,053.  And they are?  Nauru.  There you go. 

**Questions and Answers

Edie, you were first in the room.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You said that the Secretary‑General is shocked about the airstrikes on populated areas in north-west Syria at a time that the leaders of Russia and Turkey are meeting.  Has the Secretary‑General spoken to either President Putin or President Erdoğan?

Spokesman:  Not this, not today.  I mean, the meeting, as I understand it from watching the news, is about to break up, but he has been kept very much informed of the developments through his contacts with the Permanent Representatives of both countries as well as his Special Envoy.

Mr. Klein, and then we'll move down.

Question:  Yes.  In the statement you read concerning the migration from Turkey into Greece, I just want to clarify something, in particular in relation to what the Secretary‑General believes here.  Does he believe that there should be a continued, regular flow of these migrants unimpeded into Greece because of their condition?  That's number one.

And number two, what does he say about the apparent massing of troops by Turkey to enable that flow?  Is that a positive step, or could that be viewed as really an interference in Greece's sovereign decisions?

Spokesman:  I have no particular information on Turkish troop movements.  What I can tell you is it's not for the Secretary‑General to decide whether or not there should be a flow of people and whether or not people are on the move.  People are on the move for a variety of reasons. 

What is critically important is that their rights be respected, their dignity be respected, that there is global solidarity, that there be greater solidarity within the [European Union].  This is something that he has said, he had said on a number of occasions and that each, that Member States live up to the commitments they've made through the Charter or through the Convention on Refugees.

Question:  So, is what you're saying, in essence, that he does not have an opinion one way or the other as to whether Greece should open up its borders further to these migrants coming from Turkey?

Spokesman:  Look, every country has, this has been a bedrock principle, every country has a right to control its borders.  There are also, there are also people's lives at risk, and they, each of these people, whether they be migrants or refugees, have to be treated with dignity.  They need support.  They need humanitarian help.  And, at the end of the day, we also need to resolve the conflict which is forcing these people to flee.

Madame.  Welcome back.

Question:  Thank you.  Hi there.  Yes.  Secretary of State Pompeo today made some comments about the ICC launching an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan, including human rights, alleged human rights abuses, or war crimes by US officials.  He said that it was "a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body".

I'm wondering if the Secretary‑General has any response to that and whether it was justified to take out this investigation.

Spokesman:  We're aware of the decision by the appellate chamber of the ICC, which authorizes, as you say, the Prosecutor to start an investigation into alleged crimes under the ICC's jurisdiction in Afghanistan.  It's not for us to comment on the, on this, on these decisions.  The Secretary of State was commenting on the decision of the Court.  The Court made its decision. 


Question:  Does he have any concerns, the Secretary‑General, about the ICC prosecutor being able to get visas to come to the United States now given…

Spokesman:  They're different issues.  There are, we hope that every Member States…  I mean, there are requirements under the Host Country Agreement.  We hope that if the ICC Prosecutor or any other official is able to come and speak to, speak here, at the UN.

Whether it's Afghanistan or anywhere, as a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General has always believed that there needs to be an accountability for crimes that may have been committed, but this is not in reaction to the courts.  This is just something he's always believed.


Question:  Just a follow‑up on the migrants issue.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the use of tear gas and other very forceful measures at the borders to stop the…

Spokesman:  Look, countries have a right to defend and deal with their own borders.  We always call for restraint and [to] avoid […] any use of things that…  you know, of methods that may harm human beings.


Question:  Yes.  Follow‑up on migrants or refugees, depends how we want to call them.

Spokesman:  Well, it depends on the case of each individual.

Question:  I…  yes, if they're Syrian…

Spokesman:  I mean, it's not what you want to call them.  It's what…

Question:  If they Syrians, probably are refugees.  Does the Secretary‑General…  what does the Secretary‑General think about the pact that the European Union did with the Turkish Government three, four years ago, where in exchange of lot of money, the refugees were kept in Turkey?  Does he think that these respect international law?

Spokesman:  Look, we're focussed on what is happening now at the border.  There is what we see a start of a very dire humanitarian situation, not even a start.  We know there is a dire humanitarian situation.  That needs to be dealt with, and Member States need to deal with, need to figure out how they're going to deal with this movement of people who are in need.

Question:  A quick follow‑up.  Now, my question was because is it probably, and that's…  I want to check if the Secretary‑General think or not this.  Is it probably that what the problem that we have now is due to the fact that, four years ago, what was the deal that was signed.  War is something that was against international law…

Spokesman:  I will leave that analysis to you. 

Sir, and then Madame.

Question:  Thank you, dear.  A follow‑up quickly on Afghanistan.  Does the UN believe that Afghanistan and the US should cooperate with the prosecution?

Spokesman:  That's up to, that's a question up to Member States. 

Yes, Madame Zehil.  Le micro, s'il vous plait

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  [speaking French] Please, the microphone, please. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  So our worldwide audience can hear you.  Yes.

Question:  Mr.  Khaled Khiari, the UN [Assistant] Secretary‑General for the Middle East, is in Lebanon right now.  He's visiting Lebanon.  Do you have any readout from his visit, first of all…

Spokesman:  No…

Question:  Second, is it going, they are discussing the changing of the mandate of, UNIFIL mandate.  Is there any news regarding this matter?

Spokesman:  Well, I'm always happy to highlight my own ignorance.  I had no idea he was in Lebanon, so we can find out, we can try to get some details for you.

As for the mandate of UNIFIL, that's a question for Member States to establish.

Question:  And on the…  you don't have any readout…

Spokesman:  No.  As I said, you’ve taught me something today.  I had no idea he was there, but let me find out.


Question:  Yeah, on a separate court case, in the UK, a court has ruled that the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, did, indeed, deploy agents to detain his daughters, princesses, one of them in the UK and one of them off the coast of India.  What does the UN say about this?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the details.  Let me look, and I'll get you some language.

Now that Sherwin's arrived, we can go get our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.