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. As a regular reminder, if you want to ask questions, make sure that you are sending both video and audio out so I can hear you.
**Secretary-General’s Press Briefing
And I know you’ve all been asking me for a couple of days, so I am pleased to tell you that the Secretary-General will be with us virtually and hold a press briefing tomorrow, starting at noon. He will discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, his call for a global ceasefire and many other related topics. And his briefing will of course replace my noonish regular press briefing.
In the Security Council, Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, told Council members that he strongly believes that Syria needs a ceasefire arrangement that results in sustained calm and is nationwide in scope. Briefing members by videoconference, he said we cannot afford hostilities, which would surely lead to another surge in displaced vulnerable communities. We could not afford this scenario before the pandemic, he said; and the price could only be higher now.
Mr. Pedersen welcomed the fact that there has been significant calm in many areas of Syria — especially relative to the apexes of violence of previous years. He said we have not witnessed all-out offensives nor further displacements since early March. But he added this is an uneasy and fragile calm in both north-west and north-east Syria — noting that, just yesterday, a bomb in a market in Afrin reportedly killed more than 40 people. And our colleagues working for the UN system in Syria strongly condemned that attack. Mr. Pederson’s remarks were shared with you earlier today.
This afternoon, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be briefing Security Council members by videoconference on the humanitarian situation in the country. That briefing is scheduled for 3 p.m. And again, we will be sharing his remarks with you.
Staying in the Middle East, and turning to Yemen, we have seen reports this morning from the Government of Yemen confirming five additional COVID-19 cases in the country. We remain deeply concerned at the potential of the virus to quickly overwhelm Yemen’s already overstretched health system. Epidemiologists have warned that the disease could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries. The UN and our front-line partners continue to provide guidance, and coordinate and support health authorities to suppress transmission. They prepare and equip COVID-specific hospitals and isolation units, have secured supplies, identified and treat people with the virus and inform the public about the virus and how communities can best protect themselves.
For its part, the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned today that the continued sharp decline in working hours due to the pandemic means that 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy are at risk of losing their livelihoods. This represents nearly half of the global workforce. Worldwide, more than 436 million enterprises face high risks of serious disruption. These companies are operating in the hardest-hit economic sectors, including wholesale and retail, manufacturing, accommodation and food services, as well as real estate and other business activities.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are urging governments to prevent devastating nutrition and health consequences for the 370 million children missing out on school meals as a result of school closures. For millions of children around the world, the meal they get at school is the only food they will get in a day. WFP and UNICEF are working with Governments to support children who are out of school during the crisis. In 68 countries, Governments and WFP are providing children with take-home rations, vouchers or cash transfers as an alternative to school meals. The two organizations are also calling for support as they set up to assist Governments in the coming months to ensure that when schools reopen, school meals and other health and nutrition programmes resume
From South Asia, our friends at UNICEF today warned that the region could face yet another health emergency if children do not receive their life-saving vaccine shots. Nearly a quarter of the world’s unimmunized or partially immunized children live in South Asia, with nearly all of them in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two polio endemic countries in the world. Lockdowns due to this pandemic have severely disrupted routine immunizations, but UNICEF says, as long as front‑line health workers take the appropriate precautions — particularly washing their hands — there is no reason not to vaccinate, and in fact, it is crucial that vaccination programmes continues.
And a few country examples to share with you: from Mauritania, where there are seven COVID-19 cases, the Resident Coordinator for the United Nations, Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah, and the UN team are supporting the Government’s response plan and also working on funding. In the health sector, WHO has helped to strengthen local lab testing capacity, as well as provide ambulances and set up a treatment unit in the capital. For its part, UNICEF provided sanitizing equipment, trained doctors on infection prevention and case management, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) helped set up isolation zones and trained border agents on COVID-19 control procedures. The UN has also worked to set up a dedicated COVID‑19 call centre, which has processed more than 200,000 calls within its first week alone. The team produced communication materials in the four national languages and worked with local religious leaders to disseminate information across a network of 5,000 mosques.
And in Nepal, the number of cases now stand at 52, as of yesterday. The UN in the country is setting up a multi-partner trust fund for areas including health, logistics, water and sanitation, nutrition, coordination, protection and communications. We, along with the support of the Red Cross and other partners, have assessed 900 quarantine sites in Nepal alone to ensure proper health, hygiene and other safety standards. The UN team is also supporting the Government’s communications efforts to contain the spread of the virus, with 22 national TV channels and more than 500 radio stations across the country disseminating messages in multiple languages and reaching out to more than 15 million people.
And in Cyprus, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) yesterday facilitated the delivery of critical medicines and oxygen cylinders to patients from the Maronite community living in the north of the island. All trucks and goods were disinfected at the delivery points, the number of personnel required was minimized and physical contact with the elderly beneficiaries was avoided as part of the Mission’s efforts to prevent the potential spread of the virus and to continue humanitarian operations at the same time. The UN Mission also assisted three Turkish Cypriot cancer patients to cross the buffer zone for critical oncology treatment in the south of the island.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, said today she is concerned by a spike in attacks by local and foreign armed groups in the country’s east. In addition to supporting the pandemic response in the country, she said, the Mission is committed to continuing its work to protect civilians. In the Provinces of Ituri, South and North Kivu, peacekeepers continue to support the Congolese armed forces through a wide range of actions. They have increased patrols in the most vulnerable areas, including camps for displaced people. They are also providing logistical support to the national army, notably by facilitating the deployment of troop reinforcements, the transport of equipment and medical evacuations.
They are also doing reconnaissance flights to help Congolese troops locate armed combatants. In addition to this, MONUSCO continues to document human rights violations. The Special Representative reiterated the need to continue stabilization efforts in the country through a comprehensive approach. She called for unity, as she denounced those who stir up communities at the expense of the most vulnerable.
**Central African Republic
Now, in neighbouring Central African Republic: The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that heavy shooting in the town of Ndele resumed this morning. The incident resulted in the displacement of a large number of people who gathered around the UN peacekeeping compound for protection. Peacekeepers immediately dispatched a quick reaction force to the town to protect civilians. The UN Mission has also increased its patrolling activities in Bangui’s Third District — the neighbourhood also known as PK5 — after a dispute on Monday between two armed civilians triggered gunfire and the use of a grenade, as well as two incidents of armed robbery. This resulted in 5 people killed and another 11 others injured. As of yesterday, the situation was calm and the Mission continues to patrol the area.
And an update from Niger, where, as of yesterday, 709 cases of the virus had been reported, and that includes unfortunately 31 deaths. To support the pandemic response, the UN team in the country donated medical materials, drugs and equipment to the Government. The donation includes surgical masks, protective glasses, gloves, protective suits, transparent plastic face protection screens, thermometres and tents. It also included oxygen concentrators, a neonatal resuscitation table and ultrasound scanners to support prenatal and post-natal care for mothers and babies. So far, the UN in Niger has contributed $22 million to the Government Preparedness and Response Plan, budgeted at $990 million.
And last but not least, I am very happy to thank our friends in Tirana for their full payment to the UN’s regular budget. Albania’s payment takes us to 87 fully paid-up Member States. That is it for me in terms of talking. I will now talk in answering your question, if you'll allow me to take my glasses and look at the questions that we get from Florencia [Soto Nino]. Florencia, I'm not seeing anything as of yet, but she is typing. All right. One second. No doubt, you're saving all your questions for the Secretary‑General tomorrow. All right. James Bays. I can always rely on you. James? I can't hear you, so I'll wait a little bit. Can we try to un‑mute James' mic? All right. Maybe you can type in your question, since I can't seem to hear you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you hear me now? No.
Spokesman: There you go. Perfect. All right.
Question: You do? Okay.
Spokesman: I can hear you.
Question: Okay. Sorry. This question is about a story that I've been working on, which was plans for a… resurrected plans from the Stockholm Agreement of a mass prisoner exchange in Yemen, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] confirming that all the arrangements now are in place. And I want more detail about that and the Secretary‑General's hopes for that.
Spokesman: Well, you know, this is, obviously, one of the things that Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has been working towards. As with all things with Yemen, we'll be ready to announce something when things happen, but this is something we would very much look forward to. Abdelhamid?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. I just want to follow up with my previous questions. I asked you two questions about Saudi Arabia, a letter to the Secretary‑General of the Arab League and if there is any statement on what [Khalifa] Haftar did in Libya, statement from the Secretary‑General.
Spokesman: On Mr. Haftar, you know, I think I was pretty clear yesterday. I think we stand against any unilateral measures that would put a… jeopardize the political process and that would go against what are the political institutions that have been agreed to through the political process and reaffirmed by the Security Council. On the letter to the Arab League, I plead guilty, because I forgot to check, but let me see what I can do. [He later said that the letter has been sent.]
Mr. Abbadi asked: Does the Secretary‑General think that COVID‑19 is a threat to international peace and security?
Correspondent: And the situation in Saudi Arabia, I asked also, two things…
Spokesman: Saudi Arabia, I don't have anything, but let me see what I can do.
Correspondent: …the human rights activist who was… Abdullah al‑Hamid. Thank you.
Spokesman: Yeah. Let me see what I can get on that.
On… yes, so the question from Mr. Abbadi: Does the Secretary‑General think that COVID‑19 is a threat to international peace and security? The question: Is he triggering Article 99?
No, he has not written a letter formally triggering Article 99; however, I think I would refer you to his very strong and direct statement to the Security Council when he addressed that august body, I think, last week or the week before, as the days start to merge together. Okay. Any more questions? Florencia, anything more? Let's see. She's typing. Nope. Okay. Well, listen, we will see you tomorrow… oh, Edie, just under the wire before the no objection procedure goes into effect.
Question: Just two quick questions. A follow‑up on the Secretary‑General being here tomorrow. I assume he's going to take questions for more than five minutes so a number of us will get to ask. I'm sure other people are interested in that…
Spokesman: That is my aim, Edie.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: I don't want to suffer your wrath. Nor do I want to suffer his wrath, for that matter. So, as usual, I'm in the middle. But, yes, we will make it last a bit longer than the last one. And your second question?
Question: Yeah. My second question was whether there is anything new on Libya… to find out what's happening… what's happening there and what Ms. [Stephanie] Williams is doing?
Spokesman: Nothing new… nothing more than I've reported. Ms. Williams continues her contacts on the ground. All right. We will see you tomorrow. We will go… use the same process we've been using this time. Florencia will be in the room with you to help out, if needed, but we will be using the virtual press conference room we used for the Deputy Secretary‑General, so it will look a bit nicer. And we will circulate the SG's opening remarks tomorrow morning for you under embargo. All right. Take care and have a great day. All right.