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.
All right. Good afternoon. Welcome, all. I hope you all had an extremely calm, long weekend.
And just to remind you that we are using a new platform today. So let’s keep our fingers crossed, but I think it will work. And if you have a question, just send me a direct message on the chat function.
**Security Council — Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
At the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General said his latest report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict shows little progress. Last year, more than 20,000 civilians were killed or injured in just ten conflicts, he said, adding that this figure, which is limited to incidents verified by the UN, is just a fraction of the total.
The report documents millions of people forced from their homes or displaced for a second, third or even fourth time. Again, last year, women and girls were subject to appalling sexual and gender-based violence. Tens of thousands of children were also victims of conflict.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches every corner of the world, the Secretary-General warned that those already weakened by years of armed conflict are particularly vulnerable. The virus is not only spreading sickness and death, he said, it is pushing people into poverty and hunger. In some cases, it is reversing decades of development progress.
The Secretary-General said he is encouraged by expressions of support for his global ceasefire call. However, he added, this support has not been translated into concrete action. Where armed conflict continues, COVID-19 makes the protection of civilians more challenging than ever — and our support more important than ever. His full remarks have been shared with you.
And, discussions at the Security Council today will be followed by a series of online thematic side events on strengthening the Protection of Civilians in armed conflict from tomorrow until Monday. More details and registration are available on OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) website.
**High-Level Event on Financing for Development
And as you know, tomorrow the Secretary-General, along with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, are convening the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond. It seeks to accelerate our global response to the significant economic and human impacts of COVID-19. The Secretary-General will stress that we must respond to the pandemic with unity and solidarity, which is a key aspect of financial support.
The High-Level Event will look at six areas of action to mobilize financing. These include expanding liquidity across the global economy; addressing debt vulnerabilities; stemming illicit financial flows; increasing external finance for inclusive growth and job creation; and strategies for countries to recover better.
The event will happen starting at 8 a.m. and likely end around 1 p.m. Following the conclusion of the High-Level Segment, the Secretary-General will be joined by the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada for a virtual press briefing to answer your questions. We expect the press briefing to start about 15 minutes following the end of the official event and the press briefing will of course take the place of our usual noon briefing. And you will be able to watch all of the events on the UN webtv.un.org web platform.
**Economic and Social Council
And as you know, this is the final day of the virtual Operational Activities Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Over five days of meetings and discussions, the Segment has gathered hundreds of delegates online in an interactive intergovernmental discussion on the operational activities for development led by the UN throughout the world.
Speaking to ECOSOC today, the Deputy Secretary-General said that she and her colleagues have not only ensured timely changes to the working modalities and policies of their entities in response to the guidance of the General Assembly, they have also led critical workstreams of the UN Sustainable Development Group.
Amina Mohammed said she and the Secretary-General are heartened by the Member States’ continuing support and commitment for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. She added that the COVID-19 pandemic could have hindered our efforts, but it has not. Thanks to your leadership and determination, she said, the segment has highlighted how the pandemic underscores the urgency of our efforts and the imperative to act.
**Women’s Participation in Peacebuilding
And this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General also spoke at an event to promote women’s participation in peacebuilding. This year was set to be a milestone one for gender equality and the empowerment of women, she said. But instead, attention has shifted to fighting the pandemic, and we have quickly realized that inequalities in all forms are shaping the way in which the virus is impacting us individually and as communities. In the case of gender equality, Ms. Mohammed added, the crisis is putting at risk the limited gains that have been made in recent years.
She highlighted a series of actions that States can take to support women’s participation. These include prioritizing the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; maintaining support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and supporting innovative methods for inclusive peace processes to continue.
As entire countries and economies look to rebuild after the COVID-19 crisis, Ms. Mohammed said in conclusion, our combined efforts must be directed to build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
Over the holiday weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban of a ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and to celebrate it in peace, of course. The Secretary-General urged all parties concerned to seize the opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan.
We also issued a statement over the weekend expressing the Secretary-General’s sadness at the loss of lives and destruction as a result of Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh, in which he extended of course his condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones and wishes those injured a quick recovery.
The Secretary-General, in a separate statement, also said he was saddened by the loss of life and injury in a passenger airline crash in Karachi on 22 May.
All those statements are available on the internet.
And in a message issued for Africa day, marked on 25 May, the Secretary-General reaffirmed his total solidarity with the people and Governments of Africa in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and paving the way for recovery and a better future for all. The Secretary-General noted that African countries have demonstrated commendable leadership through a swift and coordinated response. He welcomed the African Union’s support for his call for a global ceasefire to fight the pandemic and also welcomed the support of countries for his call for peace at home.
Turning to Syria, the UN remains concerned over the impact of COVID-19 on people across that country. Since 22 May, the Syrian Ministry of Health has reported 63 new cases — all from repatriated Syrian nationals. This brings the total number of reported cases by the Ministry of Health to 121, and that includes, sadly, four fatalities. The UN is also concerned over those in the north-east and north-west. Another six cases have been recorded in the north-east, including one fatality. Some 1.3 million surgical masks have now been delivered into north-west Syria, but it represents only 17 per cent of the 7.5 million that are needed through the end of December.
WHO (World Health Organization) is leading our efforts to support preparation and mitigation measures across all of Syria, including in the north-west and the north-east. It remains a priority to support the increase in testing; to build up the country’s limited laboratory and case investigation capacities; also, to reinforce these efforts across Syria.
**Peacekeeping Support to COVID-19 Response
And a couple of updates from our colleagues in our peacekeeping missions on the support they are providing to various Member States fighting the pandemic.
The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has provided food and hygiene supplies, for a total of 2,100 food packages and 1,450 hygiene packages, intended for communities in all municipalities. These donations are part of a month-long assistance drive, which also included the donation of personal protective equipment and technological tools.
Our colleagues in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that peacekeepers are supporting national-led efforts by the Committee of Risk Communications and Community Engagement (RCCE) to respond to misinformation by sensitizing communities on key steps that need to be taken to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.
The Mission is coordinating with local authorities and trade unions and is running promotional trucks across busy residential and market areas, broadcasting through loudspeakers key safety and prevention measures. UN police officers from the Women’s Network in Wau contributed financially and used their own sewing skills to make 250 face masks, which they handed over to leaders of the displaced community there.
And in Mali, the mission in that country (MINUSMA) launched an outreach initiative, using WhatsApp, to engage communities on virus prevention and safety, as well as to improve their understanding of the UN Mission and its role.
The pilot project called “MINUSMA Kounafoni blon” — or MINUSMA Information Box — was launched on 20 May. Participants include civil society associations as well as individuals.
The UN Mission also reports that, working in collaboration with the Malian authorities, they inaugurated the COVID-19 Medical Centre near the airport in the capital, Bamako.
**World Meteorological Organization
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and some of its partners have called for stronger preparation to keep people safe in hot weather without increasing the risk of spread of COVID-19. WMO and experts from the Global Heat Health Information Network have developed a series of recommendations to help Governments respond to how the rise in temperatures will affect the pandemic response. More information online.
**International Labour Organization
The International Labour Organization (ILO) said today that more than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the pandemic. According to the agency’s latest analysis regarding the virus impact on the labour market, those youth who remain employed have seen their working hours cut by 23 per cent. The ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, warned that “the COVID-19 economic crisis is hitting young people — especially women — harder and faster than any other group. More information on the ILO’s site.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), as well as the International Labour Organization (ILO), yesterday issued a joint call to Governments on the need for “key worker” designations for essential air and sea personnel. The aim is to exempt them from travel restrictions, to ensure their access to emergency medical treatment and, if necessary, to facilitate emergency repatriation. The call comes as COVID-19 restrictions continue to curtail air travel and border movements. Ports and airports are being closed and ships and aircraft are being denied entry, with entire transport hubs being affected.
**World Health Organization
Today, WHO welcomed the creation of the WHO Foundation, an independent grant-making entity. Headquartered in Geneva, the Foundation will support global public health needs by providing funds to WHO and trusted implementing partners, to deliver on WHO’s “triple billion” goals.
**United Nations Peacekeepers Day
And on Friday, we will mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. And here are a few details about what is planned for that day. The Secretary-General will lay a wreath to honour all UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives since 1948. That will take place, in person, at the memorial at the north end of the lawn and we will have photos of that.
He will also preside over a ceremony at which the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal will be awarded posthumously to the 83 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who lost their lives in 2019.
In a video message recorded to mark the day, the Secretary-General pays tribute to the more than one million men and women who have served as UN peacekeepers and the more than 3,900 who have lost their lives in the line of duty. This year’s theme — women in peacekeeping — highlights their central role in our operations, he added. And as the pandemic impacts countries where peacekeeping operations are, the Secretary-General highlights that the missions face one of the greatest challenges ever: delivering on their peace and security mandates while helping countries address the coronavirus.
On Friday, the Secretary-General will also award the 2019 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Commander Carla Monteiro de Castro Araujo, a Brazilian naval officer serving with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and to Major Suman Gawani from India, who served with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). This is the first year the award has gone to more than one peacekeeper. Over the weekend, we shared the details with you about the [recipients].
And finally, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will be our guest here, at the daily briefing on Friday.
And just to note that over the weekend, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from different journalists about a website for a something called the United Nations New World Order project. I just want to state and say this very clearly that this project and website is in no way sanctioned by the United Nations.
We are delighted to thank our friends in Tonga for their full payment to this year’s regular budget. This brings us up to 92.
Lastly, I just wanted to end on a bit of a sad note and mention that the Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the passing of Miles Stoby, who had served as an Assistant Secretary-General in the UN for many years and had also been seconded to the UN from Guyana’s foreign service. Following his time as Assistant Secretary-General, he also served as Ambassador and Permanent Observer of CARICOM (Caribbean Community) to the United Nations. The Secretary-General said that Miles Stoby was a true citizen of the world, who touched others through his legacy of serving the international community. He expressed his condolences to his family, including his wife, Lyutha al-Mughairy, who was a dear colleague of ours in the Department of Public Information (DPI), as it was then called, and later served with distinction as the Permanent Representative of Oman to the UN. They were a couple not only deeply dedicated to each other, but also to a life of public service for the greater good of humanity. And we do send our condolences.
All right. Let's see if this new toy works, which I have no doubt it does.
I don't see… if anyone wants to ask a question, say something in the chat. Otherwise, I will start calling on people and making sure they have questions.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Steph, I sent you an email… I sent you a message saying I had a question. It's Edie.
Spokesman: Excellent. Well, Edie, I was going to call on you anyway, so let's go.
Question: I actually have two questions. First, the… regarding the Eid ceasefire on Afghanistan, Eid is now over. What is the Secretary‑General, UN Special Envoy doing to try and prolong that ceasefire?
And, secondly, in Lebanon, there was a protest against UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) at a village near the Israeli border. Today, the Prime Minister visited Southern Lebanon. What does the Secretary‑General have to say about the protest and what's going on there? Thank you.
Spokesman: I had not seen the protest in Lebanon, but I can… I will check for you.
On Afghanistan, we are… on the ground, we are continuing our contact with all the parties. I think we noted, in a positive step, the press reports about the release of prisoners, which had been called for by the agreement with the Taliban. So, we do hope this opportunity is seized and moving forward in a peaceful manner.
Okay. I didn't… I can't hear you but…
Question: And nothing further on anything that's being done to try and prolong the ceasefire?
Spokesman: The messages in that sense continue to be passed on to all the parties.
All right. Let's see if I can figure this out. Okay. Kateryna Lisunova has a question.
All right. You know what? Why don't you… I can't figure out how the chat works, but I will need to do that by the way… by the time tomorrow works… happens.
Correspondent: Some of us are sending you messages, Steph, and we're not getting to you somehow.
Spokesman: Yeah, okay. Well, we'll fix that for tomorrow. So, if you have a question, raise your hand.
James Bays, what a surprise. Go ahead.
Question: I don't have one question. I have three, from three different parts of the world. So, we're going to pick up where we were on Friday. You've had five days to think about this one. On Friday, we asked… or I asked about the new security law and mechanism for Hong Kong, which has been widely criticized. Other Governments around the world have certainly responded in the last hour. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, released a statement saying no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree autonomy from China, given the facts on the ground.
So, can we have the Secretary‑General's response to the new security law, whether he thinks it's a breach of the Joint Declaration and whether he believes that Hong Kong has autonomy now?
Spokesman: And your second question?
Question: It's on a different subject, so I'd rather you did them one by one.
Spokesman: Okay. Listen, it's not for us to… what I will just say is that we're following the developments in Hong Kong closely, and we recall the importance of any new legislation to fully respect international law and the country's human rights obligations.
Your second question?
Question: The next question is to do with the tensions on the border between India and China. How concerned is the United Nations and the Secretary‑General? And does the Secretary‑General think, as has been offered on Twitter, that President [Donald] Trump would make a good mediator in this potential conflict?
Spokesman: Look, that would be for the parties involved to decide who they would want to mediate this, not for us to opine.
We're, obviously, looking at the situation, and we would urge all the parties involved to avoid any action that would make the situation even more tense.
Question: And I have one last one on a different subject, on Libya. Statements made by the Africa Command of the US forces claiming that, in multiple days in May, Russian aircraft, Russian jets, departed Russia after being repainted and then landed in Libya. It seems to give support potentially to General [Khalifa] Haftar.
Can the UN confirm that there are these Russian aircraft now in Libya? What is the UN's view if there are reinforcements by a permanent member of the Security Council to one of the sides in Libya?
Spokesman: We have not… we're not in a position at this… to confirm it one way or another. What we do know is that, over the past weeks and months, we have seen people, materiel flow into Libya to increase… which has led to an increase in violence and an increase in fighting. We have condemned this. I think Ms. [Stephanie] Williams, in her address to the Security Council, was very clear on this. Libya doesn't need more soldiers. It doesn't need more drones. It doesn't need more planes. What it needs is peace, and that's what the Libyan people are crying out for.
In addition to the violence they've endured, they have to deal with the issue of COVID, which makes it that much more complicated to do in this particular instance. [He later issued a note expressing the UN’s concerns about the fighting in Libya.]
And your third question. Oh, that was it.
Correspondent: You have questioned me out. I have no more.
Spokesman: I think just for a few minutes.
Kateryna, go ahead, and then we'll go over… go ahead. You're muted. I can't hear you. Okay. Let's try it again. Un‑mute your mic.
All right. Benny, why don't you go ahead, and then I'll go to Evelyn.
Correspondent: Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Not only do I hear you, I see you.
Question: I don't know what's better. So, this is about… maybe you've answered it in a session that I missed, but it's about the fact‑checking initiative of the UN. Again, I have to ask this since this has come up in other contexts, today — Twitter and Trump and all that. What do you do to prevent the slippery slope that, you know, you fact‑check one side, then you fact‑check another? I mean, how could you avoid somebody saying that WHO should be fact‑checked in the early days for saying that it's not human‑to‑human contagion?
Spokesman: What we're saying… we're not censoring anyone. What we're talking about is showing that information that comes from… we feel that come from our sources is verified. Right? We're not saying that you can't say X, Y or Z. We're just saying that information… we're helping people push out verified information from the UN as opposed to something that may be disinformation. But we're not going around and labelling what you may say, to take an example, as disinformation. So, it's a positive step. It's not a negative step.
And I… Melissa Fleming, I think, had a press briefing on that, which you… I don't know if you saw it, but…
Question: But, once again, I mean, WHO in the beginning said that there's no human‑to‑human contagion. I mean, is that something that we can trust, we cannot trust? How does that work? How does fact‑checking work?
Spokesman: For us, we rely and we trust the World Health Organization to give us the most up‑to‑date scientific advice.
Evelyn, and then I'll get to Toby.
Correspondent: Trying to figure out how to turn on the mic. Can you hear me now?
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.
Question: Oh. Hi. Couple of questions. To follow up on James' question in Libya, is this new that there are mercenaries there, that the Russians allegedly supported from the air, or is this old news that mercenaries are…
Spokesman: I will let you judge what's new and what's not new. I think I would refer you to Stephanie Williams’ very detailed, I think, statement in the Security Council about mercenaries and others being on the ground.
Question: That's true. Secondly, the Braz… I think we spoke about that last week. The Brazilian leadership every day seems to be falling apart. How can the UN function properly with the Government?
Spokesman: We're working with our governmental partners in the best way we can.
Question: Yeah. Yeah, but who are your partners? There doesn't…
Spokesman: Various Government ministries.
Question: Right. Okay. One more question. On Afghanistan, from what I've been able to discern, the Taliban is still… has still its same policy on subjugating women and girls, particularly in education. They can go to the sixth grade, and then they have to — I don't know — go home and cook. Do… has the UN looked into this lately?
Spokesman: We… I think we are all aware of the issues and the challenges, to put it mildly, regarding women's rights in many parts of Afghanistan. We… it is clear that, for us, any ultimate… results of ultimate discussions between the various parties as to the future of Afghanistan needs to guarantee and strongly guarantee the rights of women and girls to equal access to every possible service and equality, most importantly, under the law.
Question: You think there will be a peace treaty without that? Without the…
Spokesman: That's… I'll tell you what our position is. Okay.
Correspondent: Hi there, Steph. Can you hear me okay?
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead.
Question: Thanks very much. So, yesterday, at a briefing by Human Rights Watch, experts there said that the numbers coming out of Venezuela right now, the data is completely untrustworthy. I think their word for it was “absurd”. And in other places where we know that we have information deficiencies, such as Yemen, I'm… my question is, how is the UN preparing for these informational gaps? If we can anticipate potentially a huge surprise or… like, what… how does the UN prepare in those cases?
Spokesman: I think we… we've been saying this in a lot of countries in which we work, notably in Yemen, that the cases are very likely under‑reported. I don't have specific information about Venezuela here, but the fact that cases are under‑reported is probably the case in many parts of the world, especially in places like Yemen and Libya that are active conflict zones. So, we take that into account.
Okay? Kateryna, let's try it one more time, and then we'll go to Abdelhamid.
All right. There's something wrong, I think, on your microphone on your computer. If you can type in the question, we can see if I can see it.
Question: Oh, thank you, Stéphane. I have two question, one on Syria and one Palestine. On Syria, do you have any numbers on returning people, like from Jordan and [inaudible]? Last time I remember Za’atari refugee camp was 180, and then it went down to 80, then it went down to 60. So, any numbers of returning refugees from the bordering countries back to Syria? And that's… and then I have a second question.
Spokesman: You'd have to check with UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency). I don't have any numbers here, but our colleagues at UNHCR would know.
What's your second question?
Question: My second question that President [Mahmoud] Abbas on 18 May, he gave us a statement, and he said that he is now not committed to all of the agreement [inaudible]. And I also expected a statement from the Secretary-General on that development. But, apparently, I have my own explanation since he didn't issue a statement of the annexations and he didn't issue a statement on Abbas' speech, which is also as important. Am I interpreting things wrongly or rightly?
Spokesman: Well, I think Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, as always, I think, was very clear and represents the Secretary‑General's views.
Pam Falk. I can't see you. I don't know if you're… let's see. Pam, are you on anywhere? No, I don't see you. Let's see if you may have texted me a question. Bear with me. UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) was part of the February peace agreement…
Correspondent: Can you hear me, Steph?
Spokesman: Yes, I can hear you, Pam.
Question: Oh, good. Okay. I was un‑muted. UNAMA was part of the February peace agreement that was adopted by the Security Council on Afghanistan and plays a role in peacekeeping in Afghanistan. The US announced today withdrawal of troops by December. We'll see if that happens, but how will that affect UNAMA in the peace agreement? And is it premature, as far as the UN is concerned?
Spokesman: We do not have… we're not involved in peacekeeping in Afghanistan. I mean, it's a political mission. There is a NATO mission. There's obviously US troops and others. So, we don't know. What we're doing is working towards a peace for the Afghan people, but, obviously, the security situation looms over any peace efforts.
Question: Well, as you said and as the Secretary‑General said this morning, there have been UN staff injured in different places. The attack against the maternity was ward this week was horrific. Is there a sense that the UN Mission in Afghanistan will be in any way endangered?
Spokesman: You know, the security situation for movement of staff is assessed daily. So, I can't predict what the situation will be next week or in two weeks.
Correspondent: All right. Thanks.
Spokesman: Okay. Anybody else?
Correspondent: Well, let's try again.
Spokesman: Yes, there we go.
Question: Can you hear me? Oh, my God. Alleluia! So, the question pretty much simple, but it's, like, devised in three parts. Apparently, the main headquarter of the United Nations found itself in the city with world hardest epidemic situation. So, my questions will be following: First, is there any cooperation of the United Nations Headquarters and New York City Government in the local fight with coronavirus?
And does UN provide any help for New York City? And, from the other side, does New York City provide any help for the United Nations Headquarters?
Also, it has been three months of quarantine already, so have this… how this cooperation developed with time?
Spokesman: Okay. Well, we've always had very close operational links with our host city. Obviously, in this time of pandemic, our health service is in constant touch with the New York City health service.
We don't operate in a vacuum. We're part and parcel of this city. I mean, we live here. We work here. We have our families here, some of us. So, we're… the links are extremely strong.
We, obviously, want to follow the guidance of the host city in terms of re‑opening and movement of people. We want to be good neighbours and good partners to the city. So, I have only good things to say about the cooperation, both on a political and a technical level, whether it's on health, whether it's on security and other matters.
A few weeks ago, as you may recall, we donated a large amount of surgical masks to New York City hospitals that we had in the UN stocks, and UN staff has also been volunteering and donating all sorts of items to New York City communities.
As I said, we're all New Yorkers here, and as New Yorkers do, they help each other out.
Correspondent: Thank you. That's probably all.
Spokesman: Okay. All right. Just remember, you'll be sent new links tomorrow for the press brief… joint press briefing with the Prime Ministers of Canada, Jamaica, and the US… sorry, the UN. There we go. And hopefully, we'll get the chat function working, and I'll figure out how it works, if you can log in early so we can kind of go through all the wrinkles.
Thank you, all, and hasta mañana.