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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good morning, everyone.  Good afternoon and Eid Mubarak.


First off, I have the following statement on Afghanistan.  The Secretary‑General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban of a ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday in peace.  The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.  Only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan.  He reiterates the urgency of a lasting ceasefire for addressing the COVID-19 emergency and underlines the readiness of the United Nations to provide any assistance that the parties may require.

**South-East Asia

The Secretary-General’s latest policy brief is out today and this one looks at the impact of COVID-19 on South-East Asia.  It found that Governments in the region have acted swiftly to battle the pandemic and avoid its worst effects, with regional cooperation having been robust across multiple sectors.  South-East Asia has reported significantly lower confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths, on a per-capita basis, than most other global regions, but the health, economic and political impact has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.  In a video message launching the brief, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations is strongly committed to our partnership with the countries of South-East Asia, and we will continue to support efforts to get the region on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and build a peaceful future for all.  Both the policy brief and the Secretary-General’s video message are online.


In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that he is deeply concerned about the increasing violence in many parts of the Darfur region of Sudan, notably the attacks in West Darfur on 25 July and in North Darfur on 13 July, in which dozens of people were killed and more than 1,500 houses burned, leaving thousands displaced and in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  The Secretary-General commends the efforts by the Sudanese authorities, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdala Hamdok, in responding to these incidents, and called for an investigation to ensure accountability.  Deliberate attacks against civilians violate international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the implementation of the national protection strategy developed recently by the Transitional Government.  The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) will continue to focus on its protection mandate, and humanitarian partners continue to provide emergency relief.  The Secretary-General urges all armed groups, particularly those that have not joined the ongoing peace talks in Juba, to resolve their grievances through a political process.  As Sudan continues its process of democratic transition, there is a clear imperative to end the conflict in Darfur with a definitive and inclusive peace agreement.


In a new report, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documents at least 358 civilian casualties, that is 106 deaths and 252 injuries, in the months of April, May and June.  This figure represents an overall increase in civilian casualties of 173 per cent compared to the preceding period in the first quarter of 2020.  Ground fighting was the leading cause of civilian casualties, followed by explosive remnants of war and air strikes.  The overall increase in civilian casualties was driven by a major escalation of hostilities, despite the calls for a cessation of hostilities by the United Nations and many UN Member States.  UNSMIL renews its call for all parties to the conflict to immediately halt all military operations and respect international human rights and humanitarian law, to protect civilians and allow the authorities to respond to the threat of COVID‑19.


In Zimbabwe, where 60 per cent of the population is projected to be food insecure by the end of the year, the World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for an additional $250 million.  WFP said that the already severe hunger crisis is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  WFP is calling for international support to prevent what it calls a potential humanitarian catastrophe.  A nationwide lockdown has led to massive joblessness in urban areas, while hunger in rural areas is on the rise due to the return of now unemployed migrants to their villages and the absence of vital remittances.  Hyperinflation has pushed the prices of basics beyond the means of many Zimbabweans.  Due to lack of funding, WFP will only be able to help 700,000 of the 1.8 million people it had intended to reach.  With additional resources, WFP hopes to reach 4 million of the most vulnerable people this year.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

I have some updates from our colleagues in peacekeeping operations, about their assistance to locals during the pandemic.  The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has provided medicines and medical equipment, including a portable ultrasound machine, to the Red Cross to the district of Tyre in south Lebanon.  This donation is expected to benefit 200,000 people and will limit patients’ potential exposure to COVID-19.  Medics involved in the emergency interventions against the coronavirus will be better equipped to conduct diagnosis at patients’ homes.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has supported an online discussion for young people to provide more information about the virus.  The youth participants from Paralimni and Deryneia discussed how the pandemic has affected their everyday lives and future, its impact among vulnerable groups, and ways that youth can collaborate to overcome challenges.

**Lead Poisoning

A new report launched today by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Pure Earth warns that lead poisoning is affecting children on a massive and previously unknown scale.  According to the report, around 1 in 3 children — up to 800 million globally — have blood lead levels at or above five micrograms per decilitre, the level at which action is required.  Nearly half of these children live in South Asia.  Lead is a potent neurotoxin which causes irreparable harm to children’s brains.  It is particularly destructive to babies and children under the age of five, as it damages their brains before they have had the opportunity to fully develop.  More on the report on UNICEF’s website.


Today, the International Labour Organization (ILO) released a study which says that a zero-emission economy can lead to 15 million new jobs by 2030 in Latin America and Caribbean.  The study, done in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank, says that a zero-carbon economy would end 7.5 million jobs in the fossil fuel industry and animal-based food production.  However, these lost jobs are more than compensated for with new employment opportunities:  22.5 million jobs in agriculture and plant-based food production, renewable electricity, forestry, construction and manufacturing.  The report also offers a blueprint on how countries can create decent jobs and transition to net-zero emissions.  This includes policies facilitating the reallocation of workers, advance decent work in rural areas, enhance social protection and support to displaced, enterprises, communities and workers.  The full report is on ILO’s website.

**World Day against Trafficking in Persons

Today is the World Day against Trafficking in Persons.  This year, the Day focuses on the first responders to human trafficking.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that like the front‑line heroes saving lives and sustaining our societies in the COVID-19 pandemic, these providers are keeping vital services going throughout the crisis.  They are identifying victims, ensuring their access to justice, health, social assistance and protection, and preventing further abuse and exploitation.

The Secretary-General highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many global inequalities and created new obstacles on the path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  It also left millions of people at greater risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage and other crimes.  The Secretary-General notes that women and girls already account for more than 70 per cent of detected human trafficking victims, and today are among the hardest hit by the pandemic.  He stressed that with previous downturns showing that women face a harder time getting paid jobs back in the aftermath of crisis, vigilance is especially important at this time.  The full message is available online.

**Trafficking — Ukraine

And continuing on the trafficking issue, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today released new figures showing a sharp rise in the number of Ukrainians identified as victims of trafficking and assisted from January to June.  The total number of 800 represents a leap of 40 per cent compared to the first half of the previous year.  IOM said that 97 per cent of the victims identified in the first half of 2020 were trafficked for labour exploitation.

**International Day of Friendship

And today is also the International Day of Friendship.  To mark the Day, the UN encourages Governments, international organizations and civil society groups to hold events, activities and initiatives that contribute to the efforts of the international community towards promoting a dialogue among civilizations, solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation.


For briefings, later today, at 2:30 p.m., there will be an end-of-presidency press briefing by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen of Germany, President of the Security Council for the month of July.  And on Monday, at 3 p.m., we will have a briefing by Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations, as President of the Council for the month of August.  He will discuss the Council’s programme of work for August.  And that is all I have to read for you, and we will now go to questions.  First off, James Bays has a couple of questions.  James, over to you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  President [Donald] Trump has suggested the US election could be delayed or suggested the idea of that.  What is the UN's response?  You often speak about the need for timely elections in countries.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have any particular comment to make about any remarks or tweets.  I do have the general point that we make about all elections, which is that we expect that all elections are to be held in accordance with the respective rules and laws of each country.  And, so, each country has its own electoral procedures, and we expect that those will be followed.

Question:  Second question is also about the host country.  The US Ambassador this morning has suggested that, for the high‑level week of UNGA [United Nations General Assembly], President Trump may well travel to New York to make his speech in person.  Does that present… I mean, I know that he's allowed… I know delegations are allowed to send someone to speak, or they can deliver messages.  But, given it's the US, does that present any problems that many might consider following his example, and this might derail your efforts to have a scaled‑back socially distanced UNGA?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't want to speculate on what the future will hold.  As you know, the Secretariat will be in touch, basically through the Office of the President of the General Assembly, with the Member States on their representation.  When it comes to it, we have made clear what the conditions in the building are, what the need is for a scaled‑back ceremony.  But, as you, yourself, mentioned just now, the Member States are aware that they have different options, including recorded messages, or in some cases, appearances.  We trust and expect that all Member States will abide by the need to keep the numbers low, and we'll see what they do in terms of their preparations.

Question:  The US president… I know… if I may, as you know, the US President travels with a very large entourage, extreme amounts of security.  I won't… I know you're not going to answer again about him, but just to be clear, if leaders want to bring large numbers of people with them, there will be no exceptions made, given the rules that you have in place in the GA Hall.

Deputy Spokesman:  We have made clear to all Member States the need to keep the delegations’ number low.  There is an absolute upper limit of how many people we can safely accommodate, and all Member States have been made aware of that.  How they will adjust is a matter ultimately of discussion between the Member States and the United Nations.  And with that, Toby, you're on for the next question.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thanks.  Yeah, I have a follow‑up to James' question, which is, Ambassador [Kelly] Craft said also that the US will be the only country to present in person.  I know these things are not up to your office, but has there been any special coordination with the US as the host country and the UN about the US's particular plans for addressing the General Assembly in September?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, for the General Assembly, we would need to coordinate with all the Member States, and this is a question that will entail coordination with each and every Member State.  I wouldn't comment on what the ambassador has said.  And Evelyn, you have the next question.  Evelyn?  Evelyn Leopold.

Question:  Thank you.  I always lose where the microphone is.  Right.  Back to Darfur again after all these years, it appears that the Janjaweed and their successors are back in business, occupying land and so forth.  Is it wise for the United Nations peacekeepers, at the end of the year, to leave for another type of setup?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on that, as I'm sure you're aware, in accordance with relevant resolution of the Security Council, we will have a successor Mission, UNITAMS, which is going to be setting up and was established by resolution 2524 (2020).  And in fact, a planning team for the Mission… for UNITAMS is now in Sudan for a limited period to prepare options at a technical level for the phased deployment of that Mission.  So, there's a team of technical experts, in other words, on the ground who will engage with Sudanese and other stakeholders to determine how the new Mission will implement its mandate.  And we trust that we will maintain our presence in Darfur.  If there's any need for a greater presence, of course, the Security Council will be advised accordingly.

Question:  But, that's not the same thing as…?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not the same thing, but, again, you're aware of what the resolutions of the Security Council were.  We made clear, in the statement I just read, our concerns about the situation on the ground.  We will continue to do our work, and that includes making sure that there will be a follow‑on Mission.  Okay.  Iftikhar.  Eid Mubarak, Iftikhar.

Question:  Okay.  Farhan, thank you.  The Secretary‑General has spoken of some positive developments in Afghanistan, but does he believe that this sets the stage are intra‑Afghan dialogue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have made clear the importance of having such dialogue down the line.  Ultimately, the conditions will need to be right, and we, of course, continue to support the Afghan Government in its search for a negotiated solution to its problems.  Beyond that, I would just refer you to what I had said at the statement that we issued just at the top of this briefing.  And with that, Abdelhamid, you're next.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions, one on Palestine and one on Libya.  And I'll start with Palestine.  On 19 July, the Israeli occupation authorities detained the Governor of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Governor.  His name is Adnan Gheith.  That's G‑h‑e‑i‑t‑h, Adnan Gheith.  And this morning, they extended his detention for five more days.  There had no word from the UN, no statement, no reference to his detention.  He is the Governor of Jerusalem from the Palestinian side, yet there was no word from the UN officials, especially Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is something that we're monitoring.  As you know, we have our concerns about the status of Jerusalem, and those are continuing.  And we also have our concerns about the observance of due process, but the Office of the Special Coordinator, Mr. Mladenov, will continue to monitor the situation and will report its concerns as needed.  Yes.  And your second question?

Question:  My second question about Libya, you know there is some contact between Russia and Turkey to find some ways and means to declare a ceasefire.  Had Ms. Stephanie Williams contacted both parties, either the Russians or the Turks, to see what is going on in that plan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we… both Stephanie Williams and the Mission as a whole have been in contact at different levels with the various parties, and that would include the Governments of Russia and of Turkey.  Okay.  Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yes, again, Mario Paciolla, the UN volunteer who died in Colombia.  My question is, is the Secretary‑General worried that if the truth about his death is long away, means it has still passed much time before, not only we journalists, but I would say also, especially, people that volunteer work for the United Nations, that this could bring a kind of a fear for UN volunteers, and not talking only about in Colombia, but around the world, that the life is… you know, can be expendable, which means that it's not so important, because at the end, they can pass also weeks and weeks and maybe months before some truth coming out?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to speculate about if this drags on.  As far as I know, the inquiries into this are proceeding.  The Government of Colombia is looking into this, and our Mission in Colombia is in touch with them.  And we also have our own internal inquiry, which we do in the case of the death of any UN personnel.  We take the question of staff security very seriously, and we always follow up to make sure that if anyone dies anywhere in the service of the UN that it is thoroughly looked into.  And so, we're continuing to do that, and we will do a thorough job, and we'll keep you posted on when we have any further factual information to share with you.  You're… I can't hear you.

Question:  Sorry.  Quick follow‑up.  What does the Secretary‑General consider a time… a reasonable time to finally declare if his death was… you know, was homicide or was suicide?  I mean, a month, two months, three weeks, what is the time?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly expect the authorities to do this as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  And with that, the next question is for Genji Yamaguchi.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  May we have Secretary‑General's comment on the death of former Taiwan President Lee Teng‑hui, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We just learned of this sad occasion, and we give our condolences to his family and to his loved ones.  Now, the next question is from Hussein Ibrahim.

Question:  Good afternoon, Farhan.  Eid Mubarak.  My question is about Yemen.  Are there any comments from the Secretary‑General about the Saudi announcement of speedy mechanism for implementing the Riyadh Agreement, which was approved by the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council?  And how does the Secretary‑General evaluate the efforts made by the Kingdom to accelerate and activate the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement to establish peace?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, what I can say… I can say that we welcome the consensus reached by the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council to move towards implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which will be a significant step in the efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen, and the critical role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mediating this consensus is also welcomed.  And with that, I have a question from Maggie.  Maggie Besheer?

Question:  Farhan, thanks.  Just following up on the Trump speech, have you received any formal notification from the Americans that he is coming for sure or that he is consider… even that he is considering coming?  Like, have they touched base with you in terms of logistics?  And also, I imagine this would increase media interest, and I would assume that accreditation might be less this year because you don't want a lot of people at Headquarters and there's really nobody there to see.  So, I don't know how that would affect accreditation and things like that, in addition to the size of delegations and such.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, we're in early days.  I don't have anything formal to report about this.  Like I said, we will be in touch with all the Member States to make sure that the arrangements are appropriate, and we'll need to make sure, again, that we remain within limited numbers so that we can practise social distancing and have safe conditions for everyone who comes into the building.

Question:  Farhan, when you… can I just follow it up?  When you say within the number of… you know, that… the size of the delegations, it was between just one and two persons, right?  So, has that… that's still the case, isn't it, that there was just… they were encouraged to have only one or two persons present in the General Assembly?

Deputy Spokesman:  The sort of information that have been provided by the Secretary‑General and by the President of the General Assembly, you have in your possession, and that hasn't changed.  Okay.  And I think that's it.  Have a great weekend.  We will not have a briefing tomorrow, but we'll come back to you on Monday.  Take care now.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.