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, and this time I truly apologize for being late. I had a couple of late breaking notes come in.
As you saw, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on pandemics and the challenges of sustaining peace.
The Secretary-General noted that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens not only hard-won development and peacebuilding gains, but also risks making conflicts worse or fomenting new ones.
He stressed that the challenges of this pandemic underscore, like never before, the imperative of coherent, multidimensional and cross-pillar responses along with the integrated logic of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Secretary-General pointed to what he called the three key dangers. First, the pandemic can undermine faith in governments and public institutions. Secondly, they can destabilize the global economic order. And lastly, he said, pandemics could weaken the social fabric by, for example, narrowing the civic space and closing avenues for democratic processes.
But, the Secretary-General said, in spite of challenges, the pandemic also creates opportunities for peace, pointing to the positive responses to the appeal for a global ceasefire earlier this year.
The world, he said, is looking to all leaders — including the Security Council — to address this epic crisis in ways that make concrete, meaningful and positive contributions to the lives of people.
You will have seen that, yesterday, we issued a statement on Bolivia in which the Secretary-General said he’s following with concern the recent developments in Bolivia. He called on the organizers of protests there to ensure the safe passage of ambulances, oxygen and medicines, and to allow for the delivery of goods and services essential to the people. The Secretary-General also welcomed the readiness of the Executive, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, as well as political parties and social organizations, to enter into dialogue in order to resolve the political, social, economic and health challenges facing Bolivia. Furthermore, he urged continued restraint to avoid escalation and called upon all social and political leaders to contribute to the preservation of peace.
Turning to Lebanon, we along with our partners continue to conduct needs assessments and deliver emergency assistance to people most in need following last week’s blasts in Beirut. The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, announced today that the organization is bringing 17,500 metric tons of wheat flour and a three-month supply of wheat into Lebanon to help replenish the country’s food reserves. That is part of a rapid logistics operation that will also involve setting up warehouses and mobile grain storage units.
WFP has also prepared 150,000 food parcels for distribution to families affected by the economic crisis and COVID-19 lockdown measures. In addition, the World Food Programme will scale up its cash assistance programme in Lebanon 10-fold to reach up to 1 million people, including residents directly impacted by the blast.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), for its part, has distributed hot meals to 30,000 people along with food kits for 700. Non-food items and hygiene kits were also provided.
And the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) partners have distributed dignity kits to an estimated [2,000] adolescent girls and women. Forty frontline social workers have also been trained to provide psychosocial support to women affected by the Beirut blast.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), for its part, is also supporting 720 children and adults with psychosocial support through face-to-face sessions, phone calls, and door-to-door visits with families.
Staying on issues relating to the same country, we had mentioned yesterday the briefings to the Security Council by Ján Kubiš, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations. The Council’s discussions in a close session, included updates on the developments in the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) Area of Operations and on the Mission’s mandate renewal. In his letter on 29 July, the Secretary-General has recommended the extension of the mandate of UNIFIL for a further 12 months, until 31 August of next year. In his latest report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General underscored the importance of UNIFIL’s work as it continues to maintain peace and provide stability at a difficult time for the country.
Noting the resignation of Prime Minister [Hassan] Diab and his Cabinet, Mr. Kubiš, for his part, emphasized the importance of avoiding a prolonged period of governmental vacuum. He urged the rapid formation of a new government that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese people and enjoys their support, a government that can address the urgent and many challenges facing the country and break with the corrupt practices of the past. Yesterday and today, Mr. Kubiš continued his contacts with political and diplomatic representatives in Lebanon, as well as different parts of the UN family. He also had a meeting with the visiting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Heiko Maas, who was in Beirut.
I want to give you a bit of a recap of where we stand on the Safer oil tanker that is anchored, as you know, off the coast of Yemen, which we’ve been talking about quite a bit in the last few weeks.
As you will recall, on 14 July, we submitted an official request to the Ansar Allah authorities for a UN-led assessment and initial repair mission to the tanker. This request was based on the communication that the authorities sent us on 5 July, confirming that they would accept an assessment and repair mission. The Ansar Allah authorities have recently come back to us with a range of technical follow-up questions, which we have answered.
We appreciate, of course, the need to clarify and for all of us to be on the same page. We also understand the importance of making sure this work meets the highest possible technical standards, and the experts we have on standby are extremely well qualified to undertake this work. We hope that the authorities will authorize the mission right away, especially given the vivid illustrations we have seen from Beirut and Mauritius of the risk and what it could cost if we keep waiting. That risk cannot be overstated. We are happy to provide — and have been providing — any technical information required, and we want to keep working with everyone to get this done as quickly as possible.
Turning to South Sudan, I have an update to share with you. Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that, following violence in Tonj over the weekend, which saw 70 people were killed, a patrol from the Mission (UNMISS) arrived there yesterday evening. The clashes were between members of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and armed civilians.
The patrol includes both military and civilian peacekeepers. They are engaging with local authorities and community leaders to prevent further violence and help with reconciliation efforts. A human rights team is also on the ground to carry out an investigation. The UN patrol will also visit Romich, a village in Tonj East that was directly impacted by the violence, to assess the security situation there.
And also, on South Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim, Dr. Olushayo Olu, called “unacceptable” an unprovoked attack on an NGO (non-governmental organization) convoy in Yei County, in Central Equatoria state.
He urged the authorities to take immediate action, stressing that protecting humanitarian personnel in the country is a duty for all.
The NGO whose convoy was attacked earlier this week is a partner of the United Nations. Its convoy was carrying patients at the time of the ambush while it was on its way to a refugee settlement to provide health, nutrition and hygiene services.
And in Mauritius, the Resident Coordinator there, Christine Umutoni, informs us that an inter-agency UN team, including experts on oil spills, legal support and coordination, arrived yesterday, to support the Government-led response to the oil spill that is impacting Mauritius. And they are also engaging local communities and the private sector.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN Migration Agency (IOM), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized this deployment, with the World Food Programme providing flight arrangements.
The UN team is also continuing its support to the ministries of environment and health with daily assessments of the crisis. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is providing technical advice and the World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting on messaging for impacted communities.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Today, we turn to another region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the eastern province of Ituri. Since the beginning of the year, hundreds of people have died, including 20 killed in armed attacks in the past few days alone. More than 660,000 people have fled violence and are now displaced in the province. Others have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. In a statement, the humanitarian coordinator for the DRC, David McLachlan-Karr, condemned the violence and expressed his concerns about the humanitarian situation. He also reiterated the importance of preserving the civilian and humanitarian character of the sites housing displaced people. He called on Congolese authorities to do their utmost to support the protection of civilians and address the root causes of instability in the province.
**International Youth Day
And today, in case you did not know, is International Youth Day and the theme this year is “Youth Engagement for Global Action”. In a message, the Secretary-General said the theme spotlights the ways in which the voices and activism of young people are making a difference and moving our world closer to the values and vision of the UN Charter. The Secretary-General notes that the lives and aspirations of young people continue to be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this generation is also resilient, resourceful and engaged. For the Secretary-General, realizing the promise of this generation means investing far more in young people’s inclusion, participation, organizations and initiatives. He calls on leaders and adults everywhere to do everything possible to enable the world’s youth to enjoy lives of safety, dignity, opportunity and contribute to the fullest of their great potential.
**Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change
On a related note, today the Secretary-General had the first meeting of his new Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, with seven young climate activists. The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, was also there, as well as the Youth Envoy and the Secretary-General’s Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Action.
The Secretary-General also noted that he was inspired by young people everywhere who are demonstrating what leadership looks like by bringing positive solutions and holding leaders to account. He added that while we are off track in relation to the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement, we are still in the race. And we are still in the race in large part due to the efforts of youth everywhere.
The Secretary-General heard perspectives on boosting climate action from the members of the group, and ideas on implementing his six climate-positive actions to recover better. He offered the support of the UN to help them in their duties and bringing other young people into their work.
**International Labour Organization
And staying with the young ones, a new report released today by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that since the outset of the pandemic, more than 70 per cent of our youth who study or combine study with work have been adversely impacted by the closing of schools, universities and training centres. According to the report, 65 per cent of young people reported having learned less since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite their efforts to continue studying and training, half of them believed their studies would be delayed and 9 per cent thought that they might fail. The situation has [been even] worse for youth living in lower-income countries, who have less access to the Internet, a lack of equipment and sometimes a lack of space at home.
And in answer to a couple of questions I was asked yesterday,
About the Secretary-General’s phone call on Monday with the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi di Maio, which took place on Monday, I can tell you that in the call, the Secretary-General extended his condolences on the death of our colleague, Mario Paciolla. He assured the Foreign Minister that the UN is providing its utmost support to the ongoing Colombian investigation into Mario’s death and stressed that such cooperation would equally be extended to the Italian investigation.
**UN Headquarters Ventilation System
In response to a question I got from Pam about the air-conditioning system in the UN Headquarters, I have an answer, and it’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about HVAC systems. I can tell you that the Headquarters HVAC system and the systems in the leased annex buildings are being fully maintained. We have increased the rating of the filters in the HQ campus systems. All HQ campus systems are now installed with MERV 10 pre-filters and MERV 14 main filters. The filters of the HVAC systems of the leased annex have also been upgraded to the maximum MERV ratings that each system is capable of handling. We have taken the approach of “flushing” 100 per cent of outside air to occupied spaces for 30-minute periods multiple times a day. The run times for each unit are staggered so as not to cause spikes in overall energy demand. This is working well, and we have had no issue in maintaining comfortable conditions.
And last, but definitely not least, we are happy to have a full payment today from North Macedonia. Our thanks, and welcome to the ranks. We now have 109 fully paid up Member States
All right. Let me go to our chat and see if we have any question.
**Questions and Answers
Nabil, yes, please, go ahead.
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéphane, for reminding us of the recommendations.
And I also just want to put it on record that the EZTV system was updated during the pandemic, and it’s not functioning well in my office and maybe other offices. So, please take note of that.
Spokesman: Okay. Will do.
Question: My question is about UNIFIL. How important for UNIFIL is to employ drones, especially in the Blue Line area? Because this is part of the recommendations that Mr. Lacroix raised in the closed meeting with Member States. So, I want to know from you, how important is this? And what was the reaction from Lebanon and Israel on this point?
Spokesman: You know, the discussions are ongoing. If we recommend something, it’s believed… we believe that it’s important. I’m not going to start to kind of rank which of the recommendations are more important than others. I think the… there are, as you know better than I, discussions going on with Member States on the formulation of the required resolution, and we need to let that process play through.
Obviously, we have made clear, through the Secretary‑General’s reports, through letters, through briefings from Mr. Lacroix, about what we feel we need. It’s now up to the Member States to take action.
And I think… Nabil, you had asked me about an update on the peacekeepers, the UNIFIL peacekeepers, and I can tell you, of the 23 UN naval peacekeepers in Bangladesh who were injured in the blast, four remain in hospital and their condition is currently stable. Okay?
Question: Thank you, Steph, and thank you for the answer on the ventilation system. I’ll have to consult an expert also. I’m not an expert on filtration, but there was a point last winter when the… at least the technical people who had come around to different booths at the UN said that, for ecological reasons, the air‑filtration system had put… been put on low ventilation so the level of air pumping was lower. Can you check on that piece of it? It may be what Nabil was talking about, because it’s definitely the case in several offices that both don’t get levels of air‑conditioning and levels of heating that had previously been in offices, and it may relate to COVID. Thank you.
Spokesman: All right, Pam. Let’s… before we dive… I dive even deeper into the unknowns of HVAC, I think, if there are… and this goes also for you, Nabil. If there are specific issues having to do with media offices, I would ask you to get in touch with Tal [Mekel]. I’m happy to answer general questions about what we’re doing for the building of the briefing, but if there are specific questions about your offices, which is what it sounds like, I would ask you to bring it up with Tal.
Question: But, just so you know and see if you can get another answer, Tal did have people come to the offices. That’s where I got this information. And it’s really about the spread of any kind of virus…
Spokesman: I mean, I can tell you, from what I’ve said, we are doing the maximum to keep the building safe, and that includes upgrading the ventilation system. Our colleagues on the plants… who deal with the physical plant are working hand in hand with the Medical Service.
I think we want everyone… absolutely everyone to be safe, whether it’s staff, diplomats and, obviously, you from the media.
Your offices are a little specific because they’re closed in. So, again, in terms of the offices, I would encourage you to continue your conversations with our MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit) colleagues.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions, one Iraq and the second Lebanon. The first one about Iraq, there has been a major escalation between Turkey and Iraq. Yesterday, two high‑level Iraqi commanders got killed by a Turkish air strike. Today, the Ministry of… Iraq’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning. Iraq has cancelled several diplomatic events and visited Turkey.
What is the Secretary‑General’s position about this? Has he been in touch with any of the parties? And why the Head of UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq) still hasn’t said a word about this major escalation on the Iraqi and Turkish border? That’s my first question if you…
Spokesman: Off the top of my head, I don’t know if she has or has not said anything. What I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General is, obviously, aware of the military operations in northern Iraq. I think he’s very concerned about the reports of the loss of life that we saw in Erbil governorate. He calls for maximum restraint and urges Turkey and Iraq to resolve the situation peacefully through bilateral dialogue and negotiation and, of course, based on international law.
Question: My second question is on Lebanon. I’m not sure if my colleagues asked about this. This is about the investigation. There are calls for international investigation from within Lebanon into the explosion. Has any of the authorities, so far, been in touch or had discussion with the United Nations about possibility of any international‑led, UN‑led investigation into the explosion? And is UN ready and willing to do such investigation in a timely manner?
Spokesman: We are, obviously, ready to provide any… or to urgently provide any such assistance to any sort of inquiry investigation if requested to by the Lebanese Government.
As the Secretary‑General said in his remarks, there is very much a need for a transparent and credible and independent investigation into what led to this horrendous disaster and huge loss of life, not to mention the impact on Lebanon as a whole.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane.
Spokesman: Okay. Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. A couple of follow‑up questions. On the Safer, are the UN experts ready to go in immediately after given a green light from the Houthis?
And secondly, on South Sudan, what did the UN patrol actually find when it got to the area? There’ve been reports that the casualty toll is much higher than you reported yesterday.
Spokesman: They got there last night. The information of what they found hasn’t percolated back up to us as of yet. If we get… I will try to get something for the afternoon and update you in writing, because I think it’s very important for us to be able to report back what we’ve seen and what we’re actually seeing on the ground.
The team is ready to go as quickly as possible. The critical bits here are for us to get the permissions from the local authorities. But you can imagine, these are highly specialized technicians. We have identified people. They’re on standby and ready to go.
And I think… we’ve talked about the risk of what would happen with this tanker, the ecological risks, the human risk. And now, I think, just what we saw in Beirut just last week is a clear example of what happens when you leave things for too late, when you don’t take action. We’re seeing the ecological damage that’s being caused in Mauritius by the tanker.
We keep warning, but these things are real, and we want to get to the tanker as quickly as possible with all the right permissions.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a question and a few follow‑ups. My question, today, the regional office of UNFPA in Cairo issued a flash appeal for funds for Lebanon, and I expected you to talk about that in the briefing. Can you give us more details about that?
Spokesman: What’s your other question?
Question: The other questions, a follow‑up about my question on Libya and about the young Palestinian who was killed last Friday and [Nickolay] Mladenov did not say anything, and why he’s not… he is keeping silent about that.
And I sent you some information about Libya yesterday and my follow-up to that is: Are they authorized to pinpoint who is in violation of the arms embargo while skipping others? For example, they didn’t mention Russia or the Emirates, which they came, both, in the… in the expert team’s report. But these three countries only spoke about three companies, one in Jordan, one in Kazakhstan and one in Turkey, and they did not talk about others…
Spokesman: I think those are really questions for Member States. What is important for us is that the embargo be respected, and it’s the responsibility of all Member States to ensure that the embargo is respected.
And on UNFPA, yes, they’ve launched a flash appeal… we did mention what UNFPA is doing on the ground, and also they’re launching a flash appeal, urgently appealing for $19.6 million to meet the life‑saving needs of women and girls impacted by the explosion.
On the other issue, as I mentioned to you yesterday, our understanding is that our colleagues at the Office for Human Rights based in Jerusalem are looking into the facts surrounding this… the facts of what happened.
Okay. Kristen Saloomey?
Question: Hi there, Stéphane. Just following up on Lebanon, can you explain for us why the Secretary‑General thinks drones would be helpful in this case and what steps he thinks could be taken to strengthen the mandates? It would be helpful to hear that from you.
Spokesman: Look, as I mentioned, the situation along the Blue Line… keeping the calm along the Blue Line is critical to regional peace and security. We want to have a strong and clear mandate from the Security Council for UNIFIL to do its work. Obviously, that would include all the tools that we feel are needed to do that mandate.
We’ve deployed drones in other parts. I think we’ve made it clear to the Security Council what we need, and it is now up to them to act.
Question: But just to clarify, you don’t think the mandate needs to change in order to obtain…
Spokesman: I think the… our recommendations have been made very clear to the Security Council. Okay.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yeah, you know already what it is about. It’s Mario Paciolla and the situation in Colombia. I just want to read you very briefly the statement that the Italian Foreign Minister released to the press in English, and it was this, about the conversation of Minister Di Maio had with the Secretary‑General.
In a passage, they say, “The Minister expressed the strong Italian expectation that the competent Colombian authorities can continue to count on the full cooperation of the United Nations to reach a rapid solution of the case.”
My question is, it looks from… from what I’m reading, it looks like the Minister had the conversation with the Secretary‑General [Antonio] Guterres to make sure that the UN was helping the Colombian authority and not the way around… and not the other way around. So, I… is it just my impression or… and this is my question. And then if you can help me again, any new information that you have if you going to help?
Spokesman: Stefano, you’re asking me to interpret the motives of the Italian Foreign Minister, what he wanted to achieve with that call. That’s not my job. I’m not… there are other spokespeople in Rome who are paid to do that. That’s not what I’m here to do.
What I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General assured the Foreign Minister that we are providing our utmost support to the ongoing Colombian investigation into Mario’s death, and we would do the same with an Italian investigation.
Okay. Lenka, please.
Question: Thank you. Please, I got a question. In today’s debate on pandemics, one of the Council members proposed that the UN Secretariat should prepare some kind of policy brief on the impact of sanctions on the struggle against COVID. What does the Secretary‑General think about this request? And is he going to follow up on this? Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes. I mean, we always act and follow the requests of the Security Council. So, we will wait to get formal notification, but we will… if anything formally comes to the Security Council, we will act upon it.
Question: Thanks, Steph. I may have missed it, but did you see any reaction from WHO about the Russian team who discovered a vaccine to fight the coronavirus epidemic… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think… WHO, I think, has commented on it. I would ask you to check with them or check their website.
Spokesman: Pamela, you had a follow‑up.
Question: Yes. Thanks, Steph. If I understand you correctly from what you answered on Edie’s question, the request you made for Yemen for assessment and repair of the Safer tanker off Yemen was for assessment, repair mission. They responded with questions, and that’s what is the next step before anything happens… [cross talk]
Spokesman: We need their permission to go.
Question: Right. Of course.
Spokesman: And we…
Question: So, while we’re… [cross talk]
Spokesman: They’ve asked us questions, which are legitimate questions, and then we are doing… and we’re answering those questions and bring whatever clarification we need, but we do feel that the clock is ticking.
Question: So, I’m sorry. My actual question is, can you clarify a little bit about what those questions were or, you know, how… what they’re concerned about?
Spokesman: No, I don’t want to get into the details of the discussions we’re having. They needed some clarity about the experts. And, obviously, we would only get the top‑flight experts to deal with this, and they had other questions.
Whatever questions they have, we’re answering and we’re answering as quickly as possible, and we’re awaiting the final answer from them.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Okay. Martin Wang, please. Martin?
Okay. I don’t hear you.
Evelyn. Sorry, I missed you. Sorry, Evelyn. Go ahead.
Correspondent: Hello. Can you hear me?
Question: Hi. I realize that in Lebanon, the emergency situation takes priority, but is anyone working on long‑term reconstruction at the UN or elsewhere?
Spokesman: Yes, it’s already being thought about. There’s an urgent humanitarian need, which we’re dealing with. And, obviously, working with the Lebanese authorities, there’s already thinking going on about reconstruction.
Question: Who’s doing that thinking?
Spokesman: Well, the UN and, obviously, in partnership with the Lebanese authorities.
Question: Who in the UN, anyone in particular or everybody…?
Spokesman: The UN team on the ground. We have… as part of their team, there are people that deal with longer-term issues, and they’re doing that.
Martin Wang, Martin had a question, which I’m… he’s texting to me: Has the Secretary‑General expressed his concern about the rising tensions between China and the United States lately?
Yes, I think the… it is not new that the Secretary‑General has been concerned and worried about the growing tensions between the United States and China, two permanent members of the Security Council, and the impact that has had and that could have on the work of the United Nations, on the work of the Security Council. It is very important that these two important countries, the two largest economies in the world, work in a spirit of cooperation and coordination, especially when it comes to the work of the United Nations.
Okay. I think I’ve answered all of your questions for today at least. We shall see you tomorrow.
Correspondent: I have a question. I… I wrote mine in.
Spokesman: Oh, yes, Abdelhamid. Yes, sorry.
Question: It’s a follow‑up. I asked this question to Mr. Farhan Haq last week. There are many UN staffs… prior staff and current staff in Lebanon. Because of the financial crisis prior to the explosion, their funds had been frozen. They could not have access to their funds, and they wrote a letter to the Secretary‑General. The Secretary‑General referred the letter to Ján Kubiš to solve the problem.
I want to… if you have any update on the issue or… I know it’s not the time, but it’s an ongoing problem. Some of these staff, they have obligations to pay, like mortgages and other things. And they’ve been knocking on the door of the UN for several months now, and the issue has not been solved. Can you update us on that or give us some answers, please?
Spokesman: Listen, we’re working and we were working prior to the explosion — we’ll continue to do so — with the relevant authorities in Lebanon to make sure that all current and former staff get access to their own funds, to the funds that they have a right to have access to.
Okay? Just to let you know, we are working to have David Beasley on. If all goes well, we may have him on on Friday, and we hope to have Filippo Grandi on the following week. Okay?
At this time, I actually bid you adieu, and we’ll talk later. Bye.