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.  Happy soggy Monday.

**Launch of World Food Week

A bit later on, we will be joined by our guest, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit.  She will brief you on the launch of World Food Day, which is on 16 October, and of a year-long global dialogue on food systems, which will culminate in a Summit in 2021.

In a video message in which he launched World Food Week, the Secretary-General reminded us all that the systems that bring food to our tables have a profound impact on our economies, our health and the environment.

This year, he added, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our food systems.  Millions more people are hungry, and millions of jobs have been lost.

Food systems can also be the key to tackling the climate crisis and to building healthier societies, the Secretary-General said.  He called for global engagement and action for inclusive and sustainable food systems.

**Fifth Committee

Just a bit earlier today, the Secretary-General personally introduced the proposed programme budget for 2021 to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, the budget committee.

He told Committee members that, even as the pandemic continues to affect people around the world, the United Nations is open for business, with staff running this Organization from thousands of dining tables and home offices.

We are continuing our emphasis on development, including by sustaining an increase of 10 per cent that the Secretary-General had proposed last year for the regular programme for technical cooperation, to support Member States in their development efforts.

We are also investing in a communication strategy that has become more important in the context of the pandemic and investing in our IT infrastructure, which is critical to ensuring business continuity to deal with the demands of the pandemic and how it has changed the way we work.

The Secretary-General said, to fully implement the mandates entrusted to us, the UN will require a total of $2.99 billion, which represents a net reduction of 2.8 per cent compared to last year, despite additional initiatives and mandated activities.  This includes a net decrease of 25 posts.

He has also warned that the liquidity crisis has not abated and severely hampers the United Nations ability to fulfil its obligations to the people we serve.


Over the weekend, you saw that the Secretary-General issued a statement welcoming the agreement on a humanitarian ceasefire announced in Moscow by the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Today, I can tell you that we are very disappointed to receive reports of ceasefire violations from the region and consider such violations unacceptable.  The Secretary-General condemns any targeting and attacks against civilian-populated areas anywhere and regrets the loss of life and injuries.

The Secretary-General again reminds the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to refrain from any action that could also risk widening the fighting beyond the immediate zone.

We also stress that we call on all parties again to fulfil their agreements to a humanitarian ceasefire and other commitments announced in Moscow.  We also share the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ alarm at the suffering of civilians.  We remain ready to respond to any humanitarian needs if so requested.


And just a quick update on the travels of our friend, [the Special Envoy for Yemen] Martin Griffiths, and I know you’ve asked about him.  The Special Envoy for Yemen is currently on a visit to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to meet with Yemeni and Saudi officials, including President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, as part of his efforts to advance the negotiations on the Joint Declaration.  That Declaration, you’ll recall, aims to have the parties agree on a nationwide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process.

The Special Envoy has so far met with the Speaker of the Parliament, Sultan Al-Barakani, and representatives of the Hadramout Inclusive Conference.

We’ll have more on that tomorrow, I hope.


On Libya, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Stephanie Williams, announced over the weekend the resumption of inclusive intra-Libyan talks, based on Security Council resolution 2510 (2020).

In view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and in order to protect the health of the participants, the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum will be held according to a hybrid formula, through a series of virtual sessions as well as face-to-face meetings. 

The overall objective of the Political Dialogue Forum will be to generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections in the shortest possible timeframe in order to restore Libya’s sovereignty, as well as the democratic legitimacy of Libyan institutions.

In advance of the in-person political talks in Tunisia, the UN Mission will convene participants of the Political Dialogue Forum through preparatory virtual meetings, starting on 26 October.  And the UN will then hold direct, face-to-face talks between delegations of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission in Geneva beginning on 19 October, with thanks to the hospitality of the Government of Switzerland.


And just a quick note from Syria, where our humanitarian colleagues say three people reportedly died, 79 others were injured and hospitalized and as many as 25,000 people may have been displaced following dozens of recent wildfires in coastal regions of Lattakia, Tartous and Homs.

At least 156 wildfires were reported in the three governorates, with significant spread reported across several areas on 9 and 10 October.  Local authorities said yesterday that all the fires had been contained but the risk of reignition remains in some areas.

Early estimates indicate that up to 140,000 people may have been impacted by the damage.

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are coordinating with authorities and humanitarian partners to help develop a contingency response plan.


And a couple of climate-related notes.

This morning, the Secretary-General addressed — via video message — the fourth meeting of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.

He said the pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the even greater climate emergency faced by all nations.  He told ministers that their recovery plans will determine the course of the next 30 years.

The Secretary-General said the world needs finance ministers to align COVID recovery and stimulus plans with the goals of the Paris Agreement, to end fossil fuel subsidies, invest in green jobs and not bail out polluting industries.

Those remarks have been shared with you.


On a related note, our colleagues at the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction today published a report which says there has been a dramatic rise in disasters over the last 20 years, explained by a rise in climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events.

The last twenty years have seen the number of major floods more than double.  The report also records major increases in storms, drought, wildfires and extreme temperature events.

Over the last 20 years, major recorded disaster events claimed 1.23 million lives, impacting 4.2 billion people, many on more than one occasion, resulting in approximately almost $3 trillion in global economic losses.

The agency says that disaster management agencies are fighting an uphill battle against an ever-rising tide of extreme weather events.  More lives are being saved but more people are being impacted by the expanding climate emergency.

**Burkina Faso

Turning to Burkina Faso, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), is in Burkina Faso today, where he is starting a week-long pre-electoral mission.

The mission is part of his office’s activities in support of the organization of peaceful, inclusive and transparent presidential and legislative elections.  The elections are scheduled to take place on 22 November in Burkina Faso.  During his visit, he will meet those involved in the electoral process, and we will keep you updated on the mission.


A quick note from Zimbabwe, where our colleagues there, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, marked the [International Day of the Girl] by calling for the protection of girls since they are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to boys.

Girls in Zimbabwe face myriad challenges, including gender-based discrimination that results in fewer opportunities in education, training and employment.

By the of age 19, when most children are expected to be starting their university or tertiary education, half of the girls in Zimbabwe are already married.  Girls and young women under the age of 24 account for one in three maternal deaths in Zimbabwe.

The UN team, along with our partners, are supporting national efforts to boost education, skills training, protection of children, support for those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as food security.

Through the Spotlight Initiative, the UN is working with the Government, civil society and communities to eliminate violence against women and girls.

**International Day of the Girl

On a related note, yesterday was the International Day of the Girl.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that this year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of the pandemic and resurgent movements for social justice.

He said that this year’s theme, “My Voice: Our Equal Future”, calls on us to amplify the voices of adolescent girls and put their needs at the forefront of laws, policies and practices in every country and community around the world.

The Secretary-General noted that the gaps between girls and boys remain unacceptably wide, but that it doesn’t have to be this way.

His full message is online.

**Girls’ Education

Our colleagues at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) announced the winners of this year’s Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education.

The Shilpa Sayura Foundation is being awarded for helping increase young women’s participation in the emerging technology sector in Sri Lanka, while the Girl Child Network of Kenya is being recognized for advancing access to quality primary school education for vulnerable children, including girls, in Kenya’s hardest-to-reach areas.

**Human Rights

And I just want to flag the launch of a new study on the contribution of the UN’s human rights components to the implementation [of the mandates] of UN field missions.

Titled “Going Further Together,” the study presents case studies and analyses from different peacekeeping missions. 

The launch of the event is up on the UN WebTV portal as we speak.

**Questions and Answers

Madame, since you are the first and only in the room. 

Question:  Can I ask my question in French then?

Spokesman:  Well, let's ask… ask it in both languages, and I'll answer it in both languages.  How about that?

Question:  Okay.   It's about Mali.  As you know, 200 jihadists have been freed in exchange for the life of three or four hostages.  What I would like to know is, the UN Mission (MINUSMA), does it represent a danger for them?  Will it be more difficult for them to work there?

Spokesman:  I'll answer in English and then French.

Question:  I did not…

Spokesman:  Okay.  So… okay.  The situation in Mali is a highly complex one, as we've seen over and over again.  Our peacekeepers are targets.  There was an incident on Friday where, I think, three peacekeepers were severely wounded by an IED (improvised explosive device), I'm not mistaken.

We welcomed the release of the civilians who had been kept hostage, including the opposition politician, Mr. [Soumaila] Cissé, but we were not involved at all in this, quote‑unquote, exchange.  So, I will leave it at that. 

Question:  But the Mission, what does it mean for their work…?

Spokesman:  I think that's… listen, it would not be a wrong analysis to take, but I will leave the analysis up to the analysts. 

Okay.  Let's see.  Hold on.  I don't have any trusty…  okay.  If you have a question, wave.  Edie, go ahead.  Sorry, because I don't have the chat here.  Oh.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I actually have two questions.  First, on Belarus, more than 700 protesters were detained and dozens were reportedly injured in a protest yesterday against the Government and the election of the sitting President, who’s still there.  It was said that this was the largest number of detentions so far.  I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comment, and then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, we've been keeping a close eye on the situation in Belarus.  I think we're concerned by some of the violence that we've seen.  It is imperative that people have the right to demonstrate freely, that security services need to show restraint, to ensure people can exercise the right to demonstrate freely.

I think, as the Secretary‑General has said on a number of occasions, it is very important that there be an inclusive democratic dialogue involving all stakeholders in Belarus to try to get out of this crisis.  And I would add that over… since the beginning of this crisis, our team on the ground, our Resident Coordinator has been engaging…  has been urging the authorities to release everyone who's been detained for exercising their human rights and to stop torture and other forms of ill‑treatment of detainees.

Your second question?

You're muted, Edie.  Sorry, go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  I know that the Secretary‑General has been very concerned about the plight of migrants in Libya.  Doctors Without Borders said…  has said over the weekend that a Libyan armed group is holding hostage at least 60 migrants, including two dozen children, in appalling conditions after abducting them over two weeks ago.  I wonder if he had a comment on this particular situation.

Spokesman:  First of all, we would call for the immediate release of all refugees and migrants who are being detained by armed groups.  I think we’ve all seen the very good reporting that’s been done by journalists.  We've seen the reports by our own people of just the tragic, tragic fate of these most vulnerable people, which, as the Secretary‑General has said, goes to show that just… Libya is not a safe port of disembarkation for migrants or for refugees. 

And our focus… I mean, we… this is one more reason why the parties in Libya and the international community needs to fully support this political dialogue, the 5+5 military talks that… whose aim is basically to unify the governance in Libya, to restore the rule of law in Libya, and to ensure tragedies like this do not happen again.

James Reinl, and then Toby.  No, you're muted, James. 

Question:  Am I back?  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  I can hear you, and I can see you. 

Question:  Great stuff.  Hi there.  It's a question about the Lebanon‑Israel maritime talks, which is starting on Wednesday.  We've got the names of all the delegates from the Israeli and the Lebanese side now as of today.  I'm wondering if there’s an update from you guys today.

Spokesman:  No.  No updates to share to what we’ve already said in terms of how the talks are going to be organised.

Question:  Can I just follow up quickly?  Have you given out the name of the lead UN negotiator on this yet?

Spokesman:  Well, it's not…  the UN is not a negotiator.  The land talks will be done under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping mission.  The maritime… the discussions about maritime will be done in the presence of Ján Kubiš, the UN Special Coordinator, based in Beirut. 

All these discussions will take place in Naqoura in the facilities that UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) has had for years, which enabled them to host, in the past, discussions between the Israeli armed forces… the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Question:  And Kubiš is shuttling between the Lebanese and the Israelis; right?

Spokesman:  They will be…  everybody will be…  as far as I understand it, everybody will be in the same…  the idea is to have somebody in the same room.

Question:  Mm.  And also the American, David Schenker, is going to be there.  So who…  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  There will be an American presence, very much so.

Question:  And who…

Spokesman:  Americans are…  the Americans are convening and are in the lead in these talks.

Question:  Okay.  That's great.  That's everything.  One final… one final silly thing.  If you can get Kubiš for a video briefing with us at some point, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, it would be really appreciated by everyone, I'm sure.

Spokesman:  Roger that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Toby.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Do you have any more colour on the budget adjustment presented by the Secretary‑General?  And were considerations for projections of the effect of COVID‑19 included in the…  this budget that went down 2.8 or 2.9 per cent?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Can you just repeat the first part of your question?

Question:  Just any more information on what the budget adjustments were for this year.

Spokesman:  You mean the re‑costing…?  No, I don’t have the budget set…  the re‑costing for this year.  Obviously, I think, as we’ve said here, we’ve had increased costs, especially in IT, given the strain on the system.  But I'll see if I can get you some re‑costing on that.

All right.  Yes, Iftikhar, please, and then we’ll go to our guests. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Since the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan is being repeatedly violated, does the Secretary‑General plan to resume his contacts with the two sides?

Spokesman:  We have been in touch with the various parties at different levels.  We would encourage them to live up to what was agreed in Moscow under the leadership of the Russian Federation, the Russian Foreign Minister.  The agreement was agreed to.  People need to live up to that agreement and also the…  also just want to reiterate our concern on the reports we're seeing of targeting of civilian areas.

That’s…  okay.  Any other questions?  Okay.

For information media. Not an official record.