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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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.


As I was just saying, we will have Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, join us shortly to speak about his briefing on the Security Council.  And he just, in fact he is or he just has spoken to Council members. 

Also briefing on Yemen, the Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, and in his remarks Mr. Lowcock warned that experts are increasingly worried that the window to prevent famine in Yemen is closing quickly.  To prevent this, he said Yemen needs a nationwide ceasefire and a political solution.  That, he said, would help move the country back from the edge of famine. 

And as I mentioned we will have Mr. Griffiths here.

Also this morning, the Security Council also renewed the mandate of Haiti’s UN Integrated Office (BINUH) for another year and adopted a presidential statement on Mali.


As you will have seen, we issued earlier today a statement from the Secretary-General on corruption in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said the response to the virus is creating new opportunities to exploit weak oversight and inadequate transparency, diverting funds away from people in their hour of greatest need.

The Secretary-General said we must work together to stop thievery and exploitation by clamping down on illicit financial flows and tax havens; tackling vested interests that benefit from secrecy and corruption; and exercising utmost vigilance on how resources are spent nationally. 

“Together, we must create more robust systems for accountability, transparency and integrity without delay,” he said, and he urged all Governments to use the tools provided by the United Nations Convention against Corruption. 


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, is in Khartoum today to engage with Sudanese authorities in advance of next week’s Security Council session on resolution 2046 (2012), and that is scheduled for Thursday, 22 October. 

So far, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga has met with the Prime Minister, the Chair of the Sovereign Council as well as other Ministers, including the Defence and Foreign Affairs. 

This evening, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga will meet with members of the South Sudanese mediation team.  He will leave Khartoum tomorrow.

**South Sudan

And talking about South Sudan, 800,000 people there have been affected by flooding since July.  The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $10 million to provide life-saving assistance to 360,000 of the most vulnerable people. 

These funds are in addition to the $10 million released earlier by the Humanitarian Coordinator through the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund to kickstart the flood response.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that an additional $46 million is required to respond to the immediate needs due to the floods through the end of 2020. 

Even though most people affected by flooding have been reached with food aid and more than 100,000 people have received support in areas such as health and shelter, much more assistance is needed, with many still displaced.

Our colleagues also call for increased investment in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to avoid a repeat of [the same] crisis year after year. 


And Ifthikar I think you had asked me about Afghanistan and our, the update that I can tell you is that the situation in the south of the country is that fighting that began on… [inaudible] well that’s a good thing.  Excuse me, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that fighting that began on 11 October between the Afghan National Security Forces and a non-State armed group continued with sporadic clashes reported today, near Lashkargah city in Helmand Province. 

The highway between western Afghanistan and Kandahar has reportedly been re-opened after being blocked due to the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDS) and some armed clashes.  The highway between Kandahar and Lashkargah remains closed.  The lack of telephone networks continues to impact information flow.

Reports indicate that three health facilities have been occupied by parties to the conflict.  The UN and our partner organizations are working with local authorities to resolve this situation. 

According to initial estimates by local authorities, 35,000 people have been displaced in Lashkargah City.  Yesterday, four joint UN and humanitarian assessment teams were deployed to assess and verify needs. 

Humanitarian organizations in the city are ready to cover immediate needs, including water, sanitation and hygiene services, non-food items, tents, food and the provision of medical services.  


I’ve been asked about the ongoing protests in Nigeria and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is following the protests in Nigeria calling for the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and an end to human rights violations allegedly committed by security agencies.  The Secretary-General stresses the importance of respect for peaceful protests and freedom of assembly and calls on the security forces to exercise maximum restraint in the policing of the demonstrations.

The Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the Government of Nigeria to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Unit and undertake broader police reforms.  He expresses the readiness of the United Nations to accompany Nigeria in those efforts.

**COVID-19 — Namibia

And an update from Namibia where our colleagues are working to help the Government combat the COVID-19 pandemic.  The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Sen Pang, is supporting authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address its socioeconomic impacts.  We have secured nearly $2 million to support the health response through procuring medical supplies and boosting treatment capacity.

To protect the environment and families who depend on it for a living, we are supporting the national response to drought.  To keep communal conservancies open and to combat poaching and deforestation, the UN Development Programme launched an e-commerce platform for rural communities impacted by the slowdown in eco-tourism. 

**COVID-19 — Asia-Pacific

From the Asia-Pacific region, a new UN report says that comprehensive social protection systems are necessary in the fight against COVID-19, but are lacking in many countries of the region, despite their rapid socioeconomic ascent. 

Half of the people in the Asia-Pacific region have no social protection coverage, and the report urges Governments to increase their investments to address poverty and improve health systems, among others. 

**COVID-19 — Handwashing Facilities

And UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) today warned that although handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against the virus, millions of people around the world have no ready access to a place to wash their hands. 

According to the latest estimates, only three out of five people worldwide have basic handwashing facilities.  Forty per cent of the world’s population, which is about 3 billion people, do not have a handwashing facility with soap and water at home. 

UNICEF also pointed out that 43 per cent of schools lack hand basins with water and soap, and that impacts 818 million school-age children. 


Turning to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today noted Israel’s advance of nearly 5,000 housing units in the West Bank and he said that settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace.

This significant number and location of advancements is of great concern to all those who remain committed to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, he added.  Such moves undermine the prospect of achieving a viable two-State solution by systematically eroding the possibility of establishing a contiguous and independent Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. 

Mr. Mladenov called on the authorities to cease immediately all settlement-related activities. 


Just to remind you that yesterday we issued a statement from the Secretary-General welcoming the launch of discussions on the delineation of the Lebanon-Israel maritime boundary, following the framework agreement announced on 1 October of this year.     


And yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed members of the Security Council. 

He said that after almost four years after the conclusion of the negotiations that led to the Final Peace Agreement, there have been historic and undeniable achievements along the way, but enormous challenges remain. 

He also said [that while] there has been an overall reduction of violence since the signing of the Agreement, some areas in the country continue to suffer from attacks to human rights defenders, former combatants and entire communities. 

His full statement was shared with you.

**Rural Women

Today is the International Day of Rural Women.  This year’s theme is “Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19.”

In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that rural women play a critical role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, building climate resilience, and managing land and natural resources.  However, he said that many suffer from discrimination, systemic racism and structural poverty. 

The Secretary-General called for investing so that rural women can have access to the health care, social protection and agricultural information services they need. 

**Press Briefings Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I am delighted to announce that our guest will be David Beasley, who heads the Nobel [Peace] Prize winning World Food Programme (WFP).  We will start off right at noon with him; then, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a virtual briefing by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. 

Okay.  Perfect. 

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A couple of questions.  First, on Yemen, we’ve heard what Martin Griffiths had to say about the release of detainees.  Does the Secretary‑General have any additional comment on that?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say again.  I’m sorry… 

Question:  On Yemen, we heard what Martin Griffiths had to say…

Spokesman:  I think Mart…  we welcome all these latest developments, which are clearly a positive step, but you’ll have a chance to ask Martin, as well.

Question:  Well, we know what he said…  I was asking what the Secretary‑General had…

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yeah, I understand.

Question:  Secondly, I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any comments on the student…  ongoing student protests in Thailand and the Government’s announcement of very strict measures.

Spokesman:  Look, it’s…  in different places around the world, we’re seeing demonstrations, and the answer is the same, and it’s within the basic principles of the UN, which is that people have a fundamental right to express themselves, to demonstrate peacefully, to speak up.  It is incumbent on authorities to allow people to do so, to give them the space to do so, and to use restraint when exercising…  to use restraint if they feel there is violence in the demonstrations.  I think, if you’ll remember a few weeks ago, the Secretary‑General, in a message, was very clear that no one should be arrested or go to jail for their political views.

Question:  And just a third and final one on Kyrgyzstan, the President resigned, and I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any comment on that in relation to the protests that have been going on.

Spokesman:  Yes.  We’re, obviously, following the fast‑moving situation in Kyrgyzstan closely.  We have taken note of the appointment of Sadyr Japarov as Prime Minister yesterday, as well as his assumption of presidential functions earlier today, following the resignation of the President. 

In light of recent developments, we encourage all relevant Kyrgyzstani actors to ensure that decisions on the way forward for the country are being reached in an inclusive and transparent manner, in line with the Kyrgyz Constitution and relevant frameworks.

I would add that the Special Representative for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, had a visit planned to Kyrgyzstan.  She arrived in Bishkek not long ago this evening.  And tomorrow she will start to engage with relevant actors in support of what is, obviously, a peaceful solution to the current situation.

Mr. Bays and then Evelyn, and then we’ll go the to…

Question:  Quick follow‑up on that.  She had a meeting planned with the President, which clearly won’t go ahead now that he’s resigned, but she now has a meeting with the Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  Right.  The situation is fluid.  I think she landed.  They’re working on her agenda.  She will [make an] effort to meet all the key actors, but obviously, some of the people she had planned to meet no longer hold the function.

Question:  And a follow‑up on one of the things I asked you yesterday, which was about next year’s election in Uganda and claims of intimidation against the main opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, and a police raid on his campaign office in which, apparently, signatures that he needs to take part in the election were stolen or taken.

Spokesman:  I think in…  this goes for any country.  It is important that people be able to participate in elections that organize in a free and fair manner.

Let’s go…  sorry.  Let’s…  Evelyn, and then we’ll go to the screen.

Question:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Okay.  How are you, Steph?

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

Question:  Oh, yes.  I can see you too for a change, in person. 

The famous tanker in Yemen, I didn’t hear Mr. Griffiths’ speech mention it.  Does the SG have anything to say?

Spokesman:  No, there’s no…  I mean, I didn’t have a chance — and it’s my bad — to read Mark Lowcock’s remarks, if he mentioned it, but I don’t…  if there was a big update to announce, we would have shared with you.

Question:  Okay.  And secondly, is there a reason why there’s a rush to housing…  [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s rush to housing in the West Bank?  Is it to head off a [Joseph] Biden victory or is it…

Spokesman:  That is a question that is not for me to answer.  I speak for one person, and that’s the Secretary‑General of the United Nations.

Toby, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I’m just wondering, since UN Day is coming up on 24 October, if there’s anything special planned or if you can clue us in to what’s happening for that occasion.

Spokesman:  There is a concert that is being planned, which will take place here.  We’ll share more information with you on that.  And I was going to throw it to my friend Brenden [Varma], but he’s saying no.  We’ll have more…  We can share more information on that, but it will be held in a socially distant and safe manner.  And we’ll be releasing, obviously, some messages and statements from the Secretary‑General.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I…  do you have any update on those children and families left behind after the defeat of ISIL?  There were about probably 70,000 of them divided between Syria and Lebanon.  Some European countries refused to repatriate those children, denied them nationality.  And the UN was trying to convince countries to repatriate the children of their citizens.  So, what…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, it’s a very…  

Question:  Do you have update?

Spokesman:  It’s a very important and valid question.  I will admit I do not have an update, but I will try to secure one for you.

All right.  I don’t see any more questions in my chat.  I will turn it over to Mr. Varma, and then we will give you a few minutes’ heads‑up as soon as Martin is ready, but I understand he’s still in the Council chamber.  For those of you here…

Correspondent:  I have…  I have a question.

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry.  Iftikhar.  Sorry.  I will unmask myself, and I will answer your question.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, for the information you gave about the situation in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, but beyond that, is anything being done to resolve this conflict and put an end to this fighting?

And also, number two, is there any special factors that led the Secretary‑General to issue a special statement on corruption?

Spokesman:  Well, I think this is something that the Secretary‑General has spoken about before in a number of the policy briefs and is something that is of great concern to him.  As often in crises, whether locally or internationally, we see criminal elements take advantage of the situation.  And this is…  I think, if you look at his statement, it’s very broad because the problem is very broad and is cutting across the COVID‑19 response and is, frankly, hampering our ability to deal with it with the resources that we need.

In terms of Afghanistan, the discussions are ongoing, as you know, between the Taliban and the Government.  We are being briefed and kept abreast of those discussions.  And obviously, it is important that what comes out of it is a peaceful future for the Afghan people and to make sure that the gains that have been achieved, especially in terms of women and vulnerable groups and children, are…  on human rights are fully respected.

Okay.  Thank you.  For those of you here, we will try…  we’ll give a squawk before Martin comes in. 

Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.