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.
**Secretary-General - Côte d’Ivoire
All right. Good afternoon. I will start off with the statement on Côte d’Ivoire. On the eve of the presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary‑General calls on all Ivorians to ensure that the polls are conducted in a peaceful manner. The Secretary‑General urges all political and opinion leaders and their supporters to refrain from inciting violence, spreading misinformation and using hate speech. He encourages the authorities, including the security forces, to provide a safe and secure environment and to protect and uphold human rights throughout the electoral process. The Secretary‑General strongly encourages the political leaders and their parties to resolve any disputes that may arise through dialogue and he reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the country’s efforts to consolidate democratic gains and national cohesion.
**Central African Republic
Turning to the Central African Republic: today, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, wrapped up a three‑day visit to the country, as part of a joint mission with Smaїl Chergui, the African Union Commission Peace and Security Commissioner, as well as the President of the Economic Community of Central African States [Commission] (ECCAS), Gilberto Da Piedade Veríssimo. They met with the President, Government officials, and a broad range of civil society actors to discuss the electoral process and the implementation of the Political Agreement signed last year.
In a statement issued today, the three called on national stakeholders to promote dialogue and consensus for the holding of peaceful, free, inclusive and transparent elections. They reiterated that the Political Agreement remains the primary framework for restoring and sustaining peace in the country. They also acknowledged progress and invited signatories to redouble efforts to implement the Agreement. The three principals also condemned violence perpetrated by some armed groups against civilian population, humanitarian personnel and UN peacekeepers, calling [on] them to adhere to the Secretary‑General’s global ceasefire. They also expressed their solidarity to the people and Government of the Central African Republic in their fight against COVID‑19. Mr. Lacroix will travel to Portugal next week, where he will meet with Government officials and is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at a conference on the twentieth anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), on women, peace and security.
In a decision taken independently of the United Nations, the Government of Iraq has announced its intention to close multiple camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the end of 2020. Several camp closures and consolidations have taken place within the last several days, and the Government has signalled that more should be expected. We are supporting IDP returns that are safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable. The UN maintains its mandate to coordinate with the Government on issues of humanitarian assistance, and it is working to ensure that IDPs who have left camps and are returning home have access to necessary support while en route and upon arrival. We are also tracking developments closely and have been in constant communication with the Government of Iraq on planning for longer‑term durable solutions for all vulnerable internally displaced people in the country.
And a quick update for you from Viet Nam, where Typhoon Molave has made landfall this week. We are told by our humanitarian colleagues that nearly 70 people have reportedly died or are still missing. Together with our partners and the Government, we are collecting information on the full extent of the damage. Some 375,000 people are in evacuation centres, many of which are overcrowded, with no access to water, sanitation, and health care, which of course, will increase the risk of the spread of COVID‑19.
We, along with our partners, in support of the Government‑led response efforts, have distributed household and relief kits, food, water purification packets and cash assistance. The UN country team is developing a response plan and is providing support in the areas of information management, reporting and resource mobilization.
For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has made more than $500,000 available for immediate support for women and girls. The agency distributed dignity kits and provided vital maternal health equipment, such as Doppler Fetal Heart Rate Detectors. UNFPA is also supporting the delivery of mobile and outreach sexual and reproductive health services.
And the latest report of the Secretary‑General on the “Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of UN Personnel” is out today. In it, the Secretary‑General says that during the past 18 months, a total of 52 UN personnel lost their lives owing to acts of violence and safety‑related incidents. The report also highlights that while UN and humanitarian personnel continued their work despite the adverse operational and security impact of the pandemic, they face security threats from armed conflict, crime, civil unrest and violent extremism to xenophobia and disinformation.
And the UN Department of Peace Operations announced today that this year’s UN Woman Police Officer of the Year Award will go to Chief Inspector Doreen Malambo of Zambia, who currently serves with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Chief Inspector Malambo is a Gender Adviser in Juba and has worked with the UN Population Fund to establish the “Stand Up for Rights of Women and Girls” initiative, which has helped to reduce and prevent sexual and gender‑based crime in South Sudan. The Chief Inspector has also created a network of groups led by male local police officers to engage other men in the community to disseminate information and promote the protection and advancement of the rights of women and girls. She also contributed to the UN Mission’s efforts to disseminate information on COVID‑19 prevention to vulnerable communities, including those with disabilities. There will be a virtual award ceremony on 3 November. That will be on the UN webcast and we congratulate the Chief Inspector.
**COVID-19 - Brazil
And a quick update from what our country teams are doing around the world to help support governments’ efforts to battle the pandemic. Today from Brazil, where we return to learn that the team, led by Resident Coordinator Niky Fabiancic, continues to support the authorities in their response.
In the Amazon, the UN Population Fund provided reproductive health support to 80,000 women, while the International Organization for Migration (IOM) contributed mobile clinics and hundreds of medical consultations and hygiene kits to indigenous communities, refugees and migrants. UN‑Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) has facilitated access to hearing test services for people with disabilities and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) provided hand‑washing education and kits to hundreds of children.
The UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency), for its part, is providing cash assistance and shelter to refugees and migrants while helping small business owners in refugee communities keep their businesses open. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) produced information materials to support the authorities in efforts to stop the spread of COVID‑19 in prisons. To recover better from the pandemic, the UN team and the civil society organizations are encouraging municipalities to use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework ahead of the upcoming local elections.
**World Cities Day
I want to flag that tomorrow, besides being Saturday, is also World Cities Day, and this year the theme is “Valuing Our Communities and Cities”. In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General said that the value of communities has been brought into sharp focus during the response to COVID‑19 and that cities have borne the brunt of the pandemic. The Secretary‑General stresses that our rapidly urbanizing world must respond effectively to this pandemic and prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks. He points out that as we rebuild from the pandemic and engage in the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development, we have an opportunity to reset how we live and interact, and local action is the key. For him, when urban communities are engaged in policy and decision‑making, and empowered with financial resources, the results are more inclusive and durable.
Once you are done with Brenden [Varma] and with myself, at 3:30 p.m., log on to a virtual end‑of‑presidency briefing by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, of the Russian Federation, who presided over the Security Council for the month of [October].
And on Monday, at 1 p.m., there will be a virtual briefing by the incoming presidency. I am sorry, Ambassador Nebenzia presided the Security Council for the month of October. And on Monday, at 1 p.m., there will be a virtual briefing by the Security Council presidency for November, and that is Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. You will hear from the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, as well as the Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Inga Rhonda King. And they of course will brief you on the programme of work of the Security Council. Madame, and then monsieur.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, what does the Secretary‑General think of the two President… African Presidents, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, who did not… who changed their constitution to get a third mandate, which leads their country to a lot of violent protests? Did he talk to them? Does he think it’s normal?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General has spoken to… a number of times to President [Alassane] Ouattara, to President Alpha Condé. We are where we are. I think what is very important right now is for an avoidance of violence, for dialogue to be had under democratic principles. The elections in Guinea have taken place. The ones in Côte d’Ivoire are about to take place. We’ve expressed our concern, in fact, in both places, about hate speech and violence, and we will be there to support the country.
Question: If I could follow up - so, this is more than just about hate speech. This is about a president seeking to serve a third and a fourth term under a new constitution after having served two terms under an old constitution. So, what does the UN make of presidents like President Ouattara that makes the… make the argument that they are now eligible under a new constitution to continue their mandates as President when they’ve already served the maximum terms under the old constitution?
Spokesman: Look, what is important is that people participate in elections so they can choose their own leaders and that the elections be held in a framework that is truly representative of the country.
Question: Stéph, the United Nations was very much involved in the disputed election when [Laurent] Gbagbo was removed in 2011. Surely… I mean, is that really your statement, given the history of the United Nations and the role that you’ve played in Côte d’Ivoire? Surely, there’s greater concern about this process that’s under way there.
Spokesman: We’ve expressed our concern about what may happen. We will be there with the Ivoirian people to help them consolidate the democratic gains that they’ve… as you say, it’s gone… the country’s gone through a lot of turmoil in the last two decades, and we will be there with the Ivoirian people to support them in whatever way we can.
Question: What about leaders specifically extending their terms?
Spokesman: I’m not going to go beyond what I’ve said.
Correspondent: [Inaudible] They cannot choose freely, as you know. Look what is going on in Guinea right now. All the opponents are in jail or killed.
Spokesman: I will go to the screen. Abdelhamid, I think you had a question.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, issued a strong statement today under the title… it calls for accountability as Israel records highest rate of illegal settlements approval. Does the SG stand behind the Special Rapporteur in such a statement?
Spokesman: Look, two separate things. One, our position against settlements in the occupied territory has been repeated over and over again, has been made publicly and has been made privately. Special rapporteurs are independent. It’s not for the Secretary‑General to opine on what they say. They have a very important role… special rapporteurs globally have a very important role as part of the human rights mechanism. James, and then Edie.
Question: I have a couple of questions for you, Stéph. First, can you hear me okay?
Correspondent: Sorry. I’m just seeing a screen with your BCSS tech.
Spokesman: I can see you. I can see you.
Question: Okay. Fine. Okay. So, first, just update us on the Niger outbreak. Has anyone else tested positive? And have you done enough contact tracing to be sure that the Security Council are all free of COVID? And does that mean that normal meetings can resume on Monday in person?
Spokesman: That’s the trajectory we’re on. There will be a formal recommendation to the President of the General Assembly and the other legislative bodies. I very much expect the meetings to be able to resume on Monday. They will be, for the sake of peace of mind of delegates and for the staff that work here, extra cleaning done over the weekend. I mean, as a reminder, we have been… really since this outbreak, have upgraded our cleaning procedures, hospital‑grade cleaners and all of that. There will be an extra effort over the weekend throughout the building. I think it’s important to note that we have put extensive risk management policies in place since the beginning of the outbreak. And to date, there has been no cases of workplace transmission of COVID‑19 within the United Nations. So, the cases that we’ve mentioned having to do with the… in the past all occurred outside of this building.
Question: Okay. Another quick one for you before my main question, which is an earthquake has taken place affecting Turkey and Greece. Is the UN standing by to give any assistance?
Spokesman: Yes. We’re aware of the quake that hit Izmir. Our humanitarian colleagues, both from various places, have reached out to the Government of Turkey to offer support and to seek information. At this point, our understanding is that Government teams are deployed on the ground to distribute basic needs, and they will also identify further needs. We will continue to be in communication with the authorities and are, of course, standing by to assist as necessary.
Question: And, sorry, to my last question or at least my last subject: UN Day this year in Sri Lanka, the country team invited the country’s Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as… what was described as its chief guest. Now, anyone with any knowledge of human rights knows that former President Rajapaksa is one of the most controversial figures there could be, and many accuse him of being the architect of real human rights abuses in that country. Does the Secretary‑General think it was appropriate to invite him to a UN Day event?
Spokesman: I have not seen any details of the event. Let me look into it, and I’ll get back to you. Edie?
Question: No, I have one more follow‑up on this. After the events in… that’s… then President Rajapaksa presided over in his country, the UN stepped in and set up something called “Human Rights up Front”. Does that still exist? Because some campaign is looking at this believe it’s “Human Rights Abuses up Front” now.
Spokesman: No, there has been and continues to be a strong focus on human rights in all of the UN’s work under the direction of the Secretary‑General. But I will look… I was not aware of this event, but I will look into it for you. Edie?
Question: Thank you very much, Stéph. Tens of thousands of Muslims from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories have been joining anti‑France protests as the French President’s vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Muslim world. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment, any words, any advice to both sides in this growing protest?
Spokesman: Well, I would refer you to what Miguel Moratinos, our Head of the Alliance of Civilizations, said when he expressed his concern, which we share, at the growing tensions of instances of intolerance triggered by the publications of these caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which obvi… as you said, many Muslims consider insulting and deeply offensive. I think these have also provoked acts of violence against innocent people who were attacked for their religion, belief or ethnicity. I think what is important is for a show of mutual respect of all religions and beliefs, fostering a culture of fraternity and peace and that, obviously, the… I think, as Mr. Moratinos said, the freedom of expression… freedom of religion, belief, and the freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing. I will leave it there. Carla?
Question: Yesterday, Jonathan Fowler sent out a report from the Special Rapporteur on privacy, saying that “contact tracing technology to fight COVID‑19… has led to almost incessant and omnipresent surveillance in some parts of the world. This a very disturbing trend; all‑pervasive surveillance is no panacea….” Are you… has this issue been raised before, to your knowledge, at the United Nations and…?
Spokesman: Yes, very much so. I would refer you to the policy paper the Secretary‑General issued over the summer on human rights and COVID, where he expressed exactly that concern of certain governments or national entities using the pretext of COVID to increase surveillance and limit the space for dialogue and for human rights. Okay. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéph. I believe what Edie asked was Secretary‑General’s comments on the situation, but you read out the statement by the High Representative of Alliance of Civilizations. Are those comments that you read… are those of the Secretary‑General or…?
Spokesman: I was referring to what the High Representative issued yesterday or the day before, which the Secretary‑General supports. The High Representative is there to speak globally on these issues. He’s the voice of the UN Secretariat on these issues.
Question: But the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: Okay. Sorry?
Question: But the Secretary‑General does not have a statement of his own.
Spokesman: No, I… listen, we’ve asked… Edie asked me what our position was. I referred to her to what the High Representative said, which embodies the position of the Secretary‑General. Okay?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Varma, all yours. Have a good weekend. See you… oh, just as a…
Question: Stéphane? Stéphane? Stéphane, I have a follow‑up… a follow‑up to James’s question. How it’s possible to raise a physical meeting on Monday when you know that the entire Niger Mission has to observe a quarantine for 14 days?
Spokesman: Well, I’m not saying the Security Council will meet in person. I’m saying if other meetings wish to meet in person. We’ll see what happens with the Security Council. So, I’m just saying our recommendation will likely be that they can resume. Whether these bodies decide to do it or not… I mean, we’re… I’m talking really from a support perspective. It is, obviously, then up to the President of the General Assembly, President of the Security Council, ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] to decide what meetings will take place. But the message is that, should they decide, we will be ready to do so.
Correspondent: Stéph, I also posted a question, Stéph. It’s Pam Falk from CBS.
Spokesman: Okay. I’ll take off my mask. I’m, obviously, staying here for a bit longer. Let’s go. Go ahead, Pam. What was your question?
Question: Thank you. You said that there have been, as far as you know, no cases of in‑UN Headquarters transmission. Have you included diplomats? Have you included UN press corps where there have been several cases? Have you included staff?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, listen, this is from what we know, right, what has been reported to us from people who have a badge and access to this building, within our community, which includes you, which includes the staff, which includes delegates and consultants and people who have access to this building. Our Medical Service tells us there’s been no reported case of community transmission… excuse me, of workplace transmission, which means that…
Question: Based on what?
Spokesman: Based on the information that we have.
Question: Now, have you contacted the UN Correspondents Association? The President said she’s keeping track of how many correspondents…
Spokesman: We very much hope that all the members of the UN Correspondents Association act responsibly, and if there is a case of someone who’s a journalist who’s been in this building and who’s tested positive that they would report it. That is your responsibility, and we hope you live up to that.
Question: Right. They have done that, but I… the… those who have had it, not… I haven’t, but those who have have. And, so, is that included in the medical analysis of in‑Headquarters transmission?
Spokesman: Yes. It’s people who have access to this building. I mean, whether it’s Amanda or you or… I mean, I’m not picking on you, Amanda, but you just happen to be in my line of sight. who… this is our workplace. Right? I mean, we get pay cheques by different people, but this is our shared workplace.
Question: And, so, they’ve included… the medical office has included other diplomats, other missions. There was a Netherlands Mission case since the Niger case. Have they included all of those cases?
Spokesman: All the cases that people report to us, right, and we’re talking about… and people have been responsible. Diplomats have been responsible. Members of staff have been responsible, because we’re not going to beat this unless we’re all responsible in how we behave and also, if we get sick, that we report it to New York State health authorities, New York City, as well as the United Nations if you are still coming into this building.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Did anybody else have another question?
Correspondent: Stéphane, can you hear me? Stéphane?
Spokesman: I see you. Yeah. Yes, Richard.
Question: Hi. I listed a question, but I don’t know what’s going on with the system. One topic, two questions. What is the United Nations’ comment to former UN diplomat Terje Rød‑Larsen resigning as the CEO of the International Peace Institute (IPI) after he admitted accepting money from Jeffrey Epstein for himself and for securing over $650,000 in donations to the IPI? And, second, I know we… you’ve answered Epstein‑related questions over the years, but I would love to catch up and ask, considering that there is a list of names or people in the vast UN system who have either been in Epstein’s presence or some link to him, has the UN ever established a Epstein type of forensic task force to find out just what is the UN’s link to Epstein, responsibility or corruption? Over.
Spokesman: We are not aware of any link between Jeffrey Epstein and any member of… any staff member at the UN. Turning to IPI, I mean, I’ve no particular comment on Mr. Larsen, who presided over the institute and who no longer had a mandate to the UN. But I wanted to just let you know, because the Secretary‑General had been - and past Secretaries‑General, I think since U Thant, if I’m not mistaken, had been Honorary Chairs of the International Peace Institute. And this has been a long‑serving tradition, which did not carry any executive function or responsibility. In line with the recommendations of a review by the Secretariat of all honorary engagements of the Secretary‑General, in light of their consistency with the status, the independence and the duties of the Office of the Secretary‑General, it’s been decided for the Secretary‑General not to serve, whether in an honorary, advisory, or other capacity, in the governance of any outside entity. This was communicated to the International Peace Institute last week. And I need to stress that this does not affect the UN’s collaboration with IPI on matters of mutual concern. Did you have another question? I think I answered both. Okay. All right. Anybody else? Yes, Carla.
Question: The Secretary‑General’s report… [Inaudible]
Spokesman: Google “UN Secretary‑General coronavirus policy briefs”. It will take you to a wonderful website with more policy briefs on coronavirus than you could ever read, and there will be a fascinating one on human rights. Just to let you know, Monday, Farhan [Haq] will brief. He will do so virtually. I don’t know if Brenden will be in the room on Monday, but he’ll decide on his own. Don’t want to get in the business of the General Assembly. And I will see you back here on Tuesday. Good day.