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24 June 2020

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 per usual practice, we will ask you to mute your microphones.

**Middle East

As you all are well aware, the Security Council this morning held an open videoconference on the Middle East.

The Secretary-General took part in the meeting, noting in his remarks that we are at a watershed moment.  If implemented, the Secretary-General said, annexation by Israel would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.  He called on the Israeli Government to abandon its annexation plan.  He also said that he will continue to consistently speak out against any unilateral steps that would undermine peace and the chances for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through meaningful negotiations.  Mr. Guterres also urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to commit to meaningful dialogue, with the support of the international community. 

Also addressing the Council today was Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  He asked Council members to join the Secretary-General in his call for an immediate reengagement, with no preconditions, between the Middle East Quartet and the Palestinian leadership, Israel and the countries of the region in order to find a way out of the current crisis.  And all those texts have been shared with you.

This afternoon, there will be a closed meeting of the Security Council on Yemen and members of the Council will hear by video from the UN Envoy, Martin Griffiths. 

**Syria

Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we continue to reach millions of women, children and men in urgent need of humanitarian assistance through cross-border operations run out of Turkey.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, since the beginning of this year, more than 8,000 trucks have crossed [into] Syria from Turkey, including a record 1,781 trucks in May alone.  A large number of these trucks continues to cross.  As of the 21st, 1,292 trucks passed into north-west Syria from Turkey this month, providing life-saving assistance for the 2.8 million people in need in the area.  As highlighted in the Secretary General’s recent review of cross-line and cross-border operations, a sustained, large-scale cross-border response is necessary to meet the enormous humanitarian needs of people in north-west Syria.

To enable this response, a renewal of the cross-border authorization in Security Council resolution 2504 (2020) for the use of Bab al Salaam and Bab al Hawa border crossings for an additional 12 months is required.  There are no alternatives to cross-border operations for us.

The Secretary-General has also called for a combination of more cross-border and cross-line access to sustain recent levels of, and preferably increase, humanitarian assistance in the north-east of the county.  Without these necessary cross-border authorizations by the Council, civilians will suffer and increase to levels unseen in nine years of conflict, including loss of life on a massive scale.  The full and complementary use of all methods for the delivery of aid remains necessary to access all people across Syria.

Also on Syria, our humanitarian colleagues remain concerned over the impact of COVID-19 on people across the country.  To date, the Syrian Ministry of Health has confirmed 231 cases of the virus, including 94 recoveries and seven deaths. 

Six additional cases have been recorded in the north-east, including one fatality.  No cases have been confirmed in the north-west. 

Our particular worry is for the 1.4 million displaced people living in camps or informal settlements which makes taking necessary precautions that much more difficult.  With limited access to health care and water and sanitation services, these people are particularly vulnerable

We are continuing to support building up Syria’s limited lab and case investigation capacities. 

**Sudan

Turning to Darfur, the joint African Union-United Nations mission there says that, for the past few days, clashes have led to killings, rapes and the displacement of thousands of people.  The Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, said he deeply regrets that these clashes are happening at a time when the Transitional Government, the armed movement, and the political parties and all Sudanese are engaged in negotiations in Juba to bring such suffering to an end. 

The Secretary-General will take part virtually tomorrow in the Sudan Partnership Conference, which is co-hosted by the Governments of Sudan and Germany, as well as the UN and the European Union.  The meeting aims to galvanize financial and political support for the continuing transition in Sudan.  The Conference will begin at 9 a.m., New York time, and you can follow it live online.  We will share with you the Secretary-General’s remarks ahead of time. 

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General strongly condemned Monday’s attacks against a convoy of the peacekeeping Mission in North Kivu’s Beni territory, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The attack was conducted by suspected members of the ADF, the Allied Democratic Forces, and resulted in the killing of one UN peacekeeper and injuries to another.  Both peacekeepers are from Indonesia.  The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the deceased peacekeeper, as well as to the Government of Indonesia, and wishes a swift recovery to the injured.  The Secretary-General reaffirmed that attacks against UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime and called on the Congolese authorities to investigate this incident swiftly and bring those responsible to justice. 

**Central African Republic

And in neighbouring Central African Republic, as part of the support the UN is bringing on COVID-19, the [UN] Mission has provided hygiene equipment, hand sanitizers and infrared thermometers to the country’s Armed Forces.  In the Ouham prefecture, in the country’s north-east, the UN peacekeepers have organized an information workshop on the virus for moto taxi drivers, as well as other transportation and commercial laborers.  The UN Mission is also conducting a training for teachers on how to prevent the spread of the virus in schools before classes resume.  In partnership with the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism, the UN has also initiated a radio and television awareness campaign involving 25 prominent Central African artists.

Turning to the Mission’s support for the electoral process, a series of training courses was organized for officials in Bangassou and in the neighbouring area.  Finally, in Ndele, the Mission supported the Government’s disarmament and demobilization operation.  On the first day, 47 combatants, including one woman, from the armed group the “Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique”, otherwise known as the FPRC, were demobilized.  Weapons and ammunition were also retrieved and given to the DDR mobile team. 

**Ceasefire

Our good friends at the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs today released a policy note on the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire which examines the various challenges and opportunities presented by the call as well as recommendations for the future as the pandemic continues.  The brief says that as the impact of COVID-19 is still unfolding, and in places worsening, the call for a global ceasefire should link with the broader discussions on the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, including on women and children. 

The full brief is available to you on the interweb.

**UNCTAD

And a new report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, otherwise known as UNCTAD, shows that ongoing efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions are expected to spur further investments in green energy production.  These investments have been steady over the years, standing at around $600 billion per year on average.  UNCTAD also highlights the social and environmental impacts of the extraction of raw materials for car batteries and underlines the urgent need to address these concerns.  As an example, about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] comes from artisanal mines where child labour and human rights abuses have been reported often.  The full report is online.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

I am pleased to share with you two senior personnel appointments regarding our friends at the UN Fund for Population, UNFPA.  The Secretary-General today appointed Diene Keita of Guinea as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as the UNFPA’s Deputy Executive Director for Programme.  Ms. Keita succeeds Dereje Wordofa of Ethiopia, to whom the Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UNFPA are of course grateful for his dedicated service.  Diene Keita, who recently served as Minister for Cooperation and African Integration with the Republic of Guinea, brings to the position nearly 30 years of experience within the UN system.  She started her UN career in 1990 with UNDP in New York, and from this point, held various successful programmatic leadership positions at country level, serving as UNDP Deputy Representative and Acting Representative for several years.   

The Secretary-General has also appointed Ib Petersen of Denmark, as Assistant Secretary-General.  He will serve as the Deputy Executive Director for Management at UNFPA.  Mr. Petersen succeeds Laura Londen of Finland, to whom the Secretary-General and the Executive Director are grateful for her dedicated years of service to UNFPA.  Mr. Petersen recently served as Director for the Department of Migration, Conflict and Stabilization of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Prior to his position in Copenhagen, you will remember him as the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations from 2013-2019. 

Their full bios are online. 

**UN Charter

And as you all know, Friday marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Charter of these United Nations.  In a video message to mark this anniversary, the Secretary-General said that, as we face a global pandemic, and worldwide people rightly raise their voices against racism, confronting problems is a start, but we also have to solve them.  He emphasized that the UN Charter provides us with a timeless guide to tackle our shared challenges and fix the world’s fragilities.  The Secretary-General points out that the Charter was signed 75 years ago — and its principles ring just as true today.  Faith in fundamental human rights, equal rights of men and women, the dignity and worth of every person, international law and better standards of life in larger freedom are enduring values that will carry us to a new future. 

And, you can also join us in the celebrations by adding your photo to one of our photo filters that carry the key words from the UN Charter.  Access the website https://share.un75.online, choose your favourite filter, which includes human rights, healthy planet, peace and others, and share your photos with your friends with the hashtag #UN75. 

And linked to this anniversary, I’m happy to now confirm that the Secretary-General will be joining us for a press conference to launch the UN comprehensive plan in response to COVID-19.  That will take place tomorrow at noon and this will be obviously framed within the context of the 75th anniversary of the UN and yes, he will take a number of questions. 

**Financial Contributions

And finally — I have been waiting for this moment for quite a while — we have finally hit a century with our budget numbers.  All thanks to our friends in Libreville.  Gabon’s full payment of its 2020 regular budget dues takes us to 100 [Member States]. 

So, on that happy note, let's see if any of you are left to ask me questions.  Let's see.  Excuse me while I put on my glasses so I can read and I can look at the chat.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Evelyn, you have a question.  Evelyn?

Correspondent:  Okay.  You can hear me now, yes?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Yes.  I'm a bit confused of why a meeting of the Quartet would be an answer to anything on the annexation controversy since the United States is a member of the Quartet and what…  it could stop any decisions…

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, a Quartet…  and what the Secretary‑General and Mr. Mladenov have been advocating is a meeting of not only the Quartet but also of the regional, countries in the region.  We feel that this will provide a conducive platform for Israelis and Palestinians to talk without preconditions, but obviously, any meeting of the Quartet would need the green light of all the members of the Quartet to proceed.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me see if…  any other questions.  I don't…  yes, Yoshita, go ahead. 

I can't hear you, Yoshita. 

Correspondent:  Can you hear me now?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Hope you're doing well.  Good to see you.

Spokesman:  Nice to see you.

Question:  Stéphane, the US State Department has released the country terrorism reports today and, in which it said that Pakistan has not been taken action, has not taken action against UN‑designated terrorists, like Masood Azhar, who continue to be free in Pakistan and also other terrorist organizations operating against India and Afghanistan.  So, does the SG have a comment to ensure that UN‑designated terrorists and entities are taken action against by the countries?

Spokesman:  It's not for me to comment on the report issued by the State Department.  Obviously, as a matter of principle, we do expect all Member States to live up to their obligations as laid out in any relevant Security Council resolution or Security Council decision.

Correspondent:  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  James Bays.  And then Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Okay, Steph.  I have two questions or…  second is a query.  The first question, coming back to the Quartet, clearly, it's been made clear by the Secretary‑General how urgent he sees the situation.  It is pretty clear that 14 out of 15 members of the Security Council absolutely share his position. 

So, why, as Mr. Mladenov's office is the coordinator for all the peace process, why does he just not order, call, a Quartet meeting with regional players and just say, we're having it this day, and if only three of the four turn up of the Quartet, so be it?

Spokesman:  That's really, you know, the Quartet functions, I think, as a unit.  To…  let me put it this way.  For any Quartet to function, whether political or musical, you need four, you need the four parts of the Quartet to be there.

Question:  And my second question, clearly quite important, Yemen this afternoon, sadly, it's a closed meeting.  I don't see any press engagement by Martin Griffiths.  Will he be doing anything with us and…

Just a general observation, I understand the difficulties and restrictions of the last three months, but it would be very nice to hear from Stephanie Williams in a stakeout, from Martin Griffiths, from Mr. [Geir] Pedersen, from Mr. Mladenov. 

I feel that the current restrictions mean we, sometimes we just get to speak to them going in and out of meetings.  We have less access.  Can you please try and make, particularly these key political issues, some of those envoys more readily available, please. 

Spokesman:  We will do our best, and I think we all, professionally at least, miss the informal encounters we all have with each other, sometimes even personally, but I know professionally, definitely.

Okay.  Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My first question is, do you see the SG will be taking a further step and contacting [inaudible] will be giving a phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Abbas to seed the chances for a meeting?  That's my first question.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, and especially his Special Representative, Mr.  Mladenov, have been deeply engaged with the parties at various levels, and I think our message publicly and our message privately are completely in sync, and the Secretary‑General could not have been more clear today.

Your second question, sir.

Question:  The second question, yesterday, Stéphane, Ahmed Mustafa Erekat, 27-year-old Palestinian, it was his sister's wedding night.  He went to Bethlehem to bring his sister and mother from the salon; however, the Israeli checkpoint gunned him down in cold blood.  Are you aware of this crime?  Did it make any [inaudible] within the…

Spokesman:  I just saw the press report.  I mean, we, obviously, feel that this needs to be investigated fully, and I will check with Mr. Mladenov if there's anything else.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let's see.  Who else had a question? Yes, Gloria.  Go ahead. 

Question:  My question is, in general, from all the developing countries and those currently under severe conflict, do they have the capacity for telemedicine? And if not, can you estimate those who need it?  Because, frankly, right here in New York City, whenever I want a doctor, I have to use telemedicine, and it works.

Spokesman:  It's a very useful tool, indeed, and I think we are working with our country teams with all developing and middle‑income countries to see how we can best support them in helping shore up or improve their public health system.

Okay.  Anyone else with a question? Excellent.  We will see you tomorrow, 12:15, for the Secretary‑General's press conference.  Please dial in early.  We will distribute, hopefully, the text of his intro ahead of time and send…  anyway, let's, we'll look forward to that and hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.