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30 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.

All right.  Good afternoon to you all and happy Tuesday.  Remember not to misbehave with your microphones, and then I will call on you as I see your names in the chat.

**Secretary-General — Fallen Staff

The Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s annual memorial service to honour UN personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.  The event was held virtually this year, unfortunately.

That so many of our colleagues choose to serve where risk prevails is testament to their unstinting commitment to helping the world’s most vulnerable people, who rely on us for peace, shelter, food, vaccinations and so much more, the Secretary-General said.

He paid tribute to the 77 UN personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty between 16 March and 31 December 2019.  Thirty-eight were military, which underscores the increasingly complex and dangerous work our peacekeepers are asked to perform every day.  The Secretary-General said that while three were police, 36 were civilians.  They came from 41 countries.

He said that, this year, when the world is facing the unprecedented upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also commemorating 75 years of the United Nations.  All around the world, especially in the most fragile contexts, the blue flag of the United Nations symbolizes hope, and hope is part of the legacy of the colleagues we mourn today.

The Secretary-General stressed that even one death is too many, pledging to continue to ensure that the UN [constantly] reviews and improves our practices related to the safety and care of staff.

**Secretary-General — Poverty Eradication

The Secretary-General also spoke at the virtual high-level meeting on trends, options and strategies in poverty eradication across the world.  The event was organized by the President of the General Assembly.

He added that, after many years of progress, poverty and hunger are on the rise because of COVID-19, which is reversing decades of progress and elevating levels of inequality within and between countries.

The impacts are falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable — the working poor, women and children, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

The Secretary-General stressed that we cannot go back to the way things were and that we have an opportunity to create a people-centred economic recovery with decent jobs for all, enabling people to work their way out of poverty.  He added that this can only happen if we make the connection between health and health-care needs and social, economic and environmental well-being.

**Syria

The Secretary-General also sent two pre-recorded video messages to important conferences held today.

First, the Secretary-General delivered a message to the Brussels IV Conference on support to the Syrian people.  In it, he said that after nearly a decade of war and economic hardship, the scale of suffering remains shocking. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, over half the pre-war population of the country is displaced, and nine out of ten people are now living in poverty.

This year, the Secretary-General urged Governments not only to renew but to step up financial, humanitarian and political commitments to the Syrian people and to countries that are hosting refugees. 

Looking forward, he said, only a political solution can end the suffering in Syria. 

The UN-supported political process to achieve sustainable peace is moving slowly.  The Secretary-General urged all those with influence to help Syrians find common ground. 

Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, also delivered remarks to the Conference.  He warned that we are seeing food insecurity rise to unprecedented levels, with the World Food Programme (WFP) estimating that 9.3 million people in Syria are now food insecure.

He reminded the participants of the Conference that the UN Humanitarian Response Plan and COVID-19 Response plan for inside Syria requires $3.8 billion for 2020 to assist nearly 10 million people across the country.

Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, also spoke.  He reiterated the call for a nationwide ceasefire, heeding the Secretary-General’s global appeal, the need to be vigilant about COVID-19, and resolution 2254 (2015).

He also reiterated his appeal for the Syrian Government and all other Syrian parties to carry out large-scale, unilateral releases of detainees and abductees, and meaningful actions for the missing persons.

**Sahel

The Secretary-General also addressed today’s G5 Sahel Summit in Mauritania by pre-recorded video message.  He said in his message that the pandemic can now be added to the risks faced by the region and linked to climate change, economic insecurity and the continued deterioration of the security situation.

Attacks against civilians are increasing, he said, adding that we are also witnessing the emergence of ethnic divides, as well as a worsening of inter-community violence, sometimes with involvement of members of national security forces.

The Secretary-General said it is encouraging to see the G5 Sahel fully mobilized to respond to these challenges.

He also called for strict respect of international humanitarian and human rights law in the conduct of military operations and to provide all possible support to populations under attack by terrorists and radical groups.

The Secretary-General welcomed the launch of the Sahel Coalition and of the partnership for security and stability.  These, he said, are two initiatives that have the potential to facilitate collaboration between all regional and international actors.

The international community must mobilize for the long term, concluded the Secretary-General.  He said the countries of the region need support for their security, development and human rights efforts.

This message has been shared with you and it’s on our website.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Africa

For her part, this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the ministerial round table on the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s energy sector.

She stressed that, as we strive to ease the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, we must also plan now how to recover better.  Ms. Mohammed noted that foreign direct investment flows into African countries are projected to decline between 25 and 40 per cent in 2020 alone.

Our common task for eradicating poverty and achieving the 2030 Agenda has never been more urgent, she said, stressing the need for access to clean, affordable and modern energy services.

The Deputy Secretary-General also called on leaders to shape a climate-positive recovery through green jobs, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and pursuing a just and fair transition, amongst other means.

**Security Council

As you no doubt saw, at the Security Council today, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed members on the Secretary-General's ninth report on the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015).

She told members that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a significant achievement of multilateral diplomacy and dialogue, which remains crucial to the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and to regional and international security.

She said that we regret the US withdrawal from the Plan, adding that we also regret the steps that Iran has taken in response to the US withdrawal and appealed to Iran to return to full implementation of the Plan.

She said that, notwithstanding the current challenges to the JCPOA, it remains the best way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

**Pakistan

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the terrorist attack on the stock exchange in Karachi, Pakistan.  He conveyed his deep condolences to the families of the victims and the people and Government of Pakistan.  He reiterated the solidarity of the United Nations with the Government and people of Pakistan in their efforts to address terrorism and violent extremism.

**Mali

And the UN’s Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that a peacekeeper was injured yesterday in an exchange of fire with suspected combatants from the armed group known as 3R.  This took place in the Ouham-Pende prefecture.

Peacekeepers repelled the attack, which resulted in an unconfirmed number of 3R casualties.  They also confiscated weapons, ammunition and vehicles from the attackers.  Peacekeepers established a defensive position in the neighbouring area amid sporadic firing from multiple directions.

You will recall that, two weeks ago, the peacekeeping mission and the Central African Armed Forces began an operation in this area to remove 3R combatants, protect civilians and restore State authority. 

The UN Mission in the country continues to work closely with the guarantors, the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), as well as the Government, to bring the 3R back to the peace agreement.

**Human Rights

Turning to COVID-19, the Human Rights Council today, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented a global overview of her concerns linked to COVID-19.

She said the pandemic threatens both peace and development and calls for leadership grounded in clarity, evidence and principle to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking device that exposes, and is fuelled by, systemic failures to uphold human rights, Bachelet added.  Human rights are critical to the recovery, and, at this crucial time, she called for steady, predictable resources and firm political will.

**COVID-19 — Brazil

And an update from the country level on our efforts to combat the pandemic: In Brazil, the UN team there is working with authorities at the national and local levels with a special focus on protection of migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples and people in prisons.

According to the World Bank, 7 million Brazilians could be pushed into poverty this year if the emergency cash transfer mechanism adopted by the Government does not reach the most vulnerable or is prematurely suspended.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has developed a series of tools and guidelines to support national and local health authorities, with an epidemic calculator, in partnership with universities and top national research institutions.

On the border with Paraguay and Argentina, the UN migration agency (IOM) carried out an initiative, financed by the European Union, donating 80 infrared thermometers and over 2,000 masks to reinforce the protection of public agents working at the border.

For their part, UN-Women provided technical support to launch a local campaign in northern states on domestic violence during the pandemic, and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) launched a data initiative for the vulnerable informal urban dwellings, known as favelas, which reveals that Afro-Brazilians face unequal access to the job market and to education.  The survey also said that nine out of ten Brazilians recognize that Afro-Brazilians are more likely to be violently approached by the police.

**State of World Population

Today, the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, released the State of World Population 2020.

According to the report, every year, millions of girls are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends and communities.

The report highlights at least 19 practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, which are considered human rights violations.

It shows that, this year alone, an estimated 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation.  One in five marriages today involves a child bride.

The report also notes that an extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries has also fuelled gender-biased sex selection or extreme neglect leading to child deaths, resulting in 140 million “missing females.”

UNFPA warns that, while progress has been made in ending some harmful practices worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse gains.  A recent analysis revealed that, if services and programmes remain shuttered for six months, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage and 2 million [more] girls may be subjected to female genital mutilation between now and 2030.

**Pause Campaign

And as my guest said yesterday — and that was Melissa Fleming, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications — as she mentioned during yesterday’s briefing, today, the UN launched a global campaign called Pause to stop the spread of harmful misinformation on COVID-19.

The campaign aims to encourage behaviour change, challenging people to break the habit of sharing misleading, shocking or emotive content without pausing to question the accuracy.

The Secretary-General today tweeted that misinformation can circulate faster than facts, endangering public health and people’s lives, and encouraged everyone to Pause and use the hashtag #TakeCareBeforeYouShare.

**Guatemala

I have received questions regarding the situation in Guatemala.  I can tell you that we trust that Guatemalan authorities will guarantee and safeguard the independence of the judiciary, in accordance with international human rights law and standards.  It is vital to ensure that judges can perform their functions without any restrictions.

We call on Guatemalan authorities to protect the rights and ensure the safety and security of justice operators and human rights defenders who work to support the rule of law in Guatemala.

**International Days

And on this 30 June, we mark two International Days.

In a message on the International Day of Parliamentarism, the Secretary-General said the Day is a timely occasion to honour the pivotal role of Parliaments in giving people a voice and influence to shape policy.  He stressed that Parliaments have a special duty to advance human rights and promote sustainable development.  More than ever, the pandemic reminds us of these vital tasks.

And today is also the International Asteroid Day, which aims to raise public awareness about the asteroid impact hazard.  It also aims to inform the public about the crisis communication actions to be taken at a global level in case of a credible near-Earth object threat.

**Financial Contributions

And to end on some good news, Mali has paid its regular budget dues in full.  Thanks to our friends in Bamako, we have now reached 101 fully paid-up Member States.

All right.  Let's go to the chat. 

**Questions and Answers

All right.  James Bays has a few questions.

Question:  I do.  I do.  I do.  I do.  Let's start with protests in Africa, which look rather worrying.  There are protests in Sudan.  Any comment on that?  And, also, a prominent activist and protest singer killed in Ethiopia; protests there, as well.  Your reaction to those two, please.

Spokesman:  Look, I don't have any specific language on those protests, but what I can tell you, wherever protests occur, it is important that people's fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, to peaceful protests be upheld and that security forces, wherever, use restraint and guarantee people's rights to peaceful protest.

Question:  I have something on Libya in a moment, but quickly, on yesterday, I asked you about Palais Wilson.  Any consideration of the naming of Palais Wilson?

Spokesman:  I have no updates on that for now.

Question:  Isn't there a worry on that, given the public mood, that the UN may be behind the curve on this?

Spokesman:  No, I understand, but I have…  as soon as I have something to share with you on that, I will.

Question:  Okay.  With regard to Libya, a quick check that there's no update on the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General)?

Spokesman:  No.  You'll probably know before I do, given your contacts with Security Council members.

Question:  And then I'm moving on to the previous SRSG, Ghassan Salamé, who has given an interview in a podcast.  He sounds pretty angry, talking about his time in the job, talking about the Berlin Conference and, immediately afterwards, seeing that members who attended it, including members of the Security Council, were not complying with what was agreed.  He said, “I told the Security Council, 'Many of you are lying to me.'”

He talks about an international system that's deregulated when it comes to the use of force, and he talks about the day that him and the Secretary‑General were in Libya when General [Khalifa] Haftar made his move on Tripoli, saying that he felt at the time he was being stabbed in the back by members of the Security Council.  As I've just said, the Secretary‑General was with him.  Does he share many of these thoughts from his former Special Representative?

Spokesman:  I think…  in perhaps less colourful language, the Secretary‑General has also shared his frustration at the fact that there was a conference in Berlin.  Things were agreed upon, and very little was implemented, and things got worse.  And more weapons and more mercenaries and more military toys, deadly toys, I must add, poured into the country.

So, Mr. Salamé is free to say what he wants, and he uses, as I can understand his frustration, very direct language.  But, frankly, the Secretary‑General's own position, as he's expressed publicly, is not that far off — using more muted language, of course, as he would do.  Okay?

Iftikhar?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  I have a question.  The Pakistan for…  Prime Minister has said that he has approached Secretary‑General…  the UN Secretary‑General about India's issuance of 25,000 domicile certificates to Indian nationals in Indian‑occupied Kashmir, something like settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories, in violation of United Nations resolutions and international law, saying it was an attempt to change the demographic character of the Muslim majority state.  Do you have any comments on this?

Spokesman:  Not…  I'm not aware of direct contact.  I can check, but I've not been…  I've not seen any direct contact from the Prime Minister to the Secretary‑General, but I…  that doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but I will check.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  All right.  Any other questions?  Abdelhamid, please.

Question:  Thank you.  The national…  the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya said on Sunday that Wagner mercenaries are coming en masse to protect the Oil Crescent near Sirte, and they are calling on international community and calling on the Europeans also to do something about the expansion of the Wagner mercenary presence in that region.  So, do you have any information to share with us and reaction…

Spokesman:  No specific information that I can tell you is…  but, obviously, that we have been calling for a return to a political dialogue.  And, in fact, I should have…  James, I should have said this to you also in my earlier answer that the Acting Special Representative, Stephanie Williams, met two days ago on the 20…  or three days ago on 27 June in Rome with the President of the Presidency Council of the Government, Faiez Sarraj.  She met with him in Rome. 

She briefed him about the ongoing efforts to advance discussions on the three tracks — the security track, the political track, the economic track — and of the intra‑Libyan dialogue.  They had also, in their discussion, talked about the UN support to Libyan authorities, pertaining especially to demining, and also supporting the investigations into the mass graves that we've been talking about.  

She also called for the immediate halt of the oil blockade, which has already cost the country billions of dollars in lost revenues from sales that they should rightly have been able to sell. 

Anybody else?  All right.  Go back to the Security Council…

Correspondent:  I have a question, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Who's this?

Correspondent:  Yoshita.

Spokesman:  Oh, Yoshita.  I don't see you, but I can hear you now.  Okay.

Question:  Okay.  Okay.  Thank you.  So, yesterday, the US Secretary of State, he voiced concern over China's use of forced sterilization, abortion and coercive family planning measures against the Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region and saying that this is part of a continued campaign of repression.  Does the SG have a comment on that, given that the US said that this demonstrates an utter disregard to the sanctity of human life and basic human dignity?  Any comments from the SG on that?

Spokesman:  We don't have any direct access to the reports.  We've seen the media reports.  I think the Secretary‑General's discussion…  position on the human rights issue and his concern for that in the north‑west of China has been stated repeatedly and is unchanged. 

Okay.  Thank you, all, and see you tomorrow.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.