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24 September 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.  I hope you enjoyed these two days without us. 

**Secretary-General/Security Council

As you know, the Secretary-General this morning spoke at the Security Council’s open video teleconference on global governance, post-COVID-19. 

The Secretary-General said that the pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation, a test that we have essentially failed.  He attributed this to a lack of global preparedness, cooperation, unity and solidarity. 

He noted that many of the cross-border challenges we face today — from the climate crisis to rising inequality to cybercrime — involve interest groups, businesses, organizations and entire sectors that cannot be addressed effectively by States alone. 

He added that we need to broaden our idea of global governance, to take in businesses, civil society, cities and regions, academia and young people. 

Our world is no longer bipolar or unipolar, he said, noting that it is moving towards multipolarity. 

And the Secretary-General added that COVID-19 is casting a dark shadow across the world, but also warning that we must be spurred into action.  We have no choice, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said.  Either we come together in global institutions that are fit for purpose, or we will be crushed by divisiveness and chaos. 

In a video message to the Bahrain Visions meeting, the Secretary-General also said the virus is a major setback to our common efforts. 

**Climate

And moments ago, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Round Table on Climate Ambition. 

He said that the damage to people and the environment due to climate disruption is immense and growing, and we must urgently reverse course. 

He asked all leaders — Governments, businesses, financiers, civil society and youth — to act on three urgent priorities:  First, to implement sustainable COVID-19 recovery plans that tackle climate change.  Second, to protect our economies by acting in line with what science tells us.  And third, to prioritize the most vulnerable people and communities.

The Secretary-General once again stressed that we must not bail out polluting industries, especially coal, and that Governments should accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy:  “Any plan that supports economically costly and polluting coal and fossil fuel industries cannot be called recovery”. 

His full remarks are online.

**Death Penalty

This morning, [the Secretary-General] also spoke in another meeting, but this time by video message at a side event on the Gender Dimensions of the Death Penalty.  He stressed that the United Nations advocates for every country, in all circumstances, to abolish this cruel punishment.

The Secretary-General said that we should all be greatly concerned at the disproportionate and discriminatory application of the death penalty to women.  He noted that research indicates that women are sentenced to the death penalty for drug-related offences far more than men.  It is also rare for domestic abuse to be treated as a mitigating factor during capital sentencing.   

The Secretary-General reiterated his call on States to abolish the death penalty in all circumstances. 

And those remarks were shared with you earlier today.

**Maritime Day

And today is World Maritime Day.  In his message that we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General says that the pandemic has highlighted the professionalism and sacrifice of nearly 2 million seafarers who serve on the world’s merchant fleet.  Many of them have remained at sea for periods far beyond the standards stipulated by international conventions, with some tours of duty now stretching more than 17 months.

The Secretary-General said that he remains very concerned about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing hundreds of thousands of seafarers who, despite the unprecedented conditions brought by the pandemic, have continued to tirelessly support the often-invisible global logistics chain.

He renewed his appeal to Governments to address their plight by formally designating seafarers and other maritime personnel as “key workers”, ensuring safe crew changes and implementing the protocols developed by UN agencies, as well as the International Shipping Group and the International Transport Workers’ Unions.   

**Yemen

Moving on to Yemen, we remain concerned about the increased risk of famine, as the lack of funding is crippling humanitarian operations in the country.  Fifteen of the UN’s 41 major programmes have already been reduced or shut down.  Thirty more will close or reduce services in the coming weeks unless additional funding is received. 

Some 20 million people are food insecure, including almost 10 million facing acute food insecurity.  Nearly half of all children are stunted by malnutrition.  Some 2 million children require treatments for acute malnutrition, of which 360,000 are at risk of dying without treatment.  In addition, 1 million pregnant or breastfeeding women require treatment for acute malnutrition. 

Another 3 million people are at risk of worsening hunger as the pandemic sweeps across Yemen. 

To date, the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is only 38 per cent funded — the lowest ever so late in the year. 

We welcome recent announcements of new funding and call on all donors to pay outstanding pledges and increase their support, so we can help with this man-made crisis.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our friends at the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) tells us that, yesterday, the National Assembly concluded its third special session of 2020.  A bill was adopted to amend some provisions of the Electoral Code to allow the electoral management body, known as the National Authority on Elections, to continue preparing, following a number of delays, while ensuring that the elections are held within the constitutional timelines. 

The United Nations Mission and our partners continue to advocate for the adoption of a legal framework that would allow citizens living as refugees to participate in the electoral process.  Their inclusion remains a critical element for the credibility and inclusiveness of the elections, as well as the consolidation of peace and national reconciliation in the Central African Republic.  It would also build on the democratic gains from the 2015-2016 [referendum], which provided the right to vote for refugees. 

The UN and our partners — including the guarantors of the Political Agreement, the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) — will continue to engage the Government with appropriate measures to address this issue.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that recent fighting between Afghan National Security Forces and non-State armed groups continues across the country, with increased displacement in several provinces.  This year, more than 172,000 people have been displaced by conflict.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, have reached 6 million people with humanitarian aid in the first six months of the year.  This includes food and livelihood assistance, access to water and sanitation facilities, home-based learning materials for children and nutrition interventions.

We also continue to support the Government-led COVID-19 response.  The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan requires $1 billion, but to date, only $339 million has been received. 

**COVID-19 — Philippines

In the Philippines, our UN team there continues its efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  The UN mobilized nearly $30 million for some 150 virus rapid response activities being implemented throughout the country by 20 UN agencies.  One fifth of these activities are focused on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping to strengthen the national surveillance system for rapid detection of the virus, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is assisting communities most heavily impacted by the pandemic. 

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing logistical and technical support to improve food security, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is providing seeds, fertilizers and other supplies to farmers and fisherfolk.  The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) extended more than $130 million in loans and grants for projects aiming to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the agriculture and fisheries sectors. 

And we are also applying our technical and analytical expertise toward recovery efforts.

**Philippines

Also, on the Philippines, but on a much different note, the Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Audrey Azoulay, today condemned the killing of online news journalist Jobert Bercasio in the centre of the Philippines. 

Ms. Azoulay called on the authorities to investigate this crime and bring its perpetrators to justice.  She added that the authorities must support the media’s ability to carry out their work without fearing death or violence. 

The journalist, who hosted a current events and commentary programme on the online news portal Balangibog, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen when he was on his way home on 14 September. 

**Greece — Asylum Seekers

And UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) tells us that they are calling for urgent action to improve conditions and to ensure humane solutions for asylum seekers in reception centres in the Greek Aegean Islands, including in the new emergency site on Lesvos. 

UNHCR, however, emphasized the urgent need for adequate solutions for asylum-seekers.  UNHCR estimates that there are at least 4,000 people on all islands, including 2,000 on Lesvos, who are eligible to be transferred to the mainland immediately.

UNHCR is calling on European States to continue their support to Greece through the offering of relocation places for the most vulnerable asylum-seekers and recognized refugees.

**UNDP

A couple more notes:  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today appointed Nigerian musician and leading Afro-pop star Yemi Alade as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. 

In her new role, she will help shine a spotlight on the disproportionate impact of the health and socioeconomic crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable people, who are often women, especially in developing nations. 

Earlier this year, she participated in the launch of UNDP’s Mission 1.5 degree Climate Action initiative and promoted UNDP’s COVID response efforts.  Most recently, she joined UNDP’s head, Achim Steiner, in delivering opening remarks at the high-level political forum side event organized by UNDP on the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on those without social protection. 

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I just wanted to read into the record a senior personnel announcement that we sent out yesterday.  Gina Casar of Mexico was appointed as Senior Adviser for Workplace Culture at the World Food Programme, at the Assistant Secretary-General level.

She previously served as Associate Administrator at UNDP, as Assistant Secretary-General and Controller in the UN Secretariat, and as Assistant Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer for WFP.

This appointment was jointly announced by the Secretary-General, David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director, and the FAO’s Director-General, Qu Dongyu.

**Briefings Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., there will be a virtual briefing to launch the report entitled “Protect the Progress — Rise, Refocus, Recover,” on the Every Woman, Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.

The Speakers will include Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, the President of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti [Kaljulaid], and Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, and others. 

Then at noon, I will be joined by Achim Steiner of UNDP and Cyrille Vigneron, the Chief Executive Officer of Cartier. 

**Rey Naval

And I unfortunately have to end on a sad note.  And I think that a lot of you will have heard about by now.  I just wanted to say that we are all devastated by the sudden passing of our long-time friend and colleague, Reynaldo Naval, who we all knew as Rey.

Many of you, if not all of you, know Rey from his work at the Media Documents Counter.  He’s the one that flooded your email boxes with all the speeches and documents that you so anxiously crave.  Rey proudly served the United Nations for 39 years, keeping us informed of the comings and goings around the building.  We always appreciated his kindness and his sunny disposition — and even his corny sense of humour — as well as his near-magical abilities at finding the reports and key documents that we needed.  He never hesitated to help and accommodate even our most obscure requests.  He was a dedicated staff member who truly believed in the work of the United Nations and who took pride in being a part of it.  And he also served in Headquarters and in a number of field missions.  Rey was one of the thousands of UN staff members who remain in the background but without their tireless work, the story of what happens at the United Nations could not be told.

Rey was 59 and looking forward to retirement to work in the garden he had planted during the lockdown. 

Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Chit, and his two stepsons and his extended family.

Edie, I think you wanted to say something. 

Correspondent:  Thank you very much, Steph.  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), the members of the media would like to send our deepest, deepest condolences to Rey’s family.  We all admired him, found him incredibly helpful to us in finding documents among the myriad papers produced by this organization.

He was a friend, and we will all miss him terribly, and we hope that his gigantic smile will be lighting up heaven right now.  Rest in peace, Rey.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.  Thank you. 

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Ibtisam, why don’t we go to you. 

Question:  Hi, Steph.  So, I want to start also by adding my condolences to yours and to Edie’s to Rey’s family.  We will really miss him. 

As for my question, I assume that you saw already Ambassador [Kelly] Craft’s statement today at the Security Council, and she all…  she said a lot of things, but among others, she accused WHO of corruption.  Do you have any…  anything to say about that?  Thank you. 

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we’re…  the Security Council floor…  the virtual floor is there for countries to… and Member States to express themselves, and that’s what they do.  I think the Secretary‑General has always appealed for the Security Council to work in a united fashion, and I would refer you back to some of the comments he made on Tuesday in his speech to the General Assembly. 

And I would add, on WHO, I think the Secretary‑General fully backs the work of WHO, as well as the independent inquiry that is being led by a number of people, including Helen Clark.

Question:  I have a follow‑up question.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  I mean, given the speech that Mr. [Donald] Trump…  President Trump gave on Tuesday and also the fact that, on Monday, when the UN celebrated its 75th birthday, there was no High Representative of the US.  There was an ambassador, and Craft wasn’t there.  She was in D.C., et cetera.  Do you think…  are you…  is the Secretary‑General worried about the disengagement, maybe, of the US when it comes to multilateralism?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I wouldn’t read too much…  we had been told, I think, that President Trump would not appear on a video for the 75th, and I think there was some scheduling issues with the Permanent Representative at the last minute.  So, I think no one from the Secretariat took it badly. 

The United States remains a critical and important partner of the United Nations, a founding member, a member of the permanent…  a member of the Security Council.  And I would note the US President’s end to his remarks on Tuesday, which is “God bless these United Nations”.

Okay.  Let’s…  unless somebody in the room, I will go to James Reinl.

Correspondent:  Hi there, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir. 

Question:  Yeah.  Really sorry to hear about Rey, as well.  Guy had a really big heart. 

And, so, my question is just kind of general about this UNGA (United Nations General Assembly).  There’s no police checkpoints outside.  There’s no motorcades.  There’s no protesters.  We can just stroll in 42nd Street, watch everything on our laptop.  The whole thing is way more manageable for me.  Is it easier for you guys, for your team?

Spokesman:  Well, if it’s more manageable for you, James, then we’ve achieved success. 

Look, it’s more manageable because there’s very little going on in person here.  I mean…  but…  so we are getting…  on one hand, we are getting the major speeches, the key messages, from world leaders that they’ve delivered through video messages.  On the other hand, we are missing all the magic, frankly, the excitement, and the buzz that we all…  at least, you know, most of us strive for…  live off for these two weeks, even if we all complain about too much stuff going on and too much to write about and too much to talk to you about.

And we’re missing the informal diplomacy.  We’re missing the side‑room…  the side‑bar chats, the pull‑asides, the discussions during lunches, which are a critical part of what happens here at the United Nations during General Assembly week.  And it is, sadly, a big economic hit on the economy of our Host City, which is sad.

But the United Nations is no different than any organization, public or private.  We have to adapt to the world that we live in, and we came up with this sort of hybrid model, and we just need to adapt to the new reality we’re living in today.

Question:  Steph, that’s great.  Can I do one more quickly?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  At the beginning of…  sorry.  Thanks.  Yeah.  At the beginning of the general debate, first speech always goes to Brazil.  You had [Jair] Bolsonaro.  There was a bit of a glitch.  I think it’s your only technical glitch.  And, so, his speech played for a minute or two.  The transcription, a live transcribe…  there was some weird words on there, something about “a goddamn orgy,” and then you cut it and started playing it again.  Do you know what happened exactly?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the — and I’ve seen Twitter chats on this — is that the transcription that some find humorous was, in fact, linked to YouTube’s automatic captioning system.  It had nothing to do with the UN’s own interpretation, which went off without a hitch.  And we, obviously, apologize to the Brazilian Government for the technical issue of having to rewind. 

But I think what you’ve seen on Twitter has nothing to do with the work that is being put into to make this virtual General Assembly a success. 

All right.  Let’s go to Toby, and then…  yeah, and then I see the ones who are waving.  Go ahead, Toby.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  And condolences once again on the loss of Rey.  I wanted to ask if your office has received formal rights of reply from the Chinese Mission and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well, and how are those handled this year?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  We can check with our colleagues in Conference Services.  Maybe Brenden [Varma] may have more, but I have no doubt that the right of replies can be delivered without a problem by permanent representatives or their designated representatives live in the room.  Does not need to be a video right of the reply, and any member of a delegation can provide a right of reply.  So, I don’t…  I can’t confirm it, but I don’t see it as a problem at all.

Iftikhar, please. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  What a wonderful, cooperative person, staff member, we have lost in Rey.  My deepest condolences and which have been reflected and echoed by Edie today.

My question is, has the Secretary‑General received a report of FACTI Panel on the huge amount of corruption and money laundering that is going on in the world?  And what are his comments, if he has seen the report, which was released today?

Spokesman:  I have to check for you on that, and I will, Iftikhar.

Okay.  Mr. Barada, and then we’ll go to Benno. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions.  One question is that President [Vladimir] Putin offered the UN the Russian vaccine, and I wonder whether the UN had accepted this offer from Russia and why.  And how the UN is going to verify that this is the best available vaccine for its staff and employees and everybody. 

And my other question is on Western Sahara.  Obviously, Polisario has threatened again to close the Guerguerat route, and the tension is rising again in the region.  I understand that the…  there was a UN envoy in that area recently.  And what are the efforts made by the UN to just…  to facilitate the…

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I haven’t had anything on Western Sahara in a while, so I will check. 

On your first, we thank very much President Putin for his offer, and it will be studied by our Medical Services.

Mr. Benno.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Steph.  Actually, it’s just a very quick follow‑up to Ali, because I wanted to ask the same question.  I saw your response that the Medical Service will look into Mr. Putin’s offer, but I guess, in the last two days, you had time to talk with Mr. Guterres about if he would take that vaccine himself or not.

Spokesman:  It’s…  everything that we do and as we’ve been saying will be guided by science.  So, this will be studied by our…  again, we’re very thankful.  It was a very generous offer, and it will be studied by our Medical Services.

Okay.  I don’t see anybody else, unless you want to wave your hands.  Nope.  Okay.  Then I will leave you…

Correspondent:  Stéphane.  Stéphane. 

Spokesman:  Yes.  Richard.

Correspondent:  I did indicate I had a question there on the chat.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Okay.  Go ahead.

Question:  Just a…  well said, Edie.  I looked through the document counter glass yesterday, and it was very difficult to, of course, not think of Rey.  And I know how difficult it will be for you and your colleagues.  He was one of the nicest, if not the nicest, man on the premises. 

And, of course, I have to ask a news question.  It looks like I’m in heaven, I know, with my backdrop.  You can insert comments later.

Spokesman:  Stay away from the light, Richard.

Question:  The contrast couldn’t have been more stark, to say the least.  The Secretary‑General, talking about major…  two economic Powers, dangerous direction for the world, and he’s again asking, in effect, can’t we all get along?  And then the US President opens up with a seven‑minute…  mostly an attack directly on China.  And today, in the Security Council, the major Powers at it again. 

When is it time for him to try a different tack or to be more specific on naming names?  Though I understand this will be difficult, but something’s got to give here.  The hundreds of papers and words are not hitting their targets to cause any change.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, this is something the Secretary‑General’s been speaking about very clearly for quite some time.  I think if you remember, he talked about this issue of the great fracture between the world’s two largest economies back in January, and this is something he has been… a concern that he’s been raising both publicly and privately.

Okay.  And… 

Correspondent:  Was that a Met mask you were wearing at the beginning?

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Yes, it is a Mets mask.  We are…  the UN is a repository of lost causes.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I know.  You should wear a full facial covering even though Sandy Alderson, I’m sure, will bring back a revival. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry, one more question.  Yes, Ray.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  During the commemorations of 75th anniversary, the US speech, they say that the UN had done many accomplishments, but at the same time, she said — and I quote — “the UN has lacked transparency and has been too vulnerable to the agendas of autocratic regimes and dictatorships.”  Any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I mean, I would refer…  our vision of the UN, I think, was laid out in the Secretary‑General’s UN75 speech, where he laid out everything the UN had achieved but also the places where we are challenged.

Again, the general debate, the 75th, are there for Member States to express themselves and express themselves freely, and that’s a big part of why it’s so important. 

Okay.  Thank you, and thank you all for your very kind words about Rey.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.