30 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.

Where should we start?  Let’s start at the beginning. 

**Secretary-General — COVID-19

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at a high-level event on the ACT-Accelerator, which seeks to speed up efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting the development and equitable distribution of the diagnostics, vaccines and treatments the world needs.

Today’s meeting was also co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Governments of the United Kingdom and South Africa, as well as the World Health Organization.

The Secretary-General said the ACT Accelerator and its COVAX Facility are prime examples of multilateralism in action for the global public good.   

He stressed that it is in every country’s national and economic self-interest to work together to massively expand access to tests and treatments and to support a vaccine as a global public good.

We’ve shared his full remarks with you.  We are also adding up all the pledges and the monies that was promised today.  We’ll have that with you hopefully very shortly, but I can tell you that the Secretary-General is very pleased with the outcome of today’s meeting.

**Biodiversity Summit

He also addressed, a bit later on, the Biodiversity Summit in the General Assembly Hall, where he said that we need to rebuild our relationship with nature. 

Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said that ten years ago, we secured commitments that should have protected our planet, but we have largely failed to implement them. 

He said that deforestation, climate change and the conversion of wilderness for human food production are destroying Earth’s web of life, but we need this web so that we and future generations may thrive. 

The Secretary-General noted that imbalance with nature has led to the emergence of deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS, Ebola, and now COVID-19, demonstrating the intimate interconnection between the health of our planet and our own.

The Secretary-General said that much greater ambition is needed to meet the global biodiversity targets and stressed that degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue.  It spans economics, health, social justice and human rights, adding that neglecting our precious resources can make geopolitical tensions and conflicts worse.

He called on countries to prioritize finding nature-based solutions as we recover from the pandemic, investing in nature and securing policies and targets that protect biodiversity and leave no one behind.  Okay, some updates…  thank you.


In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed his deep and personal sadness at the passing of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait.

His Highness was a distinguished statesman and an outstanding humanitarian who contributed to building bridges of understanding in the Gulf Region and beyond.  In doing so Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad earned international recognition for his wisdom, generosity and achievements in State-building and preventive diplomacy.

In both the statement and his remarks to you at yesterday’s press event, the Secretary-General extended his heartfelt condolences to the family of the Amir and to the people of Kuwait. 

And today, you will have noticed the UN flag in the traffic circle is at half-mast in honour of the late Amir.


And the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says that delegations representing the Government of National Accord and the “Libyan Arab Armed Forces”, and comprising police and military officers, have concluded two days of security and military talks.  Those talks were facilitated by the UN Support Mission in Libya and held in the city of Hurghada, Egypt.

The Mission says that discussions were marked by a spirit of responsibility, transparency and mutual trust.  They addressed a number of pressing security and military issues, including confidence-building measures, security arrangements and tasks and responsibilities of the Petroleum Facilities Guard.

The Mission welcomes the outcomes reached during the discussion.  UNSMIL hopes that this positive development will contribute to paving the way towards a final and lasting ceasefire agreement.

**Central African Republic

And an update from the Central African Republic, where the UN Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSCA) welcomed a meeting that took place earlier this week between the current President and former Central African Heads of State.  The Mission said this contributes to a peaceful electoral process and reiterated its call for dialogue.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mankeur Ndiaye, will also continue to meet all concerned, within the framework of his mandate of good offices.

Today, the Peacekeeping Mission and the International Criminal Court (ICC) also announced that they will consolidate their partnership as part of an existing agreement between the two entities, which also includes strengthening the fight against impunity as well as assistance to victims in the country. 

Now turning to an important aspect of peacekeeping — disarmament, demobilization and reintegration operations have ended in Bria and Kaga-Bandoro.  In Bria, 307 combatants, including 23 women, were disarmed and demobilized.  In Kaga-Bandoro, 113 [people], including nine women, were also disarmed and demobilized.  In total, close to 300 weapons as well as ammunition was recovered.

**COVID-19 — Peacekeeping

And an update from South Sudan, where the UN Mission (UNMISS) continues to support the country as it battles the COVID-19 pandemic:

In Torit in Eastern Equatoria state, the UN Police assessed the impact of the lockdown on women and girls in relation to gender-based violence.  The officers than launched a campaign for local police and others on deterring sexual violence against women and children through workshops, training for the Special Protection Unit of the South Sudan National Police Services, as well as radio spots.

In Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal, the UN Mission supplied a local school where some children are internally displaced with textbooks and teaching materials.

**COVID-19 — Kenya

Turning to Kenya, where the pandemic is impacting lives and livelihoods against a backdrop of floods, locust invasion and drought.  The UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Siddharth Chatterjee, deployed $45 million from its regular development framework, jointly agreed with the Government.

Together with national authorities, the UN launched a flash appeal to mobilize $270 million to complement efforts to address the pandemic.  We have also deployed nearly 150 staff and volunteers to bolster the response of national and local authorities. 

The UN has prepared a COVID-19 socioeconomic response and recovery plan to address the health-care system, social protection, employment opportunities and social cohesion.


In Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, without aid, more than 5 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of this year due to the combined [effects] of flooding, the desert locust infestation, and the COVID‑19 pandemic, among others. 

Despite multiple challenges this year, high levels of sustained aid by the UN and our partners and Government support have helped prevent worsening food insecurity in the country.

Nearly 2 million people have received food assistance every month since April, while 1.4 million people have received health services. 

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, which seeks just over $1 billion to help 3 million people, is currently just over half funded.  Additional resources are urgently required to prevent food security from deteriorating in Somalia. 

Sorry a couple more notes; since we had no briefing yesterday, we are a little heavy today. 

**United Nations-European Union Agreement

The Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, Atul Khare, and the Head of the European Union Delegation to the UN, Ambassador Olof Skoog, yesterday signed an agreement to enhance cooperation and strengthen the collective response in peace operations and crisis management.  The aim is to maximize the impact on the ground by strengthening interoperability for the planning and execution of operational support.

The Agreement reflects the mutual commitment of the EU and the UN to multilateralism by reaffirming that partnerships are essential to address the growing scale and complexity of challenges in international peace and security. 

[Beeping sound].  I think somebody is trying to tell me something because it keeps beeping.  [inaudible] people bring phones to the briefing.


And a quick note about an upcoming visit:  Tomorrow, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), will join representatives of the Economic Community of West African States — ECOWAS — and the African Union on a joint high-level visit to Conakry, in Guinea. 

This is an important opportunity for the three organizations to renew their support for the holding of a peaceful, inclusive, and transparent presidential elections, scheduled during 18 October.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 1 p.m., Vassily Nebenzia, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation and President of the Security Council for the month of October, will be here in this room to brief on the Council’s programme of work.  It will be hybrid, in person and in WebEx.

**International Translation Day

Today is the Internationale ترجمة (tarjama) Day which means…  exactly, the International Translation Day, which is meant as an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of language professionals.  They play an important role in bringing nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security. 

I think I will stop there.  Just to…  well, I’ll go over some of the results of the COVID meeting in a second, but I see James is impatient.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  You have talked about the military talks that took place on Libya.  I just think it would be a good idea for you to update us on the overall diplomacy with regard to Libya.  As I understand it, there’s the high‑level UNGA (United Nations General Assembly)‑related meeting taking place early next week.

Can you tell us what the aim is of that meeting?

France apparently has offered some sort of meeting.  Can you tell me what the UN’s view is on that?

There is, I believe, a date been set, maybe not in stone, but 15 October, the Geneva meeting of the various parties.  How likely is that able to go ahead?

And can you update us on the…  if you’re going to have that high‑level, you know, proper peace talks between the two sides, on the latest with regard to UNSMIL’s new Special Envoy?

Spokesman:  Okay.  That’s a long thread, which I will try to unspool. 

No news to announce on a new Special Envoy, as required by the Security Council.  Those discussions are going on, and that search is ongoing. 

I mean, the talks that we are seeing in Egypt are really part of a push to restart the 5+5 talks.  We hope that these talks, which are taking place in a positive atmosphere, will lead then to the 5+5 military talks.  So, I think we’re trying to take things one step at a time.  Each step forward is a positive one. 

The conference…  the meeting on the 5th will be part of our efforts to ensure that the commitments made in Berlin are met.  It will be co‑hosted by the United Nations, by the Secretary‑General, as well as the Government of Germany.  As is often the case, it will be an opportunity, obviously, to take stock of the situation, the progress that’s being made, encourage further progress, and also push for the implementation of the conclusions of the Berlin Conference. 

There will be foreign ministers of Member States, representatives of key regional and subregional organizations that also participated in the Berlin talks and, obviously, neighbouring countries.

Question:  And the talks in Geneva?

Spokesman:  I think…  I don’t have a date for those.  I think everything kind of flows one from…  after the other.

Question:  And finally, just on the meeting next week, on the 5th, it’s a virtual meeting, and clearly we understand why there are the virtual meetings rather than in‑person meetings, but what gets left out of these virtual meetings, if that was in person, at the end of it, there will be a stakeout, and we would get information in a press conference.  Can you please push very hard that there is a stakeout?  Because what’s missing is the…  is these people who are having these meetings briefing us and then…  and, as a result, briefing the public.  And that…  it seems repeatedly happen that these virtual meetings are built with no press interaction involved.

Spokesman:  I hear you, and I will do my best.

Yes, Madame.

Question:  Thank you.  My question is, did the Secretary‑General have bilateral meetings, virtual ones, over the high‑level week?  And if…  how many and in comparison to the last year?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, in comparison to last year, I think it’s single digits versus, I think, almost triple digits.  Right?  He had a number of bilateral meetings, one with President Xi [Jinping].  He had with the President of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, the Prime Minister of Italy, if I’m not mistaken, and there were a few others.  I can get you the full list, but it was a small number.

And I think, as James rightly points out, there’s a whole human element that’s missing from this virtual General Assembly.  I mean, I think it was important for us to go ahead with it and do it in this hybrid format, but I think we all miss the human touch, so to speak.

Okay.  Let’s go to Toby.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks very much.  Malaysia is going to ratify the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons today.  What is the SG’s message to States…  to Member States who are…  who have signed this treaty and others who are considering it?  How does he feel this treaty fits into disarmament today?

Spokesman:  Sorry, I didn’t hear the first…  I just heard Malaysia.  What was the treaty?

Question:  The TPNW, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  It’s facilitated by ICANN.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me look into it, because I’m not… 

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yes, sorry.  Thank you, James.  Listen, let me get more…  obviously, any step towards a multilateral cooperation that would lead to prohibition of nuclear weapons and testing of nuclear weapons would be welcome, but I need to get a few more details.

Question:  Well…

Spokesman:  I just…  Go ahead.

Question:  Sorry.  I’m not asking specifically for a comment on Malaysia.  I’m just wondering more about, how does the Secretary‑General feel this treaty…  does he think it’s important today?  And, if so, why?

Spokesman:  Toby, as…  I’m clearly unprepared for this question, so I will get back to you in a way that’s better and more prepared.

Before we go to Abdelhamid, I just wanted to update you on some of the results of the COVID meeting this morning, and a press release will be going out very shortly, but just to give you some highlights, nearly $1 billion in new financing has been committed to the initiative, which is really the most comprehensive multilateral end‑to‑end solution for the pandemic.

The UK came in with $732 million for the COVAX pillar to the Access to COVID‑19 Tool, the ACT‑Accelerator, of which up to $641 million is to support low and middle‑income countries. 

There is also Canada with $332 million for the COVAX pillar of the ACT‑Accelerator, of which 166 is to support low and middle‑income countries…  $166 million.

Germany with about $117 million for the COVAX pillar of the ACT‑Accelerator, all of which is to support low and middle‑income countries. 

Sweden, $10 million for the COVAX pillar, all for low and middle‑income countries. 

World Bank, $12 billion to support developing countries to purchase COVID‑19 vaccines as soon as they are available, to be ratified by their shareholders. 

And a coalition of 16 pharmaceutical companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation signed an agreement to cooperate on vaccine manufacturing and scale up production.

Okay.  The press release is being reviewed, but those were the headlines, and we’ll have more for you shortly.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You briefed us a few days ago about the phone call between the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister of Armenia, but I don’t recall that you briefed us about his phone call with President [Ilham] Aliyev of Azerbaijan.  That is one thing, if you can update us on that. 

And the second, does UN recognize the fact that this area has been occupied by Armenia and there are number of UN resolutions calling on Armenia to withdraw from the land it occupied in 1993?  There are four resolutions.  Does the UN recognize that?  This occupation could be overlooked with the passage of time.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the UN resolutions stand, and they’re obviously…  and I think, in 1993, the Security Council adopted four resolutions related to Nagorno‑Karabakh.  Regrettably, since then, we’re continuing to witness suffering and obstacles to development and peace to the region.  And I think the current events constitute a risk for going back.

I did brief you on both phone calls.  What was clear is that the same…  exact same messages were delivered to the President of Azerbaijan as well as the Prime Minister of Armenia.

And I think in the recent calls that he had, the message that he delivered to them remains very valid to this day.  We’re continuing to see the fighting, which is of great concern to him, and the message is easy:  Stop the fighting.  De‑escalate tensions.  Return to meaningful negotiations without delay and without preconditions under the auspices of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group co‑Chairs. 

And, as you may know, Rosemary DiCarlo briefed the Security Council yesterday.

James Reinl, you had a question. 

Question:  Hi there.  Yep.  James here.  Thanks, Stéphane.  I’ve got a question on the Biodiversity Summit that you guys are hosting today with very high‑level attendance.  Are we expecting anything specific as an outcome from today’s talks?

And, also, can you tell us what is the way forward from here towards the next set of binding international UN commitments on conserving species and plants?

Spokesman:  On the meeting itself and things related, Brenden [Varma] from the…  who is speaking for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you and has more details. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Ray Bouchefra from Sky News Arabia.  You just talk about the COVAX and the…  my first question regarding that.  While the UK has committed to raise its contribution to the World Health Organization by 30 per cent, the US, unfortunately, withdraw from this organization.  My question is, did the UN outreach to the actual Administration to convince them, backing down from this decision…

Spokesman:  I think that’s a question you have to ask World Health Organization whether or not…  what kind of contacts they’re having with the United States Government.  We clearly welcome the extra commitments made by the United Kingdom to the World Health Organization, which is a critical, if not central, part of the UN system’s effort against the virus.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  The second question:  Today, the Armenian Foreign Minister said in interview in Sky News Arabia that Turkey is sending mercenaries and terrorists to Azerbaijan and doing the same in the Mediterranean.  That’s his statement, official statement.

Spokesman:  I have…  we have no way of confirming, denying or of…  we have no people on the ground, so it’s not information we can comment on.  What’s important for us is that international cooperation that pe…  all Member States work together to achieve immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to the established negotiation process under the Minsk…  the OSCE Minsk Agreements. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yeah, James.

Question:  I have a few questions now on COVID arrangements here at Headquarters.  So, first, my understanding is, on the return of the Russian…  sorry, the return…  the Russian presidency is going to mark the return of the Council to the Security Council chamber from next month.  What arrangements will be made by the Secretariat in the chamber for COVID?  That’s number one. 

Number two, could you give us a sort of update on how many staff are coming in to the UN?  Are we, at any point, going to go to another phase?  A rather self‑interested question:  As you get more staff back here, is there any plan for any provision for any catering arrangements of any sort, particularly coffee, in this building?

And then sort of going against that, as you know, cases in New York seem to be possibly about…  beginning maybe to rise, although it’s not very clear yet.  How concerned is the UN about that?  And how will it review things going forward if there is a rise of cases in the Host Country and the Host State?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We’re, obviously, watching very closely the caseloads in New York City.  Our medical colleagues are in touch regularly with the health authorities here. 

The Secretary‑General, from the beginning, has wanting this to be very cautious, and he will continue to take a cautious approach.  Obviously, in terms of people returning…  staff returning to work, the situation with public schools, with transport has an impact on that.  Everyone has their own challenges. 

What we have asked is for all staff to return to the duty station.  So, all staff…  all New York‑based staff are meant to be…  are allowed to work from home but are meant to work from home from the general New York area.

In terms of numbers, just to give you an idea of the screening numbers we had yesterday was about 1,400.  So, I mean, I think during the…  most of the lockdown, we were at about 300 daily.  So, there’s a rise…  a lot of it yesterday was still the GA, so we’ll get the numbers tomorrow. 

There are a few more people in the building.  The Deputy Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General are here just about every day.  But we are still taking it very slowly and extremely cautiously.

On the coffee, I feel your pain.  I share your pain, and I’ll talk to our colleagues, and maybe something could be arranged, even if it’s bringing a coffee cart into the traffic circle. 

The Russian Security Council, I have to see what exact physical arrangements are being made.

Okay.  I don’t think there are any more questions, none in the chat.  I don’t see anybody raising their hands or screaming for more, so I will leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Varma.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.