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28 October 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.

**Secretary-General — Republic of Korea

All right.  Good afternoon.  In a statement we issued almost overnight, to read into the record, the Secretary-General is very encouraged by President Moon Jae-in’s announcement of the Republic of Korea’s commitment to get to net zero emissions by 2050.  This is a very positive step in the right direction after Korea’s exemplary Green New Deal, which was announced in July.  With the announcement the Republic of Korea, the world’s 11th largest economy and 6th largest exporter, joins a growing group of major economies committed to lead by example in building a sustainable, carbon neutral and climate resilient world by 2050.  The Secretary‑General now looks forward to the concrete policy measures that will be proposed and implemented to reach this goal.  This includes the Republic of Korea submitting in time for COP26 a revised 2030 nationally determined contribution which is more ambitious and consistent with its new commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.

**Nordic Council

And yesterday afternoon, the Secretary‑General spoke to the Nordic Council, via a live video link, saying that a new, effective multilateralism is needed to provide global governance on issues that concern us all, including the climate crisis and the COVID‑19 pandemic.  Regarding the climate crisis, the Secretary‑General called on Nordic countries to submit more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement ahead of next year’s COP26.  He also asked them to maintain and enhance their financial commitments to support developing countries.  “It is my hope that members of the Nordic Council will serve as the global model for a green, inclusive and sustainable recovery,” he told them.  The Secretary‑General also commended the Nordic Council for its commitment to multilateralism and leadership on efforts to address the COVID‑19 emergency in an effective way.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Colombia

Our Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, will be on a, quote, “virtual trip” to Colombia today and tomorrow.  This is the first virtual country visit since the outbreak of the pandemic and the trip will highlight the importance of the Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, marking its 20th anniversary, which will be 29 October, tomorrow.  The virtual visit also enables the Deputy Secretary‑General to witness the United Nations in Colombia, working with national and local authorities and civil society organizations — including the response to the pandemic, development challenges and peace consolidation.

She will be accompanied by Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo.  Ms. Mohammed and her delegation will be meeting by videoconference with various officials, including President Iván Duque.  They will also talk to women human rights defenders and women leaders and discuss the advances and challenges in implementing the 2016 Agreement.  The last time the Deputy Secretary-General visited Colombia in person was in 2015 for the launch of the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

**Nagorno-Karabakh

A quick note, an update on Nagorno-Karabakh:  As the Secretary‑General has stated unequivocally, we strongly condemn all attacks on populated areas impacted by the conflict, including the strikes on the city of Barda, which reportedly killed and wounded many, as well as the ongoing reported shelling of Stepanakert/Khankendi and other localities in the Nagorno-Karabakh zone of conflict.  There can be no justification for such attacks.  We again reiterate the Secretary‑General’s call on the parties to immediately implement the humanitarian ceasefire that the parties have committed to and fully abide by their obligations to spare and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  The ongoing hostilities are unacceptable and must stop immediately.

And just to give you some clear examples of the humanitarian impact of this ongoing conflict, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that in one month of fighting, more than 130,000 people have been displaced, 76 schools and kindergartens damaged, and one maternity hospital shelled.  Countless children are being scarred by the psychological impact of daily exposure to rocket and missile attacks in civilian areas.

**Syria

And turning to Syria, our colleagues on the ground conducted a one-day inter-agency visit to Idlib governorate in north-west of the country.   Yesterday, the UN humanitarian agencies visited a displacement camp in central Idlib, supported through funding from the Central Emergency Fund (CERF).  They met members of the displaced community, who continue to live under extremely difficult conditions.  They also met with humanitarian personnel and local authorities, and visited warehouses storing supplies for winterization and COVID‑19 response in the area.  Missions such as these help the UN gain a first-hand understanding of the humanitarian situation and current needs in the north-west.  Some 2.8 million people — half of them children — remain in need of humanitarian assistance in north-west Syria.  The UN humanitarian cross-border assistance provides a lifeline for millions in this area whom the UN cannot reach by other means.

**Pakistan

And this was just handed to me:  Just a note that we strongly condemn the attack on a religious school in Peshawar yesterday that reportedly killed at least eight students and injured more than a hundred people, some of whom were children and teachers.  The Secretary‑General conveys his condolences to the families of the victims, and the people and Government of Pakistan.

**Somalia

And a quick update from Somalia, which continues to be one of the most complex, fragile and protracted humanitarian situations in the world.  Our humanitarian colleagues report that 5.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance through 2021, due to the impact of the recurrent climatic shocks, armed conflict and insecurity and displacement amid the pandemic.  Flooding this year has impacted nearly 1.6 million people, destroyed farmland and infrastructure and increased the risk of water-borne diseases.  In addition, a desert locust infestation since January has impacted 685,000 people.  The number of people facing food insecurity is expected to rise from 1.3 million in September to about 2.1 million through December, in the absence of humanitarian assistance.  We, along with our partners, have reached over 2.3 million people with aid this year.  While 61 per cent of the $1.01 billion Humanitarian Response Plan has been received to date.  That is about $618 million.  Funding per sector remains disproportionate, with more than half of the clusters receiving less than 35 per cent of required funding.

**COVID-19 — Cabo Verde

And an updated from Cabo Verde, where Resident Coordinator Ana Patrícia Graça is leading the UN’s team work in supporting the Government’s response to the pandemic.  Our team has reprogrammed $17 million of funds previously geared for work on sustainable development.  It has mobilized an additional $4 million to support national efforts to save lives and livelihoods.  Through a Crisis Response Coordination Platform set up with the Government, we have provided support for a socioeconomic impact assessment, in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Union.

Through the COVID‑19 data portal, our team is also reporting on the socio-economic impact of the crisis in Cabo Verde, focusing on vulnerable communities.  This includes the provision of vaccines to more than 7,000 children under one year of age; assistance to more than [700] health workers; and remote-learning access to more than 66,000 children.  Meals are also being provided to more than 26,000 primary school children, 100,000 people are receiving cash assistance and 14,000 small business have access to support programmes.  You can check out more data from the UN team in Cabo Verde and our work in other countries on the Development Coordination COVID‑19 data portal, data.uninfo.org.

**Forests

And just lastly, I want to flag a new report by FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) that warns that unless we restore the world’s forests and efforts to scaled up, we will not be able to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030.  To date, 63 countries and other entities have committed to restoring 173 million hectares of forest land, that is about half the size of India — and regional responses such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative and Initiative 20×20 in Latin America are making significant advances.  Yet, much more needs to be done.  Okay.  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, can we have an update, please, on… given that the UN in‑person meetings are closed, we believe until Friday, on the cases of COVID in the UN and in the Mission of Niger?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The cases that I have, as of today, UN‑wide, is 5,325 cases.  We’ve sadly had 64 fatalities.  In the Secretariat here in New York, we had about 100… we had 130 cases.  I’m still not in a position to confirm which mission was at the centre of this particular reporting, although I can tell you, as I did yesterday, that they are working very closely with our Medical Service.  As you said, the meetings… the Secretary‑General recommended to the President of the General Assembly that meetings [not] be held in person through the end of the week.  We hope to get back to normal very soon.

Question:  Why can you not confirm the name of the mission?  You said yesterday you had hoped to be able to confirm the name of the mission.  Shortly, they’d make a statement.  They have not made a statement.  Just because they’re covering up, why should the UN cover up? The Secretary‑General himself said in April, “more than ever, governments must be transparent, responsive and accountable.”  Why are you taking part in covering this up?

Spokesman:  I understand…  I’m not…

Correspondent:  It’s facts, and it’s public health.

Spokesman:  I understand that.  It is up to them to come forward.

Question:  They are [inaudible] Niger, for the record, Niger, which you won’t say.  Are there tests being done on people who went to Security Council meetings in the last week?

Spokesman:  Yes, full contact tracing is being done.

Question:  Just explain how that works.  I mean, is the UN responsible for taking a register of who was in each room at one time? Is the UN asking people… is the UN conducting tests? Is it providing Medical Service to do so? [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yes… We are as contact tracing… I mean, there’s a basic procedure for people to report the contacts they’ve had.  We then contact those people.  We are offering tests through our Medical Service to those delegates who want to avail themselves of our facilities, and others can do their own testing.

Question:  Sorry, but you still haven’t quite explained to me how the contact tracing worked.  People have to report if they had a contact.  If they were listening to you, they wouldn’t know it was a Niger diplomat that they should know that they have a contact with.

And does the UN, for meetings — in the GA, in the committees, in the Security Council and ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] — keep a record of which diplomats were in the room at which time with which other diplomats, or are you relying only on those diplomats to remember who might have been in the room?

Spokesman:  No, we… I mean, there are record… if… I will have to double‑check.  My understanding is that there are records… especially given that there are very few people in the meeting rooms, that we know who was in the meeting rooms.  Sherwin?

Question:  Just a follow‑up on sort of the track that James is on, have the HVAC [Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning] systems in the building been improved? Can you talk a little bit about what sort of initiative…

Spokesman:  Yes.  There were… there was a lot of work done over the summer on improving the air filtration system, putting them up to the necessary level that have been recommended by the host authorities.  My understanding of HVAC [Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning] systems is slightly higher than my understanding of escalators.  But what I can tell you is, from my understanding, the air filtration system in the conference building is separate than the air filtration system in the Secretariat building.  Okay.  Edie, and then I’ll come back to you, James.

Question:  Sorry, Steph.  Two questions.  First, a follow‑up on James and Sherwin.  Have you contacted the mission in question and urged them to put out a statement on the status of COVID‑19 in their mission?

Spokesman:  Yes, I’ve been in touch with them directly, and I would add that they are the ones who came forward to the Secretariat to say that they had a number of cases.

Question:  And since you were in contact with them, what was their response, that they are… were planning to put out a statement?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, I’m… I don’t want to speak for them, but that was the understanding that I had.

Question:  Okay.  My question was on the presidential election in Tanzania.  I know the pre… the Secretary‑General put out a statement ahead of the election.  The opposition today is warning that the election is being compromised by manipulation, deadly violence, and a massive Internet slowdown.  Any further comment?  And then I have one other.

Spokesman:  No, just to add that we do hope that the organ… the elections take place in way that all Tanzanians are able to express their position through the ballot box, that there is a space created for people to express… to vote in the proper manner and that if there are any issues with the results, that those be taken up through the established means and, of course, a call to ensure that there is no violence and no instigation to violence through hate speech.

Question:  And just another follow‑up on COVID.  Have any… has the Secretary‑General been in contact with all other missions? And have there been any other reports?

Spokesman:  No other reports that have come to us of other… Mr. Bays, and then we’ll go to the screen for a bit.

Question:  That was going to be part of my question, but is there an obligation?  One assumes under simple contract… contact tracing there is an obligation of all missions to report any cases.  Are you saying all missions should report any cases of COVID to the UN Medical Service?

Spokesman:  Obligation is… given, as you understand the structure of the UN, an obligation is a strong word.  We strongly encourage all Member States, all Permanent Missions, to proactively report to us any positive cases.  And I have to say that we’ve had very good cooperation on that end.

Question:  Well, you think you have, because you don’t know whether you’ve got the right number of cases.  So, if that is the case, then, you’ve provided some useful statistics for us for this briefing.  Could you, by tomorrow, come up with how many cases there’ve been in the 193 missions since the start of the pandemic, please?

Spokesman:  There have been… as of earlier this week, there were five cases amongst the delegates.  So, this… it does not include what… the exact number of cases we had this week, but let me just… I will double‑check, because I actually asked for that information.

Question:  Seems very low.

Spokesman:  Well… so, the cases… the 100 and… yeah, so as of… so the 130 cases as of today, I had 127… this was as of earlier this week.  The breakdown was 2 consultants, 5 delegates, 16 dependents, 45 international staff, 47 national staff, 1 other… 4 other… 1 trainee and 7 unclear what their status was.  So, the majority of cases… the largest group of cases have been with international staff and national staff reported to us.  I’ll come back to you.  Let me go to the screen.  Abdelhamid, I think you’ve been waving your hand.  And then Toby.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, I have a follow‑up to my question yesterday about Mohammed Assaf being prevented from going back to the West Bank.  That’s a follow‑up question of yesterday.  And my second question…

Spokesman:  Yes, I don’t have an… I apologise.  I don’t have an update for you on that.

Question:  My second question… or my question for the day is about [Nickolay] Mladenov briefing to the Security Council on Monday.  He requested the PA [Palestine Authority] to resume security and civilian coordination with Israel, which is a fact that he ignoring the reasons for the suspension — because Israel decided to annex 30 per cent of the West Bank and build more settlement, which Israel is doing as we speak.  Why he failed also to call on Israel to lift 13 year… 13 years of siege on Gaza, instead of asking the PA [Palestine Authority] to resume coordinate… security coordination with Israel?

Spokesman:  I think his remarks were a broad reflection of the consistent positions we have had and the consistent calls we have had for… from the Secretary‑General in calling for dialogue, in ensuring that humanitarian aid and goods and people are able to flow freely.  I don’t see any of his remarks as a change in our basic principles.  Toby?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thanks very much.  We’re seeing a potential dangerous escalation in the fighting in Syria between Turkish‑backed forces and Russian warplanes.  I’m hoping you can give us an update on what you’re seeing from the UN side on that.  And my second question is on… again, on the Tanzania elections, opposition reporting that there’s a very large police presence on the ground in Zanzibar, which could be perceived as an intimidation tactic.  Are you seeing a similar phenomenon or… and what do you think about that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I, unfortunately, did not get an update from the ground today.  Our concern, obviously, is — and I think the Secretary‑General expressed that very clearly in his statement — is that the elections go ahead in an atmosphere of calm, free of fear and intimidation and where everyone can cast their ballots.  Let’s let the day go through.  On Syria, I have no particular information on those clashes, but again, I think, as Mr. [Geir] Pedersen said, we are… we have been concerned at some of the military operations.  And all of these continued clashes only have a negative impact on the overall humanitarian situation.  Mr. Klein, and then Philippe.

Question:  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes, Joe.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  As we know, the President of the General Assembly tried to set up a person‑to‑person meeting with the New York City mayor, [Bill] de Blasio.  He was turned down.  He also has a request in for a meeting with Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, mainly focussed on the coronavirus and protocol [audio gap, inaudible] for the UN host city.  Has the Secretary‑General himself tried to reach out to either de Blasio or Cuomo, let’s say, within the last number of months?

Spokesman:  We are… from the Secretariat point of view, we have been in constant contact, especially on the health and the safety issues, with the correct… with our partners in New York City and in New York State.  And I think the operational contact has been almost daily, and we also remain in… so, we have been in touch with the people we needed to be in touch with to ensure that the UN’s work can continue and that the UN can continue to be a good neighbour to New York City and New York State.

Question:  Well, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on what happened to the President of the General Assembly…? [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  No.  He does not.  He does not.  Philippe?

Question:  Yes.  Hello, Stéphane.  I would like to come back to this virtual visit you talk about — Colombia and Amina Mohammed.  Is it a first, this kind of virtual visit for an official of UN? And can you tell us if António Guterres is planning to do this kind of virtual visit in a country and, if yes, where and when?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No plans to announce on the Secretary‑General.  It is the first virtual visit by the Deputy Secretary‑General.  Perhaps others in the UN system have done so, but I think it is a very effective way, given the travel challenges that we have, for us to… and for a senior official to engage with national authorities, with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations), civil society and the UN team.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Last week, when I believe it was Toby asked the question whether you were aware of any attempts, any pressures being put on the countries which were ratifying the treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.  And then again, yesterday, I don’t remember whether Mr. Sato raised the issue, but it turns out that, in fact, the whole story was broken by one of my most distinguished colleagues, so it’s now in the public domain.  So, does the UN have any comment upon an attempt by a nuclear weapons state to sabotage the entry‑into‑force of this treaty and the… you sent out to us a quote from the Secretary‑General saying, "The treaty represents the meaningful commitment toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations."  So, if a nuclear weapon State… [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  Look, I have no way of knowing what Member States say to each other.  And the Secretary‑General has always called for a dialogue among Member States to come up with a common vision and a path leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and he will continue to… and the Secretary‑General continues to support engagement between those who support the treaty and those who have issues with it.  Alan Bulkaty?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the National Security Adviser, Mr. Robert O’Brien, made a large statement.  He said that the United States are developing ballistic missiles and the hypersonic missiles and are ready to deploy them in Europe to deter Russian Federation.  I wonder… I want to ask you how do you think… what kind of circumstances could this… to the security in Europe could such a statement have?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Alan, to be honest with you, I have not seen the statement, so I will take a look at it and try to come back to you.  Okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, Mr. Sato, please.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about climate change.  We know the ranking of the carbon dioxide emitters — the China, US, India, Russia and Japan and so on — and recently, Japan announced the neutrality… emission neutrality at the 2050, followed by the South Korea yesterday.  What does Secretary‑General expect from other largest emitter, such as US, India and Russia?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, we think the announcement made by… yesterday, by the President of the Republic of Korea, the announcement made earlier this week by the Prime Minister of Japan were very, very strong steps in the right direction, which the Secretary‑General welcomed.  And he hopes that these countries that are leading by example will encourage others, especially the largest emitters, to follow suit.  Okay.  Varma, yours.

For information media. Not an official record.