The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon and happy Friday. In a short while, we will be joined by the Heads of UN‑Women, the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as the Assistant Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They will be here to brief you and to talk about the Education Plus Initiative: Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women in sub-Saharan Africa. The Executive Director of UNFPA will be in the room, in fact she is coming in right now, and the rest will join virtually.
**Secretary-General — Nuclear Weapons
This morning, at a high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the Secretary‑General said the world continues to live in the shadow of nuclear catastrophe. Progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons has stalled and is at risk of backsliding, he added. Programmes to modernize arsenals threaten to bring to the world faster, stealthier and more accurate weapons, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said, before adding that the opportunity cost of spending money on such ill-conceived upgrades is simply staggering. The Secretary-General made a direct appeal to the Russian Federation and the United States to extend, without delay, the “New START” Treaty for the maximum duration of five years. For the sake of all of our security, he added, the world must return to a common path towards nuclear disarmament. He called on States Parties to the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to strengthen this bastion of nuclear non‑proliferation and concluded that he looks forward to the entry into force of the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And that statement was delivered to you.
**Secretary-General — European Broadcasting Union
Also, this morning, the Secretary-General spoke with heads of European public service media as part of the European Broadcasting Union’s own General Assembly. With 2020 being a year like no other due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary-General underscored how crucial it is to ensure that health guidance circulates quickly and reaches people. At this time, he said, we need the media to inform the public with accurate and science-backed information and to push back against lies and misinformation. He added that this is what the public service media is doing better than anyone else.
**International Day of Non-Violence
And today is the International Day of Non-Violence, which is also the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. In a message, the Secretary-General said that in marking the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, this International Day is a timely reminder to strive to uphold values that Gandhi lived by: the promotion of dignity, equal protection for all, and communities living together in peace. And on this year’s observance, the Secretary-General stressed that we have a special duty, which is to stop the fighting to focus on our common enemy — COVID-19. That message has been shared with you.
**COVID-19 — United States
And as you saw earlier this morning, we issued a note to correspondents and tweeted out that the Secretary-General sends his best wishes to President [Donald J.] Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a quick and complete recovery.
And I was asked yesterday about the situation related to COVID-19 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. I can tell you that as of yesterday, the number of people confirmed to currently have the virus there is 8,577. Since the pandemic began, more than 51,000 cases have been reported, including 376 deaths. Of these, there are 3,075 cases reported in Gaza, including nearly 1,400 active cases. Most of them are due to community transmission, raising concerns of the long‑standing fragility of the Gaza health system. The UN and humanitarian partners have continued to support local authorities in addressing critical gaps in medical supplies and providing essential services to cover 1,800 people in quarantine facilities throughout Gaza. In addition, preparations are ongoing to transform a number of quarantine facilities into isolation units in case of a substantial rise of infections. To support the Government of Palestine-led efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, the COVID-19 Response Plan requests $72.4 million until the end of year. Only 46.4 per cent has been received so far.
And in a statement we issued last night the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of an agreement to launch talks on the delineation of land and maritime boundaries between Lebanon and Israel, to be hosted by the United Nations at the premises of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). That will take place in Naqoura. The Secretary-General acknowledges the sustained diplomatic efforts of the United States to facilitate this agreement. The UN, through its representatives, will remain fully committed to supporting the process as requested by the parties and within its capacity and mandate.
And just the last thing I want to flag, that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today called for urgent action to address the dire situation of migrants attempting to cross the central Mediterranean Sea in search of safety in Europe and to tackle the shocking conditions they face in Libya, at sea and frequently upon their reception in Europe. The call follows a week-long mission to Malta by a team of human rights [officers]. All right. I will leave it there. I will take a few questions on the topics at hand if there are any. If there are, just wave your hand so I can see you. Okay. All right. Then we will go… hold on a second. Let me just… excuse my… I’ll just double‑check the chat. Sorry, Natalia. We’re still trying to figure things out here. Okay. I think we’re fine. So, we will go straight to our… sorry. Did you have a question?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sorry. Thanks, Steph. I just wanted to ask if there were any updates on the Secretary‑General’s diplomacy regarding the conflict in Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Spokesman: No, nothing new to… than what I’ve already said, which is that we remain in contacts with all the relevant parties, including the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], the Minsk Group, and we continue to appeal for an urgent and immediate cessation of hostilities. I think we’re all very concerned about the continuing reports of violence, of death and of injuries and of combat that we see throughout the region. Okay.