The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement on the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Secretary-General is closely monitoring the situation in the Kyrgyz Republic, where protests erupted yesterday in the aftermath of the 4 October parliamentary elections, reportedly leaving one person dead and over 100 injured. The Secretary-General regrets the loss of life and urges all involved to exercise the utmost restraint and refrain from violence. The Secretary-General encourages all Kyrgyz actors to engage in dialogue and agree on a way forward within the constitutional framework. The United Nations stands ready to support all efforts aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the current situation, including through the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia. That statement will be delivered to you very shortly.
**Universal Health Coverage
Tomorrow, we expect to issue the final report in a series of Policy Briefs from the Secretary-General concerning COVID-19. This Policy Brief will focus on the need for universal health care and for the strengthening of health systems worldwide. We will share a video message by the Secretary-General, as well as the report itself. That Brief is to be issued a minute after midnight tonight — although there is a chance, for technical reasons, that we may have to push the embargo back until later, but we will let you know with enough time by the end of today. [The time was later confirmed to be a minute after midnight.]
You saw in a statement we issued yesterday evening in which the Secretary‑General condemned the continuing escalation of violence in the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict zone, despite repeated appeals from the international community to immediately stop the fighting. The Secretary-General said that he is gravely concerned by reports of the extension of hostilities, including the targeting of populated areas. The Secretary-General reminds all sides of their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure under international humanitarian law. He once again underlines that there is no military solution to the conflict and urges the sides to immediately cease hostilities. The Secretary‑General appeals to all relevant regional and international actors to actively exercise their influence to achieve an urgent end to the fighting and return to negotiations under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
In a separate statement, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said there are already reports of four children killed and seven injured in the 10 days since the violence escalated dramatically in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. UNICEF warns that without an end to the fighting, these figures will tragically increase. The UN Children’s Fund said that the fighting is destroying homes, damaging schools and other essential infrastructure. UNICEF urged all parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from further harm, in line with international and humanitarian law. And an immediate cessation of hostilities is in the best interest of every child, says UNICEF.
Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we are increasingly concerned by the impact of the ongoing economic downturn in the country, including rising food prices in a context where more than 11 million people are already urgently in need of humanitarian assistance. Basic food items are now out of reach for many families, with food prices at record levels after more than tripling in the past year. Families in some areas are queuing for hours to purchase subsidized necessities such as bread and fuel, according to reports. In addition, the prices of masks and gloves have increased by 300 per cent, with sanitizer prices going up by more than 200 per cent since February — at a time when the virus cases are on the rise across Syria.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), a record 9.3 million people are food insecure in Syria. Without future support, more than 2 million additional Syrians risk being pushed further into hunger and food insecurity. In the face of these needs, the UN and our partners have reached nearly 7.5 million people in need each month. This includes providing life‑saving food to 4.5 million people through WFP. The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading COVID-19 preventive and mitigation efforts, including distributing more than 4.5 million [pieces of] protective personal equipment to date.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, addressed the Virtual C20 Summit on water security. In a video message, she said that water is key to life [and one] of the keys to COVID-19 prevention, but it is more insecure than ever before. As the world’s population grows, we will need more and more water — for our health, our food and to meet the demand for energy and manufacturing, she said. She added that we must strengthen water management and financing across national and local governments. “We have the tools, but they need scaling up — urgently,” she stressed. Amina Mohammed added that she hopes that when world leaders meet at the G20, they will re-commit to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water and sanitation and further commit to solving the water crisis.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our colleagues at UNICEF said that children continue to be deeply impacted by violence in the eastern Province of Ituri. In the first half of the year, UNICEF has documented the killing of 91 children, injuries to 27, as well as sexual violence. Nearly 18 health facilities have been looted or destroyed, while attacks against more than 60 schools have left around 45,000 children out of the classroom. More than 1.6 million people, the majority of whom are women and children, are estimated to be internally displaced. Insecurity in the province continues to undermine humanitarian efforts, while insufficient funding limits the scope of activities on the ground. This afternoon, the Security Council will turn its attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a briefing from Leila Zerrougui, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
**Ukraine — COVID-19
I have an update from Ukraine, where our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, while there has been an overall improvement in the security situation since the 27 July ceasefire, humanitarian needs among conflict-affected people in Donetska and Luhanska Oblast continue to be aggravated by COVID-19. As of yesterday, there were 230,236 conﬁrmed cases of the virus in Government-controlled areas of Ukraine, including 4,430 deaths. Reportedly, there are 4,888 confirmed cases in non-Government controlled areas, including 265 deaths. With more than 700 patients now hospitalized daily and the duration of treatment becoming longer, response capacities are set to reach their limit with the onset of winter. Adding to these challenges are the wildfires that have been ravaging parts of Luhanska since 30 September. At least 20,000 hectares of land have been affected and critical civilian infrastructure has been impacted in some places, including water and [electricity]. As of early October, the Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine was 36 per cent funded only.
In Nigeria, the Government and WFP today launched cash and food assistance in COVID-19 hotspots in the cities of Abuja, Kano and Lagos. The Government released 2,000 metric tons of grain from its strategic reserve while WFP released $3 million in cash aid. This is the first time that WFP is expanding its programme in Nigeria to reach people in towns and cities, where millions of people are threatened with hunger and malnutrition due to the socioeconomic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new joint statement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Global Compact and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights spotlights the hidden crisis impacting hundreds of thousands of ship crew members and others stranded at sea for months due to the pandemic. Some 400,000 people are currently stranded on vessels and a similar number are prevented from returning to ships, either to earn their living or to return home, due to the virus restrictions. In some cases, people have been trapped on the same ship for 17 months or longer — far beyond the maximum 11 months permitted under international labour standards. The group says that there has been a profoundly negative impact on basic human rights, including the seafarers’ rights to physical and mental health, right to freedom of movement, and right to family life.
In case you didn’t know, I want to flag that this week is World Space Week. This year’s theme is “Satellites Improve Life”, and it encourages students and the public to learn about satellites and the many ways they improve life on Earth. The General Assembly first declared World Space Week in 1999 to celebrate the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition. On that note, I will take some questions. Mr. Bays, don’t be shy.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. We had Stephanie Williams here yesterday, so I didn’t ask about her successor, but probably a good…?
Spokesman: That was very polite, very polite, yeah, yeah.
Question: But, clearly, as part of the Libya process, the fact you don’t have the Special Envoy, we know your position on this; where actually are we on this now? Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, as I understand it, has not been formally proposed by the Secretary‑General. Is it time for the Secretary‑General to propose a team for these two positions and try and break the logjam?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General, I would say, is highly engaged in this process. Discussions are ongoing. We would… I think this would go for, not just Libya, but I think, in general, our general effort would not be… not to propose someone formally to the Council until we were pretty sure they were to be accepted. So, the discussions are ongoing.
Question: Mr. Mladenov apparently informally has been accepted by the whole of the P5. So, is the Secretary‑General working with the A3+1 now to try and get back…?
Spokesman: No, the Secretary‑General is working with all members of the Security Council.
Question: Okay. Can I ask a question about a different subject? In the Third Committee, the Armenian representative described Azerbaijan as pursuing clear genocidal intent. Your reaction to that sort of language being used. And maybe you could give us an update… you’ve given us an update on the situation as the UN sees it. You haven’t given us an update on the UN’s diplomacy that’s under way.
Spokesman: The diplomacy is focussed on… excuse me. Something in my eye, not related to the issue. There we go. The diplomacy is focussed on speaking to the parties at different levels, on staying in touch with the OSCE. And the message on the diplomatic front is that there is a process already in place, and that’s the OSCE Minsk Group Co‑Chairs. The parties should rejoin that process. And I would say that the Secretary‑General is extremely concerned by the escalation of violence that we’re seeing, the reportedly targeting of civilian areas, and that there needs to be an immediate cessation of hostilities. I mean, we’re seeing… you saw the statement from UNICEF. Sadly, unless this stops, we will see more and more civilian victims.
Correspondent: The fact the Armenian… sorry, the Armenian representative invoked genocide in the Third Committee.
Spokesman: It’s not for me to comment on this. I mean, the UN is also here… is a place for Member States to meet and to express their opinions in the clearest ways. Yes, Toby, and then we’ll go to Apostolos, who I can see is eager to ask.
Question: Just a follow‑up to your last brief there, where have people been stranded on a ship for 17 months? And is this a really widespread phenomenon or is this…?
Spokesman: It is. It’s sadly a widespread phenomenon. We’re seeing it all over the world. Because of the pandemic restrictions, seafarers have not been able to leave their ship. The ships have often been stranded. They have, unfortunately, in… from what I gather, in the vast majority of countries, not been deemed essential workers when, in fact, the shipping industry is essential and they are essential workers in keeping goods moving while the lockdown and lockdowns are in place. This is something that the Secretary‑General has been speaking about and is very concerned about, and we need to see countries lift restrictions on seafarers so people can actually get home; crews can change. I mean, one can only imagine the psychological impact of being stuck on a ship for 17 months when the rules are very clear that they’re not to be there for more than 11 months. Apostolos, you may have a question today. I can’t hear you. Can you un‑mute yourself? There we… go ahead.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. The… what is the Secretary‑General planning to do after the announcement by the regime in the Turkish‑occupied areas of Cyprus to re‑open Varosha on Thursday with the support of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan?
Spokesman: We have seen those reports. We’re very much aware of the situation on the ground. I expect to have a statement shortly, but what I can tell you that we and we will cont… we are and we will continue to be guided by relevant Security Council resolutions. If you’ll recall, resolution 550 (1984) states it “[c]onsiders that attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible”. So, we will have something a bit more formal coming from my office shortly, but I can tell you that much as of now. Yes, Carla?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. First, I want to thank you for a very, very sensitive and thoughtful description you made a couple of weeks ago about all that is being lost by the fact that Heads of State and foreign ministers cannot come here, and I appreciated the fact that you mentioned that problems which seemed insoluble could sometimes be solved by direct contact between the two parties, officially or unofficially. As a matter of fact, Henry Kissinger once said he got more work done at the UN in three days than he did all year in Washington, D.C. My question is, since everybody is aware… well, everybody I’ve spoken with is aware of the diminution of the effectiveness of the UN with this system, can you estimate how much longer this will go on for? And there were some dark thoughts about what this could be leading to.
Spokesman: I have no clue. I mean, who knows how long this is going to last for? Obviously, it depends on policies put in place by governments and depends on people’s personal responsibilities, how they behave. It depends on the vaccine or vaccines when they come that… to ensure that they’re equitably distributed to everyone, not just to those who can afford it. It depends on a lot of things. But, the UN, like all… like any other organization and all of us at individual levels are learning to adapt to this new world. And how long it will last, je ne sais pas, as we say in English. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. One on French President [Emmanuel] Macron. Normally, it’s okay to criticize Muslim… criticize Muslim parties’ Islamic movements, Islamic groups; it’s okay. But, to criticize Islam itself is an insult to 1.7 billion Muslims. Are you aware of his latest statement, which offended millions of Muslims? And if so, have there been any statement from the Office of the Spokesman or from Mr. [Miguel Angel] Moratinos, in fact?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything on that. I haven’t seen… I mean, I saw the headline. I haven’t seen it, but let me check, and I’ll get back to you. Okay. Any other questions, wave…?
Question: I have a second question, Stéphane.
Spokesman: Oh, please. Please, go ahead, Abdelhamid.
Question: Yes. Irina Slavina, a Russian journalist — she’s 47 — set herself on fire because the security forces invaded her house last Thursday, took her laptop. And apparently, they went through her personal things. So, she set her herself on fire and died this morning. And she left a message that… to blame it on [Vladimir] Putin. Are you aware of this incident and if there would be a statement from the UN spokesman or from anyone?
Spokesman: Sorry. You’re breaking up. I mean, I’ve seen some of the press reports. We, obviously, extend our condolences…
Spokesman: Yes. No, no, I heard that part. We extend our condolences to her and her family, but let me see if I can get something more on that. Okay. Brenden Varma, I think you’re up. Give me two seconds to move.
Correspondent: I have a question. Sorry.
Spokesman: Oh, yeah, Ibtisam. Go ahead. Sorry, sorry.
Question: No worry. I asked you last Thursday about the Lebanese‑Israeli meetings and whether you could provide us with more details on the technical issues. Do you have any update?
Spokesman: What I can tell you… bear with me two… that the agreement that was signed… agreed to on 1 October relates to the framework of discussions on land and maritime boundaries. It envisaged that the maritime boundary discussions will take… will start around mid‑October, with the participation of the delegation representatives of the parties. The US will act as a mediator and facilitator of the maritime delineation discussions. Those meetings will be hosted by the UN Office of the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and they will take place at the UN premises in Naqoura. And separately, the land boundary discussions will be hosted by UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], also take place in Naqoura, under the established tripartite mechanism, with the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Israeli Defense Forces under the chairmanship of the UNIFIL Head of Mission. Does that make sense?
Question: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Just a follow‑up, then. Are they going to be also direct… like, are they going to be direct, or they’ll be sitting in the same room? Or is it another similar to the UN…?
Spokesman: In terms of… physically, they will be in the same room. Okay. Sorry, Ray. It’s not that I wanted to leave.
Question: So, you said physically same room. In Naqoura?
Spokesman: Yes, in Naqoura.
Question: It’s in Lebanon. Right?
Spokesman: In Naqoura. Naqoura is the place where, traditionally, the UN has been hosted… the UNIFIL has been hosted tripartite talks between themselves, the Lebanese Armed Forces and the IDF. They do that on a regular case‑by‑case basis to resolve issues that go along the Blue Line, but it’s a place that has hosted discussions with Israeli and Lebanese delegations… military delegations in the past. Okay. Thank you, all. Brenden, I think now you’re up.