Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 22 June 2020 – Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Malawi

I will start off today with the Security Council, where, this morning, the head of the UN peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said the political situation in the Central African Republic remains fragile and dominated by preparations for the presidential and legislative elections, which are scheduled for this December. Speaking about the volatile security situation, Mr. Lacroix said armed groups in the country — including signatories of the peace agreement — have acknowledged the Secretary‑General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, while, at the same time, are still using violence for expansionist aims. He strongly condemned yesterday’s ambush of a joint UN and national defence forces patrol, allegedly by members of the 3R armed group.

The Under-Secretary-General added that he is deeply concerned by continued violations of the peace agreement. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is working closely with the guarantors and other partners, and engaging with the parties to encourage and facilitate dialogue. They are also maintaining a robust posture to protect civilians and mitigate threats by armed groups and militias. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian situation is worsening and impacting the work of the UN Mission. The Mission has taken measures to support the Government’s response, prevent the spread of the virus, as well as to protect civilians and UN personnel. Mr. Lacroix ended his remarks by underscoring the need for continued support to the Central African Republic. Despite great strides in the implementation of the Political Agreement, he said, it remains fragile and the forthcoming elections will be a major test for all of us. This afternoon, the Council will have a closed briefing on Burundi, as well as a vote on a resolution regarding Somalia.

Somalia

And on Somalia, I can tell you that the Secretary-General welcomes today’s virtual meeting in the country between President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” and the Federal Member States’ leaders as an important step towards the resumption of dialogue and collaboration. He calls on all stakeholders to continue to engage in dialogue to advance national priorities, which require political consensus and broad support. The Secretary-General further urges the federal and state leaders to come together to jointly address the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Syria

Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that 15 new COVID-19 cases have now been confirmed by the Government, bringing the number of cases identified by authorities to 219, including 83 recoveries and 7 deaths. The UN remains concerned by the economic impact of the pandemic on millions of women, children and men across Syria, whose health‑care system has been decimated by almost a decade of war. Prior to the crisis, some 80 per cent of people in Syria lived below the poverty line, with high levels of food insecurity. Some 9.3 million people in Syria are now estimated to be food insecure, an increase of 1.4 million in the past six months alone. This number could even rise in the coming months due to the loss of job opportunities due to the virus, particularly for those relying on daily wage labour or seasonal work. For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is leading UN efforts to support preparation and mitigation measures across all of the country.

Also, on Syria, the UN, we all remain concerned over the safety and protection of more than 4 million civilians in the north‑west of the country, more than half of whom are internally displaced, following reports of shelling and airstrikes over the weekend. Between 19 and 21 June, artillery shelling impacted 11 communities in Hama, northern Aleppo and Idleb Governorates, while air strikes reportedly affected three communities in southern Idleb and northern Hama Governorates. Of the nearly 1 million people in north‑west Syria who fled their homes between December 2019 and early March 2020, some 840,000 of them are reportedly still displaced in the northern parts of Idleb Governorate and in northern Aleppo. The overwhelming majority of them are women and children. We continue to urge all parties, and those with influence over the parties, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Afghanistan — Attacks on Health‑Care Facilities

And turning to Afghanistan, I wanted to say that, there, too, we are gravely concerned by recent deliberate attacks on healthcare personnel and facilities, especially in the context of the pandemic. A new special report released on Sunday by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) shows the harm to health‑care workers, damage to health‑care facilities and other ways in which the parties to the conflict have interfered with essential health care, both as a result of targeted attacks and as a result of ongoing fighting. From 11 March to 23 May, the report documented 15 incidents affecting health‑care provision in the country, where 12 were deliberate attacks and the remaining events involved incidental harm. The most abhorrent of these attacks is the attack on a maternity ward in a Kabul hospital, and that attack remains unattributed to this day. The full report is available on UNAMA’S website.

COVID-19 — Malawi

And from Malawi, where the virus has deeply impacted livelihoods and the economy, there are 730 cases and 11 confirmed deaths. The UN team, led by our Resident Coordinator Maria José Torres, is helping the Government respond by delivering life-saving goods in several parts of the country. The UN and our partners have donated 15,000 face masks and 4,000 gowns to authorities. We have also provided care and shelter items for Malawians returning to their country, including from India and South Africa. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has led efforts to install 45 emergency latrines in border posts and more than 1.4 million people have received messages on hygiene. The UN and our partners have also tested more than 1,400 returnees, with nearly 170 of them testing positive and receiving care, as well as food and personal protection equipment. We are also supporting the Government with guidelines to reopen schools and we are distributing cash or food to 600,000 students currently out of school.

UNICEF is providing material for students studying at home in hard-to-reach areas. The UN team is targeting 8 million people with COVID-19 prevention information over the radio and mobile phones. We are also partnering to address gender-based violence through hundreds of community victim support units. The World Food Programme (WFP), as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are leading our efforts to assess food security needs to identify hotspots to rollout the Government’s food and cash assistance programme. And also, on a related note, I expect a statement on the upcoming elections in Malawi to be issued by my office later today.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later issued the following statement: On the eve of presidential elections in Malawi scheduled to take place tomorrow, the Secretary-General calls on all political actors and stakeholders to renew their commitment to credible and peaceful elections, while observing all preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19. The Secretary-General underlines the importance of refraining from violence and hate speech, and of upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Secretary-General reiterates the support of the United Nations to the people and Government of Malawi in their efforts to consolidate peace, democracy and sustainable development.]

Source: UN Department of Global Communications

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