|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. We hope to have in our room fairly shortly, Ambassador François Lonseny Fall, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia.
**Secretary-General in Geneva
Today in Geneva, the Secretary-General spoke to the first meeting of the new Human Rights Council, saying that a new era had been proclaimed in the history of the UN’s human rights work. He told the delegates that the eyes of the world are on them.
The Secretary-General called on the new Council to make a clean break with the past. “In place of a culture of confrontation and distrust,” he said, “we must see a culture of cooperation and commitment, inspired by mature leadership.”
We have copies of his speech upstairs.
The Secretary-General also held a number of bilateral meetings following the opening of the Council. Among others, he met with the Foreign Ministers of Austria, Nepal and Serbia, as well as with the Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management of Sri Lanka.
**Secretary-General in Copenhagen
Earlier on Sunday, the Secretary-General attended the World Food Programme’s Global Meeting, which, every two years, brings together the WFP’s managers, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Prior to addressing the meeting, the Secretary-General was hosted by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for a working lunch at his official residence just outside of Copenhagen.
Following the luncheon, the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister held a press encounter, at which the Secretary-General said there was currently an opportunity to resolve the current crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme diplomatically.
He was also asked about the current UN budget impasse, and the Secretary-General expressed optimism that the situation would be resolved soon. “There has been a considerable mistrust within the membership and between groups,” the Secretary-General said, “and I think that is dissipating and all of them seem to be working very seriously now towards reform.”
The Security Council today met with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall -- good afternoon, Mr. Fall -- who briefed the Council this morning on the political, humanitarian and security situation in that country, in light of recent developments. Mr. Fall also updated Security Council members on a series of meeting he held in Nairobi and Somalia with Somali and regional officials.
And after I’m done with the briefing, Ambassador Fall will come up here and talk to you about the situation in Somalia. Welcome.
On Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan says there has been an improvement in the security situation in Darfur, due to a significant reduction of fighting between Government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army. However, there has been an alarming increase in banditry, in which convoys and compounds belonging to international non-governmental organizations and the UN have been targeted.
The Mission says there has been an increase in insecurity in and around camps for internally displaced persons that can’t be addressed at the moment by the African Union forces on the ground.
In Khartoum, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan, Manuel Aranda da Silva, held a press conference today where he expressed concern over significant funding shortfalls despite an increase in pledges. For instance, only slightly more than a third has so far been received of the $1.7 billion needed for humanitarian, recovery and development activities in Sudan this year.
Separately, UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), has welcomed the demobilization of 181 children from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains area earlier this month.
We have a press release on that, and we expect to have a transcript of Mr. da Silva’s press briefing later today or possibly tomorrow.
On the Middle East, on Saturday, the members of the Middle East Quartet – the European Union, Russian Federation, United States and United Nations – issued a joint statement endorsing a European Union proposal for a temporary international mechanism, limited in scope and duration, which facilitates needs-based assistance directly to the Palestinian people.
The Quartet expressed its hope that other donors, international organizations, and the State of Israel would consider participation in this mechanism. The Quartet will review the continued need for such a mechanism after three months. Donors are also encouraged to respond to humanitarian and other assistance requests by international organizations, especially UN agencies, active in the West Bank and Gaza.
In its statement, the Quartet reiterated its call for the Palestinian Authority government to commit to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap. And we have copies of the full statement upstairs.
On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, over the weekend strongly condemned Friday’s attack on Buratha Mosque in Baghdad, which killed a number of innocent worshippers and injured many others. He also strongly condemned the assassination of the Imam of Al-Basra Kabir Mosque and three other persons accompanying him, while he was on his way to the mosque for the Friday prayers.
Qazi called on the Government and political and religious leaders to intensify their mutual efforts to bring about a reduction of violence and to strengthen human rights protection for all Iraqis. He also called for the protection of the sanctity of holy sites and places of worship.
Late last Friday, we issued a statement saying that the Secretary-General had agreed to an Iraqi request for the UN to provide strong support in developing an International Compact for Iraq. The Secretary-General looks forward to receiving more details from the Iraqis on the Compact and on the role they would wish the UN to play. And that statement’s full text is out on the Web.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan has called on security forces, both national and international, to ensure the safety and protection of local communities in areas where operations are taking place.
Also, in the press briefing by the Mission in Kabul earlier today, the spokesman noted the latest casualties among deminers in Afghanistan. They also noted that deminers have cleared more than 1 billion square metres of contaminated land across Afghanistan since 1990, but more than 700 million square meters of contaminated land still remain. The remaining contaminated land affects an estimated 4 million Afghans.
And we have more information on that in the briefing notes from Kabul.
On Timor-Leste, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Timor-Leste, Finn Reske-Nielsen, and the Timorese Labour Ministry, said today that the number of people displaced throughout the country’s 13 districts has now been discovered to be 15,000 more than previously recorded, bringing the total number of displaced people outside of the capital to 78,000.
Reske-Nielseen met President Xanana Gusmão today for talks on ways of getting food aid to the outlying districts of the country.
In addition, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, today met Japan’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs to discuss Tokyo’s $5 million pledge made in response to the recent flash appeal for humanitarian assistance for Timor-Leste.
Tomorrow we have a press conference scheduled. Following the Security Council’s open meeting tomorrow on the UN Mission in Kosovo -- that’s scheduled for the morning -- Søren Jessen-Petersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, and Agim Çeku, Prime Minister of Kosovo, will be in this room to brief you.
And that’s it for me. Do we have any questions before we turn to Ambassador Fall?
**Questions and Answers
Question: This actually follows up on something I asked Friday about the five Chinese Uighur asylum seekers that are now in Albania. I’d asked Stéphane if the UN or UNHCR had any role in trying to find them sanctuary, and he said he would look into it, but I didn’t hear anything back. I contacted UNHCR over the weekend and they said to me that it’s their understanding that the Albanians will address this within the framework of their law. But, I think Albania has already denied them political asylum. So, I guess I wanted to [know] what’s going on.
Associate Spokesman: Well, what we can do is try and get you in touch with UNHCR today for anything further they might have on this. UNHCR is clearly in the lead on this, so we’ll leave it to them. But we’ll try and help you get in touch with someone today about that.
Question: On the race for the next Secretary-General, Shashi Tharoor is in India right now and he’s made a number of statements talking about his candidacy. Is he in India on UN business? What’s he doing there?
Associate Spokesman: No. This is during his annual leave. He has made it clear that he will take some annual leave for personal business.
Question: How long is he going to be gone for?
Associate Spokesman: I’m not sure, but what he had made clear to management was that any days that he spends on these sorts of activities would be days on which he takes annual leave.
Question: In a recent issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, Olara Otunnu -- I’m not sure what his status is at the UN any more…
Associate Spokesman: He used to be the Special Representative dealing with Children in Armed Conflict…
Question: Right. He describes the situation of the Acholi people in northern Uganda as “genocide”. I was wondering if the UN agrees with that?
Associate Spokesman: There hasn’t been any UN guidance about whether genocide is being committed there, no. Jan Egeland has raised his concerns about the tremendous humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, and members of the Security Council have been briefed about that when they have taken up humanitarian crises in Africa.
Question: But Olara Otunnu describes what he calls a “conspiracy of silence” by Member States and the UN who are focusing only on the Lord’s Resistance Army and ignoring what he calls a “systematic destruction” of the Acholi people. Has the UN ever raised the issue of the Acholi people? Does the UN consider there to be an issue there?
Associate Spokesman: Regarding the Acholi people, I suggest that you talk to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who have brought up concerns about various groups inside the country.
Question: I just wanted to find out, Jan Egeland has been inside Uganda. What is his position on the situation there?
Associate Spokesman: He has briefed the Security Council on his concerns about the tremendous humanitarian crisis. Obviously the work he does there is in his capacity as the senior humanitarian official in the UN Secretariat. He has brought his concerns to the Security Council’s attention.
Question: Over the weekend, on British television Channel 4, there was a documentary, or kind of exposé, about MONUC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) having provided support to Government troops in razing a town called Kazana -- torching of huts and deaths of civilians -- so it seems like a pretty serious charge. It’s also in the Observer newspaper of the Guardian. I don’t know if the UN has checked into this… if there is a response from the UN?
Associate Spokesman: In fact, we are checking into this. I don’t have anything for you on it now, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations did inform me today that they are looking into this, and so we will examine what these charges are and what’s behind them.
Question: Can we expect some kind of update in this room? How will this be handled?
Associate Spokesman: We’ll provide you an update when we have some more information.
Question: A follow up on that, does the UN have a plan, at any stage, now that it’s doing more active… I don’t know if you call it “war fighting”, but conflict… in Congo in Haiti, to do any assessments of civilians hurt in these raids? Time and time again we’ve heard the same basic response as the US, which is that “we don’t do civilian body counts”. I was wondering of the UN was trying to step up its monitoring of these things, so, maybe, it doesn’t get taken by surprise by reports in the British media and so forth?
Associate Spokesman: The UN’s standing rules for its peacekeepers are, in fact, to avoid any civilian casualties, and whenever there are problems reported to us, we look into them. So we’ll continue to do that.
Question: One more thing. I don’t know how many times I have to ask this, but can we ever have a briefing on the budgetary situation of the UN?
Associate Spokesman: We’ve put in a request and we’ll try and get someone in to speak to you.
Question: Because I’ve been asking about once a day for the past couple of weeks, and keep on being told “yes, yes, yes”, and then nothing ever happens. So will something happen?
Associate Spokesman: Yes something will. We’ll try and get someone for you.
And with that, I would like to welcome Ambassador François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia.
* *** *For information media • not an official record