28 April 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Gaza


I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the latest violence in the Gaza Strip.


The Secretary-General condemns the loss of civilian life earlier today in Gaza, including the tragic deaths of a mother and four of her children.  The Secretary-General calls upon Israel to exercise maximum care and restraint, and reminds the Israel Defense Forces of its responsibilities to protect civilians under international humanitarian law during its military operations.


The Secretary-General also condemns the ongoing attacks and rockets fired today against Israeli targets by Hamas.  He calls on Hamas and other militant groups to cease such acts of terrorism.  He also reminds them that civilian areas within Gaza should not be used as a base from which to launch its actions.


The mounting loss of civilian life in and around Gaza is deeply worrying and the Secretary-General calls for an immediate calming of the situation.


** Gaza


Also on Gaza, according to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), the Palestinian Petrol Association today delivered some 55,000 litres of diesel to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  That delivery will allow UNRWA, which has been unable to deliver food for the past three days, to resume its food deliveries for about six days.


Nevertheless, UNSCO says that today’s delivery does not address the wider humanitarian situation in Gaza.  Specifically, the fuel issue is affecting the transportation of doctors to hospitals, and teachers and students to schools.  Crops are not being irrigated, and cooking gas shortages have forced 20 of 47 bakeries in Gaza to shut down.


According to UNSCO, the Petrol Association is seeking a commitment from the Government of Israel for sufficient supplies, so that it can prepare an appropriate distribution plan and all services in Gaza can resume.


** Afghanistan


In a statement issued from Bern, Switzerland, yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest terms the attack against Afghan President Hamid Karzai that occurred at a victory parade in Kabul, which resulted in the deaths of two members of parliament and injuries to nine other bystanders.


The Secretary-General said that this attack against the legitimate institutions of the Afghan State and the Afghan people is unacceptable.  He expressed again the United Nations support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan through legitimate State institutions, in a manner that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable and that provides both justice and security.


The Secretary-General congratulated the Afghan security forces for reacting quickly to the attack, preventing further loss of life, and protecting the Afghan officials and foreign diplomats attending the event.


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1559, concerning Lebanon, is out as a document today.  In it, the Secretary-General notes the continuation of the country’s severe political crisis, centred on the failure to elect a President.


He says that the Lebanese people have a unique opportunity to open a new chapter in their difficult history.  They must rise to this occasion and elect a President without any conditions beyond those prescribed by the Constitution.  He regrets that, despite the numerous calls of the Lebanese people and the international community, such an election has still not been held, and he commends and supports the tireless efforts of Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa over the past few months.


The Secretary-General also continues to be deeply disturbed by the series of political assassinations and attempted assassinations in Lebanon.


**Security Council


The Security Council heard in an open meeting today from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, who had recently visited Iraq.  He told the Council that, despite improvements in security, the Government of Iraq continues to face formidable challenges to the process of national reconciliation.


Pascoe said that it is imperative that Iraqi leaders maintain the recent positive momentum and take further steps to resolve fundamental issues that continue to divide Iraqis, such as the sharing of natural resources and an agreement on the federal structure of the Iraqi State.


While taking strict measures to deal with the security situation, he added, the United Nations is playing an enhanced role in Iraq.  The Secretary-General has increased the UN presence in Baghdad to 140 and in Erbil to 40 international staff.  In addition, the United Nations has re-established its presence in Basra and is contemplating an expansion of the UN presence to Najaf, Ramadi and Kirkuk.  He told the Council, “I returned from my Iraq visit absolutely convinced that the United Nations is doing its best.”


In addition to the open meeting on Iraq, Council members are discussing Somalia today in closed consultations.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is in Bern, Switzerland, where he is convening the spring session of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) that brings together the heads of the UN system.  Today, he is leading talks that are focusing on the crisis in rising food prices; the safety and security of UN personnel; and climate change.


Speaking at a panel in Vienna last Friday, the Secretary-General underscored the importance of dealing with the food crisis, warning that, if we do not address this issue, we will lose the capacity to address global warming and will not be able to realize the Millennium Development Goals.  “This has been a global challenge, so we need to address it in a collective way -- globally,” he said.


Later today, the Secretary-General will meet with the President of the Swiss Confederation.


And tomorrow, at 9 a.m. local time, the Secretary-General will give a press conference, and we’ll provide you with a transcript of it later tomorrow.


**Peacebuilding Commission – Guinea-Bissau


Turning to Guinea-Bissau, the Secretary-General has announced the first disbursement from the Peacebuilding Fund for projects in that country.


$6 million will go to fund Guinea-Bissau’s Interim Priority Plan, which includes projects in the areas of security sector reform, judiciary police, youth employment and the upcoming legislative elections.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is visiting the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.  She is following up on an advisory brief that she filed last month in relation to the case of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Lubanga, the founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, will be tried before the ICC for the conscription and enlistment of children under the age of 15 and the use of children for active participation in hostilities.


Coomaraswamy said Lubanga’s trial represents a crucial step in the fight against impunity and will have a decisive deterrent effect against perpetrators of this outrageous crime against humanity.


There’s more on this upstairs.


** Zimbabwe


And on Zimbabwe, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, yesterday said that she was alarmed by reports of continuing violence in the aftermath of the elections.  She called for political leaders to restrain their supporters and clearly renounce the use of threats, intimidation and violence against opponents.


She said she was particularly concerned by reports of violence against non-governmental organizations, election monitors, human rights defenders and other representatives of civil society.


Arbour called on the Government of Zimbabwe and its legitimate security forces to discharge their lawful responsibilities in a non-partisan manner.  And there’s more on this upstairs.


**Secretary-General’s Statement at ESCAP Annual Session


In his message to the ministerial segment of the annual session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Secretary-General stressed that soaring energy costs are taking a toll on the poor around the world who “pay a much higher price” in human suffering.


He recalled that the victims pay the price through failing health, lost opportunities for education or employment, especially for girls and women, and degraded environment.  The Secretary-General urged members to find innovative ways to promote the efficient use of energy, better energy management, cleaner production and consumption, changes in lifestyle, and the wider use of renewable energy.


**IFAD and WMO Programmes for Farmers


Turning to agriculture, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is launching a programme to train more than 10,000 West African farmers to use climate information to improve their harvests.


WMO is organizing roving one-day seminars in villages in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.  The one-day sessions will focus on weather and climate risk management, as well as the sustainable use of natural resources in agricultural production.  WMO will also distribute low-cost rain gauges as part of the programme.


Meanwhile, the International Fund for Agricultural Development is making available up to $200 million to help poor farmers improve their yields, as they prepare for the upcoming growing season.  There’s more information on that.


**Death of Thomas Schindlmayr


Finally, it is with deep sadness that the Secretariat for the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities announces the death of UN disability expert Thomas Schindlmayr, who passed away on Saturday after a long illness.


He battled this illness with great strength, a quality that he brought to everything he did and accomplished.  Let us keep our memory of Thomas as a vibrant man who brought much to all of us.  He will be missed terribly.


**Human Rights Panel Discussions


At 3 o’clock this afternoon, a panel discussion will be held in Conference Room 4 on the responsibility to protect doctrine.  It’s part of the new Human Rights Dialogue Series, organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Department of Public Information.  Participants will include Edward Luck, Special Adviser to the Secretary General.  All are invited.


That’s what I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There’s a BBC report on the Indian and Pakistani peacekeepers in Congo and the conflict with OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services).  Do you have an update on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I have a three-part answer for you.  First, that at 1:30 here in Room 226 there will be a senior official from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations who will be here to brief you on this.  That’s probably the most important thing.  It’ll be a background briefing, in about an hour’s time.


Secondly, we have available for you upstairs a letter written by the head of Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, in response to the programme that you mentioned.  So that’s available for you.


And having said that, I would just like to make a few points on the report that you mentioned.  The BBC report raises serious issues concerning misconduct by UN peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The United Nations takes these issues very seriously.  While the UN takes these allegations very seriously, UN Peacekeeping’s view is that the report is misleading and neglects to mention a number of important factors.


The BBC report is based on allegations two to three years old, which have been investigated by OIOS.  Much of the new information presented by the report is either hearsay or comes from sources, such as the militia leaders, whose integrity and motivation are highly questionable, as they themselves were arrested and put in prison by MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) peacekeepers.


Their direct implication, that senior UN officials are involved in a cover-up concerning these allegations, is untrue.  The allegations that the UN covered up claims that its peacekeepers trafficked in weapons because of political sensitivities is false.  UN Headquarters is following up with the Member States in questions regarding disciplinary action they have taken on the basis of OIOS investigations.  The report implies that UN investigations into the allegations against the peacekeepers have intentionally been withheld from Member States, and this is not true.


And the OIOS investigations found cases of misconduct by a handful of individuals but no evidence of systematic wrongdoing.  The allegations of gold trafficking concerned three individuals.  One has to be careful not to smear the whole country’s contingent or the UN as a whole on a basis of individuals’ actions.


So that’s what I have for you and I will direct further questions on this at the background briefing at 1:30.


Question:  On Afghanistan, after the attack on the Afghan President, the Secretary-General expressed his support for him.  Mr. Karzai, on Saturday had said in an interview that he supports the peace process that the Pakistani Government has initiated with the Taliban.  Does the Secretary-General have any position on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to add on reports that you mentioned.


Question:  Just a follow-up on what you read out.  Can we get an official OIOS?  The BBC report very much looks at OIOS’s own investigation.  It calls it OIOS … crisis, etc.


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, we can request, but you can do that as well.


Question:  The OIOS commissioned an outside consultant to write a report on it, which I believe is part of this report.  If they won’t come and speak, can the report that OIOS used presumably UN money to conduct of itself be released?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t answer questions about OIOS so we’d have to raise it with OIOS.


Question:  The Secretary-General in his remarks in Vienna on Thursday said an additional 100 million people have been driven into another dimension of hunger and poverty.  But according to the World Food Programme on Friday, they said they will be if the food price crisis worsens.  So if you can clarify that.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure, we’ll do that for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that both WFP and the Secretary-General have said that 100 million people are at risk of hunger.]


Question:  To the food conference.  First of all, is there going to be anything that’s issued from this? Is there a document or a plan?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, they’re meeting today.  Tomorrow morning, there’s a press conference at 9 a.m. over there.  So I am sure that there will be something issued by the time you wake up.


Question:  Right, that would be a press conference.  But, I mean, is there going to be a new plan of action or a new way to affect the 100 million people that are or will be hungry?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s precisely why the Secretary-General has decided to raise this issue at this gathering of some 27 UN agencies.  Obviously he believes that this issue is much bigger than one person or one agency can handle.  So yes, there will be an announcement.  There will be a plan and we’ll try to figure out the best way to get it to those reporters who are not based in Switzerland.


Question:  Is it possible to get a list of who’s attending?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  We have that upstairs for you.


Question:  Why is it in Bern?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the last CEB was hosted in Turin, I believe.  This one is in Bern.  It has to do with invitations from cities and a cost analysis is done.  As you know, not all the agencies are based in New York.


Question:  How is it more cost-effective for 27 agencies to meet in Bern instead of in Geneva, which is where a lot of them are already based?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me find that out for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the invitation for that venue came from the Swiss Government.  The Universal Postal Union, which is based in Bern and is co-hosting the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), is also celebrating 60 years as a United Nations specialized agency.]


Question:  On Zimbabwe, tomorrow I understand there’s going to be a Security Council.  Who is going to brief from the Secretariat, and does the Secretary-General believe that it belongs in the Council?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The situation in Zimbabwe, from what I understand, will be discussed tomorrow in informal consultations under other matters.  The senior official who is expected to brief is the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.  And it is a request to the Secretariat from the Security Council members.


Question:  Should it be on the agenda, because that’s a controversial…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You ask the Security Council members that.


Question:  Another question on another topic, there are reports of rumblings in Israel about UNIFIL and its confrontations with Hizbullah, that they are downplaying those confrontations.  Can you address those?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’re talking about press reports that there was an incorrect reporting of an incident last month…


Question:  And they cite several other incidents that were even not reported.


Deputy Spokesperson:  We do have a response from UNIFIL.  We did give you, by the way, last week an update about the particular incident in question.  But in response to what you’re saying, these reports inaccurately represent the way in which UNIFIL operates and repeat factual inaccuracies.  UNIFIL says that it follows standard response procedures, that includes immediate action necessary to address the situation on the ground, promptly informing the parties, both the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces, and coordinate activities with them where required.


Question:  Now you addressed the press reports, but what about the tenor of the thing?  When reporting to the Security Council, UNIFIL, and by the way, thanks for addressing press reports because usually the answer is “We don’t address press reports”.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I gave you an update on this incident last week.  That’s why I’m following up on that.


Question:  The question is what about the tenor of the thing, which is that the report found incidents, they hide incidents or don’t report them to the Security Council?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I just answered that question.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that UNIFIL also immediately informs United Nations Headquarters and the Security Council about all the developments on the ground and any violations of resolution 1701.  This established procedure was duly followed by UNIFIL in the case of the 30-31 March incident, which was promptly and factually reported.]


Question:  Speaking about inaccuracies, the Secretary-General’s recent report to the Information Committee says that the Department, together with your Office, and the Director of the Communications office continue to monitor the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the media about UN work.  How consistently and how comprehensively is this work being done?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the Department of Public Information undertakes media reviews and analysis on a routine basis -- as one way for the Department to help assess whether the United Nations messages are being picked up, and how they are being covered.  This work is done at the Headquarters level, as well as with the help of the network of United Nations Information Centres around the world.  The Department also undertakes special media reviews and analysis of selected major United Nations events.  The Department of Public Information, United Nations peace and peacekeeping operations, the Spokesperson’s Office and the Director of Communications are all engaged in media monitoring one way or the other, and all have a role to play in correcting egregious errors in reporting on the United Nations – at the Headquarters or country level.]


Question:  Will there be a summary or readout of the Bern meeting?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s obviously going to be done in Switzerland, where they’re meeting, but we’ll try to get it to you as soon as it’s issued over there.


Question:  There are reports from Haiti that a protest has been filed with MINUSTAH (the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) after the death of the peacekeeper and the shooting up of street vendors and the destruction of their property and some deaths.  Has MINUSTAH received a protest in that regard and is there an investigation?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that, according to MINUSTAH, the mission says it has not been sent any complaint or protest directly, but it has received a copy of a letter from two local commercial associations (Association of the Defence of Haitian Merchants & Consumers and The Association for Small Businesses) addressed to the Government prosecutor, in which it is alleged that the two persons named were killed by MINUSTAH troops on 12 April 2008 following the public murder of a Nigerian United Nations Police, who was shot dead in the market in Belair.


MINUSTAH is, of course, investigating these allegations, but has not found any facts to substantiate them.  Consequently the allegations that any MINUSTAH personnel killed these individuals or subsequently removed their bodies from the scene remain unsupported by any evidence.]


Question:  Also, there’ve been reports of hacking of and viruses on UN servers.  Have you seen this report?  It’s in the Washington Post talking about various UN websites being infected by viruses.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard or seen anything new, but I’ll look into that for you.


Question:  Does OIOS have its own spokesperson?  How would one seek an answer from OIOS?


[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that there was a very minor breach on a relatively less used portion of the United Nations website (the United Nations events calendar).  This was very quickly detected, contained and rectified.  The incident is being analysed in cooperation with the Information Technology Services Division.]


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, they’re an independent arm, so you’d have to ask Ms. Ahlenius whether it’s herself or somebody who works with her.


Question:  The Disarmament Commission Chairman de Klerk said that the efforts of the Disarmament Commission was not successful and he is disappointed.  Is the Secretary-General disappointed, too?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen anything on the proceedings so we’ll have to look into that for you.


There are no other questions?  Then it’s 1:30 back here on DPKO.


Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record