|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone, and if you can, turn your cell phones off.
Today, as a guest at the noon briefing, we will here about the crisis in the Horn of Africa from our guest, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes. So he should be here shortly. First we’ll do a briefing. By the way, the Horn of Africa is dealt with in a press release from the World Health Organization (WHO), which we have upstairs today, which says that worsening malnutrition and the threat of disease outbreaks are compounding Ethiopia’s humanitarian crisis. And Mr. Holmes will be here to talk more about the crisis in the Horn of Africa.
**Statement on Lebanon
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the National Unity Government in Lebanon.
The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement on the formation of a National Unity Government in Lebanon. He believes that this important event reflects Lebanon's continuing emergence from the political crisis and the revitalization of its constitutional institutions. The Secretary-General urges the Lebanese to continue working for the full implementation of the Doha Accord. He will continue to ensure the United Nations support for the consolidation of Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty in accordance with the Taif Accord and the relevant Security Council resolutions.
The Security Council this morning received a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno on the attack that took place in North Darfur on Tuesday against peacekeepers of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Seven UNAMID personnel were killed in that attack, you’ll recall, while twenty-two were wounded. UNAMID immediately launched an investigation, which is still ongoing, into the identity and motives of the attackers. As of yet, no organization has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in a Government-controlled area. Mr. Guéhenno expects to talk to you at the stakeout once he is done in the Council, which could happen fairly shortly, and hopefully we’ll be able to mention when he’s coming to the stakeout.
After consultations, Council members expect to hold a formal meeting on Afghanistan to consider a presidential statement. Then, at 3 o’clock, the Security Council has scheduled consultations with a view to a formal meeting to consider a draft resolution on Zimbabwe.
Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council voted unanimously to terminate the sanctions measures it had imposed earlier on Rwanda. And the Council President read out a press statement that condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack earlier this week on Turkish police protecting the United States Consulate General in Istanbul.
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Alexander Downer, the former Foreign Minister of Australia, as his Special Adviser on Cyprus. In a letter that he sent to the Security Council yesterday evening, the Secretary-General noted that, in resolution 1818 earlier this year, the Security Council had welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to appoint a Special Adviser on Cyprus at the appropriate time. And we will await the Security Council’s response to his letter. Also on Cyprus, I can confirm that the Secretary-General is planning to meet with His Excellency Mr. Dimitris Christofias in Paris on Sunday, and with His Excellency Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat in Berlin on Tuesday.
On Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has noticed some “disturbing developments” in the pattern of displacement from Zimbabwe. Previously, the great majority of Zimbabweans crossing the border into South Africa were single men or women seeking work. But now, an increasing number of families are arriving as a result of political violence, with several people showing signs of beatings or torture. UNHCR also notes that, in the last 40 days alone, some 17,000 Zimbabweans have been deported from South Africa despite earlier calls from the agency to suspend all deportations. The refugee agency has reiterated its appeal to South Africa to ensure that Zimbabweans seeking asylum have access to the proper procedures. And we have more on that upstairs.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that, for the first time since 2006, access for international agencies to two north-eastern provinces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has resumed. The United Nations country team had been negotiating to resume humanitarian access in those provinces since early 2007. A UNICEF team is set to leave for an 11-day mission to these provinces on Saturday to visit hospitals, health facilities and institutions for children. UNICEF trucks loaded with nutritional supplies and medicines intended for children in those provinces have already set off from the capital Pyongyang.
**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) today launched its Least Developed Countries Report for 2008. The Report found that, although least developed countries as a group registered substantial economic growth over the past 30 years, the number of poor people paradoxically continues to rise. Population growth has outpaced economic expansion and some 277 million people in these countries live on less than $1 dollar a day. The global food crisis has also worsened the situation. Given current development patterns and policies, these countries are not on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, the Report says. And there’s more information in the Geneva briefing notes upstairs.
**UN 21 Awards
A ceremony to honour the winners of the UN 21 Awards was held this morning. The Awards were established 12 years ago to provide recognition to staff members for innovation, efficiency and excellence in the delivery of the UN’s programmes and services. They were designed to motivate staff members to participate in the reform of the UN, and to help change the UN’s culture into a results-oriented one. In remarks to the Award recipients today, the Secretary-General said their endeavours have given the UN’s work more impact and made the Organization more productive. And we have his full remarks upstairs.
**International Telecommunication Union
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set up a new group to deal with the impact of information and communications technology, or ICT, on climate change. The new group will look at how to reduce ICT emissions and explore how information and communications technology can also be used to help cut emissions in other industry sectors. Since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the number of ICT users has tripled worldwide. And it is estimated that the ICT sector produces between 2 and 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the Telecommunication Union says that ICT can be part of the solution to the climate change challenge. And we have more on that upstairs.
**United Nations Population Fund
Today is World Population Day. This year’s theme is “Family Planning: It’s a Right; Let’s Make it Real”.
In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General notes that ensuring basic access to family planning could reduce maternal deaths by a third, and child deaths by as much as 20 per cent. He calls on Governments to honour their commitments to let all couples and individuals decide the number and spacing of their children, as well as have the information, education and means to do so.
In a separate message, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid calls family planning “essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life,” she says, stressing that family planning also helps fight poverty by allowing parents to devote more of their resources to the education and health of each child. And we have those messages upstairs.
**Press Conferences Monday
On Monday, we’ll have a couple of press conferences. At 11 here in Room 226, there will be a press briefing by Ambassador Jürg Streuli of Switzerland, the Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, on the launch of the Small Arms Survey 2008. And my guest on Monday will be Stephen Rapp, the Prosecutor for the Sierra Leone Court, who will brief you on the Charles Taylor trial. We’ll also have upstairs the Week Ahead to detail all of next week’s events.
Like I said, we’ll be having John Holmes (today) as our guest to talk about the Horn of Africa. And available at the stakeout right about now we’ll have Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who will talk abut UNAMID, the UN-AU Mission in Darfur. Any questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In the event of an indictment being announced by the International Criminal Court against the Sudanese President, I’d like to know legally if any country not a signatory, like in the case of the United States, which is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, can any national of that country be indicted when that country is not signatory to the Statute?
Associate Spokesperson: Legally speaking, if you’re talking about the situation in Darfur, it has actually been the subject of a United Nation resolution, resolution 1593 (2005) of the Security Council. In resolution 1593, it shines responsibility for surrendering… Sorry, the UN calls on all parties to respect their international obligations to cooperate with the Court on that matter. So, certainly, people could be indicted under the groundwork of that resolution even if they’re not States parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. And beyond that, all countries are enjoined to respect the resolutions of the Security Council.
Question: This resolution 1593 overrides the Rome Statute?
Associate Spokesperson: It doesn’t override the Rome Statute. The Statute has within it provisions that allow the Security Council to refer cases. In other words, cases can be referred by States parties, or by the Security Council. This is the latter case. The Darfur situation has been referred by the Security Council.
Question: Back to the Zimbabweans being deported back from South Africa. How aware is the UN in general about the volume of Zimbabweans getting across the border into South Africa? How worried are they that they’re being deported back in such large numbers? What do they fear for these people and what kinds of stories is the UN system picking up from these people?
Associate Spokesperson: As I said, there are signs that some of the people who have been fleeing in recent days have shown signs of torture and that is certainly a concern. The refugee agency, you can look at their full release on this for more detail. The refugee agency is concerned about both the number and the type of people who are leaving from Zimbabwe in recent days. In other words, these are people who are showing signs of torture and are seeking asylum, as opposed to people who had come as individuals seeking employment in previous waves. And, of course, UNHCR is also concerned to make sure that due procedures are followed if any of these people are turned back to Zimbabwe. So yes, they are also concerned about people being made to leave, just to make sure the proper procedures have been followed.
Question: Yesterday, Mr. Eide met with the Secretary-General. Do you have any readout?
Associate Spokesperson: This was just a regular meeting when Mr. Eide comes to New York. He briefed the Secretary-General on the work he’s done and he also, of course, briefed the Security Council. If you want details of the sort of work he’s been doing or briefings he’s been giving, two days ago he had a public meeting with the Security Council and you can look to his comments there for further details about his work.
Question: I was more interested in the specific meeting.
Associate Spokesperson: That, too, is part of the process of talking about the work he’s been doing. And, like I said, those details of what he’s talking about were made public with the Security Council two days ago.
Question: Mr. Spokesman, I’d like to know, sorry if I missed that, whether the Secretary-General did address today’s day, the thirteenth anniversary of Srebrenica? If he didn’t, because I came late, why he didn’t?
Associate Spokesperson: You’re right. Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which is something the Secretary-General has spoken about in the past. We didn’t issue a commemorative statement for this one. We did a message for the tenth anniversary, but that was three years ago. In any case, the sentiment is one that the Secretary-General still believes and that’s the one that I would like to reiterate right now, that we continue to believe that justice needs to be done for the victims of this horrible massacre in Srebrenica. As you know, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić remain at large and we continue to urge all nations to do what they can to bring these people to justice, that they need to face their time of trial and we will spare no effort in continuing to seek justice for the victims of the Srebrenica massacre.
Question: Why not genocide but massacre?
Associate Spokesperson: As you know, this particular massacre has been deemed an act of genocide by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, so that’s their judgment and we stand by that.
Question: Two more follow-ups.
Associate Spokesperson: All right, but other people do have questions.
Correspondent: I would like to address this issue and I really have a right to do so, thank you very much.
Associate Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: Why did the Secretary-General not use the day, since his new appointee to the Tribunal, Mr. Brammertz, said that the two at large, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, are within the scope of Serbia, to use the opportunity and call Mr. Tadić, the President of Serbia, and to issue yet another appeal to take care of this matter?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as that goes, we continue to urge all nations, including Serbia, and have been doing so for some time now, to transfer all indicted subjects, not just those two suspects, in their territory.
Question: All three, according to the Prosecutor that was appointed by the Secretary-General, are within Serbia.
Associate Spokesperson: And certainly Serbia has a responsibility to turn over any suspects within their territory and we call on them to do that.
Question: Just one more follow-up. If the Secretary-General missed this opportunity to address the issue of Srebrenica, particularly on this day, the thirteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, how then does he think, as the champion of human rights, as one who is seen like that, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, that he cannot spare the effort to promote the further fight against genocide, as he does?
Associate Spokesperson: You’re starting to drift a bit. What is the question?
Question: How can he proceed with fighting against genocide in the future if he does not address this day, today, on Srebrenica?
Associate Spokesperson: Like I said, the Secretary-General’s views on this have not changed and he does continue to press for justice on Srebrenica. If you’re saying, how can he speak for genocide if he doesn’t issue a commemorative statement every year, of course he can. Commemorative statements are not necessarily about the work that’s being done and the work that’s being done in the case of Srebrenica, including by Mr. Brammertz and by the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Question: One more follow-up on that. Does the UN system have any comment at all on the ruling by the Dutch court in The Hague, that the UN is immune and will not have to answer for any charges of negligently allowing the events in Srebrenica to take place? Is there any response that the lawyer there will appeal, that it would be better for the UN to be held accountable when it makes a mistake than to be immune? Is there any comment to that?
Associate Spokesperson: We don’t have any response to the judgement. The judgement, I think, speaks for itself. Action, like an appeals process, we wouldn’t want to say anything prejudicial for that process. In any case, it doesn’t override the central point, which is that, regardless of this particular decision and that particular case, we continue to press, not just with Serbia but all countries that are responsible, to see what can be done to bring about justice in the case of the victims of Srebrenica, and to make sure, in particular, that these two gentlemen, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, are made to face trial.
Question: Who are all the countries?
Associate Spokesperson: All Member States of the United Nations. Everyone has their influence and certainly different countries have influence with the parties on the ground. And what we’re trying to do is to make sure that anyone who has information about the whereabouts of these particular fugitives, will bring them to the court.
Question: They are in Serbia.
Associate Spokesperson: That is one area where a particular focus of attention lies, but certainly, we’re hoping that everyone can be helpful on this.
Question: Why does the Secretary-General not lift the immunity of the United Nations and with that act show that he is different from the old United Nations that was somehow recognized as a failure in the case of Srebrenica?
Associate Spokesperson: I think the judgement has been made on this issue a few days ago and I don’t think I have anything further on that.
Question: The judgement?
Associate Spokesperson: You’d have to ask the Dutch court.
Question: This is a follow up on the Secretary-General’s decision accepting Pakistan’s request for instituting an international commission to investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. What’s the process that is now going to take place? Is he going to coordinate to appoint the head of the commission?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves on that. There’s still a certain number of consultations that will have to take place. As you know, we provided a readout following the meeting that took place yesterday. And one of the points that we made is that, while we’ve made some progress in terms of arriving at a broad understanding on some issues, there is the need for further consultations with Pakistan and with possibly other States, about the scope and the mandate of this proposed committee. So we haven’t decided on any particulars, yet. But, we’ll continue with those consultations and there’s certainly broad agreement on a number of other issues and we’re trying to help Pakistan as best as we can.
Question: Once he appoints the head of the commission, will the head of the commission be able to pick whom he wants?
Associate Spokesperson: That’s a little ahead of where we’re at right now. We haven’t set up the commission. There’s no decision to set it up or to appoint a head of it yet. But we’ve agreed on a broader picture of some form of assistance and we’ll try to get some clarity on the specifics of that once we have our further consultations.
Question: Has a decision been made on a new High Commissioner for Human Rights yet?
Associate Spokesperson: Not yet. Okay, this is going to have to be the last question, because Mr. Holmes is here.
Question: The Australian Defence Minister just now, outside the United Nations, said that they’re suspending their commitment to send nine military officers to Darfur. And he said this is consistent with United Nations policy, to suspend deployment of individuals, it’s not a formed unit. Is that a United Nations policy to now suspend deployment to Darfur?
Associate Spokesperson: In fact, as we’re speaking, I believe Mr. Guéhenno has been going to the stakeout, so I’d rather that you asked that question to Mr. Guéhenno, who is speaking about UNAMID at the stakeout now.
Question: Just one more, if you will allow.
Associate Spokesperson: It has to be the very last question.
Question: Farhan, how do you respond tomorrow to those who will read the story that the question of the genocide in Srebrenica, that the anniversary of that was dodged to be answered properly, that this, that the spin was offered, actually, from this very podium, by the Spokesman of the Secretary-General.
Associate Spokesperson: I have no idea what you’re really talking about. Our position on Srebrenica has not changed.
Question: You didn’t answer on anything I asked you. Absolutely not, no answer.
Associate Spokesperson: I beg to differ, and now, with that, we’ll have Mr. Holmes come up to talk to you about the situation in the Horn of Africa.
* *** *For information media • not an official record