23 March 2009
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General at the General Assembly


The Secretary-General spoke at an informal meeting of the General Assembly this morning, briefing them on his upcoming travels and listening to their views on the upcoming G-20 Summit in London.  He said that the stakes at that Summit are large.


The Secretary-General said that he has sent a letter to all G-20 leaders, urging them to show leadership in four areas: providing a substantial and truly global stimulus package that also meets the needs of all developing countries; standing firm against protectionism; moving towards a “green new deal”; and reforming global rules and institutions.


He expressed his continuing concerns about the expulsions of 13 international non-governmental organizations from Sudan.  He told the Assembly that, in the aftermath of the decision, the United Nations and the Government of Sudan had agreed to undertake a series of joint rapid assessments in the three Darfur states.  The results of those assessments, he said, indicate significant gaps.  Capacity on the ground is insufficient to sustain relief assistance in the short or medium term.


The Secretary-General also drew attention to his participation in two conferences on Afghanistan in the days ahead, in Moscow and The Hague.  He said that he intends to press the international community to produce a clear, unified course for helping to bolster Afghan security, stability and development.  He will also stress the need to strengthen regional and international cooperation.  His remarks to the Assembly are upstairs.


** Niger Abduction


Earlier this morning, we issued this statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary General is pleased to know that Soumana Mounkaila, one of the three United Nations staff members who was abducted in Niger on 14 December 2008, has been released unharmed.  He appreciates the efforts that have been made by Governments and concerned individuals around the region to help secure the release of the missing staff members.


The Secretary-General renews his call on those holding Robert Fowler and Louis Guay to release them both without any further delay.


** Sudan


On Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation in Darfur remains calm; however, banditry activities were reported.  UNAMID’s military forces conducted 25 confidence-building patrols, 14 escort patrols, 9 night patrols and 2 investigation patrols, covering 59 villages and camps for the internally displaced (IDPs).  Similarly, UNAMID police conducted 105 patrols in and around the villages and IDP camps.


UNAMID distributed 52,000 litres of water to the new arrivals at the Zam Zam internally displaced persons camp yesterday as part of efforts to assist the new arrivals.  UNAMID has supplied a total of 495,000 litres of water to that camp.


Water distribution began on 11 March, to support the non-governmental organizations in the area assisting the new arrivals at the camp.  So far, UNAMID has been providing a total of 45,000 litres of water per day and intends to continue until a long-term solution is found.


Also yesterday, the UN Mission in the Sudan’s (UNMIS) Force Commander, Major General Pagan Jung Thapa, paid a one-day visit to UNAMID headquarters.  Upon arrival, Major General Thapa had a meeting with the UNAMID Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, and the UNAMID Force Commander, General Martin Luther Agwai.  They discussed issues of cooperation and collaboration.


I’d like to remind you that, late last Friday, Rashid Khalikov, the Director in New York of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), briefed the Security Council in an open debate on the humanitarian situation in northern Sudan.  He stressed that the United Nations continues to advocate at all levels for a reversal of the decision to suspend the operations of three national non-governmental organizations and to expel 13 international NGOs from Sudan.  And you’ll recall that the Secretary-General spoke about that at the General Assembly just this morning.


Mr. Khalikov said that there are significant signs of an erosion of humanitarian response capacity, with a concurrent impact on the lives of people in Darfur.  In addition to problems with the loss of operational capacity, he pointed to an increase in insecurity affecting both aid workers and beneficiaries.  He warned: “There is no doubt that our ability to help the people of Darfur and northern Sudan has been seriously compromised.”


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing, and he will tell you more about the humanitarian situation in Sudan at that time.


**Security Council


Today the Security Council is currently holding an open debate on Kosovo.  Briefing Council members this morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, noted that the situation in Kosovo has remained relatively peaceful over the last eight months.


But while both Pristina and Belgrade have made noteworthy attempts to maintain peace, they have stopped short of where one needs to be to feel confident that Kosovo is truly heading towards lasting peace and prosperity.  That goal will only be reached if both Pristina and Belgrade look to the interests of all of Kosovo’s communities and beyond their own political considerations, Zannier added.  We have his full statement in my office.


Meanwhile, the Security Council is expected to vote later today on extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  Once that vote takes place, we may have a statement on that later this afternoon.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it expects within the next hour the signing of a key political and security agreement between the Congolese Government and the National Congress for the People’s Defence, known as the CNDP.  Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is now in Goma to take part in the signing ceremony.  The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obansanjo, and his African Union counterpart, Benjamin Mkapa, are also expected to be present.


Government and CNDP representatives had been locked in marathon negotiations to end their hostilities and set up a joint security programme in the Kivus for the past few months.  MONUC says that the overall security situation in north-eastern Congo remains tense but calm today.


**Outer Space


Legal experts from UN Member States are meeting today in Vienna to discuss the peaceful uses of outer space in a resumed session that is expected to last until 3 April.  The experts will discuss the status and application of the five UN treaties on outer space, and review and possibly revise some of the legal principles on the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, among other tasks.


**UNAIDS


On AIDS, Togolese football star Emmanuel Adebayor has been named a Goodwill Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).


The Arsenal star and African Footballer of the Year will use his sporting popularity to raise awareness about the epidemic globally.  And he will stress the importance of preventing new infections among young people.  We have a press release on that in my Office.


**World Meteorological Day


Today is World Meteorological Day.  The theme this year is “Weather, climate and the air we breathe”.  On this occasion, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is calling attention to the interaction between weather patterns, climate and air quality.


According to WMO estimates, an average of 2 million people die prematurely every year due to air pollution.  The Organization is actively involved in international efforts to assess the air pollutants in the atmosphere.  World Meteorological Day marks the entry into force, in 1950, of the Convention that created WMO.  And we have a press release on this upstairs.


**Earth Hour


And this weekend, the United Nations will join in observing “Earth Hour” at its Headquarters in New York and at other facilities around the world.  This is part of an effort to mobilize global support for a new UN agreement to address climate change when Governments meet in Copenhagen in December.


The Secretary-General is urging citizens everywhere to join this effort and to send a strong message on climate change, in what promises to be the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted.


Launched two years ago, Earth Hour calls for people, communities and cities to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour, starting at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, 28 March.  The symbolic effort will be observed by more than 1,000 cities and close to 1 billion people this year.


And that is all I have for you.  Are there any questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, I have a question about the report of the Board of Inquiry.  Is there any date expected, especially now that there already some leaks in the press about it?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Board of Inquiry has not finished its work.  We do expect the report to go to the Secretary-General by or before the end of this month.  And so it shouldn’t be that much longer before it’s finalized.


Question:  Are we going to have a copy of that or it’s going to be published…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first the Secretary-General will review it before he decides on what further steps to take.  We expect at that point we can make an announcement on whether and when it will be made public.


Question:  But will it be made public in its entirety or the SG will decide also…?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll decide upon that once the Secretary-General has reviewed the report.


Question:  And what about the Board of Inquiry requested by the group of constitutional and legal experts?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has received that letter.  It’s currently being studied.  That letter went to the Secretary-General as well as to some Member States on the Security Council and we’ll see what reaction the Council members have.  But, for our part, we’re studying that to see what further action.  We do, of course, already have the Secretary-General’s own Board of Inquiry reporting back to him and the Human Rights Council has also created a panel to look into matters of human rights violations in Gaza.


Question:  To follow up, I mean again, I’m sure the SG has received reports on the testimonies by the Israeli soldiers in the press about how basically they were even given instructions to kill Palestinians without really being careful, including from the rabbis as well.  So I was wondering, what were the effects of these letters on the SG’s decision, whether this is another impetus to have a general inquiry?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, the Secretary-General is studying the letter.  And in terms of what’s been disclosed recently in the Israeli press; you’re aware that he did in his conversations with Israeli leaders ask to see any Israeli investigation into what happened in Gaza.  And so, as Israel pursues its own inquiries, we’ll try to keep updated with what they come up with.  Yes, Catherine?


Question:  Yes, over the weekend the driver of Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, Soumana Mounkaila was released and we have a statement that you read a bit earlier, I believe.  I was wondering, what message does that send to the UN regarding the fate of the two Canadian diplomats?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t want at this stage to try to characterize what kind of message this would send.  Our hope is that Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, the two remaining abductees, will be released and we’re working as hard as we can to ensure that they’re released safely without any further delay.  Beyond that, in terms of our evaluations, there is a limit to how much we can discuss this matter publicly.  We and our Canadian counterparts will continue with our efforts, but certainly it’s not deemed necessarily helpful at this time to disclose all of those efforts while we try to get their safe release.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Mr. [Olusegun] Obasanjo, the UN Envoy for the talks in the Congo, was on the BBC’s Hard Talk and was asked whether he has confidence in the ICC’s ruling to give an arrest warrant against President [Omer al-] Bashir and he said essentially “no”.  I’m wondering, is the Secretary-General aware of that position?  In what capacity does Mr. Obasanjo, what is his ongoing role in those mediations and what’s the basis… is he a UN staff member?  Is he being paid and on what basis is he being paid?


Associate Spokesperson:  He is a Special Envoy dealing with the Great Lakes situation.  He does not deal with the situation in Sudan, so we wouldn’t have any comments to make on about what he has to say about Sudan, which would be comments not in his official UN capacity.  I think before you came in, I read out a note mentioning that Mr. Obasanjo and his African Union counterpart, former President Mkapa, are expected to go to the signing ceremony having to do with an agreement between the Government of the Congo and the CNDP.  That’s expected to happen in the coming hours.


Question:  But would you expect the Secretary-General to speak to envoys of his that say that they have no confidence in an ICC ruling?


Associate Spokesperson:  People are entitled to their opinions, but those do not count as the opinions of the United Nations.  He certainly does not represent the United Nations about the situation in Darfur or the situation having to do with Sudan more generally.


Question:  President Bashir might go to the Doha Summit at the end of the month, and it was announced also that Mr. Ban Ki-moon will be there.  The question, do you think that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is planning to meet President Bashir there or…?


Associate Spokesperson:  There are no plans to meet with President Bashir.


Question:  Maybe you’ve mentioned this before I came in, the joint assessment team between the UN and Sudan about the Darfur camps, when do we expect to get that report, the joint assessment?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General in his comments to the General Assembly that I just mentioned at the start of this briefing did mention some of the work that had been done.  He didn’t give full details about this assessment, but he did say, among other things, that the result of those assessments indicates a significant gap and capacity on the ground is insufficient to sustain relief assistance in the short or medium term.  We’ll be having more details for you, and for the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, we’re trying to get John Holmes to come here and he can talk more about the humanitarian situation in Sudan at that point.


Question:  I wanted to ask you a Satyam question.  In reviewing the website of the Procurement Division, it seems like there was a contract reached for just over $6 million in July 2008, but there were two purchase orders of $3.3 million in June and July 2008.  So some are saying that this means that… Was the full $6 million… Was $6 million and more actually paid already to Satyam under that contract?  And two, what explains the discrepancy between what was the purchase orders and the contracts?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am not going to get too much into the details of the Satyam deals, just to let you know that all throughout the UN system we’d taken the decision not to have further dealings with Satyam.  So the current deals that had been previously made are all being wrapped up.  And so that’s where we stand on that.


Question:  So exactly on that point -- I don’t want to go on and on and on -- but the deal that runs through 2013, has all the money in fact been paid and is there any provision for it to be returned?  It seems from this that the money was already actually paid out.  So what wrapping up would mean is not clear to some people.


Associate Spokesperson:  Throughout the system the various bodies of the UN will wrap up the contracts.  The details of that may need some fine-tuning, it may need to be worked out in the coming months.  But, certainly, all the contracts are being wrapped to whatever extent that things that are already in the pipeline need to be completed, some will be completed, but it will all be shut down.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, do you have any comment regarding the crackdown by the Moroccan authorities on the media and some religious groups inside the country?


Associate Spokesperson:  In Morocco?


Question:  Yes.


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t.  I’d have to check up on that.


Question:  Farhan, in his interview on 60 Minutes, President Obama for the first time talked about an exit strategy from Afghanistan.  Does the Secretary-General feel this is a step in the right direction?


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations has been working very hard to coordinate a lot of international efforts on the ground in Afghanistan.  To that extent, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, is in fact in Washington today, where he is talking with United States officials.  He also met with some of them last week.  And so we’re coordinating these efforts.  We do believe that there is a need for a political solution in Afghanistan and we’re trying to assist in that regard.  And the Secretary-General expects to discuss this more at length in two upcoming conferences: one that will take place later this week in Moscow, and then one that will take place on 31 March in The Hague.


Question:  There are increasing reports that in the Gambia up to 1,000 people have been arrested and charged with witchcraft.  Some of them disappeared.  Amnesty International has issued a report about it.  I haven’t seen this either from the Human Rights Commissioner or from the Secretariat.  Has anyone from the UN system taken note of this development and had anything to say about it?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’re aware of those developments.  We don’t have any comment on that.  If you want anything further, you might want to follow up with our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.


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