27 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon all.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


In Moscow today, the Secretary-General addressed the Special Conference on Afghanistan convened under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  He warned that terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and organized crime are impeding progress for the Afghan people.  Afghanistan cannot face these challenges alone, the Secretary-General said, adding that cooperation must be our watchword as we respond.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


Prior to that, the Secretary-General started his day with a bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Dâdfar Spantâ.  During that meeting, the Secretary-General said that today’s gathering in Moscow and the upcoming conference in The Hague showed how strongly the international community was committed to Afghanistan.  He added that he hoped the Afghan Government would seize this opportunity and move forward on stability, security and social and economic development.


The Secretary-General stressed that it was important for Afghanistan to maintain improved relations with neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan.  The two also touched on the drug situation in Afghanistan and the need for transparent, democratic and fair elections later this year.


Following his address to the Special Conference on Afghanistan, the Secretary-General met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  They discussed ways of further strengthening relations between the United Nations and Russia, and also talked about a range of international issues where Russia can play a leadership role, including regional issues like Somalia and Sudan, and global issues like climate change and the financial crisis.  The Secretary-General told the President that he believes that the conferences in Moscow and The Hague are important contributions to a stable, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan.


He also met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi.  The Secretary-General said he was horrified by today’s bombing at a mosque in north-west Pakistan, and he expressed his condolences to the families of the victims.  The Secretary-General feels that Pakistan has a crucial role to play in the peace process in Afghanistan.  A military solution is not enough, he said, we also need a political and economic surge and a comprehensive approach.  He also thanked Pakistan for its contribution to UN peacekeeping.


The Secretary-General recently delivered a wide-ranging lecture at an event organized by “International Affairs”, the journal of the Russian Foreign Ministry.  We have copies of that lecture upstairs.


Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General participated in a working dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that focused mainly on Afghanistan.  They also discussed, among other topics, Gaza, North Korea, Kosovo, Georgia/Abkhazia, climate change and nuclear disarmament.


**Security Council


Yesterday afternoon, following consultations on Sudan, the Security Council President, Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam of Libya, spoke to the press to say that Council members had stressed the importance of continuing the distribution of humanitarian assistance to all the needy in Darfur.


He added that Council members urged the Government of Sudan to continue to cooperate with the United Nations and humanitarian organizations, and appealed to it to reconsider the decision to suspend the activities of some non-governmental organizations in Sudan.


By the way, there are no Council meetings or consultations scheduled for today.


** Somalia


On Somalia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says recent improvements in Somali political life have done little to slow the tide of Somalis fleeing the country.


The agency says that Somali refugees are arriving in even greater numbers at a UN-run camp in north-eastern Kenya, with some 20,000 having been registered at the already overcrowded Dadaab camp since January.  UNHCR says the new arrivals are blaming increased insecurity, drought and food shortages for their flight into Kenya.


Built 20 years ago to provide shelter for 90,000 people, the Dadaab camp, one of the oldest and largest refugee sites in the world, is home to well over 261,000 people.

**Southern Africa


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that recent rainfalls across Southern Africa have caused massive damage to land and property, and displaced several thousands of people in Angola and Namibia.  Angola alone has seen 160,000 people affected by the rains, and OCHA fears that number is likely to increase.


Schools and other public buildings are being used as shelter, a situation that has caused an interruption of classes.  With some $600,000 already allocated to various emergencies actions, UN humanitarian agencies are requesting more funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which is managed by OCHA.


In Namibia, where 13,000 people have been displaced, many health facilities and schools are either flooded or inaccessible.  The Namibian President has declared an emergency for the north-central and north-eastern part of the country, and appealed for international assistance.  In response, a flash appeal for Namibia is now being finalized.


**Secretary-General Appointment -- Haiti


The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Major General Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto of Brazil as Force Commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  He will replace Major General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz.


Major General Floriano Peixoto has had wide-ranging command and staff experience since joining the Brazilian Army in 1973, including prior service with MINUSTAH in 2004.  He is currently based in Brasilia.  We have more information in his bio upstairs.


**Secretary-General Appointment -- Administration of Justice


The Secretary-General has also appointed Andrei Terekhov as Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice.  Mr. Terekhov, who previously served as Deputy Director of the General Legal Division in the Office of Legal Affairs, assumed his new functions on 16 March.


The Office of Administration of Justice, which is an independent Office, will coordinate the new internal justice system in the UN.  The new system is intended to be more professionalized, efficient and decentralized, and will be implemented as of 1 July 2009.


The new system will include two tribunals, a first instance UN Dispute Tribunal and a second instance UN Appeals Tribunal.  Judges were recently elected by the General Assembly to serve on these tribunals.  We have a short bio on Mr. Terekhov in my office upstairs.


**Timor-Leste


Over in Timor-Leste, Prime Minister [Xanana] Gusmão and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, welcomed the agreement for the resumption of responsibilities by the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL).


The resumption is to begin in two districts:  Lautém and Manatuto.  The resumption in these two districts will depend on the conclusion of an agreement between the local Government and the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) concerning the resumption process and compliance with the certification procedure.


Assessments by the Government and the UN Mission there have also been completed in two other districts.  Experts are now assessing several other remaining districts and will then review the special units of the national police.


** Madagascar


I was asked yesterday about UN efforts to deal with the situation in Madagascar.  On that topic, Tiébilé Dramé, the UN Senior Political Adviser on Madagascar, was in New York this week for consultations.  He will be returning to Madagascar shortly.


The United Nations continues to believe that stability, prosperity and democratic freedoms can be ensured only through a consensual and inclusive dialogue process that would address the root causes of the crisis and would be accepted by all parties.  We will remain engaged through Mr. Dramé to help achieve a peaceful, consensual solution in Madagascar.  The United Nations is ready to work with the Malagasy parties, as well as regional and international partners, to reach this goal.


** Nigeria


On Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO) told UN Radio this morning that the Nigerian Government is reporting a serious outbreak of meningitis in northern Nigeria.  Some 17,500 cases have been registered and 960 people have already died of the disease.  The regions most affected are the Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe states, but the epidemic has also hit other northern states hard.


** Rwanda Tribunal


UN Legal Counsel and Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien left Arusha yesterday after a two-day visit to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  During her time there, O’Brien discussed with Tribunal officials the institution’s mandate and completion strategy, and held a town hall meeting with the staff.  In remarks to the press at the end of her visit, O’Brien stressed the need for the cooperation of UN Member States in arresting and delivering fugitives to the Tribunal, in witness relocation and in the enforcement of sentences.  She also called for the arrest and surrender of the 13 remaining fugitives from the Tribunal, adding that a residual prosecutorial mechanism will deal with them should the Tribunal’s mandate have expired by the time of their arrest.


** Durban Review Conference


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that she is “greatly encouraged” by the positive reactions to the new draft outcome document for the upcoming Durban Review Conference, which will take place in Geneva from 20 to 24 April.


She noted that all the ambassadors she met with so far have indicated that they consider the text to be a very good basis for negotiations.  They agreed that this text meets the basic requirements of all concerned, while still being substantive and adding value to the fight against racism, xenophobia and similar forms of intolerance, she added.

The High Commissioner appealed to all ambassadors “to maintain the current momentum and spirit of cooperation”.   We have more on this upstairs.


**Migrants


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will work together to help migrants invest in agricultural development in their home countries.


Through this new collaboration, FAO and IOM will support projects stemming directly from migrant communities in Europe and other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in favour of development in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.


According to FAO, this new agreement reflects growing international recognition of the key roles played by migrants in their countries of origin through their contributions of financial support and expertise.  We have more in a press release upstairs.


**Earth Hour


And a reminder that, tomorrow, 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.


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.


The Secretary-General has called this initiative a way for citizens of the world to send a clear message that they want action on climate change.


**Press Conference on Monday


On Monday at 11 a.m., the Permanent Representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as a representative from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, will be in this room to brief on the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty which entered into force recently.  That’s Monday, 11 a.m.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


And “The Week Ahead”, we have it upstairs.  Just to note that, on Monday, the Secretary-General is in Doha, where he’ll address the Summit of the League of Arab States.  On Tuesday, he will open the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague, Netherlands.  And on Thursday, 2 April, he will be in London, United Kingdom, for the G‑20 Summit for Stability, Growth and Jobs.


And that same day at 12:30 p.m. in Room S-226, right here, Ambassador Claude Heller, Permanent Representative of Mexico and President of the Security Council for April, will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.


And this is really all I have for you.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  This statement that you made on Pakistan is available upstairs?


Spokesperson:  It is in our note on the SG’s travel, because the SG said it personally to the Foreign Minister.


Question:  I also want to find your reaction to the report that has now surfaced that Israel attacked inside [ Sudan] on a convoy it suspected was carrying arms to the Palestinians.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that report?


Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, we don’t have enough information at this point.  We don’t have enough information.


Question:  You’re still gathering information, I am assuming?  Okay.  The other thing I wanted… Is there any update on Gaza crossings and so forth?


Spokesperson:  On the crossings, for today, I don’t have an update but we can put you in touch with people who can give you updates on the situation today.


Question:  And Mr. Ging, you can ask John Ging to give us a…?


Spokesperson:  He’s travelling right now.  He’s not in Gaza at this point, that’s why.  We were planning to have him for you, but it’s not possible right now.


Question:  I see.  As you know, I think you’ve been told again and again that several human rights organizations, including Oxfam and and Human Rights Watch, have said it’s a crime against humanity to have the crossings closed for such a long period of time.  The Secretary-General is still involved in asking the Israelis to open up the crossings?


Spokesperson:  He is constantly doing so.


Question:  What’s the UN’s response to reports on the Procurement Task Force report of fraud within UNOPS in Afghanistan and this American official, Mr. Helseth, of diverting funds for his personal use, and what steps are being taken to look into it and to avoid it in the future?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, to preserve due process, we cannot discuss specifics concerning any investigation that is currently undergoing internal UN review.  But what I can say is that the whole investigation was actually asked for by UNOPS itself.  In late 2006, UNOPS initiated an independent investigation, first into alleged misuse of funds of UNOPS projects and administrative funds, and serious breaches of accounting and procurement.  So they initiated the process, and it was for the years between 2002 and 2006.  And these allegations were brought to senior management’s attention by UNOPS staff.  And the initial report raised certain questions and that’s why they actually asked for OIOS to actually investigate the matter further.  And that’s exactly what was done and that’s what we’re referring to.  The actual investigation was done at the end of 2008, the Procurement Task Force reported internally the first of their assessments, which are right now under review by the UN Office of Legal Affairs.  So that’s what I can say about it.


I have to say also that the alleged misuse of UNOPS funds and breaches of accounting and procurement policies are grave charges, and such misconduct is totally unacceptable to UNOPS.


Question:  Thank you, just one follow-up.  Some are saying that was just a decision by the Secretary-General to give more power to UNOPS, more autonomy to do its own hiring, more D-1 and D-2 posts.  Are you saying these are old allegations?


Spokesperson:  These are 2002–2006 allegations.


Question:  Sure.  And it goes to a Helen Clark question I want to ask.  There is this kind of big-picture question of whether the funds and programmes should be under more supervision from the central Secretariat or less.  Allegations like these seem to give rise to the idea that there should be more oversight.


Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, the question is, who initiated that overview?  Who initiated that investigation?  UNOPS itself initiated it.  You’re talking about allegations from 2002 to 2006, which means that it was before the [current] Secretary-General was here.  And the new administration of UNOPS is looking into those different things and they’re rectifying what happened.  And they said that they will, of course, deal fairly but firmly with wrongdoers, and they intend to reimburse any money owed to its clients as a result of errors or misuse.


Question:  And just on Helen Clark, I wish I had asked this yesterday when you announced the post, but I really listened to what you said, and it was said that on the selection panel there were two outside experts on finance and development economics.  I know you never released the shortlist of who else was considered, but can we at least know who was on the selection panel, these outside experts?


Spokesperson:  No, I cannot reveal that.  You know, it was a process that was clear.  There was a panel, why do you want to know the names of the people who actually…?


Question:  I guess because in the announcement it’s giving us… it’s giving the impression that she was chosen by these independent outside people, and so it seems…?


Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  I said the panel was headed by the Deputy Secretary-General.


Question:  Not to put too fine a point on it, I thought the rationale for not giving the shortlist is that qualified people wouldn’t apply if their failure to gain the post would be revealed.  But in the case of these experts it’s pure positive for them.  They’ve served the UN honourably.


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s true, but you know I have to ask them whether they agree first.  You know if they agree I have no problem revealing their names.


Question:  I just want to ask a follow-up question on this Secretary-General’s appeal for $1 trillion.  Has the United Nations Secretary-General had any positive feedback from the world leaders about…?


Spokesperson: He is going to the G-20…


Correspondent:  I know he’s going to the G-20 … and it is going to be discussed there.  So your question is a week too early.


Question:  Not a week too early, I am saying that, since he has written the letter a week too early also, I am just saying that, overall, is there some sort of a feeling that he will get a better response from the G-20 when he goes there?


Spokesperson:  I think he has a feeling that they will be responsive to his call.  But, of course, as I said, he is not a member of the G-20 and it will be discussed there.


Question:  Can I ask a follow-up on that?


Spokesperson:  Yes, certainly.


Question:  And you may say this is too early to ask, but someone said that the Secretary-General spoke with Bob Zoellick in advance, and that Bob Zoellick of the World Bank urged the Secretary-General not to publicly release the $1 trillion figure either.  Did he ever discuss with Mr. Zoellick, and can you say whether that was part of the discussion?


Spokesperson:  Well, he had a discussion with him.  I cannot tell you whether it was part of the discussion.  They did discuss a number of issues, but, as you know, there are some specific proposals that the chief economist of the World Bank has put forward.  So I think in a lot of ways they agree on a number of issues.  I cannot comment on whether they agreed or not on that number.  Yes?


Question:  Can I follow up on the Task Force report?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Apparently, when this report was completed, it was the first part of an ongoing three-part investigation.  And my understanding is that the investigation is not ongoing right now, and I just wanted some indication as to why it is not ongoing right now.


Spokesperson:  Well, I think it is going to… As you know, they are right now recruiting to pursue the work of the Procurement Task Force.  They’re recruiting for the top post in that review board and so we should… Of course, this will certainly be continued.


Question:  This report on Afghanistan will be continued, you’re sure about that?


Spokesperson:  The UNOPS one, yes.


Question:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Any other questions?  Yes?


Question:  On a different subject.  On North Korea, do you have any information about the humanitarian situation in North Korea?  There was a report, I think last week, that the country was not going to accept any more United States food aid, and I am wondering if there has been any updates on that or…


Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any recent updates on that.  Of course what we get are really from NGOs, and I don’t have any recent information that I can give you from the UN.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any role in getting North Korea to halt this apparent missile test that’s going to happen?


Spokesperson:  No, he does not have any role.


Question:  I guess to see if the Secretariat has any comment.  There is some controversy about a defamation of religion resolution that was passed in Geneva by the human rights body yesterday.  And many, including Reporters without Borders, have said that it is a very bad proposal and it impinges on free speech and freedom of the press.  Does the Secretariat have any response to this, what people see as a UN action, whether or not he’s in charge of it?


Spokesperson:  No, we’re not going to comment on a decision taken by the Human Rights Council.  Okay, thank you all.


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