3 April 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.


**Press Conference Today


Our guest at the noon briefing today, is John Ging, the Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and he will be in this room shortly, in about 15 minutes or so, to update you on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.


**Secretary-General Statement on Sri Lanka


Before that, first of all I have a few statements for you.


First of all, we have a statement attributable to the spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka.


The Secretary-General is deeply distressed by continuing reports from the Vanni region of Sri Lanka that civilians are at extreme risk, with heavy casualties, and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are keeping civilians in a very small area of active conflict against their will.  While some have been able to leave or escape, reliable reports indicate that the LTTE have prevented others from leaving, including by firing at them.


The Secretary-General calls upon the LTTE leadership to allow civilians to leave the conflict area of their own free will.  The severe restrictions of the LTTE on their freedom of movement violate international law.  The Secretary-General also deplores the forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children.


At the same time, the Secretary-General again reminds the Government of Sri Lanka of its responsibility to protect civilians, and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians, as promised.  The Government should receive and treat displaced persons in accordance with international law, and work closely with the United Nations in meeting the protection and physical needs of displaced persons.  That statement is available upstairs.


** Sri Lanka


In addition, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it continues to receive reports of shelling, mortar fire and aerial attacks in the “no fire” zone in Sri Lanka.


Up to the end of March, OCHA says that 58,378 persons crossed from conflict areas, and are accommodated in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Vavuniya.  Another 8,204 IDPs ‑‑ including the injured and those who accompanied these patients ‑‑ have gone to Trincomalee.  OCHA estimates that some 150,000 people remain trapped in the conflict area.


In Vavuniya, site cleaning and ground levelling is ongoing and various agencies have started the construction of communal halls, latrines, bathing spaces and kitchens.  More than 3,700 emergency shelters have been constructed so far and are occupied by IDPs.  Agencies assisting the displaced persons report that stocks of hospital kits are running low and that there are still significant gaps in providing clothing.


**Statement on Sudan


The second statement I have for you is on the announcement of the dates for national elections in Sudan. The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by Sudan’s National Elections Commission (NEC) on 2 April that elections will take place in February 2010.  The holding of nationwide elections is an important benchmark in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


The Secretary-General urges the Sudanese authorities to proceed with the necessary preparations in accordance with the time frame proposed by the NEC, and hopes that the National Assembly will pass all relevant legislation as a matter of urgency.  He further encourages all political parties to participate in this historic vote, which will further contribute to the consolidation of the ideals set out in the Interim National Constitution.


The United Nations stands ready to assist the parties in the conduct of free and fair elections.


**Statement on US-Russian Commitments for Non-Proliferation


And lastly, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Russian Federation–United States commitments to achieve nuclear disarmament and strengthen nuclear non-proliferation.


The Secretary-General welcomes the Joint Statement by President Medvedev and President Obama.  The Secretary-General believes that their leadership is vital to the process leading to the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free world.  Their agreed commitment to this goal, to fulfilling their disarmament obligations under article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), as well as agreeing to rapidly pursue new and verifiable reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals through the replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with a new, legally binding treaty, are significant undertakings.


The Secretary-General is encouraged by their efforts to overcome differences related to the deployment of missile defences and welcomes their commitment to the further strengthening of the NPT and the international regime for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.   He welcomes their declaration of support for UN Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) on preventing non-State actors from obtaining WMD-related materials and technologies.  The promotion of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, heightened efforts to make nuclear weapons and materials secure, and to combat nuclear terrorism will contribute to addressing important nuclear challenges.


As depository of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT), the Secretary-General is particularly pleased at the confirmation by President Obama to work for US ratification of the Treaty.   He has repeatedly appealed to the members of the Conference on Disarmament to overcome their deadlock and to move to negotiations, including on a treaty banning the production of fissile material.  The Presidents’ support for such international negotiations on a verifiable treaty is, therefore, most welcome.


** Darfur


In addition to what I just read on Sudan, I have some other information about the situation in Darfur.  A humanitarian assessment mission to the so-called Three Areas of Sudan has been sent to assess the impact of the decision by the Government of Sudan in March to revoke the permits of 13 international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and ban three national NGOs.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the assessment started in Blue Nile State yesterday.  Assessment teams will review data and information on programmes run by the expelled NGOs and assess gaps.


Some of the expelled NGOs had humanitarian activities in addition to significant recovery and development operations benefiting populations in the Three Areas of Abyei, Southern Kordofan State, and Southern Blue Nile State.  UN agencies and the remaining NGOs are, meanwhile, still grappling with the impact of the expulsions.


The mission consists of representatives from the Sudanese Government of National Unity, the Three Areas Committee and the United Nations.


Meanwhile in Darfur, in a bid to fill gaps created by the expulsion and ban of NGOs, UNICEF has in the past week provided six primary health centre kits containing essential drugs and equipment for outpatient treatment programmes in El Fasher as part of its short-term support to the State Ministry of Health in North Darfur.


UNICEF has also stepped in to fill gaps in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector in Zam Zam camp, where new displaced people have continued to arrive.


In West Darfur, sanitation, hygiene promotion and solid waste management have not resumed in any of the camps, according to UNICEF.


Meanwhile, the African Union High Level Panel on Darfur arrived in El Fasher, North Darfur, today to meet with the leadership of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and senior Government officials in the region.


UNAMID reports that the panel is led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.


**Secretary-General in Paris


The Secretary-General is in Paris today, where he will chair a gathering of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) today and tomorrow.


The Secretary-General met with Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, Turkish Cypriot leader, this afternoon.  Mr. Talat expressed his optimism regarding the achievement of a mutually agreed solution to the Cyprus problem and reiterated his commitment to working towards such a solution.  He also provided a briefing to the Secretary-General on the negotiation process and the progress made thus far.  The Secretary-General commended both Mr. Talat and Mr. Dimitris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, for their commitment and determined leadership, and confirmed his strong and unwavering support for their efforts, as well as the ongoing support of his good offices.


After that, the Secretary-General met with former French President Jacques Chirac, with whom he discussed water scarcity, AIDS in Africa, Lebanon and Syria, and Haiti.


He then went to the offices of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to meet with staff there.


Right now, he should be meeting with the Prime Minister of France, François Fillon.


** Gaza


The Human Rights Council today announced the appointment of Judge Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to lead an independent fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip.


The mission will also include the following experts:  Professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics and University of London; Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; and retired Colonel Desmond Travers, member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).  The team will be supported by staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Judge Goldstone, upon his appointment, said that it is in the interest of all Palestinians and Israelis that the allegations of war crimes and serious human rights violations related to the recent conflict on all sides be investigated.  Members of the fact-finding mission will hold a range of discussions in Geneva within the next few weeks before departing for the region.


** Somalia


On Somalia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it is concerned about the emerging practice of Kenyan authorities to forcibly return Somali asylum-seekers to their country.  Most recently, Kenyan law enforcement officials intercepted a bus carrying 31 Somali asylum-seekers, including women and children, and forced them back to Somalia.


Another 61 Somalis were deported two weeks ago.


UNHCR says that it has registered a formal complaint by the Kenyan immigration authorities, but so far it has seen no improvement in this situation.


Meanwhile, UNHCR says it has begun relocating Somali refugees from the Somali-Ethiopia border region to a new camp some 90 kilometres inside Ethiopia.  And we have more details in UNHCR’s briefing notes.


** Myanmar


On Myanmar, the United Nations highlighted urgent needs for the cyclone‑affected communities in the delta, in addition to calling for increased support to people in need in other parts of the country.


The appeal was made in a donor meeting organized by the United Nations in Yangon today.


According to the top UN official in the country, there is an imminent need for sustainable shelter and agricultural support ahead of the monsoon season.  Whilst steadily recovering from Cyclone Nargis-affected areas remains high on the agenda, the UN also addresses needs for funding to other parts of the country, where immense humanitarian and development challenges exists.


The UN appeal covers urgent pre-monsoon needs in the delta, as well as a three-year recovery plan with an estimated cost of $691 million.  And there is a press release with more details upstairs.


**Timor-Leste


In a speech yesterday to Timor-Leste’s development partners, Atul Khare, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, presented the UN medium-term strategy for that country.  The proposed plan fully incorporates the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as four other key objectives.  Those include an improvement of security sector institutions; an effective justice and penal system that fully upholds the rule of law; democratic governance and economic and social development.


Atul Khare noted that achieving these objectives will require sustained long-term attention well beyond the UN Mission’s (UNMIT) lifespan.


**Indigenous Peoples


The Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, along with the UN rapporteurs dealing with the rights of indigenous peoples, welcomed the news that Australia has today joined the ranks of States endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Australia was one of only four States that voted against the Declaration when it was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007, and the three UN experts, in a joint statement, said that its endorsement today strengthens the international consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples.  And the statement is available upstairs.


**Mine Awareness


Tomorrow will be the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.


In a message to mark this Day, the Secretary-General recalled his visits to many countries that face the scourge of landmines, saying that he had seen the devastation caused by these indiscriminate weapons.  His fervent hope is that the world will one day be free from the threats caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war.


Also marking the Day, the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) called for a concerted push to achieve the goal of a mine-free buffer zone in Cyprus by 2011.


UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] meanwhile is highlighting the enormous threat that landmines continue to pose to children, who account for 30 per cent of all victims.


And finally tonight, a photography exhibition will be opened here at Headquarters entitled “Living with Mines”.  Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, will launch the event along with Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  And we have more on all of this upstairs.


**World Health Organization


The World Health Organization (WHO) has appointed international film star Jet Li as WHO Goodwill Ambassador.


And there’s a full press release on that upstairs.


**Press Conferences on Monday


At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, we will have a press conference on the latest developments in the preparatory process for the upcoming Durban Review Conference, by the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


And at 3 p.m., General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann and Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will be here to brief you on the General Assembly’s interactive thematic dialogue on the global food crisis and the right to food.  That dialogue will take place on Monday.


Also tonight, at 6 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the Department of Public Information presents a screening of Autism:  The Musical, the award-winning documentary produced by HBO.


After the video some of the children actors will perform a number of songs from the film.  Correspondents are invited to attend.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


We have “The Week Ahead” upstairs.


Just to let you know, on Monday, the Secretary-General will be attending the Second Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, in Istanbul, Turkey.


Tuesday, 7 April is World Health Day.  It’s also the day of the observance of the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, and DPI, in conjunction with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Rwanda to the UN, will organize a commemorative event in the Trusteeship Council, on Tuesday from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.


And next Friday, by the way, will be an official holiday at the UN Headquarters in New York.


Mr. Ging, I see, is here.  Are there any quick questions before we turn to him?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask, since the new Israeli Government took over just recently, has the Secretary-General had any time to have any conversation with Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu or the beleaguered Foreign Minister about the opening of Gaza crossings and, if yes, can you please tell us what transpired in that conversation?


Associate Spokesperson:  He has not spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  We did issue a statement a few days ago which expressed the Secretary-General’s views on the incoming Government.  In terms of further information on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, of course we’re extremely fortunate to have with us here today John Ging, the Gaza Director of UNRWA and he will be talking very shortly.


Question:  On what you read out on Sri Lanka, there has been a report of a UN memo from a 9 March briefing held, I guess in Colombo, where it says that the UN’s assessment is that it’s unlikely that the Tamil Tigers will give up.  They will fight to the last stand with devastating consequences for civilians should the Government not restrain its forces.  So what I am wondering is if the UN’s own assessment says that this ... is the UN, based on your statement, is Ban Ki-moon still calling for a cessation of hostilities?  What happened to that call that was rejected by the Government?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think you’ll notice what I just said is that he is calling on the Tamil Tiger leadership to allow civilians to leave the conflict area of their own free will.  And he’s reminding the Government of Sri Lanka of its responsibility to protect civilians and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians.  So those are the priorities that we’re focusing on at this stage.


Question:  But what about calling on them to actually cease conflict so that people could get out?  Is that still...?


Associate Spokesperson:  That remains, but our focus at this point is on the protection of civilians, particularly those who are trying to flee the area where the fighting is taking place and along those lines.  Of course, you have the full statement.


Question:  When does this commission appointed by the Human Rights Council begin its work to investigate the Israeli offensive in Gaza?


Associate Spokesperson:  As I just read out, it’ll have a few weeks in Geneva first, and then it plans to go to the region after that.


Question:  I just wanted to find out, now that the United States and Russia have decided to get rid of the large stock of their nuclear arsenal, will the Secretary-General ask the United States to sign the CTBT ‑‑ the Test-Ban Treaty ‑‑ because when Mr. Bush took over, he kept the United States from signature...[interrupted]?


Associate Spokesperson:  We actually read out at length before you got in a statement just on this very topic.  And the Secretary-General in that said he was particularly pleased at the confirmation by President Obama to work for the US ratification of the CTBT.


Question:  Just very quickly, can you remind me where things stand with the Secretary-General’s commission the Gaza investigation?


Associate Spokesperson:  We expect that the Board of Inquiry that was dealing with the situation in Gaza will present its report to the Secretary-General when he gets back from his trip.  He is currently in Paris.  From there, he is going to Turkey, and we expect him back here in New York around the 7th or 8th.


Question:  Can you explain anything about the difference between the new Commission of Inquiry, Judge Goldstone’s inquiry, against the ones that we had last week from the Human Rights Council ‑‑ I think it was ... Radhika... Coomaraswamy?


Associate Spokesperson:  This is the inquiry that was asked for by the Human Rights Council when they took up the matter in a formal meeting in January.  So this will look into all of the possible violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law that took place in Gaza from late December through January.


Question:  There are reports in Pakistani newspapers that an advance team from the Benazir Bhutto commission has arrived.  Are you confirming that?


Associate Spokesperson:  No.  We might have something more to tell you next week, but I don’t have a confirmation to give you right now.


Question:  Has the Commission itself been completed?


Associate Spokesperson:  We will announce that when we can.


Question:  The other Laos question I will send you, but I wanted to ask you this one here.  Is it legal, from your perspective, in connection with the UN with people seeking UN jobs, to be charged money to attend an event at which UN jobs are described?  Is that, does that violate that resolution 92(i)?  There was an event at which the UN OHRM [Office for Human Resources Management] was describing how to get jobs at a UNA-USA event at which attendance was charged.  So I asked the UN person if that was appropriate, he said ask UNA-USA.  So I guess I am asking you:  Is it the UN’s position, it says on the UN website that to apply for a UN job you don’t pay any money, there is no payment of money...?


Associate Spokesperson:  There is no payment of money for applying for a UN job.


Question:  So what happens if money is charged to hear about a UN job?  What does the UN then do?


Associate Spokesperson:  Applications for jobs can be made through a number of things, including the UN website.  There is no charge in order to apply for a job to the United Nations.


Question:  How about to hear OHRM describe how to apply for a UN job?  Is it appropriate to charge for that?


Associate Spokesperson:  I would suggest that you ask that question to UNA-USA.  But from my standpoint, any jobs that are available in the UN system are posted and you can apply for them without any payment.


Question:  It was the Americans that are charging this fee, basically?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details on this.  Again, the details on this are in the possession of UNA-USA, so you’d have to ask them.


Question:  (Inaudible)...think is whether you would allow.  The UN would allow hustlers to stand outside the UN gates and say, “pst, pst, pst!!” (Laughter).


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether that’s an accurate characterization of the situation.  The details on this are not...


Question:  No, I mean, what’s the difference?


Associate Spokesperson:  For the details of what’s happening, you’d need to get the details from UNA-USA, I don’t have those details.


Question:  Can the UN commit to getting an answer whether it’s appropriate or not?  Just the UN.


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations does not put up any charges for applications.  You don’t have to pay money to apply for jobs to the United Nations.


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