|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.
**Secretary-General in Trieste
The Secretary-General today met with the other principal members of the Quartet in Trieste, Italy, and they discussed five items: moving towards Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; supporting the Palestinian Authority and economic growth; the situation in Gaza; comprehensive peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon; and the Moscow conference. The Quartet also issued a joint communiqué, which is available upstairs.
The communiqué notes that the United States briefed the Quartet on its intensive, ongoing discussions with all parties in the region to create the conditions for the prompt resumption and early conclusion of negotiations to resolve all permanent status issues, without preconditions. The Quartet called on Israel and the Palestinians to implement their obligations under the Road Map and affirmed that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.
The Secretary-General told the press afterwards, “We need to work very hard towards meaningful progress [so as] not to lose the faith again of all the people in the Middle East.” And in response to a question, he said that the United Nations has a good proposal to kick-start early recovery and reconstruction in Gaza and has made quite significant progress in the West Bank. He added that the United Nations is urging the Israeli authorities to stop settlements, including natural growth, and open crossings.
The Secretary-General then attended a closed meeting of the Group of 8 Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan. The meeting focused on regional perspectives, including cooperation in border management and countering illicit drug trafficking. And later today, he will meet with the Quartet’s Arab partners.
The Security Council today is holding an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes opened, by discussing the deaths of civilians in recent conflicts, ranging from Somalia to Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Holmes highlighted the need for access to conflict zones, which has sometimes been hindered for bureaucratic reasons, as in Gaza, and at other times been undercut by lack of security, as in Afghanistan, Chad, the DRC and Somalia. And he stressed the need for accountability, whether in the context of Operation Kimia II in the DRC or by prompt and credible investigations into air strikes in Afghanistan. And we have his full statement upstairs.
Also today, the Security Council intends to vote on a resolution concerning the extension of the mandate of the UN Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Speaking of the Congo, less than a week after a prison break in Goma, during which a number of female inmates were raped, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is teaming up with the Ministry of Justice to consider ways to restructure prison administration in the country.
This is being done through a 10-day workshop that will last until 3 July in Kinshasa. The workshop brings together 50 officials from the judiciary, universities, civil society and prison administration.
The Mission, which has a dozen UN experts working with Congolese prison administrators, says it is hopeful that the workshop will begin charting ways to address problems facing Congolese prison authorities. Prison breaks are not uncommon in the country, partly because the Government lacks an operational budget and qualified personnel to run jails. The Mission says penitentiary facilities are dilapidated and most often unfit for use. Conditions are harsh for the inmates, and illness and death occur frequently.
On Somalia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is voicing its grave concern over the spiralling violence and the worsening displacement crisis in the country. The agency says that the deteriorating security situation has sharply reduced deliveries of humanitarian aid to the displaced in and around Mogadishu.
UNHCR adds that, according to records of local Somali hospitals, more than 250 civilians have been killed and at least 900 wounded since last month. The agency also estimates that more than 160,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere within Somalia, or in neighbouring countries since the start of the fighting in May.
According to UNHCR, since the beginning of the year, some 38,000 new refugees arrived in neighbouring Kenya, virtually all of them Somalis. The refugee agency says that the Dadaab camp ‑‑ which shelters more than 280,000 people ‑‑ is the largest refugee complex in the world.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), meanwhile, says that the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator has allocated $4.2 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to alleviate overcrowding and provide humanitarian relief and services in Somali refugee camps in Kenya.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Afghanistan is out as a document today, and it details the UN system’s support for the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections in that country. At the same time, the Secretary-General notes, Afghanistan is currently in what may well be its most intensive fighting season since 2001. This year has so far seen a 43 per cent increase in the monthly average number of security incidents, and insurgent activity has also expanded in previously stable areas, including the north.
The Secretary-General says that he welcomes the deployment of additional troops. However, the report stresses, every effort must be made to avoid a situation where more troops and more fighting lead to more civilian casualties and behaviour that offends the population. It is also urgent to review the use of air power in populated areas.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has eight regional offices and 12 provincial offices, and the report says that, in order to have a presence in each of the country’s provinces, the Mission would need additional resources, including for security, to establish 11 more offices. And that report is upstairs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that UN humanitarian activities in Pakistan continue to focus on the needs of displaced people living in camps, schools, and with host communities. Planning and preparedness activities are continuing in the evolving humanitarian context. The recently established Returns Task Force is focusing on how to bring the displaced back to their area of origin.
Staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in north-west Pakistan report that displaced people are visiting their areas of origin on a “go and see” basis, to harvest crops, check on livestock and generally assess the possibility of returning home. There is no discernible large-scale movement out of the camps, the staff members report.
UNHCR this week conducted a rapid survey among 4,200 displaced families, primarily from the district of Buner. While the data is still being analysed, initial findings suggest that most people want to return home, but are concerned about security conditions.
Meanwhile, in all the organized camps, the refugee agency is continuing to improve conditions, building shade structures over tents to relieve the heat and privacy walls around groups of tents. It is also improving infrastructure like lighting and fencing. We have more details in the UNHCR briefing notes.
Also, the World Food Programme (WFP) has established a food and relief items bank, which will provide a central point for donations from Pakistanis for people who have been displaced from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The relief bank will be set up in Peshawar, which will serve as central receiving hub. From there, WFP and the Pakistani authorities will arrange for direct transport and distribution to the displaced population, both in host communities and in camps. And we have more details in a press release from WFP.
At the request of the Secretary-General and at the invitation of the Government of Myanmar, Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari arrived today in Myanmar for a two-day visit.
He was received this morning by Foreign Minister Nyan Win in the capital Nay Pyi Taw.
The Cypriot leaders met today under UN auspices, and following their meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, read out a statement saying that the leaders decided to proceed with the opening of the Yesilirmak/Limnitis crossing point, under normal rules of existing crossings. In the context of this agreement, the role of the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is underscored.
Zerihoun said that the crossing of persons wishing to visit Erenköy/Kokkina will take place with the escort of UNFICYP. The visits will be made by mini-buses on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Humanitarian issues, including travel by ambulances, fire engines and water tanks, were also agreed on and included in the statement, which is available upstairs.
**Lebanon – Special Tribunal
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced today that Judge Ralph Jacques Riachy has assumed his functions full time as Vice-President of the Tribunal, effective 8 June 2009.
Judge Riachy was elected as Vice-President of the Tribunal, with the unanimous support of his fellow judges. He was one of the four Lebanese judges appointed by the Secretary-General, upon the recommendation in December 2007 by the selection panel set up to interview Lebanese and international candidates for the positions of Tribunal judges. And we have a press release from the Tribunal with his bio data.
**World Trade Organization/United Nations Environment Programme
The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched today a report explaining for the first time the connections between trade and climate change. The report says that opening up trade and combating climate change will be beneficial towards achieving a low-carbon economy. It also says that freer trade could alleviate climate change by increasing the distribution of adaptation and mitigation technologies.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner both stress that, in the fight against climate change, multilateral cooperation is crucial. They are urging the international community to seal the deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 and are also urging nations to conclude the Doha trade round, which includes opening up trade in environmental goods and services.
There is a press release on this upstairs.
Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Marking this occasion, the Secretary-General stresses that there is no justification for torture or any form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in any society, at any time, under any circumstance.
Let us step up the fight against torture and cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment and punishment, wherever they occur, he says. He urged all Member States that have not yet done so to ratify and implement the Convention against Torture and the provisions of its Optional Protocol.
In her own statement to mark the International Day, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, calls on leaders across the world to send a clear and unequivocal message that torture will no longer be tolerated.
Pillay welcomes the US President’s decisions to close Guantanamo and ban methods of interrogation, such as waterboarding. But, she says, much more still needs to be done before the Guantanamo chapter is brought to a close. She adds that the remaining inmates must either be tried before a court of law ‑‑ like any other suspected criminal ‑‑ or set free. And we have her press release available upstairs and online.
**World Drug Day
Today is also the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
In a message, the Secretary-General calls [on us all] to help people suffering from drug addiction and to reduce the number of dangerous places on this planet where drugs are produced, trafficked and consumed.
He urges Member States to upgrade their preventive interventions and integrate drug treatment into public health programmes. He also says that greater development assistance and a strengthening of the rule of law are needed in countries that are vulnerable to the cultivation, production and trafficking of illicit drugs. And we have his full message upstairs.
In response to a question yesterday about Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, is in Nouakchott, Mauritania, today. Tomorrow, he will go to Rabat, Morocco. Ross was in Algeria, from the 23rd to 25th June, where he met with the President of the country, the Foreign Minister and the Secretary of State for African Affairs.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We also have available upstairs, The Week Ahead at the United Nations.
This document is for planning purposes only and is current as of 12:17 Friday, 26 June.
On Sunday and on Monday of the following week, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict will hold public hearings in Gaza City.
Also next Monday, the Security Council will hold a debate on UN peacekeeping operations. And next Tuesday, the Secretary-General will begin an official visit to Japan, where he will meet with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of that country.
And we have the full document upstairs. That’s all I have. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Will you be releasing the full verbatim transcript of the Secretary-General’s press conference in Trieste?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes. That should actually already be available.
Question: Is that the communiqué?
Associate Spokesperson: The Quartet statement, the communiqué of the Quartet, is upstairs. That’s separate. And we also have what the Secretary-General said. He made some remarks and he did take one question. That will be available.
Question: When is this Moscow Middle East Conference?
Associate Spokesperson: There were no dates. The Middle East Conference regarding Moscow is mentioned in the Quartet communiqué.
Question: You mentioned this Dadaab camp…
Associate Spokesperson: It’s D-A-D-A-A-B.
Question: Is that in Somalia or in Kenya?
Associate Spokesperson: That is in Kenya, but it’s very full of Somali refugees.
Question: And it’s the largest camp in the world?
Associate Spokesperson: There’s some more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes on that.
Question: Did I get from you that the Burmese have changed the name of their capital yet again?
Associate Spokesperson: Nay Pyi Taw? Yes, this is the capital for the last several years.
Question: I thought it was called Yangon.
Associate Spokesperson: No, that changed a few years ago.
Question: Can you tell us the current status of the recommendation that Israel pay compensation of $11 million for the alleged damage to UN facilities? At his last press conference, the Secretary-General indicated that he had referred the matter to the UN Legal Department.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes…
Question: What has happened with that? Was it discussed with the [Israeli] Foreign Minister last week?
Associate Spokesperson: I believe that was. I can give you the readout later of what was discussed with the Foreign Minister. We did provide a readout of that meeting. I think that did come up. But in any case, yes, the Legal Department is pursuing this. We don’t have any further details about the figure to share since we last spoke about it.
Question: When you say the Legal Department is looking at this, that implies potential litigation. What does that mean?
Associate Spokesperson: No. At this stage, it involves discussions between our legal authorities and the legal authorities of the State of Israel.
Question: The former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. [Agim] Ceku, was arrested in Bulgaria and was released ‑‑ arrested on an Interpol warrant for genocide issued by Serbia. And it said he was released after a statement by the United Nations that the detained person was under the jurisdiction of the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK). What is the UN’s role? What is Mr. Ceku, in terms of to the UN? Did the UN make a ruling?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware whether that is true. It’s something that needs to be checked with UNMIK. So please check with the UNMIK people and we can also ask for them.
Question: Overall, does the UN offer some type of immunity to people…
Associate Spokesperson: Before we get into that issue, let’s see what UNMIK has actually done and what they’ve claimed.
Question: In the Quartet statement, it called Arab States to take steps to recognize Israel’s right to participate in the region. Can you tell us what these steps are the Quartet is talking about?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t think I have anything further to say, other than the actual, explicit [language] of the agreement which was worked out in agreement by all of the members of the Quartet. That’s the language that they have adopted. I don’t think I have anything further to say about it, beyond what’s in the communiqué itself.
Question: Does it call for specific steps or specific recommendations to be taken by the Arab side?
Associate Spokesperson: It does, if you look at it, it mentions a number of things, including a full normalization of relations between all States based on the Arab Peace Initiative. That’s part of the communiqué, towards the end of the second paragraph. It also mentions the Road Map, which as you know, has a number of very specific recommendations for each side.
Question: I have a question about Mr. Christopher Ross’s visit in the region. You said he was in Algeria, but he did not meet with the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro)? Because I read in the press reports that he also met with the Polisario Front leaders in Tindouf. So I just wanted to check that. You only mentioned meetings with the President and Foreign Minister and African Affairs Minister.
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll check to see if he did that. We only just got a brief description of the various stops on the trip. Obviously, the trip is still going on. So he intends to meet with all the principal parties in the coming days. But I don’t have a full list of all the people he met with.
Question: Usually he meets with the Polisario people in Tindouf.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, I’m aware that he has done that in the past. We’ll check if he has done that this time around. [The Associate Spokesperson later confirmed that Christopher Ross had met with Polisario officials in Tindouf.]
Question: For some time now, there’s been a ship of humanitarian goods that Sri Lanka did not allow in and it was sent to India. Has the UN, through OCHA or otherwise, had any involvement in trying to get this aid allowed into the country?
Associate Spokesperson: Not that I’m aware of specifically about the ship. OCHA has tried throughout to get humanitarian aid into the country and it continues to try do so. We’ll need to check on their precise involvement with this ship, however.
Question: The UN in Colombo confirmed that two UN staff members were picked up in an unmarked vehicle and now are in Government detention. I’ve asked a couple times, and she said she would look into it. What is the UN doing about this?
Associate Spokesperson: I’m aware that you asked that question and we were checking into it. We didn’t have anything to say on it so far. That hasn’t changed so far. Once that does, we’ll let you know.
Question: Can UN staff be arrested? I thought there was immunity. I thought, for example, that if US police tried to arrest a UN staff member, you would say they were immune?
Associate Spokesperson: Any arrests of staff are potentially violations of privileges and immunities. However, the situation would need to be studied. I don’t have anything specific to say on this right now.
Question: What’s the current status of security level for UN international staffers in Pakistan? There have been reports that they’ve been called back. And what’s their current status?
Associate Spokesperson: We don’t give out precise security levels for valid security reasons. What I can say is that there are UN staff at work throughout the country. International staff have been able to go back to Peshawar following the explosion there a few weeks ago. Work is continuing by both local and international staff. There are restrictions in different areas, but for security reasons, I can’t go into that.
Question: Can you give us a readout of Ibrahim Gambari’s meeting with the Foreign Minister in Myanmar?
Associate Spokesperson: No. I can confirm that they did in fact meet in Nay Pyi Taw. Beyond that, Mr. Gambari will be travelling back over the weekend and we expect him to brief the Secretary-General upon his return.
Question: Just a follow-up again on the statement the Secretary-General issued on Iran. I was wondering if Mr. Ban Ki-moon would meet with President Ahmadinejad, in case he came here to the GA in September. Or does he consider the election to be illegitimate, or perhaps he would reconsider?
Associate Spokesperson: This is all fairly speculative. You’re thinking about something that may or may not happen in a few months. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. As for as the election, as the Secretary-General noted several times over the past two weeks, the election results are being reviewed, and he was waiting to see what the final decisions would be before pronouncing himself one way or another.
Question: The final decision did come out. The authorities in Iran did say that Ahmadinejad was the winner of the elections. So I wonder what review is he waiting for?
Associate Spokesperson: I believe there was still some review going on. So we hadn’t made any final decision on this on our side.
Question: The appeal OCHA made for Pakistan: can you tell us now how much fund now is covered?
Associate Spokesperson: As of yesterday, it was about 36 per cent covered.
Question: And that’s enough to do the job?
Associate Spokesperson: No. No. Ideally, for all of our appeals, we would like them to be fully funded. It’s enough to have work going on right now. Ideally, we would want this to be fully funded.
And with that, I wish you all a good weekend.
* *** *For information media • not an official record