2 July 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 in Asia


The Secretary-General left Japan today and arrived in Singapore, where he met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and had a working dinner with Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.


Tomorrow morning, he expects to travel to Myanmar, arriving first in Yangon and then travelling to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.  He is scheduled to meet with Senior General Than Shwe in the capital, and we’ll provide you with other details of his visit as his trip progresses on Friday and Saturday.


You will recall that the Secretary-General had expressed four main areas of concern on which he intends to move forward:  the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; the resumption of dialogue between the Government and Opposition as a necessary part of any national reconciliation process; the need to create conditions conducive to credible elections; and the need to consolidate and build on the joint humanitarian effort launched after Cyclone Nargis.


**Haiti


This coming Monday, former US President Bill Clinton will begin his first visit to Haiti as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for that country.


In Haiti, the Special Envoy will meet with Government officials about how to best support the efforts to prepare for hurricanes, generate new jobs and enhance the delivery of basic social services.  Clinton will also focus on how to ensure that the United Nations, civil society and the donor community align their activities with the Governments’ recovery plan as well as with each other.


This visit will be his second to Haiti this year.  As you remember, he accompanied the Secretary-General to the country in March.  You have a media advisory upstairs for more details.


**International Atomic Energy Agency


The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today selected Yukio Amano of Japan as the Agency’s next Director General.


In the final round of voting, the Chair of the Board said that Amano won 23 votes from Board members, while Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa won 11 votes and there was one abstention.


Tomorrow the Board will meet again and procedurally move to appoint Amano as the Director General.  Amano will replace Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been Director General since 1997 and whose current term expires this 30 November.


**Security Council


In its first consultations for the month of July, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month ahead.  Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda will brief you in this room, at about 12:30, about the Council’s work over the coming month.


Cyprus


Talks between the Cyprus leaders continued today in Nicosia under UN auspices.


Speaking after the leaders’ meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, told the press that the leaders discussed the follow-up to the agreement reached on the opening of certain crossings.  They also exchanged views on the issue of territory that each of the two constituent states would occupy in a future federation.


The leaders decided that, at their next meeting, on the ninth of July, they will open discussions on security issues.  We have more on Cyprus upstairs, including a more complete schedule of the leaders’ upcoming meetings.


**West Africa


The latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) has just been released.


In the report, which covers the first half of this year, the Secretary-General notes that the overall peace and security situation in West Africa continues to improve, but he warns of a fragile progress in the area of governance.


Specifically, he raises deep concern about the recent wave of unconstitutional changes of government in the sub-region.  The Secretary-General recommends that “to combat the phenomenon of coups d’état, the international community must respond in a firm, proactive, collective and consistent manner to address both their root causes and the practices that can serve as triggers”.


The report also highlights other key issues, such as drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime, and conflict-prevention efforts through the tri-partite collaboration, involving the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU).


**Sudan


The Gender Advisory Unit of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs in North Darfur, today launched the reactivation of women centres at the Abu Shouk Camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in El Fasher, North Darfur.


Women centres were established to provide livelihood activities for women, as well as support in the context of sexual and gender based-violence.  The Abu Shouk Centre will carry out several activities, including tailoring, candle making, henna and coffee sessions, handicraft, adult literacy classes, and awareness-raising on women's health, on sexual violence and assistance on reproductive health.


**India


UNAIDS has strongly welcomed today’s decision in India to decriminalize homosexuality.


According to Executive Director Michel Sidibé, “The Delhi High Court has restored the dignity and human rights of millions of men who have sex with men and transgendered people in India.”


He noted that oppressive laws, such as the one that was repealed today in India, drive people underground, making them much harder to reach with HIV prevention, treatment and care services.  Sidibé added that today’s ruling sends a positive message to the more than 80 countries in the world that still prohibit same-sex relations.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Pakistan


On Pakistan, even as UN agencies have expressed their concerns about the health and welfare of approximately two million displaced people living in north-west Pakistan, they have praised the Pakistanis who have provided food, shelter and other resources to those in need in that region.


“The everyday people of Pakistan are the real heroes of this current crisis in Pakistan,” said Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan.  Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, he said, “They set an inspiring example of extraordinary generosity for the whole world.”


He said that he hoped this example is followed by the governments of this world, whose continued urgent support is desperately needed.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.


**Statement on Ghana/Gambia


I have just received two statements.


There is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Ghana and the Gambia.


The Secretary-General welcomes the Joint Communiqué signed today in Sirte, Libya, between the Governments of Ghana and the Gambia, to end the tension that arose following the deaths and disappearances of Ghanaian nationals in Gambian territory in 2005.  The Secretary-General applauds both countries for their commitment to settle the differences between them in a peaceful and negotiated manner.  He trusts that the Joint Communiqué will strengthen the existing fraternal and cordial bilateral relationship between Ghana and the Gambia.


The Secretary-General acknowledges and expresses appreciation for the immense contribution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which worked preventively and in partnership with the UN to resolve the problem between the two countries.


**Statement on Niger


We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Niger.


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in Niger, which threatens to destabilize the country and undermine the progress made in recent years to consolidate democratic governance and the rule of law.  He regrets the most recent decisions taken by the Niger Government, which have made it extremely difficult for the country’s democratic institutions and the Constitutional Court, to play their roles as guarantors of the rule of law.  The Secretary-General calls for restraint and political dialogue to resolve the crisis.


The Secretary-General offers his good offices to work with regional partners, in particular the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, to find a solution to this political crisis.


**Sri Lanka


Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka, covering the period from 15 September 2007 to 31 January 2009.


In line with recent developments, the Secretary-General urges the Government of Sri Lanka to build on the progress achieved today with the support of the UN and other parties, and to ensure that children released by armed groups have access to care, protection and reintegration programmes, including other appropriate assistance to those recruited as children who are now over 18 years of age.


In particular, he stresses for the Government to ensure that the identification, release, and rehabilitation of all children leaving armed groups and their successful reintegration into the communities is given priority and implemented in accordance with international standards.


He also urged the Sri Lankan Government to facilitate access of humanitarian actors and the delivery of assistance to internally displaced persons.  He wants to ensure the relevant care and protection for children separated from their families, and to address the high rates of malnutrition among internally displaced children.


The Secretary-General also urges the government to ensure effective implementation of its “zero tolerance” position on child recruitment, including systematic and vigorous investigations for every reported case, followed by prosecutions and convictions of responsible perpetrators.


**Timor-Leste


In Timor-Leste, a total of 62 United Nations Volunteers from around the world will gather in the country this month at the request of the Government, to support upcoming local elections.  The volunteers have been asked to cover five different areas of support, including field operation, logistics, civic and voter education, and monitoring.


**Tourism


Finally, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) has revised downward its forecast for international travel in 2009.  This is due to a recorded decrease of international tourist arrivals from 269 million in 2008 to 247 million between the months of January and April in 2009.


Aside from the global financial crisis and increased unemployment worldwide, the WTO also associates the decline in travel to the recent pandemic of the H1N1 virus.  In light of the new travel forecast, the WTO has said that action is needed to boost trade and build infrastructure that in turn would stimulate demand for travel.


And this is all I have for you today.  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any position on evidence of persistent slavery-like practices in Mauritania; particularly as it affects black children and women in that country?


Spokesperson:  Yes, there has been a Secretary-General report on this situation, and you can find it upstairs.


Question:  I know of Mr. (inaudible)’s report as UN Special Rapporteur, but has there been a separate report?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has addressed this issue several times.  We can refer you upstairs to the relevant documents.


Question:  Michèle, a human rights report, Human Rights Watch report, says that Israel used drone planes to attack civilians in Gaza and as many as 39 civilians may have died from that.  Can you confirm that Israel did use those drone planes?


Spokesperson:  You are referring to which report?


Question:  Human Rights Watch report.


Spokesperson:  I cannot at this point confirm that.


Question:  But those are the things that the Human Rights Watch are saying…


Spokesperson: Yes, I am aware of the Human Rights report, but I don’t have any confirmation of that.


Question:  Whether the attacks took place of not; you don’t have…?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  Two questions on Haiti and Sri Lanka.  In Haiti, AP has reported that they’re saying that a bullet killed the protester, not a blunt object as was stated here.  One, [inaudible] found out whether the peacekeepers used live ammunition or not; and two, what is the UN’s response to, I think the UN was the one that said that it was a blunt object.  I mean, what are the next steps?


Spokesperson:  Well, that is what MINUSTAH had said, that’s true.  But there was an autopsy performed, and as far as I know, the result of the autopsy is not out yet.  The matter is in the hands of the Haitian authorities who are investigating, right now, what happened.  And in terms of the UN, MINUSTAH, using live ammunition, I was told by MINUSTAH that they fired in the air.


Question:  Right, but the question is whether it’s rubber bullets or metal bullets.


Spokesperson:  That I didn’t get an answer on.  But from what I gather, they are rubber bullets, mostly.


Question:  Okay.  There is also in Sri Lanka, in these camps, however you want to describe them, in Vavuniya on Sunday there was a protest by residents trying to be reunited with relatives or not be pinned in.  And it’s reported that the military opened fire.  Is that something that the UN is aware?  Back to the same question; they are paying for the camp.  Is it legitimate to be firing bullets by those guarding the camps?


Spokesperson:  It’s never legitimate to fire bullets on civilians; that’s our position.  Now, in terms of what is happening in the camps, we have very little control of what happens in the camps in the sense that the camps are run by the Sri Lankan Government.  They are not run by the UN, as I said before in this room.  So, there is nothing really I can say in terms of our presence there.  We are not present.


Question:  I just wanted to ask, because I know that the humanitarian agencies will say, you know, they won’t provide funding in areas that they have no access to.  WFP (World Food Programme) says that about North Korea and stopped funding some provinces because they had no access.  How, in this case, is the UN providing funding for camps that it has no access to?


Spokesperson:  I will try to find out how it’s done.


Question:  (Inaudible) members from the three Gaza ships remain in prison in Israel.  Is the UN involved in this, in negotiating for their release, and has the Secretary-General any remarks or reaction?


Spokesperson:  No, we have not been involved in anything concerning the ships and the people on those ships.  The UN has absolutely no role at this point.


Question:  Do you envision any role in the future?


Spokesperson:  That I cannot tell you. 


Question:  Yesterday one of my colleagues asked why Ambassador Ross, the Personal Envoy to the Western Sahara, is optimistic and the reasons for that.  And you mentioned there was a paper upstairs.  I looked for it this morning.  I couldn’t locate it.  Is it possible that he is optimistic because the parties have agreed to strengthen the Arab Maghreb Union while discussing the Sahara, and also that Algeria has decided to open the borders with Morocco, which have been closed for a while now?


Spokesperson:  Your question is a very good one.  However, I am not privy to what he is basing his optimism on.  We can certainly put you in touch with the right people to tell you more about this.  Yes, Pat.


Question:  I am wondering whether, as a Haitian expert yourself, you would be willing to say what you think are the most critical issues for Mr. Clinton to address on his arrival there and whether you had a chance to share that with Mr. Clinton before he leaves?


Spokesperson:  Mo, I haven’t had a chance to speak this time around with Mr. Clinton.  I spoke to him when we went to Haiti together.  In terms of what the priorities are, I think they were actually outlined by him and the Secretary-General when they had a press conference here.  That hasn’t changed.  Right now he is going for his second visit and he is going to meet with Haitian officials and with NGO groups.  And you can certainly get more information from President Clinton’s spokesperson, who will be travelling with him.


Question:  But you agree basically with the points that have been raised?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  Basically, we have one hurricane season coming up, and in fact, already it has been raining steadily and there has been a tremendous amount of worry on the part of populations in some fragile areas like Gonaives about another possible flooding.  Until now (inaudible) Savane Désolée, which is a desert area, which is before Gonaives, has now become a lake.  It was a desert, it has become a lake.  We have fish in it.  And this is to tell you that the impact of the last hurricane season has not gone away yet.  People are still getting mud out of their houses in Gonaives.  I know there are some infrastructure works, which I think Mr. Clinton is going to go and see, that are taking place right now, trying to open the bed of the major river that actually had so much water flowing into Gonaives the last time. So, there is a lot of work being done. But, will that be enough?  As you know, one of the big problems is deforestation, the fact that there is so little coverage in terms of trees and vegetation.


Question:  I wanted to know, the President of Niger, Mr. Tandja, has dissolved the constitution and tried to extend his rule outside of the…well, some countries have commented on it; I don’t know if the UN --


Spokesperson:  I just did, right now.  You were here.


Question:  Actually I wasn’t in here, but I am glad to know that.  I just missed that.  I want to also ask you, you’d said, on the people that are travelling with the Secretary-General in Myanmar, you said that they were chosen because of their willingness to pool.  I’m just wondering, as we come up to the trip now, what does this pooling mean?  How are we going to --


Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  I said some of them were willing to pool, some of them.  We gave priority to wire services.  And there are three wire services travelling with the Secretary-General.  And for TV, the pool material is being done by the BBC, and it is being fed.  We have informed all of UNCA and we have informed all the TV media here how they can access that material.


Question:  So, unlike the White House here, there is no print pooling; there is no providing basic information of…


Spokesperson:  There is no print pooling, no.  It’s just that the wire services will actually send material out immediately.


Question:  Can you confirm how many people are part of the delegation going to Myanmar?  Some have said 22.  Is that a correct figure?


Spokesperson:  I can check for you. I don’t have the list with me.


Question:  Okay.  I guess during these two days that he is there, if we’re trying to cover it from here, have questions, who do we seek to get some answers?


Spokesperson:  It’s going to be extremely difficult.  The materials that your colleagues are sending will give you information, but there is no way you can reach, it’s going to be very difficult to reach people in Myanmar when they are there because of communications problems. 


Thank you so much.


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For information media • not an official record