|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General’s Trip to Egypt
The Secretary-General has arrived in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where tomorrow he’s scheduled to meet with the leaders gathered for the Fifteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
He will tell the gathered leaders there that, just as when the Non-Aligned Movement was founded, the world today faces complex crises threatening development and security. He will point to the severe economic and financial crisis, the need for disarmament and the effort to “seal the deal” on climate change in Copenhagen later this year. He will also discuss the United Nations ongoing review of its peacekeeping and peacebuilding work, at a time when UN engagement is at an all-time high.
**Secretary-General Statement on Honduras
For those of you who may have missed this statement yesterday, we issued one yesterday evening on the mediation efforts on Honduras.
The Secretary-General said he had spoken with President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and conveyed his support for the President’s mediation efforts to resolve the political crisis in Honduras. The Secretary-General has offered technical assistance for the mediation and agreed to work together with President Arias to help the parties reach an agreement. The Secretary-General is confident that an open dialogue and international support will help resolve the current crisis.
**Pakistan –- Bhutto Commission
On the Bhutto Commission, the three-member Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is due to arrive in Pakistan within the next few days, on its first working visit to the country.
The Commission began its activities on 1 July, and already preliminary work has been under way on the ground.
The Commission’s mandate, agreed to in consultation with the Government of Pakistan, is to determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination. The mandate does not include undertaking a criminal investigation. Responsibility for any criminal investigation and the prosecution of the perpetrators remains with the Pakistani authorities.
The Commission will carry out its fact-finding activities in Pakistan and abroad.
A final report on the Commission’s findings will be presented to the Secretary-General within six months, by the end of December 2009.
The Secretary-General will share the report with the Government of Pakistan and submit it to the Security Council for information.
Also on Pakistan, hundreds of Pakistanis displaced by the conflict between Government forces and militants in three districts of the North-West Frontier Province have headed for home as the Government began its voluntary return operation, according to the UN refugee agency. Another 5,200 people were scheduled to return home today, according to Government figures.
Yesterday’s returnees left Jalozai camp, which is managed by the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), together with its partners and provincial authorities, in 20 buses and trucks to go back to Swat.
Returnees told UNHCR that they felt safe going back to their villages after contacting neighbours who had already safely returned on their own. Returnees mentioned the unbearable heat in the camp as one of their main reasons they registered to go back. They said many of their children fell sick and contracted skin diseases because of the heat.
Other internally displaced people (IDPs) reported they were not yet ready to return, citing security concerns in various areas of Swat.
Over 2 million people have been displaced since early May. While 260,000 people are staying in 21 camps, the vast majority of the displaced are accommodated with host families, rent houses or are in school buildings.
You can read more about the situation in the briefing notes from UNHCR and the other UN agencies in Geneva, and John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will be our guest tomorrow to brief you on the situation on the ground, where he has just returned from.
On Darfur, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy today was in El Geneina, West Darfur, close to Sudan's border with Chad.
Mr. Le Roy met with the Wali –- he’s the Governor -- of West Darfur, during which several issues of mutual interest, including security, were discussed. The Wali informed Mr. Le Roy that the proliferation of arms was a major concern in the area. However, he gave the assurance that bearing in mind West Darfur's proximity to the Chadian border the authorities were intent on curbing this trend.
During a visit to a village where 2,100 internally displaced families had recently returned voluntarily, Mr. Le Roy noted that it was apparent life in the village was returning to normal as evidenced by ongoing farming activities being undertaken by the returnees. He met the village traditional leader and representatives of elders, women and youth, among other community leaders, to listen to their concerns.
Mr. Le Roy began a two-day visit to Darfur yesterday and he is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Sudan on Friday of this week.
Also on Sudan, the Secretary-General was asked at yesterday’s stakeout to comment on a story about the Sudanese Government judgment on a female UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan) staff member who wore trousers in public.
The UN mission in Sudan is aware of this incident. The Mission has been in contact with the authorities to ensure that provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) -- the agreement between the United Nations and the nation stationing forces in that country -- are respected and that basic human rights are upheld in the context of national laws governing such issues.
On the trial of former President of Liberia Charles Taylor, it took place today and he took the stand in his own defence during his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, meeting in The Hague, where he faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The former President denied 11 counts, including terrorism, murder, rape and torture. He further claimed that the prosecution was relying on disinformation, misinformation, lies, and rumours. He also denied supporting rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone.
The defence is expected to last several weeks and a verdict is expected next year.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) meanwhile sentenced today Tharcisse Renzaho, the prefect of Kigali-ville and Colonel in the Rwandan Armed Forces in 1994, to life imprisonment.
He was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Among others, he had supported the killings of Tutsis at roadblocks, set up following his directives. He also made remarks encouraging the sexual abuse of women and was found criminally liable for rapes that followed.
Turning to Somalia, aid agencies in Somalia are appealing for a total $11 million for emergency water and sanitation programmes in that country. These programmes will provide assistance to the more than 600,000 people displaced by fighting in Mogadishu since 2007.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), humanitarian organizations are only able to supply 2 to 8 litres of water per person per day in that area. Between 7.5 and 15 litres is considered the minimum needed for survival. OCHA says that the lack of water is affecting efforts to prevent the spread of communicable diseases in overcrowded situations.
OCHA adds that UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) requires $3.3 million before the end of July to maintain life-saving operations for more than 1 million conflict-affected people, while current emergency funding allocated for non-governmental organizations is likely to be exhausted within the next two months.
There is more on this appeal upstairs.
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, said today that the manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccines is inadequate for a world of 6.8 billion people, nearly all of whom are susceptible to infection by the new H1N1 virus. She added that most of these limited supplies would go to wealthy countries.
Chan was addressing a Conference on Intellectual Property and Public Policy Issues organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.
In her statement, she said that the ideal vaccine would be one that protects against seasonal influenza viruses as well as a range of candidate pandemic viruses. WHO’s Director-General encouraged the research and development sector, as well as academics, to work on such an innovation –- calling this the “best and most rational insurance policy for increasing supplies and encouraging more equitable access”.
**International Court of Justice
For those of you who may have missed it, I just wanted to refer you to a press release issued yesterday by the International Court of Justice on a judgement on a case instituted in 2005 by Costa Rica and Nicaragua regarding a dispute concerning navigational and related rights of Costa Rica on the San Juan River.
That press release was out yesterday, as I mentioned, and contained in our Highlights as well.
**Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow
As I mentioned earlier, our guest tomorrow at noon will be John Holmes, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator. He will be here to brief you on his recent trip to Pakistan.
That’s what I have for you. Anything for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions. The first is there’s the interview in the Wall Street Journal with the Secretary-General. He mentions there that he’s considered sending somebody to North Korea. But in this, he didn’t give any indication to understand what North Korea’s side of the dispute is. I just wonder, is there any effort on his part to look at what the issues are and the fact that there is still only an armistice ending the Korean war and otherwise there’s a state of war really between the UN command and North Korea? So I just wonder if there’s some process ongoing that he’s part of that’s different than what gets indicated in this interview that we can hear about in terms of looking at the issue because also the Security Council never looked into what could be the complaint of North Korea with regard to what’s happening?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing, Rhonda, beyond what the Secretary-General has been saying on this issue whenever he is asked.
Question: The second part of that is about staff contracts. The staff has said that there’s been an ending of the permanent contracts and they raise the issue that the Charter requires that the staff be protected from pressure by national entities with regard to their functioning and that the permanent contracts were, they say, a means of that. I think there was a statement that we would have somebody here who would talk to us about the ending of the permanent contracts and the reasoning, and we could raise some questions. Is that possible to set up?
Deputy Spokesperson: There have recently been a number of measures undertaken in the area of human resources regarding contracts. But I am not an expert in this. I know that we already have provided a brief on this. So after this briefing, we’ll make sure you have what those measures are.
Question: On the Honduras statement, I wanted to ask you if it was the Secretary-General who called President Arias or the other way around. And if the reason for this statement is because of some criticism that the mediation of President Arias has received by leaders in the region who are against talking to the new Government because of the way they expelled President [Jose Manuel] Zelaya [Rosales].
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General, on the issue of Honduras, has been saying all along that he has been closely following the situation and that he had told President Arias that he appreciated his role and that he supported them. He sincerely hopes that he can help work with the parties to find a peaceful solution to this issue. He has always said that the United Nations stands ready to help in any way. The call yesterday… took place on his way to the airport. It was yesterday evening. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who placed and got through on that call. I can confirm for you who initiated the dialogue but I think it’s a conversation that he’s wanted to have and that’s why he immediately issued a statement following that conversation.
[She later confirmed to the reporter that the Secretary-General had initiated the call.]
Question: Is there any expected meeting between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Iran’s Foreign Minister during the NAM Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, and what are they going to discuss if they’re going to meet?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m looking at a very tentative bilateral schedule for him. As you know, tomorrow is when he’ll be having most of his meetings. As far as I can see, there is nothing scheduled for the moment. But we will certainly keep you updated on any additions and we’ll have readouts once the meetings are over.
Question: I have another question, about the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon. Last week, Mr. [Javier] Solana, the EU Minister for Foreign Policy, he talked about the possibility of establishing a Palestinian State with the recognition of the international community and the United Nations in a certain date. What is the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon towards this proposal? Is he supporting it? How does he see this proposal?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have an immediate reaction to the proposal, which I’ve also read in the press as you have. I have nothing beyond the Secretary-General’s positions on this issue other than what we’ve said in the past.
Question: But he’s aware of it, right? Does he take note of this new proposal?
Deputy Spokesperson: As I said, I don’t have anything beyond what I’ve read in the press on this.
Question: Today’s New York Times focuses attention on the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and U.S. support for the territorial integrity of Georgia. What is the Secretary-General’s position on Georgia, and do you have any updates on the region?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any updates on the region and I think the latest I would have is the latest report that the Secretary-General has issued on the subject.
Question: There are reports of direct armed fighting between MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) in South Kivu and that one MONUC peacekeeper has been injured, and somehow they didn’t give the numbers of FDLR injured. Can you confirm that fighting? What brought all the fighting about, and does the UN know how many FDLR people or others were killed, or does it not release those numbers?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not familiar with the latest outbreak of fighting that you’re referring to. Is that something that happened today?
Question: Yes. There’s already a Reuters story about it, and it has the UN there quoted as saying “declined to comment on the number of rebels hurt”. So I’m wondering, is that a UN policy not to announce?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think if they don’t have the numbers then they probably don’t have a clear picture of what has taken place just yet. But we can certainly check with MONUC and see what they have for you on that.
[She later told the reporter that according to the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) suspected rebels of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda had attacked a MONUC site at Mwenga (South Kivu) on Monday. MONUC troops returned fire. One MONUC soldier was injured. In recent days, there has been considerable rebel activity in the Mwenga area. This is not the first time that peacekeepers have come under FDLR fire. According to MONUC, the situation on the ground is now under control and the Mission will continue to monitor it closely.]
Question: And when they do, just to know in what capacity this started. I also wanted to ask you, over the weekend there was a story in The New York Times mostly about the U.S. role in not investigating a mass grave created by General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum in Afghanistan, who was a major player there. In the middle of the article, it says in 2008, a medical forensic team working with the United Nations discovered excavations that a mass grave had been moved. I guess I wanted to know -- and you may not know it off-hand -- what did you, the UN, do when it reportedly found this evidence of a mass grave? The article is very much alleging a U.S. cover-up. But I want to know, what did the UN do?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll check on that for you.
Question: It looks like you have several parts of the SG’s speech tomorrow to the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Is the speech available now?
Deputy Spokesperson: This afternoon, we’ll certainly give you an embargoed copy for tomorrow in advance.
Question: Rodolphe Adada, does his term run out per say? I’ve heard that various names have been forwarded by the Secretariat to Sudan and others to see who the new Adada is. Is there a time limit?
Deputy Spokesperson: As far as I know, Mr. Adada is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the African Union representative on the ground, and I have nothing beyond that.
If there’s nothing else, have a good afternoon and we’ll see you tomorrow.
* *** *For information media • not an official record