|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, everyone.
**Secretary-General in Mongolia
The Secretary-General ended his trip to Mongolia today, accepting an honorary degree from the National University of Mongolia.
As he accepted his degree, the Secretary-General told his audience that, during his three days in Mongolia, he witnessed how much the country is striving to see to the well-being of its citizens and contributing to global progress. He recalled his meetings with Government officials, members of the herder community and Mongolians who will serve in United Nations peacekeeping, and added that he even got to name a baby horse. “All of these activities have deepened my admiration for this country,” he said.
And we have those remarks upstairs.
The Secretary-General is expected back in New York later today. And tomorrow, at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold his monthly press conference in this room.
The UN humanitarian country team in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which brings together UN humanitarian agencies and international development bodies, today held an advocacy event. The event was held at the American School in Gaza, which was destroyed in the fighting six months ago. The goal was to highlight the impact of Israel’s blockade on children and education in Gaza.
Addressing participants, the UN’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Philippe Lazzarini, said the blockade has caused untold suffering to children in Gaza, who face another academic year in terrible conditions. In that context, he demanded full and unfettered access into and out of Gaza, in particular to restore the Gazan educational system.
He added that, during Israel’s recent operation in Gaza, 18 schools were completely destroyed and at least 280 were damaged. Today, one month before the start of the new school year, and more than six months after the ceasefires, none of these schools have been properly rebuilt or rehabilitated due to a lack of construction materials. In addition, he said, since the imposition of the blockade, students have faced chronic shortages of educational supplies, including textbooks, paper and uniforms.
We have a press release on that upstairs, as well as a related fact sheet and a statement by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Meanwhile, in Geneva today, the Economic and Social Council held a debate on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on Palestinians’ living conditions.
Last night, the United Nations compound in Herat, in western Afghanistan, came under attack by anti-Government elements. Seven rockets were fired with two rockets landing inside the compound. Thankfully, no UN staff were harmed or otherwise injured in this attack and UN offices remain open.
In a statement, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, condemned this deliberate attack against the United Nations. He said that UN staff work to help Afghanistan’s most vulnerable communities, and the impartiality of the work they do for the people of Afghanistan must be respected. Eide urged the Afghan authorities to make every effort to find the culprits behind this attack and hold them accountable.
And we have that statement upstairs.
The Security Council this morning began an open meeting on Chad and the Central African Republic, on which it received a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative dealing with those countries, Victor da Silva Angelo.
Angelo noted the recent clashes between Sudan and Chad, and said that there is an urgent need to de-escalate the situation and resume diplomatic initiatives. Meanwhile, he said, the situation in the Vakaga region in the north-eastern Central African Republic has been extremely insecure over the last three months, with concerns about the activities of armed groups and bandits in the area.
The Special Representative also detailed the work of the UN Mission in the area, MINURCAT, which he says now stands at 46 per cent of its mandated strength. He noted, among other needs, the lack of air assets with enhanced night-flight capability, with MINURCAT having only 4 out of a planned 18 military helicopters, a situation he called “unacceptable”.
** Central African Republic
Meanwhile, on the second day of a five-day visit to the Central African Republic, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Catherine Bragg this morning visited the town of Kabo, in the north-west. She met with local authorities and some internally displaced civilians. She also met with the Kabo humanitarian community. Before departing, Bragg said that she was moved by the testimonies of civilians who described their hardships and deplorable living conditions.
She called on the Government and opposition leaders to follow through on the peace agreement and to contribute to the peace and security of the Kabo region. She also urged them to alleviate fear among displaced civilians, so as to allow them to return to their homes.
Bragg is now in the town of Paoua from where she will travel to the capital, Bangui, tomorrow.
The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has been informed by Sudan’s National Elections Commission that it has completed the demarcation of national and state constituencies for general elections planned for April 2010. The Commission also said that regional committees have been established in all three Darfur states. The committees will have authority to clear all election-related activities.
UNAMID says it has received assurances that civil society groups will be allowed to carry out voter sensitization work without restriction or interference. In particular, neither the Sudanese intelligence services nor the Humanitarian Aid Commission will interfere with their work, leaving contentious issues to be handled by the Elections Commission.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that the ongoing fighting in Mogadishu and central Somalia is pushing thousands of Somali civilians to risk their lives to cross the Gulf of Aden and seek asylum in Yemen.
UNHCR says that the majority of the 12,000 people who have found temporary shelter in the town of Bossaso, in northern Somalia, since 7 May, are waiting for the first opportunity offered by smugglers to cross the Gulf. These internally displaced people are part of some 232,000 Somalis who have been forced to leave their homes since the beginning of May.
In 2008, more than 50,000 new arrivals reached Yemen’s shores -- a 70 per cent increase from 2007, according to UNHCR. The agency adds that the trend has continued during the first six months of 2009, with around 30,000 new arrivals -- about the same as the total for the whole of 2007. More than 1,000 drowned en route in 2008 and, so far this year, almost 300 have died or gone missing.
There is more in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.
**Influenza A (H1N1)
Turning to the H1N1 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that more than 124,000 lab-confirmed cases have now been reported. The majority of those cases are among children between the ages of 12 and 17.
But as the pandemic spreads further, other age groups are also becoming more affected, the agency adds. WHO says that its top priority is now to determine which age groups are at the highest risk -- so that measures can be taken to protect them. At the same time, WHO notes that the pandemic is still considered to be moderate, with the majority of cases showing only mild symptoms.
There is more information in the Geneva press briefing notes upstairs.
** Cambodia Correction
And last, I would like to make a correction for the record with regard to a statement that the Spokesperson made at the noon briefing on 30 March 2009.
In the questions and answers, while discussing the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the Spokesperson stated that some of the allegations of corruption that had been made in connection with that institution concerned Cambodian judges. That was incorrect. I’d like to note that the Spokesperson made a further statement the following day, 31 March, which clarified that the allegations of corruption concerned officials on the Cambodian side of the Administration of the Extraordinary Chambers and not the judges.
I would like to reiterate that the confidential Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) review concerns allegations of corruption among officials on the Cambodian side of the Administration of the ECCC. We have no information to suggest that there has been or is corruption among any of the judges of the ECCC, nor information that would suggest that the ECCC judicial process is in any way prejudiced by corruption.
And that’s all I have for you today. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I was wondering, why did you make this correction after such a long time? You’re talking about a statement in March, and we’re in July.
Associate Spokesperson: That’s a good question. We did make a clarification, like I said, the following day, 31 March. But in response to concerns about the initial error, we were asked to make this particular correction, so we did that.
Question: When you say you were asked, you were asked by whom?
Associate Spokesperson: I’m not sure, but this was prepared in coordination with our Office for Legal Affairs.
Question: You know, there is a report issued today by the International Organization for Migration about the terrible conditions migrants face in Italy and some other EU member States. I was wondering if you have any comments to this.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the International Organization for Migration is not a UN body. I would like to point out that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been in dialogue with Italian authorities about certain concerns on migration issues. So I’d refer you to them for anything further.
Question: Okay. Do you have any updates on the clashes which are happening now in northern Nigeria between the security forces there and some religious movement or Muslims or…?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, yes, I do have the following that I can share with you:
The Secretary-General is concerned over news reports of yet another round of sectarian violence in parts of northern Nigeria last weekend. He extends his condolences to the people of Nigeria and the families of those who lost their lives or were wounded in the violence.
The Secretary-General condemns the unnecessary loss of human life and the destruction of property as a result of militant attacks. He hopes that those behind the attacks would be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law.
The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Nigeria, law enforcement and security agencies, as well as religious and community leaders, to work together to address the underlying causes of the frequent religious clashes in Nigeria so that a resolution could be found through dialogue, tolerance and understanding.
Question: The trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ended with the Government or the judge rejecting a witness from the Foreign Ministry. The trial is now over and the verdict is expected on Friday. Does the Secretariat or the Secretary-General have anything to say in this regard?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as far as that goes, we may have something further to say once there is a verdict. For now, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General’s position has not changed and his statement of 14 May still stands. He indicated his grave concern about this situation and clearly urged the authorities to refrain from any actions that could undermine the national reconciliation process in Myanmar. He strongly believes that all the people of Myanmar should be allowed to contribute to the future of their country through a credible and inclusive political process. And he is following events closely. And like I said, once a verdict comes out we do expect to say some more about this.
Question: I wanted to ask you, in that case in Sudan where the UN worker who is also a journalist from a newspaper there, she is now about to be flogged for having worn pants -- you remember this case?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: What has the UN done? It was said at the time that the UN was going to get her a lawyer. What happened with that? How did we reach this stage?
Associate Spokesperson: The UN Mission in Sudan, for which she works as an employee, has been following up and they have been providing her with legal support. Having said that -- if this penalty is actually carried out, we may have something more to say at that point. But at this stage we don’t have anything more to say beyond that which we have already said.
Question: I just wanted to know, because all the stories said that she was an employee of the UN Mission and also wrote for a non-UN newspaper in Sudan. And not to confuse the story, it confused me. Is that permissible? What’s up with that?
Associate Spokesperson: I would just refer you to the UN Mission in Sudan. I am not aware what the precise conditions of her contract are.
Question: Also just a follow-up to this, if she was flogged already, I mean…
Associate Spokesperson: It hasn’t happened already.
Question: …what’s the UN position?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as I am aware, that has not already happened. There are some reports that it may happen in the coming days.
Question: I see. And in this case, what is the position of the UN?
Associate Spokesperson: We have already made our human rights concerns known, not just regarding her case, but in the case of a number of people who have been subjected to the same penalties. And I’d just refer you back to what we said previously. I can share that with you afterwards.
Question: All right. Can you tell us about the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon towards the increasing threats voiced out by the Israeli Government? And yesterday, Ehud Barak, he said clearly that there is no option removed out of the table in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme, which means a military strike that can be launched against Tehran. Does Mr. Ban Ki-moon think this is the best way to handle the Iranian issue, and what’s his reaction to this?
Associate Spokesperson: No, the Secretary-General’s position has been clear and consistent, that he has supported and continues to support the effort to deal with the situation regarding Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully and through negotiations. To that end, he continues to urge Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to comply with all resolutions of the Security Council.
Question: But does he believe that such statements by the Israeli Government are helpful in this effort? How does he see it, what is his response to this?
Associate Spokesperson: He certainly wants all sides to work through a process of diplomacy and to cooperate with the work that is being done by the Security Council. Beyond that, as you know, in similar cases he always asks parties to refrain from any rhetoric that could escalate the situation.
Question: Getting back to the situation Matthew brought up. What is the UN’s position about the imposition of a law which actually violates almost all of the UN human rights resolutions from its inception, violates protection against cruel and inhuman punishment, degrading, inhuman -- the chopping off of arms and legs –- and this happened, the Al-Shabaab did this. This is back to the dark ages.
Associate Spokesperson: The United Nations has made very clear its concerns about any discriminatory practices. And certainly with regard to this case of flogging, we have certainly done that and our position on that remains unchanged.
Question: The Secretary-General made a strong statement recently regarding the murder of a journalist and human rights activist, this Natalia Estemirova of Grozny, Chechnya, and asked for an independent impartial investigation. Do you have any updates for the status of an investigation, and how will the Secretary-General follow up on this?
Associate Spokesperson: As for that, he continues to monitor the situation. I am not aware of any investigation that has been started on this, but his call is a matter of the public record and that remains the case.
Question: Yesterday in Geneva, at the ECOSOC, two NGOs were barred from consultative status -- the Arab Commission on Human Rights, by a complaint by Algeria, and the Dynamic World Christian Mission, under on a complaint by China. Given what the UN says about civil society and being open to it, does the Secretary-General have any response to countries… these two instances of groups being effectively silenced or ousted from consultative status?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any particular comment about those decisions, which are, as you know, decisions taken by Member States. The Member States in ECOSOC have the power to take decisions about consultative status. At the same time, yes, you’re right; we do urge as wide and as broad an inclusion of civil society as possible.
Question: Is there going to be any media availability by [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah in connection with tomorrow’s Security Council meeting on Somalia?
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll certainly ask him. He’s been in town for a couple of days, so we’ll try to see whether he’ll come to talk to you at the stakeout. And with that, have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record