26 August 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 Statement on United States Senator Edward Kennedy


We have, as you know, a statement by the Secretary-General on the passing of US Senator Edward Kennedy.  It was issued this morning.  I quote:


“I mark with sadness the passing of US Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, who stood so firmly for so many of the principles of the United Nations.  Few were stronger supporters of the UN, and in my visits to Capitol Hill I always benefited from his wise counsel.  He was not just a friend to those of power and high position, but even more to those who had neither.  He was a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard, a defender of the rights and interests of the defenceless.  Those who feel that government can too often be faceless and inhumane did not know Senator Kennedy.  He stood for the best in all of us, and he will be missed.  I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and salute Senator Kennedy’s memory and enormous legacy.”


**Kennedy - Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


We also have upstairs a statement from High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who said that, throughout his life, Senator Kennedy was a tireless advocate for refugees ‑‑ among the most vulnerable people in the world.


Guterres said that Senator Kennedy’s efforts on behalf of refugees have benefited millions of individuals from all over the world forced to seek shelter and protection outside their homelands.


**Secretary-General Statement on Afghanistan


We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General regarding the 25 August attack in Kandahar.


The Secretary-General was shocked and dismayed when he learned of the attack that took place in the Afghan city of Kandahar yesterday evening, which reportedly caused the death of over 40 civilians and injured more than 80 others.  He condemns in the strongest possible terms this brutal and senseless act of violence.


The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and sends his wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.


**Secretary-General Statement on Rodolphe Adada


We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Darfur and the resignation of Joint [UN-African Union] Special Representative Rodolphe Adada.


The Secretary-General expresses his strong appreciation for the dedication shown by the Joint United Nations–African Union Special Representative for Darfur, Mr. Rodolphe Adada, who has led UNAMID with distinction for the past two years and will be ending his tour of duty at the end of this month.  Mr. Adada helped establish the mission, led it through a challenging deployment phase and oversaw its progress in an environment of unprecedented difficulty.  Going forward, the mission will build upon these accomplishments in its efforts towards a sustainable peace in Darfur.


The Secretary-General wishes Mr. Adada continued success in his future endeavours.


** Sudan


Rodolphe Adada is marking the end of his tenure as the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur by making a farewell tour to South and West Darfur.  His tour of duty ends on 31 August.


Adada visited Nyala on Monday and paid a courtesy call to the Deputy Wali (Governor) of South Darfur.  He expressed his gratitude to the state government for the assistance and the good relations and cooperation it had maintained with the mission in South Darfur.  Adada referred to the decreased level of violence in Darfur and said that the deployment of the UN-African Union mission (UNAMID) has now reached 75 per cent.  “As the deployment increases, so does assistance to the people of Darfur,” he said.  We have a full press release upstairs.


Today, he met with UNAMID staff in El Fasher and expressed satisfaction over the way the mission has faced challenges and overcome problems.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


On the DRC, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has deplored and condemned the assassination of a journalist in Bukavu during the night of 22 August 2009.  The journalist, Bruno Koko Chirambiza, was a reporter for an independent radio station.


The Mission exhorts judicial officials to track down the presumed perpetrators and let them face the full force of the law and says it stands ready to assist the Congolese authorities if requested.


Also, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman is in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a five-day visit.  She is today attending the opening of a new HIV/AIDS treatment centre.  The new centre will provide laboratory equipment, reagents and training to improve immune system monitoring, an essential component of treating people living with HIV/AIDS.  There is a press release on that upstairs.


** Liberia


On Liberia, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has reported the death of one of its international civilian staff members, who was being investigated for alleged sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.


The American staff member died on 24 August at his home in Monrovia and the circumstances of his death are being investigated.


Full investigations are also continuing into the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse made against him.  We have more details in an UNMIL press release upstairs.


**Occupied Palestinian Territory


The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has welcomed a new Palestinian announcement on state-building.  Serry noted that the UN will continue to be closely engaged with the Palestinian Authority in support of its state-building agenda.


He added that the new state-building plan challenges all other players to move forward quickly and decisively in the coming two years.  In that context, Serry said that Israeli cooperation and continued donor support were necessary.  We have the full statement upstairs.


** Iraq


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the Development Fund for Iraq is available as a document today.  It mentions that some $165.1 billion has been deposited in the Fund from oil exports, from its inception through the end of last year.  During that time, $10.4 billion has been deposited in the Development Fund from the balance of the oil-for-food funds held under escrow by the United Nations, and a further $1.5 billion has been deposited as proceeds from frozen assets.


**Human Rights


On human rights, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has welcomed the United States Attorney-General’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to look into whether Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and contractors violated US laws during the interrogation of detainees at places outside the United States, including Guantanamo Bay.


Pillay stressed that there should not be impunity for torture or any other unlawful treatment of detainees, whether it is in the United States or anywhere else in the world.  She added that the use of secret places of detention must be curbed, and called for the release of the names of detainees currently held in such detention centres.


Pillay reiterated her support for the US President’s commitment to close the Guantanamo camp by 2010 and asked him to urgently review the status of detainees at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan.


[The Spokesperson suspended her briefing to yield the podium to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who came into the briefing room to make a statement on the death of United States Senator Edward Kennedy.  The text of the statement can be found online at http://www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=1315.


Resuming her briefing, the Spokesperson continued.]


We were talking about the position of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcoming the United States Attorney-General’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to look into whether Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and contractors violated US laws during the interrogation of detainees at places outside the United States, including Guantanamo Bay.


Pillay reiterated her support for the US President’s commitment to close the Guantanamo camp by 2010 and asked him to urgently review the status of detainees at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan.


The High Commissioner urged all States to rigorously review their interrogation techniques to ensure that they do not contravene international laws, including the absolute prohibition on the use of torture in all places at all times.


She also welcomed the recent release from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp of, Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who was reportedly 12 years old when first taken into custody.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Children and Armed Conflict


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has also welcomed the release of Mohammed Jawad.


According to her office, Mohammed Jawad was one of the youngest detainees there and was freed after almost seven years in detention.  Jawad was one of the last three juveniles in the detention camp who were under the age of 18 when they allegedly committed their crimes.  Commending the US Government’s decision, the Special Representative said that trying young people for war crimes with regards to alleged acts committed when they were minors would have created a dangerous international precedent.  We have a press release on that upstairs.


**World Meteorological Organization


The head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, says that, because of climate change, historical weather data is no longer a good indicator of trends to come and a good guide for decision-making.


Jarraud said, in an interview with UN radio, that many socio-economic sectors are highly dependent on climate conditions to make decisions on the long-term nature of projects.  He noted that it was important that these decisions be made on the basis of the best possible scientific information.  Jarraud added that the goal of WMO’s World Climate Conference, next week in Geneva, is to link scientists and decision-makers.


As you know, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva for the opening of the High-Level Segment of this conference on Thursday, 3 September.


**Yearbook


Finally, the United Nations issued today the sixtieth volume of the Yearbook of the United Nations, covering the activities of the Organization in 2006.  Published by the Department of Public Information, the volume is a comprehensive and authoritative reference work on the activities of the United Nations system.  Its 33 chapters provide in-depth coverage of the main global political, economic, social and legal developments during the year.


***Under-Secretaries-General


And I was asked on Monday about the number of French Under-Secretaries-General (USGs).


The United Nations system presently has four French Under-Secretaries-General.  Two of them are $1-a-year appointees.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  How many American USGs (Under-Secretaries-General)?


Spokesperson:  Yes, I have the number for that also:  we presently have in the system 10 American USGs, and 4 of them are $1-a-year appointments.  And this number includes the heads of WFP [World Food Programme], of UNICEF and of UNRWA [UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East].


Question:  And for France, why didn’t you include the World Meteorological Organization, World Trade Organization, not World Trade Organization ‑‑ there are a number of UN, there are other UN…


Spokesperson:  I have a list of the 82 USGs, 82 of them; from France, I have what I gave you; I don’t have more.  I don’t know what the nationality is of some other…


Question:  Le Roy, Guéhenno…


Spokesperson:  Guéhenno is one-dollar-a-year contract.  Now, you have the recent appointment that we had of the Ambassador (Jean-Maurice Ripert of France as Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan).  And, let me see whether I have more, a larger list on that.  There are four French Under-Secretaries-General.  Philippe Douste-Blazy, who is a dollar-a-year man, Special Adviser on Innovative Financing for Development; Jean-Marie Guéhenno, who is a dollar-a-year man, as a Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Regional Cooperation; and we have Alain Le Roy, who has a fixed term as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.


Question:  How about Dominique Strauss-Kahn of IMF [International Monetary Fund], Michele Jarraud of the WMO, if you’re counting….


Spokesperson:  IMF is not counted as being part of the UN system.  As you know, the Bretton Woods organizations have a different status.


Question: How about the Global Fund to Fight AIDS; is that a UN Agency?


Spokesperson:  The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, yes.


Question:  And, Michele Kazatchkine?


Spokesperson:  Do we have to go through all this, Matthew?  I told you who the people are who have French nationality, and that’s all I have.


Question:  I just want to know, why was this appointment [on assistance to Pakistan] made so quickly?  I’m sure the Pakistan Government must have been taken into consideration, but there could have been other people.  Was there a shortlist of candidates?


Spokesperson:  I believe there was.  And the choice was made on the experience that the Ambassador has on humanitarian issues.  And you have his bio upstairs, so you can judge on your own.


Question:  If you do have the rundown on the composition of the 82, I’d like to know how many of them are Africans, for instance, if you do have a breakdown of the USGs ‑‑ if you can share it with us.


Spokesperson:  I would love to do that.  If you want, we can go country-by-country, but we don’t have time in this press briefing to go name-by-name.  I have to go country-by-country, so it could take a while for me to count.  Come to me and I will count them for you, and give you each nationality, each African country that is represented at that level.  I know there are two USGs who are from Mali.  All the other nationalities, I have with me, but we don’t have time to go through this.  Okay.  We can do it, if you want, afterwards.  No problem.


Question:  I understood that Rodolphe Adada resigned [as head of African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)].  Do we know the reason behind his resignation?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, as far as Mr. Adada’s future projects, in his letter of resignation, he did say to the Secretary-General that his secondment from the Government of Congo was coming to an end.  He hasn’t said any more.  He has his own projects, so I assume that’s why he resigned; it was his own decision.  And, as you know, the UN, as I said earlier, has been working with the African Union on finding a replacement for Mr. Adada.


Question:  Michèle, do you believe the Secretary-General is seeking solutions for bigger, but long-term, problems, instead of immediate and short-term problems in the world, and how is it going to be for this year?


Spokesperson:  What you’re asking me is amazing.  The Secretary-General just came out of here talking about his climate change agenda.  Is that supposed to be a short-term thing?


Question:  He is dealing with long-term problems in the world to resolve [talkover]


Spokesperson:  He is involved in those immediate problems on a daily basis.


Question:  And his effort is on global climate change, which is…


Spokesperson:  This is one of his efforts.  He has had climate change on his agenda from the day he started; however, he deals every day with the crises you’re mentioning.  This is part of his work, his daily work.


Question:  On the growing outcry concerning Colonel [Muammar] Qadhafi’s visit to New York, does the UN have a reaction on, for instance, the Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey commenting and asking for his movements to be limited to the immediate area surrounding the Headquarters of the UN?  What is the UN’s reaction?


Spokesperson:  The UN does not have a reaction.  As you know, there is an agreement between the UN and the host country about visiting dignitaries, and this is what has to be upheld about the details about what the host country will do, what are Mr. Qadhafi’s intentions in terms of his lodging.  I don’t have any information on that.


Question:  There’s no request from Qadhafi to put a tent on the North Lawn, right?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Michèle, just one point:  any latest about the Pakistani IDPs [internally displaced persons], and anything about OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and returning IDPs, as far as funding is concerned?


Spokesperson:  No, I didn’t get anything from OCHA today.  Nothing new.  We can try to get more information for you.  So we’ll get more for you as soon as we get more detail.


Question:  Do you also have this shortlist that you said there was a shortlist on Mr. Ripert?


Spokesperson:  No, this cannot be public; this is a decision that was made by the Secretary-General himself.


Question:  Michèle, on the item that you read out on UNMIL in Liberia, they’re reporting that the individual who passed away had been previously accused of sexual misconduct while serving the UN in Sierra Leone.  Can you say whether the UN has been aware of previous charges against him, and if so, why they moved him to Liberia?


Spokesperson:  They have not been aware.


Question:  They have not been aware?


Spokesperson:  No.  Actually, they acted on complaints that they received in Liberia, from Liberians, and they acted quite swiftly, and I have to say that the Liberian National Police has taken that in hand and they are handling that really in a very serious way.


Question:  I also wanted to ask you, the memo that people asked you about ‑‑ one of the critiques is about the performance in Sri Lanka.  Yesterday, two things.  First, today, Channel 4 news in the UK, it actually came out a few days ago, has put out footage of what appears to be Sri Lankan soldiers shooting naked, bound, unarmed people [inaudible].  Is there any response by the UN to that footage?  And also, yesterday, there was a briefing in the UNCA Club about Sri Lanka in which a civil society leader used the word “disappointment”, but wondered why the UN wasn’t appointing a special envoy or trying to do more to follow up on the joint statement of Ban Ki-moon.


Spokesperson:  I can tell you it is being followed up in terms of exactly what decision will be taken in terms of follow-up ‑‑ I can tell you this is something that was discussed today, about the follow-up and what to do about that.  You mentioned the memo, what is the relationship between the memo ‑‑ what memo?


Question:  The joint statement [inaudible]… a civil society leader says the joint statement isn’t being followed up… 


Spokesperson:  That’s what is being discussed right now, on how to follow up and to make sure that the terms of that agreement are respected.


Question:  Just one last thing:  Marie, now it’s about two weeks ago, she had said this issue of Alan Doss, and the biting incident and the job at UNDP, that Ban Ki-moon took it seriously and expected a report upon his return to New York.  Now that he’s leaving New York, did he receive a report while he was in New York?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, in terms of the investigation, it is being pursued by UNDP [the UN Development Programme] and OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services], and there is an ongoing investigation on that.


Question:  But did he receive any…?


Spokesperson:  No, he has not.


Question:  Is there any update on when the investigation will be…?


Spokesperson:  No.  It is with OIOS.  OIOS is an independent body and it is working with UNDP, and as soon as there is a conclusion to this, of course, we’ll find out.


Question:  Would they announce what is going on?


Spokesperson:  Of course, as soon as we have information that we can give you, we will give it to you.


Question:  Once again, I would like to know really what are the rules of the UN?  When somebody comes, is he allowed to have his daughter, his wife ‑‑ how does it work?


Spokesperson:  There are definite rules.  We can, of course, give you the rules that exist about the hiring of family members, which is not accepted at the UN.


Question:  What about Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s daughter?


Spokesperson:  She was in the system way before Ban Ki-moon became Secretary-General.


If, for instance, two people are working at the UN and they get married, they’re not going to expel one of them just because they are married ‑‑ as long as they did not get married before and one was brought in afterwards.  These are the rules.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.  In the case of Mr. Ban’s daughter, she was in the system, in UNICEF, and I have questions from you about this, I think it must have been from our first briefing in 2007.


Question:  Michèle, I’d like to have my turn now.  I want to know whether the UN is aware of the fate of the 27 UN peacekeepers who are being … in Nigeria.  Each time there’s a news report about what is going on, the USG for Peacekeeping [inaudible] let them apply their rights to appeal.  Is the UN aware that each time there’s a news report, the UN peacekeepers, they are always tortured; every time there’s a news report, they are tortured, deprived food, searches are conducted of women by men.  Is the UN aware of going on, and what is the UN going to do?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any independent information on that.  You are telling me that; I am listening to you.  We don’t have any confirmation of what you said.  As far as I know, the UN is not aware of it, and I would like to mention, whenever peacekeepers are accused of anything, they are judged by their own justice system, and not by the UN justice system.


Question:  The question is not about the judgement.  The question is about the treatment being meted to them…


Spokesperson:  We are not aware of this and I will take note of what you said, and I will ask the questions on whether ‑‑ I’m sure if the UN was aware of it, it would not be silent.


Question:  Well, the UN is made aware of it now.


Spokesperson:  You are talking to me about press reports.  Talking is not being aware of having some definite proof that it has happened.


Question:  Will the UN raise this issue in a discussion with the Government?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  Yes, of course, they will, of course, if it is true.  If it is true.


Question:  Michèle, in terms of Afghanistan, the recent attacks in Kandahar are described as the worst in several years – what’s the UN’s latest statement in terms of the electoral process?


Spokesperson:  We’re still at the same stage we were in over the past few days.  Right now, only 17 per cent of the vote has been made public by the Independent Electoral Commission.  We can only base anything on the results.  And we have been saying we have to wait for the results to come out.


Question:  But the overall consensus from the UN would be that the elections were indeed fair?


Spokesperson:  Until now, UNAMA has made absolutely no assessment of the election as a whole, but what it said was that the tallying of complaints is still ongoing, and that irregularities are being dealt with through a complaint process and it’s going through the Electoral [Complaints] Commission.  We don’t have an assessment of the process as a whole.


Question:  We got reports that there have been hundreds of complaints being tallied by now…


Spokesperson:  That is a matter for the Independent Commission.


Question:  So the Independent Commission will give us…


Spokesperson:  The Electoral Commission is not a UN body.


Question:  Right, but how is the UN…?


Spokesperson:  The UN can only take into account what the Electoral Commission publishes and announces in terms of results.


Question:  And is there a deadline?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know.  We cannot put a deadline on a sovereign Government, or even less, on an independent electoral commission.


Question:  Two quick follow-ups, one about the Congo:  the leader of the staff union, local staff there, Mr. [inaudible] has complained that he’s been barred from the premises and not informed why.  Have you heard from MONUC about this?


Spokesperson:  No, I have not.  I can try to find out for you what has happened in this case.


Question:  The other one is a follow-up, not about the Secretary-General’s daughter, but the son-in-law.  I’d like you to confirm that the son-in-law of Ban Ki-moon has contacted publications in India, himself personally, but also through a lawyer in India, seeking [inaudible] from the Internet articles that basically review his performance while he was in Iraq, saying that they should be taken down and the publications will be sued.  I wanted to know if that was true and also how it would square with that the Secretary-General just said that the press is free to criticize performance and…


Spokesperson:  The son-in-law of the Secretary-General is not the Secretary-General.  You have received an answer I’m sure from UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] telling you exactly what his status is, okay?  You might not have seen it, or published it.


Question:   I’ve published it.  My question is not, number one, I asked you repeatedly if he was hired by UNOPS, and you didn’t answer for four days before I wrote the article.  But also, it’s a D-2 post.  It’s just that he’s serving at D-1 level.  But there’s a reason that there’s confusion ‑‑ because the Secretary-General upgraded the post of UNOPS, or allowed them to be upgraded to D-2 earlier this year.  I have a piece of paper that says it’s a D-2 post.  The most important thing is, I was just wondering in terms of the UN’s commitment to freedom of the press, is it appropriate for a D-1 or D-2 UN official to have personal lawyers contact publications to remove material that’s essentially just a critique of their performance as public officials?


Spokesperson:  Any individual, whether he is hired by the UN or by any other organization, has the right to avail himself of a lawyer if he feels that he has been libelled.  What I understand this to be is a case of libel.


Question:  … a publication for the Indian Star, complaining, not aboutthe article, but about comments that were put underneath the article, like all kind of newspapers have, and I’m sure the Secretary-General or you can scroll the Internet and find [inaudible] memo.  But would you seek to have it removed from the Internet?  It’s a negative assessment of performance, but it’s a comment on performance.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details on that lawsuit.  I have absolutely no idea why he went into that lawsuit.  I am saying that he has a right to do so, like any individual who feels he has been libelled, whether it is in this country, or elsewhere.  Matthew, you have a legal background, you know that libel suits exist.


Question:  Exactly, but you can’t sue a negative review.


Spokesperson:  But you can sue something that you feel that was erroneous about what you did or said.


Question:  The matter is housekeeping relating to everyone’s health.  There are these little antibacterial soaps all over the place that have broken down.  It’s been weeks, and I think it’s important for everyone’s health to have these available.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think it’s a matter for this briefing, but of course, I will relay your concern to the housekeeping department.  Thank you all very much.


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