|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.
Five people working for the World Food Programme (WFP) have been confirmed dead after what local police are describing as a suicide bomb attack at the WFP offices in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The attack took place at 12:15 local time. A number of injured -- some of whom are in a critical condition -- are being treated in hospital.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, the Secretary-General condemned the attack in the strongest terms, calling it a terrible tragedy for the UN and for the whole humanitarian community in Pakistan. Such an attack is unjustifiable. He said, “This is a heinous crime committed against those who have been working tirelessly to assist the poor and the vulnerable on the frontlines of hunger and other human suffering in Pakistan.” He sent his deepest condolences to the colleagues fallen in the line of duty for noble causes and their families and friends. We have his statement upstairs.
Also, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said: “All of the victims were humanitarian heroes working on the frontlines of hunger in a country where WFP food assistance is providing a lifeline to millions.” We have a press release from WFP with more details, as well as one by the UN resident coordinator in Pakistan.
In light of this incident, all UN offices in Pakistan have been closed until further notice. We have upstairs the name of the four dead WFP staff.
**Secretary General Travels
The Secretary-General today addressed the Telecom 2009 conference hosted by the International Telecommunications Union, and he told the delegates that information and communications technology (ICT) is vital to confronting one of the greatest problems we face as a planet: the threat of climate change. He urged participants to share ideas on creative ways to use ICTs to usher in a new green economy. He said: “Let us work together to find new ways to cut waste, reduce emissions, create jobs, protect against disasters and promote better standards of living.”
Later today, he will introduce former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who will speak on “Resetting the Nuclear Disarmament Agenda”. The Secretary-General is scheduled to return to New York on Tuesday, after attending a round table of Heads of States and chief executive officers attending the ITU Telecom World.
He and Mrs. Ban arrived in Geneva yesterday afternoon after spending the weekend in Denmark. On Saturday morning in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General gave the keynote speech to the thirteenth Olympic Congress. He appealed to the International Olympic Committee and other sports leaders on Saturday to do their best to “seal the deal” on climate change.
“If you asked me to jog around this conference hall, I would probably run out of breath,” he said. “But when it comes to fighting for our shared global goals -- for a world that is cleaner, healthier, more peaceful, more sustainable and more prosperous -- I will sprint like an Olympian.”
The Secretary-General also met that day with Princess Haya bint al Hussein and discussed the creation of a fund for the benefit of relatives of local UN staff members that were killed while working for the UN ideals. And he delivered a lecture at the University of Copenhagen, entitled “The Road to Copenhagen: Meeting the Climate Challenge.” His weekend statements are all online right now.
Also from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the agency reports that it is encouraging its Member States to bring information and communications technology (ICT) access to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. The initiative aims to facilitate public-private partnerships that will help Member States establish school-based ICT centres.
ITU also says it has launched a new edition of a report, which shows that the financial crisis has failed to make a major dent in demand for ICT services. We have more on those items upstairs.
The Security Council today is holding a meeting on women, peace and security, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam, and it unanimously approved a resolution strongly condemning all violations of applicable international law committed against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.
The resolution, among other things, calls upon the Secretary-General to develop a strategy to increase the number of women appointed to pursue good offices on his behalf. And it requests him to ensure that all country reports to the Security Council provide information on the impact of situations of armed conflict on women and girls.
In a statement read by the Deputy Secretary-General, the Secretary-General said that bringing women to the peace table improves the quality of agreements reached and increases the chances of successful implementation.
The Secretary-General said that he is committed to the full implementation of the landmark Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security. He added that he will continue to do his part, including by appointing more women to positions of leadership.
The Council’s open meeting is scheduled to go into the afternoon, with 55 speakers inscribed so far.
We have an update on the United Nations response to the series of natural disasters across Asia and the Pacific last week.
While in Bangkok today, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark said that the UN is responding with rapid support teams in Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, the Philippines, Samoa and Tonga to support Government efforts. She added that UN agencies and non-governmental organizations began working within hours after the catastrophes hit and that UNDP was now preparing to support countries’ plans for longer-term recovery.
In related news, a nine-member UN disaster assessment and coordination (UNDAC) team was deployed to Sumatra, Indonesia, after it was hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake last week. Food, tents and emergency shelter, medical supplies, hygiene kits, petrol, generators, heavy equipment, water and sanitation assistance, education and post-traumatic counselling have been identified as priority needs.
Meanwhile, UNICEF says that nearly 70,000 children have returned to school today in the Indonesian city of Padang, where it has erected the first of 250 planned classroom tents. UNICEF adds that more students are expected to return to school across the region in the coming days.
In the Philippines, the World Food Programme (WFP) has established a three-month emergency operation to provide food assistance to 1 million people affected by the severe flooding there.
In Samoa, hit by a tsunami wave last week, a UN disaster assessment and coordination team is also on the ground and UNDP has made available an initial emergency grant of $100,000 to support coordination efforts, a needs assessment and an early recovery plan.
Finally, according to UNDP, senior UN experts are arriving in Tonga to propose early recovery plans as humanitarian assistance is being deployed.
There is more on this of course upstairs and you have all the written details.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo is now available. In it, he notes that, with the completion of its reconfiguration on 1 July, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has moved into a new phase. That phase is characterized by a focus on facilitating practical cooperation between communities, as well as between the authorities in Pristina and Belgrade.
Such cooperation is necessary for the normalization of the situation in Kosovo and for the stabilization and development of the western Balkans as a whole, the Secretary-General says. He calls on all stakeholders to acknowledge and continue supporting UNMIK’s contribution in that regard.
As the security situation in northern Kosovo remains tense, the Secretary-General urges all sides to show pragmatism and restraint, and to adopt constructive policies in dealing with sensitive inter-ethnic issues. He specifically appeals to political parties that will run in the November elections organized by the Kosovo authorities to avoid inflammatory language that could increase the possibility of violence, particularly in the north of the region.
The first batch of Sudanese Government police, who are to provide security during Sudan’s April 2010 national elections, participated in a training workshop conducted by the AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in El Fasher. The 70 Sudanese police officers are the first of 200 who will then train more than 7,000 of their colleagues over the next four months.
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed ElBaradei, met Iranian authorities in Tehran yesterday and discussed arrangements for the Agency’s access to a newly disclosed uranium enrichment facility, under construction in Qom, Iran. IAEA inspectors will visit the facility on 25 October. On 24 September 2009, the Iranian Government declared the facility to the IAEA.
Earlier, a nuclear fuel supply concept for the Tehran research reactor was agreed during talks held in Geneva on 1 October between Iranian officials and representatives from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The concept will be discussed further at a technical meeting, hosted by the IAEA, on 19 October.
**Human Development Report
Migration has the potential to increase people’s freedom and improve the lives of millions around the world. That’s according to the 2009 Human Development Report, which was launched today.
The new study challenges widely held perceptions about where migrants move, as well as their impact on their places of origin and destination. The report puts forward a package of measures, from opening existing entry channels for workers and ensuring migrants’ rights to adding migration as a component for origin countries’ development strategies. Also released with today’s report was the latest Human Development Index, a summary indicator of people’s well-being, calculated for 182 countries and territories.
The Human Development Report, issued every year, is an independent study commissioned by the UN Development Programme.
**World Habitat Day
Today is World Habitat Day. The theme of this year’s observance is “Planning our Urban Future”.
In a message, the Secretary-General says that evidence from around the world suggests that Governments at all levels are largely failing to address the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing world. He stresses that better, more equitable urban planning is essential.
At the dawn of this new urban age, we recognize the problems and we know how to tackle them, he adds. He asks everyone to do their part for a better, greener, more sustainable future for an increasingly urban planet.
We have his full message upstairs.
And the celebration of World Habitat Day in cities around the world was spearheaded from Washington, D.C., today. UN–Habitat says that this is the first time that the United States has hosted the Day’s celebration.
Also, today, UN-Habitat has awarded its Scroll of Honour -- the highest tribute of the UN system for achievements by individuals, cities or institutions in the cause of human settlements. You can find out more on UN-Habitat’s website.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that 10.3 million teachers need to be recruited over the next eight years around the world to ensure universal primary education by 2015. The new figures were released on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day, celebrated today, which this year highlights the global teacher shortage.
UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said that the financial and economic crisis should not lead to cuts into education budgets. He added that lower spending on education will have dramatic short and long-term consequences on the quality of education. There is more in a press release upstairs.
**Deputy Secretary-General Travel
Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Geneva where she will chair the meeting of the Regional Coordination Mechanism of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) region. The meeting will address, among other things, coherent UN system support for climate change and the Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS).
She will also hold a meeting with a group of Geneva‑based members of UN+ -- the system-wide advocacy group of staff living with HIV -- and bilateral meetings with UN organizations based in Geneva.
The Deputy Secretary-General will then be in Brussels from 10 to 13 October, for the launch of the 2008 EU-UN Partnership Report. During her visit there, she will also address the European Parliament and is expected to meet with the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy.
**Capital Master Plan
A brief update on the Capital Master Plan, since some of you have been asking what is happening; construction work continued throughout the weekend on the temporary North Lawn building and in the basement, primarily in the switchgear room, 2B garage, print shop, and 3B swing space. On Saturday, fit-out work was done at 380 Madison Avenue.
On asbestos abatement -- asbestos-containing floor tiles were abated in the 2B Tech Centre (steam locker room and bathroom).
We also had more relocations this past weekend; the UN Ombudsman and Mediation Services with 45 staff moved from the Secretariat Building to 380 Madison Avenue.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
At 1.15 p.m. tomorrow John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be here to brief on the humanitarian flash appeal for areas in the Philippines recently devastated by natural disasters. He gave you a briefing last week and he will come with an update tomorrow.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, does the Secretary-General and Pakistani authorities [inaudible] that there was a major security lapse at the WFP compound in Islamabad? And was security beefed up particularly after that attack in Somalia last week?
Spokesperson: Well I have to say that this was one of the best protected UN Headquarters or UN centres in all of Pakistan and we are still trying to get more information. The police are investigating, as you know, what happened. We were really quite heavily guarded, at least at that compound. How the person got in is still being investigated and we are trying to find out from surveillance cameras. But, we will have a better assessment a little later today. Of course I will update you as soon as I get something new. I will update you on that.
Question: And on the beefing up of security, I know you say it is the best protected, but was anything extra done following the attack in Somalia last week for instance or…
Spokesperson: Not that I know of, not that I know of. You know, we are still trying to find out exactly what happened. I spoke earlier with Susan Manuel who is there with the UNIC [United Nations Information Centre] in Islamabad and please feel free to call her if you need additional information. I will give you the [number] where to reach her. Yes Barbara.
Question: Yes, I’d like to return briefly to Peter Galbraith again given his op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend. How does the Secretary-General respond to the charge, these very strong charges, that in essence the UN Mission was complicit in the Afghan election fraud by underplaying the magnitude of it and by backing Karzai when Karzai complained about intervention? And secondly, those criticisms have also now been voiced by one of the presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, who has said that the election commission is biased in favour of Karzai. So my question, in that regard, is how damaging is this to the status of the UN as a neutral observer?
Spokesperson: As I said earlier, I think, last week, our role is to work with the electoral complaints commission at this point, which is the body mandated to investigate fraud. We are giving guidance, technical assistance and support. Three of the five members are internationals and they have been appointed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. There are right now claims that were filed with the electoral commission and the electoral complains commission and those complaints are being systematically pursued. And you know we are not, the UN cannot, it would be irresponsible for the UN, to pronounce itself on evidence in cases of alleged fraud before the appropriate bodies do so. And I think there are over 2,584 cases in front of the commission and those cases are being investigated. In terms of cover-up, I can let you know that, from everything we get, there have been no such cover-ups. Our role in the UN is not to monitor the elections; it’s to support the existing Afghan elections. It is their election.
Question: And in terms of the status of the UN, given that these criticisms have been picked up by one of the presidential candidates, who’s basically said that the commission is biased in favour of Karzai, I mean, are you concerned about the status of the UN losing its neutrality over these public, very public accusations?
Spokesperson: Well, those very public accusations were mostly here, right here in the US and in the Western media. But, of course I hear you when you say there was a presidential candidate saying the same thing. At this point, we are certainly concerned about those allegations and we are trying to do as much as we can to specify what the UN role exactly was and what the UN role still is. Are we worried? I think we can just reaffirm our faith in those electoral bodies, which were set up and which are now examining the fraud issue and the allegations of fraud. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Just specifically on this, Abdullah Abdullah is also, he has noted that normally the UN phase with things like those raised by Kai Eide [inaudible] conducts an OIOS investigation, has its own internal, its own body doing an investigation and he has noted, as a breach from the norm, that the UN hasn’t done so in this case. Is there any move on the UN’s part, given the specifics that have been raised by him, to do any type of inquiry into the conduct of either Kai Eide or of the office?
Spokesperson: No, not that I know of. Most of you were at the background briefing the other day where you had specific explanations about how it works, how the UN… You had answers on the so-called ghost polling stations. I think that information, you have them. Yes, Masood.
Question: Michèle, tragic as it is, the WFP thing in Islamabad, I mean I am sure the operation will not be halted forever.
Spokesperson: No, it is a temporary closing of offices and in fact from what I gather there are two partner organizations still delivering food. I know it from my conversation this morning with the office over there that critical staff are still working.
Question: And all of those organizations which are attached to the UN WFP?
Spokesperson: NGOs, who they have been working with, who have been distributing food, these are still working, even though the offices are closed for the time being.
Question: Yes, but at this point in time, and as the IDPs continue to come about and that’s the reason why more of that is needed so the operation, when will you reassess the…
Spokesperson: Well, I think later on today there will be a reassessment and then in the next few days, certainly more assessment. When will the offices reopen? You know, our staff is a very dedicated staff and I have to say one thing about the Iraqi man who was killed today. He had escaped, he was with WFP for at least six years and he had escaped the Peshawar bombing. He was killed today in that bombing. So, I think the staff up there are very concerned, very upset, but still determined to keep on doing the work. Yes, Khaled.
Question: Michèle, I mean, just to follow-up on the Pakistani issue. Have you received any earlier warnings, or did the WFP office receive any warning? Does anyone believe that this bombing could be related to dissatisfaction on the way you are handling the situation in Afghanistan?
Spokesperson: I don’t think there is any relationship. At this point, we don’t know. We don’t know why it was done. In fact, we don’t even know who did it, who is claiming to have done it. At this point, I don’t think there is any relationship between the two. And, as far as I know, there were no warning signals.
Question: [inaudible] I wanted to draw this question, how a suicide bomber managed to get inside the highly secured area and to target the WFP offices but you answered that question. My question is, if more people are now displacing from the tribal area, especially from South Waziristan where the Government is going to launch another major operation, and then there are more [inaudible] attacks, so you said that you now closed offices. Do you not think that it will cause more suffering to the IDPs?
Spokesperson: This is a very temporary situation. We had a very tragic thing happen today and it is a temporary situation until we assess the security of our own staff. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect this. They had to close until we reassess the situation and I said it is a temporary measure. Yes, Edie?
Question: Today there were several Afghan lawmakers who were accusing the United Nations mission of being pro-Karzai and they said that they were pulling for a total, basically a revamp and overhaul of what the UN is doing. Does the Secretary-General still have full confidence in Kai Eide, given all of the recent disclosures by Mr. Galbraith? Does he think that perhaps it might be good to just clean house and put in a whole new face for the United Nations?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has total confidence in Mr. Eide, and I want to reaffirm this today. In terms of those lawmakers, the UN role is to support the electoral institutions of that country. We are not there to do the elections, to lead the elections. We can support and we have been supporting all the electoral commissions including the claim commission. That’s all I really can say at this point.
Question: Did Mr. Kai Eide ever tell Mr. Galbraith to disregard the words on fraud against Mr. Abdullah?
Spokesperson: I am not commenting on specifics of accusations on either, on both sides. What I am saying is what the UN role is and the importance of those elections. What I am saying is that this is a matter for the Afghans to decide and it is a matter for this process to go on. Right now there are claims being investigated. There are a number of ballots that have been brought back to the capital city, too, for recounts and I think we should only keep the process going and keep on supporting the process.
Question: Just one question on this election ballot. Who, then, becomes the final arbiter in determining if this election was a fraud [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: You had observers. You had international observers.
Question: Will the United Nations render a verdict that this was a valid election?
Spokesperson: It is not for the UN to do that. It’s for the people. The UN was not monitoring elections. We were supporting the electoral process and the electoral institutions. There were monitors from the European Union, there were monitors from other international bodies that will say whether they feel the election was free and fair or not. And of course they are all waiting for the process to continue [inaudible] the more than 6,000 claims that are right now in front of the commission.
Question: The only thing is that when the election result is announced the United Nations can agree or disagree. Is that…
Spokesperson: The United Nations will neither agree nor disagree. We are just supporting. We are not monitoring. We are supporting the process and the electoral institutions.
Question: Three representatives of the commission is formed by the Special Representatives of the SG, so…
Question: So, I mean, the UN is clearly very involved in the process…
Spokesperson: It is. It is involved.
Question: And people are expecting the commission’s sort of verdict on whether the elections are free and fair, they are the ones who are going to announce.
Spokesperson: Well, right now, it’s a technical thing. Right now it’s looking at the fraud allegations and recounting the votes where they need to be recounted.
Question: On another topic. The press in Nigeria has reported that the UN has said that these armoured personnel carriers that Nigeria troops were taking, the UNAMID, into Darfur, were sub-standard, unusable, not designed for the area. Is that causing any problem with the deployment? What’s the-- It has been reported [inaudible] that UN military inspectors have said that these APCs [inaudible] don’t work. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesperson: No I don’t. It’s a technical question. Of course you can address that to DFS.
Question: Yes. And also [inaudible], who’s President Obama’s main adviser on climate change, has been quoted over the weekend as saying that any climate change legislation in the US this year is very unlikely. I wonder if the Secretary-General, given his interest in sealing the deal and all of that does he, does he, what does he think of that?
Spokesperson: We are not commenting on internal processes. It’s something between the Americans, really. Thank you, all.
* *** *For information media • not an official record