|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’s Statement on Afghanistan
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the senseless attack that took place in Kabul today, in the vicinity of the Indian Embassy and the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, which reportedly killed 17 individuals and injured 80 more.
The Secretary-General offers his deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and his best wishes for a swift recovery to those that were injured.
The Security Council is holding an open meeting today on Somalia, on which it received briefings by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and by Craig Boyd from the UN Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Pascoe told the Council that the past few months have not been easy in terms of Somalia’s security. Yet, he said that the Government has overcome repeated attacks by foreign-funded and heavily armed groups. Meanwhile, the Government continues its openness to dialogue with all parties ready to commit themselves to peace.
Pascoe said that spoilers must be neutralized; adding that targeted sanctions can be one effective way to deal with the spoilers. At the same time, he said, our approach must be flexible enough to allow those who have changed course and are now committed to peace to be removed from sanctions lists.
Boyd provided details of the support the United Nations has provided to AMISOM. He said that steps are being taken to finalize all of the confirmed pledges to the Mission made in April, which amount to some $200 million. He said that the Department of Field Support is fully committed to supporting AMISOM, but warned that Mogadishu is currently a very challenging environment and continued attacks could slow our capacity to deliver the support package fully. We have those statements upstairs. Once the open meeting has ended, Mr. Pascoe intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stake-out and I will announce it as soon as I am told by my team that it’s on.
**Security Council on Wednesday
The Security Council, in consultations yesterday afternoon, considered a request submitted by Libya for an emergency Council meeting to discuss the fact-finding commission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone that looked into the violence in Gaza.
The Council President said, after consultations ended, that Council members had agreed to move up the periodic discussion of the Middle East from the previously scheduled date of 20 October to next Wednesday, 14 October. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, intends to brief Council members at that meeting.
Today in Jerusalem, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, visited the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount compound. He subsequently conveyed his assessment of the situation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Serry also met senior Jordanian officials in Amman.
Following his visit and meetings, which aimed to defuse tensions, Serry stressed that the Secretary-General has been very concerned at the recent clashes in Jerusalem. He added that incitement from any quarter regarding holy sites, as well as provocative actions in east Jerusalem, do not serve the sanctity of the city or the cause of peace. They must stop, he said.
Based on his visit to Al Aqsa mosque and his contacts, Serry said it is clear that the situation is not yet resolved but that tensions have eased somewhat. He said he had been assured by all the parties he met of their desire to see calm restored. “We cannot allow a further outbreak of violence or let extremists set the agenda,” he added. We have his full statement upstairs.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is scheduled to arrive later today on a three-day mission to Yemen. The visit is intended to galvanize support for the men, women and children whose lives have been overturned by the conflict between Government forces and Al-Houthi rebels in 2004. During his mission, Holmes will visit one of the five camps that have been established to accommodate internally displaced persons, and meet with high-level Government officials and humanitarian actors.
On 2 September, the humanitarian community launched a flash appeal for $23.7 million to fund immediate, lifesaving activities in Yemen. The appeal has only received 16 per cent ($3.8 million) of the requested amount to date.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has said that it is attempting to ascertain the circumstances that led to a shooting incident Tuesday inside the Gihinga refugee camp on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.
According to witnesses at the scene, Burundi security forces fired gunshots in the air to disperse a crowd of Congolese refugees who, citing security concerns, refused to be relocated from that camp to another away from the border. Although no UNHCR or other UN personnel were present at the scene, the agency says it was informed that no refugee was hurt as a result of the gunshots fired by the Burundi security forces.
** Côte d’Ivoire
Legal experts from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have begun a 10-day working visit to Côte d’Ivoire to study the country’s implementation of national laws and its prison administration, as well as its judiciary interaction with other sectors of society. The experts were yesterday in the western part of the country for meetings with UN and Ivorian State officials. They discussed the redeployment of judicial and prison authorities across the country following years of political and military crisis.
Our Mission there (ONUCI) says that the visit will enable the UN and the international community, which has contributed to the reorganization of the judicial and prison sectors, to assess the progress achieved and the challenges remaining to be addressed.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has sent an assessment team that includes UN military commanders to Fizi, in the South Kivu Province. They are looking into the disarmament and integration of ethnic Mai Mai fighters into the national Army. The Mission says that the assessment is motivated by reservations expressed by some armed ethnic groups about disarming at a time of robust UN-Democratic Republic of the Congo military operations against Rwandan Hutu rebels.
The Mission says that the visit helped renew the confidence of some Mai Mai groups, which have released more than 450 combatants for integration into the national Army. The Mission also says that more Mai Mai fighters have now joined the process and are being sent to UN-run training camps.
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Hany Abdel-Aziz of Egypt as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and Head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. Mr. Abdel-Aziz will succeed Mr. Julian Harston, who was appointed as Director of the UN Office in Belgrade on 1 March 2009.
The Secretary-General is grateful, both to Mr. Harston, and to Major General Jingmin Zhao of China, who has been fulfilling the responsibilities of Officer-in-Charge of the Mission for the past seven months, for their dedication and tireless work in fulfilling those responsibilities.
Mr. Abdel-Aziz has some 25 years of experience at the United Nations, including in eight peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and he currently serves as Director of Mission Support in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have more information on Mr. Abdel-Aziz upstairs.
The two-week climate change negotiating session in Bangkok will conclude tomorrow. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said today that the session had made real advances in putting together the necessary architecture to make a Copenhagen agreement work on the ground. He added that developing countries have been very constructively engaged in making real progress on adaptation, technology, capacity-building and reducing emissions from deforestation.
We now need to advance on the key political issues, de Boer said, highlighting the need for developed countries to set ambitious reduction targets and provide significant finance to help developing countries step up their efforts. De Boer stressed that, without clear guidance on these two issues from political leaders, the work ahead for negotiators would be very difficult.
The Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé, is currently in New Delhi, India. This is his first visit to India in his current capacity.
Sidibé has been emphasizing to Government officials their role in ensuring that India can meet its goal of universal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment by 2010. The UNAIDS chief also expressed support for the recent decision of a Delhi court to decriminalize homosexuality in India. That historic decision strengthens India’s efforts to reach out to people who are at greater risk of contracting HIV, he said. Sidibé will be in India until Monday. Additional planned stops include Bangalore and Mumbai.
On the agricultural front, investments of $83 billion a year must be made in agriculture in developing countries if there is to be enough food to feed 9.1 billion people in 2050. That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, which will hold a High-level Experts’ Forum, next Monday and Tuesday, on “How to Feed the World in 2050”. The FAO adds that private investment will be essential but that public funds will also be needed to improve the agricultural system and food security. There is more in a press release upstairs.
**International Telecommunication Union
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) says it has signed a new agreement with two private sector companies. The goal of the new partnership is to use emergency communications to bolster disaster preparedness and post-disaster relief coordination activities. We have more on this and other stories from the ITU in my office.
Tonight, the Secretary-General will attend the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Gala for the health and dignity of women. In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to stress the role of UNFPA, as well as the importance of the right of women to reproductive health care. He is also expected to say that without healthy women, the Millennium Development Goals will not be met. He will add that ensuring the health of women is a moral obligation of any society.
**Press Conference Today
And as I announced yesterday, at 1 p.m. today, some of the cast members and the Executive Producer of ABC’s Ugly Betty will be here with the Executive Director of Global Partnerships from the UN Foundation to discuss the Foundation’s “Nothing But Nets” campaign. They will talk about how the show’s new season raises awareness about malaria. That’s at 1 p.m. today.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
At 11 a.m. tomorrow, in this room, there will be a New York launch of UN-Habitat’s Global Report on Human Settlements 2009. The author will be here to discuss the report, which focuses on “Planning Sustainable Cities”. And that’s all I have for you. We won’t have a briefing today by Jean Victor. He won’t be here today. Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, the 14 October meeting on Gaza, is that a closed meeting and will there be any kind of press conference organized to share details with us about…?
Spokesperson: Well, I would have to get the information from the Security Council. As you know, they decide on which meeting will be open or which one will be closed.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the Security Council meeting on the Middle East that will be held on 14 October will be an open meeting.]
Question: Second question: Galbraith was on BBC today speaking about the Afghan election, and he said that it looks increasingly like there is going to be a run-off at the end of the month between Abdullah and Karzai. Does the Secretary-General support the run-off, if that indeed is…?
Spokesperson: Well, this has to be determined, as it was said extensively yesterday. It has to be determined by Afghan electoral authorities. This is not for the UN to determine.
Question: [inaudible] the UN has an advisory capacity, there are, they weigh in on this, you know, what is the UN’s official position on…?
Spokesperson: The UN position is to support the institutions in Afghanistan working on the vote and on the investigation of fraud. At this point, we are waiting for the Electoral Claims Commission to come up with the results. As you know, they are recounting a number of ballots and they will have to decide if there is a run-off and when that will be. Mr. Galbraith is, I don’t think, in a position to say so.
Question: [inaudible] Independent Election Commission, what he said today, clearly the system is not working and that it’s clearly biased towards Karzai and not neutral, so what we are trying to get at, I think, is essentially, it looks like there will be a run-off. Will the Secretary-General at least be in favour or support or put pressure?
Spokesperson: Either way, I think this is what we have been saying all throughout. It is going to be a matter for…. Mr. Galbraith is saying that it is not a fair body, but what we have been saying is that we have enough guarantees to know that this body can do the work.
Question: Would it be possible…?
Spokesperson: Just a second, just before you, the Security Council’s morning session just adjourned so Mr. Pascoe will be at the stake-out if you want to go there at this point.
Question: The briefing on Afghanistan. It sort of came up out of the blue and I wasn’t able to attend, but would it be possible as things [inaudible] to have another briefing ahead of whatever, or whatever decision’s taken, at least some sort of update from the UN about the position or where the…?
Spokesperson: By the time when the decision is taken by the Electoral Claim Commission, of course we will try to have more people come here and discuss this with you.
Question: Okay. Michèle, I have a question about a publication from 7 October from the Department of Public Information on the Audit Advisory Committee to the Office of Internal Oversight on audits done by UNHCR and some of the other agencies, and it mentions in here what appears to be a pretty alarming thing of some 50 per cent of expenditures of UNHCR from 2008 still not properly processed. And I’m just wondering, where, why is this the case and is the Secretary-General aware of this and what steps are, is, you know, is he doing anything about this? What does he want to see happen in this regard? Apparently, this type of problem is not just related to 2008. There have been some shortcomings in previous, at least the last three years, from this report, I can see.
Spokesperson: Sure, I’ll try to enquire for you on what type of follow-up is being done and how come it’s taking so long. I’ll try to get the answers for you. I don’t have them at this…
Question: Tomorrow do you think?
Spokesperson: I can ask. The answers won’t be coming from me. They have to come from the different agencies taking care of that.
Question: Would UNHCR be available to talk about this issue as well?
Spokesperson: Please call them.
Question: No, but would they be able to come in?
Spokesperson: To come in, you mean to come into the Fifth?
Spokesperson: I can ask them.
Question: That’s what I was asking yesterday, because this is all taking place in the Fifth Committee, these reports. I understand that the Department of Management will answer in some forum, but there’s a few of them that are really, really kind of newsworthy. One is a vendor that OIOS said should be, you know, prosecuted and the Department of Management didn’t. Another one is this pending child pornography case of the guy who was caught in Canada, who’s still apparently a UN staff member. Can we get, I want to add those two, if you are going to, able to get answers on some, because they, it doesn’t seem that waiting for December to figure out what the UN’s policy is on…
Spokesperson: Well, usually the OIOS gives a report to the Fifth Committee. The Fifth Committee reacts and it’s a decision, a General Assembly decision. But I‘ll try to get additional information on those two different cases for you. I don’t think the Secretary-General will give an opinion on it, but I can, of course, find out more details about them.
Question: Is the Secretary-General aware of this problem?
Spokesperson: Of course he is.
Question: And, and has anything been said about it? I mean…
Spokesperson: Well, he has been wanting for processes to be a little faster than they actually are and this has been done throughout the administration. But there are things that he has absolutely no say on. So I’ll look at this and see what we can get for you.
Correspondent: Yeah, and, and just, looking at it and trying to understand what is, it gets very fuzzy, too, because you don’t know where the funds are coming from, whose money is this and where…
Spokesperson: Well, I think you can find out very easily. I think it’s pretty transparent to know where the funds come from for each agency.
Question: But that’s not, that’s not visible here, and then when that’s not visible and then you have about 50 per cent that are not accounted for, that creates all sorts of questions.
Spokesperson: You can also address your request to the different agencies, but I’ll try to find more for you.
Question: This is an issue that the Secretary-General would, presumably, would want to be engaged in?
Spokesperson: Yes, but I said yesterday when the question was asked by Matthew, I said that in a case like this, where the process is in front of the Fifth Committee, the Secretary-General will not say something publicly about it. But I can try to find more information about those different cases for you. Yes, Bill.
Question: Concerning Kai Eide’s statement about the Afghan elections, he says that “my silence is now being exploited to a point where these allegations are impeding the ongoing election process”. What does he mean there, in terms of, on a practical level? What does, what does… How is it being impeded as a count or look at the ballot?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s difficult for me to interpret. We put out the statement for you. It’s difficult for me to interpret what Mr. Eide has been meaning to say. You have the full statement, as I said. There is not much I can say additionally. Bill.
Question: Well, is the UN aware of, to what extent, in which ways, the process is being impeded?
Spokesperson: I cannot answer that question. This is going to be, of course, assessed. Bill, you have to realize that this whole situation has really focused on what is happening there and I think we are following up what is happening there and the different allegations that are made. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Michèle. The Secretary-General has again appointed another [inaudible] representing to Western Saharan countries. This conflict has seen most pressure [inaudible] than any other country on Earth. Is the Secretary-General concerned about the duration of the conflict?
Spokesperson: Well, this is something we have absolutely no say on. The negotiators and the facilitators do not make the policy of the different parties. We have parties that are involved in negotiations, and the UN does not decide for them what their positions should be. So I think in this specific case, we just have to wait. And there are other conflicts that have been as long. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Michèle, there are some media reports of a possible coup in, in the Gambia cancelling President [inaudible] trip to Paris. Is that something that in the UN, like, the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), does anyone, can anyone confirm or is monitoring this?
Spokesperson: I am not informed of this. I spoke to the DPA this morning. They didn’t flag this.
Question: Probably one [inaudible], there’s some, there are reports from Pakistan that the UN is considering raising its security threat level to four, which would involve removing staff from elsewhere in the country. Is that…?
Spokesperson: There is nothing I can say about this right now. We are assessing the security situation, as I said. In terms of the level of security, as you know, Matthew, we do not comment on levels of security. This is a matter to be decided on the ground with the assistance of the Department of Safety and Security (DSS). In this case, as you know, we had to close, temporarily, the offices. Critical staff is still working, and the participating non-governmental organizations are still working with the distribution of food and assistance to displaced people. So the work is going on, as much as it can in terms of the level of security. It’s something that I think is still being assessed.
Correspondent: Briefed on that, I mean the UN has sustained some pretty horrific attacks on its offices and there’s been this robust effort to get things in some sort of shape to protect, yet again [inaudible]. It would be good again to understand a little bit more about how, how that process is coming along, the overview of security around the world.
Spokesperson: We can try to have that. However, as you know, DSS is very reluctant to talk about details of security measures, measures that are taken in specific cases, [inaudible] because, essentially, something like this should be very discreet. However, in terms of the process, how they evaluate things, of course I can try to have some more information, someone to come here to brief you. But I’m not sure I’ll have a result. I’ll ask. Yes, Masood.
Question: I just want to know about this, this, Kai Eide in light of this statement. I mean, is there any sense that, at the United Nations, there is a timeline when this report will come out from the Elections Commission of Afghanistan? Whether this election was fair or not fair? Because, the way things are set up now, even now, it seems that it’s, there’s a fait accompli. Mr. Karzai will be declared…
Spokesperson: There is no fait accompli. There is a Claims Commission that is working right now, as I said yesterday, and as the team that was here yesterday said over and over again. They are recounting a number of ballots and they are going to be able to assess whether a second round is needed or not. It is not, as I said, for the UN to decide on that. It’s going to be an Afghan decision.
Question: But are we…?
Spokesperson: In terms of timeline, I cannot answer that. I’ve read in the media that we might have something at the end of next week but I cannot confirm personally whether it will happen or not.
Question: If in fact, let’s say that they say that there was fraud and will there be, in case, if that would be alleged, will there be independent inquiry by the United Nations, or will they call a run-off election…?
Spokesperson: A Claims Commission is going to give the results of their own investigation on those claims. They are going to rule on them and from there on you are going to have a decision taken on whether there should be a run-off or not. Yes, Tala.
Question: [inaudible] but has the Afghan Election Commission, the Independent Election Commission, agreed that there were a number of polling booths, stations, that didn’t even open but had submitted…?
Spokesperson: Well, it was in the report that Mr. Eide submitted to the Security Council when he was here…
Question: [inaudible] that there’s an agreement that those fraudulent, because they’re counting…?
Spokesperson: Right now, I cannot speak for the Claims Commission. I cannot speak for all the Afghan electoral groups. But of course you know they are going through a process right now, and we are waiting for the end of the process.
Question: A couple of people have asked me this. Some of the floors are being vacated here, particularly, for example the 23rd floor.
Correspondent: They’ve said that, that the offices that once vacated are actually being filled now with other people, in some cases UN units moved in, in some cases contractors like Hoffman andAssociates handling [inaudible] the move, and new carpets put down, this is a thing that people that work up there, I mean, you can, you look, if you could, can you confirm to me whether new individuals are being moved into floors like the 23rd and the offices outfit with new carpets, it’s new…
Spokesperson: I would doubt that. I would strongly doubt that. Whether people working from the contracting groups are up there, that’s another story. But in terms of new carpets, new facilities, frankly, I doubt that. Yes.
Question: So, I mean, I guess, ask the Department of Management? Get them to say that there’s not new a carpet on the 23rd floor?
Spokesperson: [laughs] Of course I will.
Question: People wanted to know is what, who’s paying for it. Is it the UN paying for it or is the contractor…?
Spokesperson: Paying for what?
Correspondent: For the new materials being put into the vacant…
Spokesperson: But I told you I doubt there is any new material being put up there. What is being done, there is new material coming in to refurbish the spaces where you guys are going to move to, where our offices will be moving to, where people moving to the lawn building will be moving to. There are no new materials being imported or brought in for the people on the floors that have been vacated. It doesn’t make sense, Matthew. It does not make sense and you’re asking me a hypothetical question. Who’s paying for it? For what?
Correspondent: There have been people that saw it, have witnessed it, asked me, so I’m asking you, but that’s fine.
Spokesperson: If they are carrying carpets up there it’s not necessarily for there. I’m sorry. Thank you all.
* *** *For information media • not an official record