13 October 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Press Conference Today


Following the noon briefing today, there will be a press conference to launch the Joint Council of Europe/United Nations Study on Trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs.  We have more information on the study available in the Spokesperson’s Office and in this room.


** Pakistan


Some 500 diplomats, Pakistani Government officials, senior UN officials and staff, and family and friends, gathered for a memorial today to pay respects to the World Food Programme (WFP) staff members who were killed or injured in the suicide attack on the WFP headquarters in Islamabad on 5 October.  Five WFP staff were killed and four injured in the attack; one staff member remains in critical condition.


The Secretary-General, in a message read out at the ceremony, said the victims of this senseless attack were working tirelessly on the frontlines of hunger and human suffering to assist the poor and vulnerable of Pakistan.  Their selfless work to feed the hungry should not have been dangerous.


The Secretary-General added that we will not be deterred by this senseless violence.  Although we must continue to be vigilant about the dangers of the world we live and work in, he stressed that our resolve will stay strong and our work will continue.  We have his message upstairs.


Also addressing the gathering was UN Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gregory Starr, who has been visiting United Nations operations in Pakistan over the past two days.  He pledged his Department’s support for the continuing work of the United Nations in Pakistan.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.


And the UN flag is at half mast outside Headquarters today, in honour of the fallen staff.


** Haiti


The flag is also at half mast today in honour of the 11 peacekeepers who died Friday in a plane crash in Haiti.


This morning in Port-au-Prince, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) held a memorial ceremony for these peacekeepers.  Hundreds of UN staff, as well as Haitian and international dignitaries, attended the ceremony.


The coffins were each decorated with a wreath of flowers laid by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, Hédi Annabi, and the commanding officers of the Jordanian and of the Uruguayan battalions.


Annabi also read a message by the Secretary-General, in which he said that this tragedy reminds us that even where there is no open conflict, peacekeeping is fraught with unforeseeable risks.


He added that the five Jordanian and six Uruguayan peacekeepers had ventured far from home to serve the shared values that bind us together as a human family.  Their deeds speak eloquently, said the Secretary-General, adding that he had seen with his own eyes the remarkable progress that Haiti has made thanks to the efforts of our peacekeepers.


They were in Haiti protecting the country’s borders.  They were providing relief to the victims of last year’s terrible storms and hurricanes.  They were helping the people of Haiti fulfil the enormous promise of their proud nation, said the Secretary-General.


During the ceremony, Haitian President René Préval bestowed the National Order of Honour and Merit posthumously on the 11 peacekeepers.  The bodies will now be repatriated.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, by one year, until 15 October 2010.  It also endorsed the recommendation made by the Secretary-General to maintain the current overall force levels for the Mission while adjusting its configuration to better meet the current requirements on the ground.


The Council also extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with sanctions on Sudan by one year.


After that, Choi Yong-jin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, briefed Security Council members in closed consultations on the work of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).  Those consultations have ended, and Mr. Choi is at the stakeout speaking to reporters.


**Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council will meet in a special session on the “human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and East Jerusalem” this Thursday, 15 October, in Geneva.


The holding of the special session comes at the request of Palestine.  That request has been co-sponsored by 18 Member States of the Human Rights Council.  It is expected that the special session will continue into Friday, 16 October.  A resolution is expected.  There is more information in a media advisory upstairs.


**Question of Palestine


The Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly and Security Council on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine is now available.


In it, the Secretary-General calls on the parties to honour all existing agreements and previous commitments and pursue an irreversible effort towards the two-State solution.  He adds that a true end to violence and lasting security for both Palestinians and Israelis will only come through a just, comprehensive and peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.


He also reiterates that the framework for peace remains unchanged.  That framework involves the establishment of two States -- an independent and viable Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel -- on the basis of the principle of land for peace and a just and comprehensive regional peace consistent with the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.


** Lebanon


Following a reported explosion in the southern Lebanese town of Tayr Felsay, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is investigating the incident in close coordination and cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.


A UNIFIL patrol, together with a Lebanese patrol, visited the site of the incident at around 11:30 last night.  This morning, a UNIFIL investigation team, jointly with the Lebanese Armed Forces investigation team, inspected the site and the surrounding area.  They are still in the process of analysing the information and the available evidence to ascertain the circumstances and establish the facts concerning this incident.


Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, said after a meeting today with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri that he was concerned about the reports of an explosion at Tayr Felsay.  He said: “We are keeping a close eye on this, because of its relevance to resolution 1701,” adding that he would await the outcome of the investigations.  We have a statement upstairs.


** Iran


High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today said she was deeply dismayed that another juvenile offender was recently executed in Iran.  She called for changes to Iranian law and practice to end the execution of juvenile offenders once and for all.  The boy in question was executed on Sunday.  Pillay, as well as UN special rapporteurs, had raised his case with the Iranian authorities, reminding them of their international obligation not to execute juveniles.


In related news, Pillay also said she has serious concerns about the death sentences recently handed down to three individuals for their involvement in the protests that took place after Iran’s recent presidential election.  We have more upstairs.


** Yemen


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says the situation in the north of Yemen remains tense and volatile.  The civilian population of Sa’ada Governorate continues to flee to the surrounding provinces as the fighting between Government troops and Al-Houthi forces shows no sign of abating. 


As street battles continued in the city of Sa’ada, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen.  Many shops and stores have run out of basic commodities and supplies.  Water supplies are available just twice a week.  UNHCR appeals to the Government to allow the United Nations to start the distribution of aid to internally displaced persons outside the camp in Khaiwan.


UNICEF is alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation.  It says that thousands of affected persons, mostly children and women displaced by the conflict, and others who are stranded inside the conflict zone, have still not been reached by humanitarian actors.  Malnutrition levels are on the rise, and children are facing serious threats to their well-being and even lives.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that only 16 per cent of the $23.7 million appeal for Yemen has been financed.


** Philippines


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, says at least $44 million worth of aid has been pledged by the international community to the Philippines to help alleviate the plight of thousands of people affected by the two devastating storms that recently hit the country.


Concluding a two-day visit to Manila, Holmes in a press conference said the United Nations was able to get financial commitments amounting to $19 million, out of the $74 million flash appeal it issued last week for the victims of a recent tropical storm.


He said that although the immediate effects of these typhoons have passed, months of hard work, relief and recovery, and reconstruction lie ahead.  He also warned of the serious health threat posed by stagnant water in flooded communities, stressing that it is crucial to get rid of these stagnant waters faster than waiting for them to simply evaporate.


In the Philippines, Holmes met with the President, senior Government figures, international agencies and partners, and members of the donor community.  He also visited areas affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy in Metro Manila.


** Nepal


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is appealing for the release of Maoist army personnel identified as minors in Nepal.  Almost 3,000 children were identified during a verification process completed in 2007.


She welcomed the re-launching of the discharge and rehabilitation process for Maoist army personnel identified as minors today.  She also noted that the Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist gave assurances that the discharge and orderly rehabilitation of the remaining Maoist minors in the cantonments would proceed immediately.


Coomaraswamy said she looked forward to visiting Nepal in the coming weeks to witness the discharge of these minors.  These children have a right to start their lives anew and help to build a peaceful and prosperous Nepal, she added.  We have a press release on this upstairs.


**Press Conferences


Just after this briefing, there will be a press conference to launch the Joint Council of Europe United Nations Study on trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs.  Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference on “STOP THE TRAFFIK” -- a global non-governmental movement against trafficking in persons.


And the guest at the tomorrow’s noon briefing tomorrow will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will brief you after presenting her report on the protection of children to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Pakistani army has now entered into Waziristan to flush out the terrorists from that area.  It will also create internally displaced persons, a continuing problem in Pakistan.  Against the backdrop of attacks on the World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters and other UN installations, do you think the United Nations will not be looking to help the Pakistani displaced persons in case there is going to be an influx?


Associate Spokesperson:  As that stands, our head of Department of Safety and Security, Gregory Starr, is in Pakistan now and was at today’s memorial ceremony.  He pledged to continue to support the work that the United Nations is doing throughout the country.  Beyond that, the critical work, particularly to help displaced persons like you mentioned, is being done even now through our critical staff and through our interaction with local non-governmental organizations.  If the needs in north-western Pakistan are greater, we will step up our assistance accordingly.


Question:  Following up on the statement coming from Geneva on discussions on the Goldstone report, there are reports that the Secretary-General has reservations of referring the report to the Security Council in case the Human Rights Council asks him to do so, because of United States pressure, because they don’t want this matter to be discussed in the Security Council.  What’s the SG’s view if he was asked by the Human Rights Council to refer the report?


Associate Spokesperson:  That decision is not for the Secretary-General but for Member States to discuss, and so the decision of a referral is actually for the Member States on the Human Rights Council to consider.  Beyond that, all I have to inform you is once again to mention the phone conversation between the Secretary-General and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas that took place on Sunday.  Among other things, the Secretary-General expressed his support for President Abbas’s engagement with Member States on a proper process for the consideration of the Goldstone report.


Question:  The Goldstone report asks the Secretary-General to refer the report, in case it’s approved by the HRC, to the Security Council.  How come the States will discuss… someone has to refer it to the Security Council?


Associate Spokesperson:  As we pointed out just a few minutes ago, a resolution is expected to be discussed, but it’s up to the Human Rights Council to take action.  We’re not at that stage yet.  Once they’ve taken action, we can respond accordingly.  But we’re not at that stage yet.


Question:  The SG is not facing United States pressures, telling him even if you get the report, don’t refer it to the Security Council -- this is not true?


Associate Spokesperson:  He will make his decision upon action, depending on how the Human Rights Council acts.  A resolution is under consideration; let’s see what action they take on that.


Question:  What’s the relevance between this explosion in Lebanon to [resolution] 1701 (2006), because as I understand it happened north of the Litani River, just north?


Associate Spokesperson:  The investigation is still ongoing by UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces.  We have to have the facts before making a judgement.  However, if the investigation shows there were unauthorized arms, ammunition, related material, or armed people, south of the Litani River, then that would be a clear violation of resolution 1701 (2006).  But having said that, I once again underscore that we are waiting for the facts of the investigation.


Question:  Is the resolution available, at this point, that’s under consideration about the Goldstone report?


Associate Spokesperson:  That’s being discussed by the members of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, so I’d suggest that they may have it there before we get it here.


Question:  I’d like to know, considering the international implication of the crisis in Nigeria’s oil producing region, whether the UN Secretariat is monitoring the amnesty deal that the federal Government of Nigeria has offered the militants.  Is the UN following this at all?


Associate Spokesperson:  We certainly have been following reports of the amnesty deal.  At this stage, the UN has no formal role as monitors in Nigeria, so we are not doing any formal monitoring activity there.


Question:  Oxfam and some other groups have put out a report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) -- if harm to civilians continues to occur from the Congolese Army, with MONUC attacking Rwandan Liberation Democratic Forces the FDLR, that MONUC should withdraw its support from those.  I wanted to know if the Secretary-General or MONUC has a response.  And I wanted to make sure we were going to get Alan Doss in this room for a press conference during his visit to New York, given the other issues that have arisen.


Associate Spokesperson:  We will certainly try and see what kind of arrangements we can make on that.  Beyond that, the basic point I have to say on the question of discontinuing support is, first of all, targeted attacks on civilians, rape and pillage are always unacceptable.  While MONUC does not dispute that military operations have been accompanied by civilian suffering, discontinuing MONUC support to the Congolese Armed Forces will neither stop their operations nor improve the protection of civilians.  The military operations undertaken by the Congolese Armed Forces against FDLR rebels reflect Government policy and political understandings both within the DRC and between the DRC and Rwanda that have offered the first hope for sustainable peace in the region in many years. 


I’d like to add that MONUC does not remain silent when it has information on abuses by the Congolese Armed Forces.  It brings this information to the attention of the military authorities and recommends courses of action to be taken, including removal from command or judicial action.


Question:  I asked yesterday for a confirmation of what United States Senator [Barbara] Boxer said at the stakeout.  She said that of these five names of Congolese high officials charged with sexual abuse, that three were discontinued and two remained in service.  What’s MONUC response to that, now that the Senator has said it?


Associate Spokesperson:  As I just said, one of the things we do is bring the relevant information to the authorities and we recommend courses of action, including removal from command or judicial action.  That said, it’s not MONUC that is in a position to dismiss officials.  It’s the Congolese Government, so it’s up to them to do the follow-up.


Question:  Does MONUC continue to work with units that are led by people they’ve accused of sexual abuse?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.  Certainly, we do try not to work with anyone who is performing the sort of acts, such as targeted attacks on civilians, that we deplore.


Question:  The Iranian Government clearly seems to be ignoring Pillay’s call to end these executions of juveniles.  Is the Secretary-General going to follow up, or is there any intention in visiting the country, or sending an envoy that has been requested for the past several months, not only to investigate the abuses inside these prisons, but also the abuses of average civil society members that are getting cornered by the Government, it seems?


Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has also expressed his own concerns following the violence that came in the wake of the elections, and we’ve made his concerns clear as well.  He supports the work being done by his High Commissioner of Human Rights, but there is no travel to Iran or anything like that to announce.


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For information media • not an official record