4 December 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Press Conference Today


At 1 p.m., Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will be here following his briefing to the Security Council, which is going on now.


**Security Council


And as I just mentioned, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo did provide the Security Council with an update on his work dealing with Darfur.  He said that all efforts in recent months have encouraged Sudan to respect its responsibilities as a UN Member State and to put an end to crimes and arrest people indicted by the Court.


He noted that President Omar al-Bashir, one of the indicted suspects, has been unable to travel to certain States where he may be arrested.  Moreno-Ocampo added that the process of marginalization of indicted criminals is a way towards the ultimate implementation of the Court’s arrest warrants.


At the same time, the Prosecutor warned that he needs the Security Council’s full support to ensure that the attention remains on the need to arrest the indicted suspects and to end crimes in Darfur.


And as I mentioned, he should be here at 1 p.m.


**Somalia


And yesterday afternoon in the Security Council, there was a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios on the bomb attack that took place earlier yesterday in Mogadishu.  As you know, we had a statement by the Secretary-General on that.


The Council held a formal meeting yesterday, late afternoon to adopt a presidential statement in which it condemned that terrorist attack in the strongest terms, and urged that a thorough investigation be conducted and the perpetrators brought swiftly to justice.  The Council underlined its determination to continue to support the people of Somalia and the Transitional Federal Government, three of whose Cabinet ministers were killed in that attack.


**Darfur


From Darfur today, the joint African Union-United Nations mission reports that two Rwandan Peacekeepers were killed and others wounded today in an attack by unidentified armed men while collecting water [at Saraf Umra] in North Darfur.


The mission is evacuating the dead and wounded to El Fasher.


Reports are preliminary at this time and we will provide more details as soon as we have them.


**Sri Lanka – Cammaert Visit


On Sri Lanka, Major General (ret.) Patrick Cammaert is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from Sunday, on behalf of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.


His six-day mission, at the invitation of the Government of Sri Lanka, is aimed at following up on the recommendations of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict on Sri Lanka within the framework of Security Council resolution 1612 from 2005.


Cammaert will report to the Security Council Working Group upon return from this mission.


During his visit, he will ascertain first-hand the situation of the children affected by the recent conflict with a view to ensure greater child protection.


Particular attention will also be paid to the situation of displaced children and the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed groups into civilian life.  He will meet with Government Officials, non-governmental organizations, civil society representatives and children themselves.


**Sri Lanka


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that it is encouraged by the Sri Lankan Government’s long-awaited decision this week to allow increased freedom of movement for some 135,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) remaining in 20 closed camps in the north of the country.


UNHCR field staff reported that over 7,000 IDPs from the Menik Farm camps and another 25 people from another camp left the IDP sites the first day that the new policy came into force.  The Agency’s teams are in the process of assessing the number of IDPs exercising their new freedom of movement over the past few days, and it reports that people continue to leave the camps.


According to UNHCR teams on the ground, many people left their belongings in the camps, which is an indication that they intend to return to the camps.  While authorities say that there is no time limitation to the freedom of movement, there were reports that IDPs would only be allowed to stay away from the camps up to 10 days.


The teams also report that, in general, people are happy to go back to their areas of origin where more basic services, such as health clinics and schools, are reopening.  And there is more information on this in the UNHCR briefing notes.


And in response to a question on Sri Lanka ‑‑ I believe, Matthew, you asked about the letter from Desmond Tutu ‑‑ we can now confirm that that letter has been received.


**OCHA


Turning to Zimbabwe, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, will undertake a three-day mission to Zimbabwe beginning Monday, 7 December.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the mission is aimed at reviewing the humanitarian situation in the country and acquiring an overview of the linkage between humanitarian work and early recovery efforts by UN agencies and partner organizations.


Ms. Bragg will meet senior Government officials and humanitarian actors to explore ways of improving humanitarian response.  She will also visit some humanitarian projects and meet the donor community there.


On the 7 December, Ms. Bragg, will launch the Consolidated Appeal for Zimbabwe for 2010.


**Aminatou Haidar


And in light of the rapidly deteriorating condition of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, of Laayoune, who is on hunger strike, the High Commissioner for Refugees ‑‑ that is António Guterres ‑‑ is appealing to the Governments of the two States directly concerned, Spain and Morocco, to consider any measure that could facilitate her movement and end the current impasse.


UNHCR adds that this appeal is on the basis of UNHCR’s good offices and is on strictly humanitarian grounds.  Aminatou Haidar has been on hunger strike at the airport [in Lanzerote] since 16 November.


**Tobacco


And the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a new tobacco control effort in Africa.  WHO’s goal is to prevent tobacco use from becoming as prevalent there as it is in other parts of the world.


According to WHO, tobacco use kills more than 5 million people per year.  Unchecked, it will kill more than 8 million people per year by 2030, with more than 80 per cent of those deaths occurring in developing countries.


And there is more in a Press Release from WHO upstairs on this.


**UNAMID-Panel of Experts


And we do have The Week Ahead for you.  But before that, just a couple more announcements.


Actually they’re both responses to two questions.  One was a question from Lou from Reuters yesterday.


Just to first set the picture straight, the AU-UN Operation in Darfur ‑‑ UNAMID ‑‑ has been the principal provider of logistical and other support for the Panel of Experts since it was established by the Security Council in 2005.  In this respect, UNAMID has provided hundreds of hours of direct support to the panel in the form of air and ground transport, briefings and meetings.  The work of the panel is extremely important aspect of international engagement with Sudan.  The UN Secretariat and peacekeeping operations will continue to support the work of the Panel in this regard.


In his congressional testimony, which is what Lou was asking about, Mr. Carisch alleged that the UN prevented the panel from working for a period of time and delayed granting the panel access to the Sudan and Darfur for security reasons.  The period referred to in the testimony was an extremely volatile moment in Darfur.  Movements and deployments were limited to those personnel who were directly involved in the protection of civilians.  The movement of all UNAMID civilian staff was seriously curtailed and deployment of new staff to the Mission was virtually suspended, based on the level of security risk in the Mission area.


UN Security in El Fasher reports that, during its visit to Darfur, the expert panel was provided with all possible support, facilities, including provision of field security and escort, in all UNAMID-covered areas.  Concerning areas devoid of UNAMID presence, the Mission was informed by all parties on the ground that these were no-go areas as panel security could not be ensured and guaranteed.  In some cases, rebel movements not only advised against access but banned it outright for the same security reasons.


This is available for you upstairs if you need it.


**MINURCAT


And in response to another question yesterday about the deployment of a Nepalese officer to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) has provided us with the following information:


DPKO vets all senior appointments to its missions.  However, with more than 115,000 personnel currently in the field, it is impossible to vet each and every peacekeeper deployed.  Therefore, the United Nations relies on its troop- and police-contributing countries ‑‑ which ultimately have the mandated responsibility for the good conduct, order and discipline of their forces ‑‑ to screen all contingent members nominated to take part in peacekeeping operations in accordance with international norms and standards.


With regard to this specific case, due to the serious nature of the allegations against Major Niranjan Basnet, who was deployed as a member of the Nepalese contingent, a decision has been made to repatriate him immediately.


**Volunteer


And finally, as I mentioned, we do have The Week Ahead for you.


Tomorrow, 5 December, is International Volunteer Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that “volunteerism is a source of community strength, resilience, solidarity and social cohesion.  It can bring positive social change by fostering respect for diversity, equality, and the participation of all.  It is among society’s most vital assets.”


Furthermore, the Secretary-General salutes, in particular, the 8,000 UN Volunteers who support the work of the United Nations, and paid tribute to the two UN Volunteers who were killed in Afghanistan in October.


The full message is available upstairs.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


And a couple of things to flag for you for next week:


Monday, as Janos Pasztor just mentioned to you, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) will start In Copenhagen, on 7 December and run through 18 December.


And here at UN Headquarters at 4:15 p.m., Bernard Kouchner, Foreign Minister of France, will brief the press following his meeting with the Secretary-General.


On Tuesday, 8 December, the Security Council will hold a debate on peace and security in Africa:  drug trafficking as a threat to international security.


At 3 p.m. [that day], there will be a press conference by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.  That’s here in 226.


And Thursday is Human Rights Day.


The guest at the noon briefing on Thursday will be John Holmes, who will discuss the humanitarian impact of climate change.


And just a note for you, just before the weekend:  We’ve been missing several of our colleagues who have been moved; who have moved on in recent days.  And today, I am sad to say, is the last day in the Spokesperson’s Office for Devi [Palanivelu].  Devi has been a sunny and unflappable presence in the office for nearly three years, doing the complex task of arranging press briefings and interviews for the Secretary-General without breaking her poise.  Now she is moving onward and upward, and she will be working at UNTV.  And she will also be advancing her driving skills, we’re told.  She’s learning how to drive.  So watch out on the road in the month ahead!  Good luck to Devi.  We’ll miss you.


And as you know, on the other hand, the new Spokesperson, Martin Nesirky will be here and join us on Monday.


So, that’s what I have for you for the week ahead.  Yes, Masood.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Maybe you issued a statement earlier, the Secretary-General about this attack in Pakistan, in which 30 people were killed, including several military officials.  Has the Secretary-General issued a statement on that?


Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a specific statement on that today, no.  Yes?


Question:  When is the Secretary-General leaving to go to Copenhagen and for what part of the 7 to 18 December period will he be present at the conference?


Spokesperson:  The dates, the specific dates of his travels are still being discussed, as the programme there is still being worked on.  But Janos Pasztor, the Secretary-General’s climate change support team chief, just told you that the Secretary-General will definitely be there for the high-level session and the summit, obviously, in which now we are told that some 100 Heads of State have confirmed to attend.


Question:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yes


Question:  I’m wondering what does the Secretary-General make of the so-called climate-gate in the lead-up to the Copenhagen.  The IPCC said that they were going to look into that.  What does the Secretary-General think about that?


Spokesperson:  Well, this again, Janos just addressed that question, so if you can refer to his answer.  He was just asked about it when he briefed, and he said that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is looking into the e-mails, and he explained that they wanted to find out what was behind it, but basically, he said the science had not changed, and he was speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General’s climate change support team.  Matthew.


Question:  Does the UN or UNRWA have any response to Israel announcing permanent ‑‑ they say ‑‑ closure of the Nahal Oz oil and gas terminal?


Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything today, but we’ll look into that for you.


Question:  And also, it’s widely reported that Colonel Moussa Dadis Camara of Guinea has been shot and taken out of the country to Morocco.  Is there, either Said Djinnit or whoever in the UN is dealing with that, can that be confirmed, and do they have a statement on the assassination attempt against the de facto leader?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any reports today directly from Mr. Djinnit on this incident, but the Secretary-General is aware and following the situation.  The latest violence underscores the urgent need to move towards the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea in a peaceful and consensual manner.  The Secretary-General calls for calm and reiterates the need to avoid violence and to respect the rule of law.  And he has instructed his Special Representative for West Africa [Said Djinnit] to remain actively engaged with national and regional stakeholders in the search for a solution that provides the people of Guinea an opportunity to elect their leaders in a democratic manner.


And that’s what I have for you…


Question:  I think I had asked, it may have been even two weeks ago about this closure of the border by Uzbekistan, and I guess, and I’m only asking because there is a UN office that’s in Turkmenistan that covers the area.  Now there has been an incident where a Tajik human rights advocate who was on the way to a UN office in Bishkek was barred from entering Kyrgyzstan and told to reapply in 2019.  What I wanted to know, it may seem below the UN’s radar, but what’s that office over there doing?  Can we get some readout on what, given that there seem to be regional border problems between the countries the UN is supposed to be dealing with there, what are they doing?  Do they have any comment on that?


Spokesperson:  I think you can probably follow up with the DPA media person on that who can give you a briefing I’m sure on what their activities are.  As for if the story is involving a human rights officer, I would suggest that you talk to the press officer for the Office of Human Rights in Geneva or here.


So, with that, have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.


* *** *



For information media • not an official record