28 January 2010
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, everyone.


**Press Conferences Today


I will try to keep things fairly quick today, because at 12:30p.m, we will have in this room a briefing by Captain Paul Chivers, Chief of Staff of EUNAVFOR (European Union Naval Force) Somalia, which is also called Operation Atalanta, and he will brief you on the naval operation off the coast of Somalia, supporting UN Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816, 1838 and 1846.


Then, at 2:30 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Norway will hold a press conference to update you on the work of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS).  Carl Salicath, Senior Adviser at Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Contact Group, will be here to brief you.


Also today, [Charles Petrie, Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, delivered remarks on behalf of] the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, at the meeting of that Contact Group, and he called for a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based approach to the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia.  And we have his comments in the Spokesperson’s office.


**Secretary-General on Afghanistan


The Secretary-General today addressed the London Conference on Afghanistan, saying that we face a long and complex process of recovery and institution-building in that country.


He said the international effort to deal with Afghanistan must be inclusive; it must strengthen governance and meet the basic needs of the Afghan people; it must respect human rights; and it must foster an environment conducive to justice and accountability, where corruption cannot thrive.  He warned that Afghans have suffered for far too long from a culture of impunity and the lack of rule of law.


The Secretary-General added that our re-shaped relationship must be built on a gradual but steady transfer of responsibilities and authority from international stakeholders to Afghan institutions.


As he informed you yesterday, he has appointed Staffan de Mistura of Sweden to succeed Kai Eide as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA).  De Mistura was present along with [Kai] Eide at the London conference.  And we have the Secretary-General’s full speech upstairs.


**Cyprus Statement


The Secretary-General spoke yesterday with his Special Adviser for Cyprus, Alexander Downer, regarding the intensive talks currently under way between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.


And yesterday evening, we put out a statement, saying that the Secretary-General would like to personally show his support for the Cypriot leaders’ efforts, and has decided in that regard to travel to Cyprus, from 31 January to 2 February.  While in Cyprus, he will hold discussions with the leaders as well as with his Special Adviser, focusing on the state of progress in the talks, and on how best the United Nations can continue to assist their efforts.


The international community has tremendous goodwill for Cyprus and a strong interest in seeing the Cypriots arrive at a solution.  And we have that full statement online.


** Haiti


Today, at 2 p.m. in Port-au-Prince, the UN Mission in Haiti will hold a memorial service to pay tribute to the memory and service of its deceased colleagues -- whether civilian or uniformed, national or international.


The acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Edmond Mulet, will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General.  In it, the Secretary-General will stress the extraordinary courage and dedication shown by UN personnel in the face of such tragedy.


Yesterday in Jacmel, MINUSTAH Police and Sri Lankan peacekeepers assisted the Haitian National Police in securing the humanitarian activities of the World Food Programme (WFP) in 25 distribution centres.  Nearly 20,000 food rations were distributed.


In Port-au-Prince, MINUSTAH Police conducted 286 security patrols, assisted with 10 humanitarian escorts and provided security to 42 banks that reopened for business at the end of last week.


As for MINUSTAH’s military personnel, 625 troops were involved in humanitarian missions and 2,037 were involved in security missions yesterday.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that hundreds of thousands of people remain in need of food and shelter.  It adds that thousands of stoves are required in order to move from distributing ready-to-eat meals to providing dry rations of rice and beans.


Concerning health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) say that cases of tetanus have been reported, as well as suspected cases of measles, in Leogane.  A vaccination campaign for diphtheria, tetanus and measles will begin next week.


UNICEF has started registering unaccompanied children found on the streets of Port-au-Prince.  A programme will then begin to trace the families of these children, if they exist.


UNICEF has also set up "Safe Spaces" for unaccompanied children, including infants in the capital.  These locations allow UNICEF and its partners to assist and protect children who have nowhere else to go, until their families are found or alternative arrangements are made.


And finally, in Geneva today, the Human Rights Council concluded its Special Session on Haiti.  It adopted a resolution calling upon the international community to continue to ensure adequate and coordinated support to the Government and the people of Haiti, bearing in mind the importance of integrating a human rights approach.


**Security Council


The Security Council today voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (ONUCI) until 30 May 2010, in particular to support the organization of free, fair, open and transparent elections in that country.


The Security Council also voted unanimously to authorize the member states of the African Union to maintain their Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, until 31 January 2011.  The Council also requested the Secretary-General to continue to provide a logistical support package for AMISOM, and to continue providing technical and expert advice to the African Union in the planning and deployment of AMISOM.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


UN humanitarian agencies have placed at 60,000 the number of displaced persons in the north-western Sud-Ubangi district of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In a statement, the agencies said that a further 109,000 people have sought refuge in the bordering Republic of the Congo, and 18,000 in the Central African Republic.  They are fleeing widespread violence and banditry in the region.  Most of the displaced are in need of humanitarian assistance.


UNICEF, meanwhile, is planning a vaccination campaign against measles for all children under five, along with the provision of essential medicines, and the treatment of malnutrition for 10,000 children. 


**Somalia


In Somalia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 117,000 Mogadishu residents have been displaced in the past month due to heavy exchange of fire between Government troops and Islamist insurgents.  The Agency says that the latest round of fighting has caused 200 deaths among civilians and wounded 700 others.  And we have more information in a UNHCR press release.


**Sudan


Speaking in Juba earlier today, Maxwell Kerley, the Director of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), said that his unit has stepped up its work in Sudan, ahead of general elections in April.  In recent days, UN mine experts have visited four key regions, including Darfur and Juba.  Maxwell Kerley said that the UN Mine Action Service has already helped clear a total 13,000 kilometres of roads in Blue Nile State alone.


**Peacebuilding


And last, the Peacebuilding Commission has elected a new Chairperson, Ambassador Peter Wittig of Germany.  He takes over from Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile.


The new Chairperson outlined a number of priorities for the Commission in the coming year -- including strategic policy coordination, increased interaction with the Security Council and matching priorities to resources in host countries.


**Guest Briefing Tomorrow


And like I said before, at 12:30 p.m., we will have Captain Paul Chivers, the Chief of Staff of Operation Atalanta, the EU Naval Force for Somalia, and he will talk about their operations off the coast of Somalia.


And then tomorrow, the guest at the noon briefing will be WFP World Emergency Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva.  And he will join by videoconference from MINUSTAH.


And that’s all I have for you.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just want to follow up about the statements the Secretary-General made yesterday about the Goldstone report; about him receiving responses from both Israel and the Palestinian side.  I was wondering if you received anything by today, considering that the deadline is pretty short.


Associate Spokesperson:  No, he has not received any replies by today.  We do expect some further information potentially by tomorrow, but nothing has been received so far.


Question:  Can I just follow up?  A Hamas spokesman, for the government in Gaza -- he said that they’re preparing their own response.  Is the UN going to receive this response from the Hamas government in Gaza?


Associate Spokesperson:  Obviously if we do receive it, we’ll confirm that once we’ve received it.  It’s up to them, of course, to give a reply to us.  We do expect to receive replies, and hopefully by tomorrow we’ll have something more to say.


Question:  So if they give you a reply through their office in Gaza you will not say no, we only take it from the [Palestinian Authority]?


Associate Spokesperson:  Wherever we receive it; if we receive it, we’ll confirm it at that point.


Question:  Has the Secretariat taken note of, and does he have any comment on this firing, this reported firing from the North Korean-South Korean maritime border?  Do they have concerns about what it reflects?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we have taken note of that incident.  Bear with me just a second -- let me see if I have something to tell you on that.  I don’t have anything specific to say, but yes, we have taken note of yesterday’s incident, and we’re certainly following up on that.


Question:  It’s reported that officials both of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government of Somalia] and of Puntland in Somaliland are calling on the UN to resume service, food and otherwise, in south Somalia.  What are the conditions under which the UN system would… I know that WFP has confirmed that they still have not resumed service.  Are there other UN agencies serving there, and what does the UN think of this call by various governmental authorities there?


Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly the United Nations will try to resume the needed humanitarian services as soon as security conditions permit.  At this stage, as you just mentioned, WFP has made it clear that the right security circumstances are not there on the ground. But, certainly as soon as the circumstances are right, we will try to do that.


Question:  But is it security or is it also the conditions that al-Shebaab was setting?  Ms. [Josette] Sheeran seemed to be saying that they put on certain conditions that the UN couldn’t live with.  I know that there was a flurry of discussion around that.  Is it the security situation or is it the request to not teach democracy…?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think all of that falls broadly under the question of security concerns.


Question:  An Egyptian newspaper published today that the UN is preparing, or prepared the report that accuses Egypt, among other countries, of having, or torturing, deported Al-Qaeda members based on a deal with the CIA.  And I wanted to know if there is any update with that, or the report is really released, because I certainly couldn’t find anything on the UN.


Associate Spokesperson:  I think what you’re referring to is a report that was produced by Special Rapporteurs.  These are independent experts who report to the Human Rights Council.  We would not have any particular comment about the work of the independent experts.  I do believe, however, that this particular report that they did about the cross-border treatment of detainees, that it would be presented to the Human Rights Council in March.  And that’s the normal procedure by which their work is evaluated.


Question:  So we can’t get the report, or we can’t get a draft format before that?


Associate Spokesperson:  You could check with my colleagues at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  There is information about this in their press release on the web site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Question:  Farhan, the last couple of days, some of the TV channels have been showing these scuffles at food distribution points in Haiti.  But I noticed in the video it was all men involved in these situations; you know, men coming to get aid and the tear gas situation that happened yesterday, I believe it was.  But the other day when Josette Sheeran was here she said that WFP, anyway, gives out food to women.  So, is that standard across all the agencies?  Why were the men there in the first place?  Do they know that they can’t get the food?  Is there some sort of clarity issue?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know the specifics of WFP’s policies.  You might want to check with them how they are handling it.  As far as that goes, regarding the scuffles, there have been some security incidents at distributions which are a serious concern.  That’s not so surprising given the level of need, and given that people are, after all, hungry.


But WFP says that the majority of distributions have been conducted in an orderly manner.  And that in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake the system of food distribution had been completely devastated, but it has recovered quickly.


And now WFP is working with MINUSTAH and the US military to ramp up security and minimize disruption to food distribution.  So, we believe that that’s being taken care of.


Question:  But do you know if distribution is only to women across all the affected areas?


Associate Spokesperson:  I hadn’t heard that, I would have to check that.  I’m not aware of that particular element of WFP’s distribution efforts.


Question:  Martin announced early this month that there might be a meeting on Western Sahara in early January.  I was wondering that we haven’t heard anything about that.  So, I mean, is there any effort by Mr. [Christopher] Ross [the Special Envoy to Western Sahara] to organize an informal meeting between the two sides?


Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage Mr. Ross is dealing with all the various parties.  He is trying to pave the way for informal talks which then could lead to a fifth round of negotiations.  But at this stage, we’re not at that.  He is simply trying to set the stage for the informal talks.  We don’t have anything specific to announce on that just yet.


Question:  But the fact that there was an announcement in late December that there might be something in early January -- is there some obstacle that prevented this from happening in all of January?


Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not a question of obstacles.  He is continuing his efforts, but we don’t have anything specific to say just yet.  And of course, we’re well past early January.


Question:  I have a question on climate change. Yesterday there was, Martin seemed to acknowledge that the Secretary-General has received a letter from India, saying that they don’t think that the deadline to sign on to the Copenhagen Accord is reasonable, asking other questions.  Has it now, now that 24 hours have gone by, has the letter been received and what other countries have signed up, by this 31 January deadline that is approaching?


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, I’d have to check.  I’m not aware that the India letter has been received, yet.  So, I would need to check on that.  In terms of your other question, I don’t have anything specific about 31 January in terms of what the status of that is as a deadline.


But the Accord itself, as you’re aware, demonstrates the political will of a large number of countries to take further actions against climate change, and is open to all countries who wish to associate themselves with it.  It is not a legally binding document, but as the Conference of Parties formally decided to “take note” of the Accord, it is a UN document.


There is no legal obstacle to prevent those parties who associate themselves with the Accord from implementing its content.  And so, that’s where we stand on the basis of how they join up with the accord.


[Later, the Associate Spokesperson added the following to his response above:  We had been asked whether there was a deadline for states to associate themselves with the Accord.  There is no deadline.  Rather, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had invited parties that wish to be associated with the Copenhagen Accord to transmit this information by 31 January in order to be included in the finalized version of the Conference of Parties report.  However, the parties who would associate themselves with the Accord after the finalization of the report would be updated on the UNFCCC website.  In addition, parties to Annex I of the Accord could submit information on their emissions targets for 2020 by 31 January.  The decision to submit such information is for individual parties to make.]


Question:  And what about where the Secretary-General’s Climate Change unit, Mr. [Janos] Pasztor, and all that?  Has it been determined, I’ve heard from them that they thought that they were going to be in the new building; they are not.  They’re somewhere high in the Secretariat building, with empty floors on both sides.  Where are they going to go?


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that the point was simply to find good, suitable space for his team.  And I believe they found it in a separate building.  We’d have to get the details about which building that is.  The idea is to give them the best available space while we have this series of moves in line with the Capital Master Plan.


Question:  Is there any update on the number of UN personnel who died in the Haiti quake?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further to say beyond what the Secretary-General told you.  He gave you an update yesterday afternoon, and whenever we get any further numbers, we’ll let you know.


Thanks.  And so, if you can come back in just a little over ten minutes, we’ll have our guest, Captain Paul Chivers, of EUNAVFOR Somalia Operation Atalanta, in this room.


Thanks a lot.


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