22 April 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Briefing Guest


We have with us John Ging, Director of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza.


** Afghanistan


Before I hand the floor to him, just a couple of points.  Of course, I will be happy to take questions after Mr. Ging has finished his part of the briefing, but at the start I just wanted to inform you that the Board of Inquiry report on the 28 October 2009 attack on the UN guest house in Kabul has been finalized.  The relevant findings of the report are being presented to the Afghan authorities, both here in New York and in Afghanistan, and other relevant stakeholders will likewise be informed.


We are also trying to arrange a briefing for you with a senior UN official as soon as possible, once all the stakeholders have been informed.  We’ll keep you posted on when we can have that briefing.


So, with that I will pass the floor to John.  Please.


[The press conference by Mr. Ging is issued separately.]


**Earth Day/Mother Earth Day


Okay, just a couple of other points.  The Secretary-General is participating in this hour in a special commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day in Times Square.  In his remarks, he says that Earth Day has helped create a sense of shared responsibility for our environment and our one and only home.  He will say that we must learn to live in balance with the planet that sustains us and that there is a better, cleaner, greener, healthier way to do things.


His full remarks are in my office, where you will also find the Secretary-General’s message marking International Mother Earth Day, which is celebrated today by the United Nations.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yesterday visited the town of Mbandaka, in the Equateur Province.  While there, Doss announced a reinforcement of UN troops in the region.  He said that the strengthening of the UN military and police force, working with their Congolese counterparts, will help to bring calm and security to the population.  During the visit, Doss also met with various members of the provincial government and UN military and humanitarian staff.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning is holding an open debate to discuss its working methods.  I understand there are at least 53 speakers inscribed.


** Haiti


A new online portal has been launched to promote the efficient use of the more than $9 billion in aid pledged to Haiti, at the donors’ conference on 31 March.


The initiative is part of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) support to the Haitian Government and partners to address the challenges linked to the management of external aid.  UNDP says that the portal will help hold donors to their promises and ensure transparency and accountability of the use of their funds.


The system, which is also supported by the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, tracks the money from pledge to impact and will include contributions and support from NGOs and the private sector.


**Inspira


Today, the UN is launching a new human resources system called Inspira.  It is an IT platform where job openings in the Secretariat will be posted.  Job openings for the field will be available at a later date.  The new website profiles 150 staff members and shows what the Organization does, where it works, what it looks for in staff and what it offers as an employer.  The new careers portal can be accessed by all staff, and of course by the public, at http://careers.un.org.  The fuller address for that, you would be able to get online on our website.


Okay, so that is it.  I am happy to take questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can I ask about your announcement that you made right at the top?


Spokesperson:  Of course.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to know, can you confirm, given public statements now made by Tony [Anthony] Banbury that Andrew Hughes led the Board of Inquiry?  And if so, do you consider him an external individual, given that he was employed as DPKO’s [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] police person until, I believe, 8 March?  What was the overlap between his UN service and his service in leading this panel?


Spokesperson:  What I have for you today, Matthew, is what I have read out.  I do not have anything else today.


Question:  Were Mr. Banbury’s comments to Turtle Bay -- were those authorized by the UN?  Because he said a number of things about the inquiry.  I had asked you as you came in.  It seemed like he should come and take questions if he is going to be putting out a UN line about this important matter.


Spokesperson:  As I said to you, we are trying to arrange a briefing for you with a senior UN official as soon as possible.


Question:  You said the UN could not speak until the report came out.  Mr. Banbury did speak at length, making various arguments.


Spokesperson:  The Board of Inquiry report has been finalized, and the findings are being presented, as I have said, to the Afghan authorities here in New York and in Afghanistan.  I do not have anything else to add today.


Question:  What is Mr. Banbury’s current position?  Is he still on Haiti or is he the number two of DFS [Department of Field Support]?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, you know what Mr. Banbury’s job title is.  And I do not have anything else to add today.


Question:  For the UN, did he consult with the Secretariat before making his comments?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, I do not have anything else.  You can ask me many questions.  I do not have anything else to add today, so we can probably move on to something else.


Question:  But isn’t it strange to have a senior UN official make the types of statements that were made and then for you to refuse to answer any questions about it?  Was Mr. Hughes paid during his service on the panel?


Spokesperson:  You have asked many questions, including in an email that you sent to me and Mr. Banbury before the briefing, in which you are apparently on deadline.  However many questions you have, I do not have anything else to add today, okay?


Question:  Where is Mr. Banbury today?


Spokesperson:  I do not have anything else to add on this topic.  I am happy to take other questions.  Yes.


Question:  Okay, go back to the question that I started.  I am with RTV21 Kosovo National TV.  The Secretary-General’s report has been published.  Today, we have a UN official website page that talks about that, and it says: “The United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK […] the Serbian province which unilaterally declared its independence over two years ago.”  Why is this phrase in here, while in the Secretary-General’s report, it is not at all?


Spokesperson:  I would need to ask my colleagues who are responsible for the website.  I have not seen that.  Thank you for pointing it out.


Question:  Just a follow-up -- does that imply something?  I also recognized that.  Does that imply something?  Although at the end of that UN News Section report, there is a line that 65 countries already recognized Kosovo.


Spokesperson:  As I say, I have not seen that.  I will take a look at it; I have not seen it.  The UN Secretary-General’s report speaks for itself.


Question:  He does not address it like that at all?


Spokesperson:  All I am saying is that the report -- I am talking about the report that has gone to the [Security] Council -- that is the official word from the Secretary-General.


Question:  I am sorry, follow-up.  Would you please follow up on this?


Spokesperson:  I will.


Question:  Why did this phrase come into this?  Because this is the stand of the Serbian Government.


Spokesperson:  As I say, I have not seen that.  Thank you for drawing it to my attention.


Question:  I do have a printout of it.  What we know is that the Secretary-General’s stance is status-neutral in this.


Spokesperson:  As I say, I have not seen that.  Thank you for drawing it to my attention, and I will take it up as soon as I get out of the briefing.  In fact, my colleagues are probably already onto it. 


[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the United Nations News Centre site had corrected the reference in its text.]


Question:  I just wanted to follow up on that question from a few days ago.  When was the last time that Mr…


Spokesperson:  My colleagues are on that.  They do not have an answer yet.  I will remind them that you are owed an answer. It’s not forgotten.


Question:  I had a question.  One, there used to be regular UNRWA briefings -- just that you or Michèle would read what the UNRWA statements were of the conditions -- and I have not seen those lately.  I wondered if there is reason they are less often?  It was very good to have John Ging here today, but is there a way to have more regular briefings of what the conditions are in Gaza, that at least you update us?


Spokesperson:  There are many ways that we can update you on what is going on in UNRWA.  I think the best way is to have people from on the ground, who really know what is going on because that is where they work and that is what they are responsible for -- I think that was demonstrated today.  It was demonstrated when Mr. [John] Holmes was here recently.  Having just visited, he gave a very clear overview.  That is the preferable way to do it.  I hear what you are saying about providing updates in between times, and of course we can look at that.  I think another preference is to provide that in the most effective way.  It is not always effective for me to read something out to you, but to provide the information in other forms, of course.


Question:  I went to the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and there is an UNRWA representative here from the UN, and he made a report -- which I have never heard such a report here -- and it was a very helpful report.  This was maybe a few months ago, but he pointed out that there was no aluminium coming in at that time, and so we could understand better when we hear that glass is coming in.  So is there a way to have him come and perhaps speak to us?


Spokesperson:  We can look into that.  And I think we have updated fairly regularly, for example, on the outcome of the Secretary-General’s visit and where we are with the different supplies that were to be allowed in.  It is good to have updates on these things.  As you have heard in the briefing earlier, it is crucial that those supplies do get in, not least so that the children will be able to go to school -- those who cannot do so at the moment -- and the projects that the UN has an agreement to carry out can be completed as soon as possible.


I can see right at the back.  As I was saying yesterday, it is really difficult to… Any further back and you would be outside the door.  So maybe it is good to come down in future briefings.


Question:  That is exactly what my question is all about.  Isn’t it possible to improve the microphone system?  Here, in this section, I can hear you well, but if is someone is asking a question to the podium over there, after the third or fourth row, we cannot hear it.


Spokesperson:  Well, I am looking at a bank of empty seats here where there are microphones, and where you would be sitting right in front of me.  As I understand it -- without belabouring the point -- the microphones are attached not all the way to the back of the briefing room, but in the first few rows, so to make it easier for you, come down here.  But what is your question anyway?


Question:  Following up, I did not make myself clear.  What if the Secretary-General comes in and gives a press conference to a full house, all the UN ambassadors or any dignitary?


Spokesperson:  When we have a full house, we have a microphone on a pole which we bring around.  That is the way we do it.


Question:  Still keep it in your mind.  I think it is not a remedy to have this problem solved.


Spokesperson:  All I can say to you is that we are actively looking at the way that the briefing room is set up to try to make it an easier experience for all concerned.


Question:  Do you know when the UN Secretary-General’s report on Georgia will be available?


Spokesperson:  I don’t.  I will find out.


Question:  I apologize if this has been answered before in prior briefings, but there have been recent press reports that approximately two thirds of the UN’s peacekeeping budget for Haiti is really devoted to salaries and perks, and other resources for the UN personnel themselves, rather than actually going to help the Haitian people, and that approximately $112,000 a day, or something of that nature, is being spent to house UN staff on two luxury cruise ships.  These are press reports.  Fox News actually reported it.


Spokesperson:  It is one press report.  On the first point, one press report.  It was Fox News.


Question:  Well, my question is, is there any truth to this based upon the UN Secretariat’s own investigation?


Spokesperson:  Truth into what?  The budgets or the boats?


Question:  Both.  Both of those statements were in recent press reports -- the staff on the ships and also the allocation of the peacekeeping budget.  Is there any investigation being undertaken within the Secretariat to ascertain the truth of these or dismissing these as unfounded?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is certainly no need to investigate the allocation of a peacekeeping budget to peacekeepers.  This is not a humanitarian aid budget; this is a peacekeeping budget, that is, to staff the peacekeeping mission which has been increased in size under a Security Council resolution.  To question the spending of a peacekeeping budget -- I stress that, not the humanitarian aid budget, which is separate, but a peacekeeping budget -- on the staff of a peacekeeping mission is a bit like saying to any fire fighting department in any city: “Why are you spending money on fire fighters?  Why don’t you give the money to the people in the burning houses?”  It is not the right analogy to make.  There is a lot of humanitarian aid and aid money that is going into Haiti, not under the peacekeeping budget.  And as you have just heard me read out, UNDP and the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, are supporting this website that will be tracking aid that is going to the people.  So that is the first bit.


The second bit on the two ships, I think WFP [World Food Programme] has said quite a lot about this publicly, and I think that they would be in a position to give you more details on that.  I do not believe that these are luxury cruise liners that have come from Barbados and then been moored there in the condition of a cruise liner, in the state that it would be for paying guests and passengers.  That is not the case.  WFP procured those ships in a usual and transparent manner based on a tender, and I am sure that they could give you more details about that.


I just want to take one more question.


Question:  Maurizio Guerrero from the Mexican News Agency, Notimex.  Maybe you have tackled this issue before, and I apologize, but I wonder why the UN is promoting the movie Avatar during this Indigenous Peoples Forum, given that some critics characterize the movie as a “white Messiah rescuing indigenous people”?  And I am wondering as well, what is the deal the UN has with the movie studio, if the UN is benefiting in some way with this deal?


Spokesperson:  I don’t quite follow you, on where and how the UN is promoting this.  Could you elaborate where this has been happening?


Question:  They are going to screen on Saturday the movie Avatar, and some people of the UN are calling the correspondents to go the movie because James Cameron, the director of the movie, is going to be there.  So for many critics, it would not sound right or correct that the UN is promoting a Hollywood movie during this Indigenous Peoples Forum.  So I am just wondering what is the reason that the UN is so interested in the correspondents going there on Saturday to watch the movie?


Spokesperson:  I would need to look into precisely who it is who is inviting, because I am not aware of that.  But I am very happy to come back to you on that.  I am aware of that.


[The correspondent was later informed that the idea for the screening came about as the Secretariat for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had heard many positive reactions (and some negative comments) from indigenous representatives on the film and how it was echoing their own stories.  Through personal contacts of the Secretariat and the non-governmental organization co-sponsors, they contacted James Cameron personally regarding the possibility of a screening.]


Question:  I have a question about Thailand, regarding the UN office in Thailand, where a request was made to the Secretary-General to send some peacekeepers or some type of UN assistance, as people have been killed in the streets.  Is the UN aware of the request and what is the UN doing in terms of the violence?


Spokesperson:  Two things.  There were two letters that were handed to the United Nations in Bangkok.  There was a letter specifically that was delivered by the red-shirt protestors to the UN offices and we do not have any immediate response to the letter.  However, clearly, the Secretary-General is very concerned about the continuing standoff and tensions in Thailand, and the potential for this to escalate.  He appeals to both the protesters and the Thai authorities to avoid further violence and loss of life and to work to resolve the situation peacefully, through dialogue.  This is a moment requiring restraint on all sides.


Question:  Ban Ki-moon, more than a month ago, said he was naming a panel of experts to advise him on accountability and possible war crimes in Sri Lanka.  A month has gone by.  He said there would be no delay.  Can you confirm that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka met with the Secretariat staff?  Some are saying that that accounts for the delay.


Spokesperson:  I have not got anything for you on that today.  I will see what I can find out.


[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka met with the Secretary-General last week, in a meeting that was on his public schedule.]


* *** *


For information media • not an official record