27 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.


**Press Conferences Today


Alexander Downer, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, will be here to talk to you, following my briefing.   He will be here shortly.


And at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  The press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold a press conference to present the report of his Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.


The report calls for a transition to a new energy pathway that will provide universal access to modern energy sources while addressing the challenges of climate change, sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.


Participating in the press conference will be Kandeh K. Yumkella, Director-General of UNIDO [United Nations Industrial Development Organization]; Helge Lund, CEO of Statoil; and Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme].


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Police in Darfur


You will have seen that we distributed a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the release of four UN police in Darfur yesterday.  I can add that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with the South African President this weekend and discussed the case.


**Security Council on Women, Peace and Security


Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefed the Security Council on her efforts to combat sexual violence and to make prevention a top priority.  She said that politically motivated rape is a disturbing trend, witnessed in the wake of Kenya’s contested elections and, more recently, in broad daylight on the streets of Guinea.  Such crimes, she said, present a security crisis that demands a security response.


Wallström welcomed the expansion of the “list of shame” on groups that recruit child soldiers to include groups credibly suspected of patterns of sexual violence.  And she detailed her recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she noted the UN Mission’s efforts to use market-route patrols to protect women.  She said that the improved sense of safety from such patrols led to improved trade, which has contributed to economic development.


Wallström also spoke to Council members in consultations, and she expects to speak to reporters at the stakeout afterwards, along with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Rachel Mayanja.


**Security Council


Earlier today, the Security Council adopted a resolution on piracy off the coast of Somalia, in which it called on all States to criminalize piracy under their domestic law.  It also requested that the Secretary-General report within three months on possible options to further the aim of prosecuting and imprisoning persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Somali coast.


The members of the Security Council will later hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.


Then, this afternoon at 3, the Council will hold consultations on Sudan.  Haile Menkerios, Head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), will brief on recent developments and that Mission’s work.


** Haiti


The latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, is out.


In it, the Secretary-General says that he is deeply concerned about the risks Haiti faces in the coming months, not least with the impending rainy and hurricane seasons.  Relief and protection efforts must continue to be increased, he adds.


He also notes that, despite the scale of loss and suffering, Haiti has not fallen back to the violence that was prevalent until 2007.  He says that the elections that will allow for a presidential transition in early 2011 are central to the Government’s vision for a renewed State.  And he adds that this must be strongly supported by the international community.


The Secretary-General calls on the Security Council to support the approach proposed in his report for a surge effort by MINUSTAH to provide additional technical, operational and logistical support that will assist the Government of Haiti in meeting its responsibilities, while respecting its authority.


** China


The Secretary-General has commended China’s decision to remove travel restrictions based on HIV status.  He says that punitive policies and practices only hamper the global AIDS response, and he urges all other countries with such restrictions to remove them as a matter of priority and urgency.


The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has also applauded this decision by the Government of China to lift its national travel ban for people living with HIV.  UNAIDS strongly opposes any laws that restrict movement based on HIV-positive status only.  Such restrictions are discriminatory and do not prevent HIV transmission or protect public health, it says.


** Sri Lanka


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed today the resumption of Government-led return movements in northern Sri Lanka, following a three-week pause for the general election, the Sinhala holiday and the Tamil New Year.  Some 7,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned to their homes since the operation resumed last week.  Some 207,000 IDPs have left camps in the north and east of the country since the organized return process began in August last year.


In the past month, the refugee agency was forced to suspend its assistance to the return process due to a funding shortfall.  Thanks to recent contributions by donors, the agency will be restarting the shelter cash grants by the end of the week.  And we have more details on this in UNHCR’s briefing notes.


I note that Mr. Downer has now arrived, but I am very happy to take a few questions before we hand over to Mr. Downer.  So please, questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sudan and the elections of Mr. Omer [Hassan al-] Bashir.  Despite technical difficulties and despite his condemnation by the ICC [International Criminal Court], has the Secretary-General sent a congratulatory message pursuant to the tradition of the United Nations following the election of a Head of State?


Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is what I have just been given here.  I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the conclusion of Sudanese elections, so your timing is perfect.


Following the announcement of the Sudanese elections results by the National Electoral Commission, the Secretary-General commends the people of Sudan for participating in the largely peaceful elections process, in spite of numerous challenges.  This stands as a demonstration of their commitment to democracy.


The Secretary-General takes note of the preliminary reports of observer groups detailing both the successes and shortcomings of the elections, as well as of a number of security incidents.  The Secretary-General calls on the authorities and political parties of Sudan to continue to resolve by peaceful means any matters arising from contested results or other irregularities.


The Secretary-General hopes that this election exercise will be a significant step towards opening up political space in the country and contribute to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).


The Secretary-General calls on the CPA partners and other Sudanese political actors to make rapid progress with the preparations for the next and the final phase of CPA implementation, the conduct of the referendums on self-determination in Southern Sudan and Abyei.


Question:  The Secretary-General commends the people of Sudan.  He does not congratulate the President?


Spokesperson:  Well, that is what I have here.


Question:  I just figured I would ask a question about Pakistan, about IDPs.  The question that I was going to ask is, in Pakistan there still remain 1.5 million IDPs and there are about 250,000 in Swat.  But the thing is, since the United Nations scaled down its operation after the WFP attack last year, has it decided to resume its operations in order to make sure that the IDPs are settled and they can go back to where they came from?


Spokesperson:  Well, I would defer to my colleagues on the ground in Pakistan for more details on precisely the scale of the operation at the moment.  But I would say that every effort is being made to ensure that not just IDPs but the population of Pakistan as well, in general, is fully supported by the United Nations.  I know that is the intent and I recall seeing Mr. [Jean-Maurice] Ripert making precisely such comments today.


Question:  I do have a follow-up on Sudan, but first I wanted to ask you, following yesterday’s briefing by Ms. [Susana] Malcorra on the Louis Maxwell report, the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemarai Bashiri, has said:  “We do not accept this report; we, in fact, reject it,” adding that “the findings have not been fully shared with Afghan authorities”.  Since the report ends pretty inconclusively and seems to call on Afghanistan to conduct its own investigation…


Spokesperson:  Is that still from the spokesman or is this you?


Question:  No, no.  Now I am turning it into a question.  That is why I am looking at you.  So, now that Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry has said they reject the report and have not been shown the whole thing, first I want to ask you, does the UN agree that they have not been shown the whole thing?  Were they shown the entire report?


Spokesperson:  As I think Ms. Malcorra said yesterday, the findings were shared with the Ministry of the Interior.  Not the report itself, but the findings.


Question:  Were they told, more or less, what we were told or more than we were told yesterday?


Spokesperson:  I am not going to go into exactly how much, more or less, they were told.  But they were briefed in detail on the findings, as you know, by the Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General on the ground.  And also, Mr. [Alain] Le Roy and Ms. Malcorra briefed the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan here yesterday.


Question:  So now that the Interior Ministry, which is the ministry in charge, says, “We reject the report”, what will the UN do to ensure that Afghanistan actually investigates the death of Louis Maxwell?  What are the next steps?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, you heard what the next steps are.  The Secretary-General has been very clear on this and has said in the statement that we put out yesterday a number of things.  Amongst them, that he takes this matter sufficiently seriously and that there are some concrete steps that need to be taken, one of which is that the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Gregory Starr, will be going to Kabul to speak to the Afghan authorities.  As you also know, Mr. Le Roy, the Head of Peacekeeping Operations, and Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative in Kabul, will be speaking to NATO officials ‑‑ all this with the aim of looking at security, looking at what happened, and how to try to ensure that, in the future, response could be even better.


Finally, as you also know, the Secretary-General did urge the authorities in Kabul to conduct an investigation.  You also heard Ms. Malcorra say here yesterday that if the Afghan authorities would wish that to be a joint investigation with the United Nations, then the United Nations would be open to that.


Question:  I have a follow-up on that.  Will there be another report?  Now can we expect another report on the incident?  Because the way things are going ‑‑ the Secretary-General sending the Special Envoy over there, Mr. Le Roy being there and Staffan de Mistura ‑‑ it seems that there is going to be another report.  Or, in the absence of another report, will there be a briefing to say if there are new facts to come out?


Spokesperson:  The Board of Inquiry report was, as Ms. Malcorra explained and as I have explained as well, an internal management report that is required by UN regulations, and such a report would be carried out to cover any incident of this nature, and indeed many other incidents.  That report has now been finalized and, as you know, it has been shared with those who need to know about the findings.


The next steps that follow from that ‑‑ which the Secretary-General has outlined and which Ms. Malcorra has also outlined ‑‑ involve being on the ground; involve talking to different interlocutors ‑‑ whether it is NATO, whether it is Afghanistan ‑‑ to look at, amongst other things, security.  Now, as you know, we wouldn’t want to go into details on any new security measures.  We don’t do that.  But if it is felt that there is the need to brief interlocutors, that will be done.  If there is felt the need to brief the media, that will be done, too.


As for the question of whether there will be some new report, I don’t think it is envisaged at this stage that there would be some new single document.  Of course, there will be reporting coming out of these meetings.  How that is collated, I cannot tell you right now.


Question:  Since the Secretary-General seems to be calling on Afghanistan to conduct either its own inquiry or [one] that the UN would help with, what time frame does he expect that in, given that the Interior Ministry has said:  “We reject the report” which calls for it?  At what stage, if Afghanistan does not in fact conduct its own inquiry?  That is really what I was trying to get at.  He has called for it, but they seem to be rejecting that call.  So, then what?


Spokesperson:  Well, in diplomacy you carry on speaking to people and that is what is happening.  Mr. Starr will be going quite shortly to Afghanistan.  And, of course, Mr. de Mistura and his Deputy are in constant communication with the Afghan authorities, and the same also goes for Mr. Le Roy.  I cannot say exactly when, but clearly there is a conversation that is going on pretty much as we speak with the Afghan authorities.  That is the way you handle these things.


Question:  And I wanted to ask you about Sudan and then the Department of Political Affairs.  Just on Sudan, I understand that the two announcements that you made today about the peacekeepers and the elections.  There have been reports over the weekend of the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] in the South of a clash that many people are saying might portend badly for the referendum.  It is unclear if the Khartoum Government sent people across or whether it is Arab tribes, but in any case, many people were killed.  What does either UNMIS or UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] know about that attack?


Spokesperson:  Not much more than we told you already last week ‑‑ that there were a number of people who were killed, that it wasn’t clear exactly who is involved.  We do not have full details of that.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General has made clear that stability is crucial for the different referenda that are to come, as you know, next year, and any fallout, as it were, from the election that has just been held ‑‑ a very complex set of elections that have just been held.


Question:  In the interest of time, I just wanted to ask this.  Inner City Press has been informed that ‑‑ and I will ask you to confirm ‑‑ the position in the Department of Political Affairs previously held by Haile Menkerios will be filled by Taye-Brook Zerihoun, currently the Cyprus representative.  Is that something you can confirm?


Spokesperson:  Not at the moment, but I will find out.  Any other questions?


Question:  Have you heard whether there is a real freeze in East Jerusalem settlement construction?


Spokesperson:  No, I have not.  And we have not directly heard at the moment, but I can find out.  But what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General spoke with Senator [George] Mitchell yesterday, and we have provided a readout on that.  This morning, he has spoken to President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and we will be providing a readout on that, too.


Question:  One more thing.  Some prisoners being released from Israeli jails were deported directly to Gaza rather than going back to their homes in the West Bank.  Does the United Nations have any position on this deportation of prisoners to other parts?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  I don’t have anything right now, but let me find out.


Question:  One last thing.  The letter of Mr. [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, which was handed three weeks ago or more…


Spokesperson:  I do not have anything to add.  Nothing to add, same position.  I will just take one more question because I am very conscious that we have our guest here.


Question:  Martin, maybe you may not be able or even want to answer this because this may fall in the category for the [General Assembly] President.  I just wanted to know whether the Ambassador of Afghanistan…  I believe he has prepared the Security Council reform thing, and he is about to present it to the President of the General Assembly.  So is there something that is going on about the reform that he can tell us about the Security Council reform?


Spokesperson:  We can find out.  I am sure you can also try the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan, but we can find out for you.  Sure.  All right.  Please, Mr. Downer.


[The press conference by Alexander Downer is issued separately.]


* *** *



For information media • not an official record