|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.
My guest at the briefing a little bit later will be Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan of the Philippines, the President-elect of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] Review Conference. He will join us a little bit later.
And also, although Jean Victor Nkolo is not going to be briefing today, he is here in the room if you have any questions.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
A couple of press conferences for tomorrow. At 2 p.m., the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be here to brief you on the outcomes of the ninth session of the Forum, which ends tomorrow.
Then at 2:30 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein will hold a press conference about the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court.
**Secretary-General’s Remarks at World Press Freedom Day
This coming Monday is World Press Freedom Day, and in remarks delivered at an observance event here at UN Headquarters today, the Secretary-General noted progress made in the area of freedom of information, which is also the theme of this year’s observance.
He said that, while there’s a global trend towards new laws which recognize the universal right to publicly held information, these new laws don’t always translate into action. Requests for official information are often refused or delayed, all too often because of a culture of secrecy and a lack of accountability. He called on Governments, civil society and people around the world to recognize the important work of the media, and to stand up for freedom of information and for more effort to change attitudes and to raise awareness.
You can get copies of his entire remarks from my office or you can find them online.
The Security Council this morning voted to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
After that, Council members heard a briefing from Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen about the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), concerning Lebanon. He presented the Secretary-General’s recent report, which says that Lebanon is currently witnessing its longest period of domestic stability. The Secretary-General calls on all Lebanese to continue to work together in a spirit of coexistence and democracy to safeguard the achievements they have made since 2004.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is teaming up with the non-profit group One Laptop per Child to distribute laptop computers to nearly half a million Palestine refugee children at UNRWA-run schools by 2012.
Today in the city of Rafah, officials from One Laptop per Child, UNRWA and other groups, as well as teachers and children, are celebrating the deployment of the first 2,100 laptops at the Rafah Co-Education Elementary School D.
The Relief and Works Agency operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East and has been the main provider of basic education to Palestinian refugees for over six decades. We have more details on that in a press release.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, starts a five-day mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo today. He will travel to South Kivu [Province], Orientale Province and Equateur Province -- three of the country’s provinces most affected by armed violence.
During his mission, the UN’s humanitarian chief will discuss humanitarian priorities and the necessary responses, in the context of increasing insecurity for humanitarians in some areas. Protection of civilians is also at the top of his agenda.
The Deputy-Secretary-General will leave for Washington, D.C., this afternoon. There, she will participate in a round table on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) hosted by the UN Foundation. The aim is to help develop concrete ideas in the lead-up to the MDG Summit this September.
A couple of follow-ups from yesterday. I was asked yesterday about clashes between the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and Reizegat. As a matter of fact, these reports are about the same one incident which was reported to have occurred a few days ago in the border area of Western Bahr El Ghazal and South Darfur states, where there were a significant, but still unconfirmed, number of casualties reported.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan is investigating this situation closely and communicating with the parties concerned, but verifying the reports on the ground has been difficult from both the north and the south. The Mission calls on all parties concerned, and in line with the mandate of the Mission, to ensure full access to the area, to help establish the facts and defuse tensions.
The safety and security of civilians remain the primary responsibility of the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan.
I was also asked about Natalia Estemirova, and I understand from the Russian Federation’s Mission here that the Prosecutor General is personally in charge of the investigation into that case, and the case is being actively investigated.
**Joint Inspection Unit Report
I was also asked yesterday for a reaction to a report by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU). In the three years since the Secretary-General called for “greening the UN”, the Organization has taken unprecedented steps to reduce its carbon footprint and to make its operations more sustainable. The Organization is pushing for higher sustainability standards under the Capital Master Plan, which will significantly reduce energy use. And all the entities of the UN have worked together to develop common standards to measure their progress to reduce emissions.
More details on the initial steps taken by the UN to manage emissions can be found in the first greenhouse inventory that was launched at the Copenhagen Conference, called “Moving towards a Climate Neutral UN”, which is available online.
The UN is indeed a large organization and it will take time to achieve the goal of climate neutrality. The report provides some useful suggestions on how to do it sooner and those suggestions, as I mentioned yesterday, are being looked at.
**International Cricket Council World Twenty20 Tournament
And also, I was asked about cricket yesterday. Indeed, the UN will have various activities taking place related to the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 Tournament, which is taking place between 30 April and 16 May. I have much more information available about that. I am very happy to provide that and you can also find plenty on this on the UN website -- www.un.org/sport.
Okay, so those are follow-ups. I am happy to take some questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Martin, does the Secretary-General have a statement about President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s planned trip to New York to attend the NPT Conference?
Spokesperson: Not a statement. Of course, we have read the reports, as you have, about the possibility of President Ahmadinejad attending the NPT Review Conference. What the Secretary-General has said is that, if such a visit does take place, he hopes that President Ahmadinejad would bring a positive message to that meeting.
Question: Martin, you indicated that the UN Foundation is holding a meeting in Washington, at which the Deputy Secretary-General would participate. Who else is participating among the high officials?
Spokesperson: I do not know the names of those involved. I think it is about 30 or 40 officials who are involved -- not just officials, but also from leading NGOs. But I am sure that we can find out if you would like to know precisely who is involved.
I can tell you that the Secretary-General has announced the appointment of Nigel Fisher of Canada as the Deputy Special Representative ad interim for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), where he will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim.
Mr. Fisher will succeed Kim Bolduc of Canada. The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms. Bolduc for her dedication and service in Haiti, particularly her leadership in the moments immediately following the tragic earthquake on 12 January. I have more information here on the biographical details of Mr. Fisher and they will be available in my office.
So, further questions?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask again about the Board of Inquiry into the death of Louis Maxwell. I have been told by UN staff in Kabul that one of the panel members is a man named Richard Manlove who was appointed -- “hand picked” was the word that was explained to me -- by Staffan de Mistura, who used to serve in Iraq. And that in this way, they believe, the result of the Board of Inquiry was tilted away from a finding that Afghan national forces actually committed the death of Louis Maxwell. So I wanted to know, given what is believed there, one, can you confirm that Mr. Richard Manlove was on the Board of Inquiry, and separately, whether Staffan de Mistura played any role in the selection of the Board of Inquiry panellists?
Spokesperson: Well, on the first, you heard Ms. [Susana] Malcorra say here quite clearly on Monday that we will not be providing the names of the panel members. So I do not think we will be going any further than Ms. Malcorra did on Monday.
Question: Why in the case of the [Heraldo] Muñoz panel, the panellists were named and in this case they are not being named?
Spokesperson: That is because there is a clear distinction between the two different types of inquiry. One was an internal management investigation -- the Board of Inquiry. This is mandated, this is required under UN regulations. It is something that happens regularly and there is a set procedure for the way that that is done. That is the one kind. The other was requested by the Secretary-General on a request from a Member State in the case of the [Benazir] Bhutto Commission that you are referring to. That was then independently handled by those three Commission members.
Question: But why name Mr. [Andrew] Hughes? It seems like the rationale given for not naming the Board of Inquiry was thrown out the window in the case of Mr. Hughes. What is the difference between Mr. Hughes and Mr. Richard Manlove if, in fact, he is on the Board of Inquiry?
Spokesperson: I am not going to second-guess Ms. Malcorra who -- sitting where I am sitting now -- on spoke Monday. I am not going to go into that.
Question: I am asking about Mr. Manlove because of his connection with Staffan de Mistura, which is well documented. He served as Security Adviser in Iraq.
Spokesperson: To answer your second question, I would simply note that Staffan de Mistura started his job, not in February when the Board of Inquiry started, but in fact some time after that.
Question: But he was selected prior to that?
Spokesperson: Anything else on that I will seek further guidance on. But I would simply note the chronology there.
Question: Also, can you just say about Kandahar? It has been reported that the UN has pulled very many staff from Kandahar, and the Afghan Government -- or at least local provincial officials -- have been quite critical and said it leads to bad morale in Kandahar. Generally, you won’t talk about security moves or the specifics of it but this seems like a pretty big pull-out. And you have sometimes in Pakistan said that changes have been made. Can you confirm the pull-out from Kandahar?
Spokesperson: I think you will have seen as I have seen what our Spokesperson in Kabul has said, and I do not need to go beyond that.
[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that, due to the current security situation in Kandahar, the United Nations has temporarily relocated some of its non-Afghan staff to Kabul. United Nations Afghan staff have been instructed to remain at home for the time being.]
Question: Martin, in addition, as a follow-up of a meeting of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mr. Matthew Nimetz yesterday, can you give us some more readout besides what we have received from Ari [Gaitanis] through email, and can you tell us whether Mr. Nimetz indeed was talking to the Secretary-General about the proposal that this “Republic of Northern Macedonia” or “Northern Macedonia” or whatever, whether this name was included in this?
Spokesperson: The answer to both is no. I cannot tell you.
Question: You cannot tell me, or he did not…?
Spokesperson: You asked me two closed questions. The answer to both is no.
Question: During the past few days the Secretary-General appointed high officials at high posts. Were there any shortlists examined before these appointments? And also, I understand that there are proposals to do away with the written examination at the entry level for recruitment. Is this correct, and what would be the implication of that?
Spokesperson: On the second, I would have to find out about that. I do not know. On the first, on the selection of high officials, the Secretary-General always does this in consultation with senior advisers, looking at a range of people.
So, other questions?
Correspondent: What he asked about is called the National Competitive Exam, but there is a similar reports that the G-to-P…
Spokesperson: I know what the exam is, but I just do not know about the change.
Question: Can you also ask about G-to-P, because Ms. [Angela] Kane has said that both of them would be reinstituted in 2010, I think by this time, but it does not seem to have taken place? So, G-to-P as well.
Just now at the stakeout, Terje Roed-Larsen was asked how much time he spends on the post for Lebanon and what safeguards, if any, are in place to make sure that his outside engagements do not overlap or in any way appear to conflict with his UN role. He said there are clear rules and he abides by them. So I just want to know what the rules are, because I was not actually aware. I know that he does not disclose his personal financial disclosure to the UN. Maybe you know or maybe you can point me at some later date to what the UN’s rules are to ensure -- as is the case with Mr. [Alexander] Downer -- that these part-time envoys or SRSGs [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] do not in fact have a conflict or an appearance of conflict between their work and their UN work? Tony Blair, as well, would be the question.
Spokesperson: I have heard the question.
Question: I was just at the stakeout and the Security Council President indicated about UN resolution 1860 (2009) about Gaza and about the humanitarian aid getting in. The Security Council looks to the Secretary-General to monitor that and to report. Has the Secretary-General asked the Security Council to have that on their agenda? Because it seems a rather unusual situation, contrary to the Charter that the Security Council is looking to the Secretary-General to enforce a resolution, rather than the Secretary-General having the right to put on the agenda -- as he has under the Charter -- an item and therefore having the Security Council actually take up UN resolution 1860 (2009).
It almost seemed like some of the new members may not even be aware that the Security Council is supposed to continue to be seized of the matter. And if they are not, it would seem that could go to the General Assembly. So could you ask the Secretary-General for some clarification with regard to that?
Spokesperson: It sounds like you should be asking the President of the Security Council for clarification.
Correspondent: I did, and he told me to go to the Secretary-General. So I found that a bit unusual and that is why I am asking it here.
Spokesperson: Look, it is not for me to get stuck between the Secretary-General and the Security Council President. That is what it feels like. What I can say is that the Secretary-General regularly reports to the Security Council on what is happening in the Middle East, and regularly reports to you -- through me or directly -- on what he is doing. For example, by making phone calls or meeting senior officials from the region.
As you also know, the Secretary-General visited the region, including Gaza, and reported in detail to the Security Council, and that information was also made public. He is clearly on the record repeatedly and often talking about the humanitarian crisis that we have in Gaza, and the need for there to be movement and much more to be done on allowing supplies in.
We can, of course, look into the rules and regulations that you are pointing to, but I just want to make it clear that the Secretary-General does report clearly and regularly on what is happening in the region.
Question: What I understand from the Charter, though, is that the Secretary-General also is able to ask the Security Council to put something on their agenda. That is his right under the Charter. So I wondered what his thought is about that because it has not been put on the agenda for quite a while.
When I have asked the Presidents, they say nobody in the Security Council requested it to be put on the agenda. Yet it was mentioned by a number of delegates in the Middle East debate and yet nothing was done about it. They mentioned 1860 (2009) -- which it was good to hear them mention it -- but perhaps this is an appropriate time for the Secretary-General to consider whether he has that right to put it on the agenda and whether that could be helpful.
Spokesperson: It is helpful that you mention it and we will take it up. Thank you very much.
I see that we now have our guest, Ambassador Cabactulan of the Philippines, so I will ask him to join us. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record