|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. Thank you all for sticking around for this briefing.
In their first meeting during July, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month. Ambassador Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, the Council President for July, will talk to you about the programme of work in a briefing just after this one in this room. So I will hurry up my part and they would be with us very fairly shortly.
**Statement on Pakistan
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan:
The Secretary-General strongly condemns the suicide attack at the Data Ganj Baksh shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, which has reportedly claimed the lives of several dozen people and left many more injured. The deliberate targeting of a crowded place of worship makes this particularly vicious. The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan.
**Statement on Nepal
In a statement we issued after the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Secretary-General encouraged all parties in Nepal to intensify their efforts towards the formation of a consensus Government that would prioritize the implementation of all peace process commitments. The Secretary-General also urges speedy progress on the issue of the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel.
**Statement on Somalia
We also issued a statement yesterday on the fiftieth anniversary of Somalia’s independence, in which the Secretary-General commended the courage of the people of Somalia and reaffirmed that the United Nations will continue to support them to overcome the serious challenges they face and to achieve their dream of living in peace, stability, and prosperity.
The Secretary-General invites all Somalis to reflect back on that founding moment in their history when the people of Somalia looked to the future of their nation with pride and great expectation. It is that vision of a united, strong and prosperous Somali nation that should direct the present and future.
Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with the Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, today, and they discussed Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). The Secretary-General’s latest report on that resolution was released to the Security Council last night.
Williams told Berri that he was concerned about incidents that occurred in south Lebanon earlier in the week. The UN Interim Force’s (UNIFIL) freedom of movement was violated and UN troop-contributing countries are quite concerned. Williams insisted that the freedom of movement of UNIFIL must be fully respected. Speaker Berri and Williams agreed that we should work hard to prevent any recurrence of the problems of the past week and that all parties must be involved in trying to defuse these tensions. And we have his remarks in the Spokesperson’s office.
** Western Sahara
Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, has visited the capitals of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara over the past weeks, to consult on the best means to advance the negotiations toward a mutually acceptable settlement and to solicit their concrete advice and renewed support in this regard. He has visited London, Paris and Madrid, is continuing to Washington, D.C., and will visit Moscow at a later date.
Ross said that his meetings have been very useful, reflecting a fresh interest in moving beyond the status quo and finding a solution.
The members of the Group of Friends with whom he has met to date have all expressed a readiness to work with him and the parties to ensure the success of future negotiations through substantive engagement. He has also found unanimous agreement on the need to intensify work on confidence-building measures, including the resumption of family visits by air, the early inauguration of family visits by road, and rapid consideration of other confidence-building measures that UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] has proposed.
Speaking of UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has wrapped up his visit to Kyrgyzstan, ending it with a call for support for the country’s reconciliation efforts. Guterres had been in the country’s south yesterday, where he met returned refugees and victims of conflict in the city of Jalalabad, before returning to the capital, Bishkek.
Many of those he spoke with appealed for better security, noting that they felt unsafe and feared allowing their children outside. Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek, Guterres said it was important that calm prevailed so that reconciliation efforts could gain ground, and he pledged the UN refugee agency’s support in providing effective humanitarian aid, distributed in a non-discriminatory manner.
Guterres also met again with President Rosa Otunbayeva on Thursday. He later said he was encouraged by her strong commitment to reconciliation.
And we have more on this in our office.
The UN refugee agency also says that, despite the continuing deterioration in Somalia, the latest data shows that the flow of refugees into most neighbouring countries has decreased considerably, compared to the same time period last year.
However, UNHCR says that the reasons for this drop are not safer or more stable circumstances. In fact, the situation is worsening and everyday violence and human rights abuses continue to displace thousands of civilians.
The agency estimates that more than 200,000 Somalis have been forced to leave their homes this year alone, with most becoming displaced internally. And there is more information from UNHCR.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up operations in drought-hit Niger in the light of a shocking new Government survey which shows malnutrition rates among young children at emergency levels.
And we have more on this in a press release from WFP and online.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We’ll also have available for you at the Spokesperson’s Office “The Week Ahead at the UN”.
Just to let you know that on Sunday, 4 July, the Secretary-General will attend the thirty-first Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which is beginning that day in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
On Monday, 5 July, the UN Headquarters in New York will be closed in observance of the United States Independence Day holiday. We of course won’t have any briefing that day and the briefings will resume on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, 6 July, the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, will visit the UN Headquarters in New York, where she will address the General Assembly.
And the Secretary-General will also attend the evening screening of No Woman, No Cry and take part in a panel discussion with Ms. Christy Turlington Burns and others, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
On Wednesday, the Security Council will hold an open debate on the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict. And John Holmes is to brief the Council. But you’ll also hear more about the Council’s programme of work, like I said, once I am done, when Ambassador Joy Ogwu of Nigeria will brief you.
Anything for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, a few things. One, there has been a very strong controversy over the investigation about the Cheonan, with many questions and scientists doing experimentation and seeing that what’s been presented as the evidence doesn’t meet their… they’re looking into the matter. And also there has been, even the South Korean Government has admitted that, for example, the torpedo drawing they showed is not… that had to do with a brochure supposedly. My question is two. One, is the Secretary-General aware of this controversy? Is he following it, because he early on seemed to endorse the South Korean Government’s investigation? And two, that there have been documents submitted both to the Security Council and to the Secretary-General by non-governmental organizations, by scientists, by individuals and supposedly the Security Council has a provision for the documents they get to have them on a list, to circulate the list. And so, does the Secretariat have somebody who deals with this list, and I’d like to know who, and I would like to know if the Secretary-General is also dealing with these documents that the Secretary-General has received, and if he’s looking into them?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as that goes, the Secretary-General has been monitoring all of the developments since the sinking of the Cheonan, and has been trying to gather as much information as possible. Your questions about the documents going to the Security Council, I would leave for the President of the Security Council, who is in fact going to be briefing you in just a few minutes from now. But certainly, we have been monitoring developments as much as we can. We don’t have anything further to say on any of that.
Question: But there is something called S/NC, which is an official symbol, and that’s something the Secretariat is involved in.
Associate Spokesperson: The documentation of the Security Council is handled by the membership of the Security Council. Again, I would wait for the Security Council President, who would be much more authoritative than I am in addressing questions that go to the Council.
Question: On Kosovo and Sri Lanka. In Kosovo, northern Kosovo, there is reportedly a bombing of an opening by the Kosovo authorities in Mitrovica, which has injured at least 11, it’s a little unclear. What I am wondering is whether UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] had any role in either providing security there, or if it has any comment on this bombing in a tense region under which it has a peacekeeping mission.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, we’re aware of this reported attack near Mitrovica. We have asked UNMIK for some details. I don’t have anything to give you on that just at this stage. Also, by the way, on Kosovo, the Security Council, I believe, will be taking up that matter in a meeting next week. I think, again, the Council President will have the programme of work to talk to you about.
[The Associate Spokesperson later added that the United Nations condemns the violence, which led to the loss of life and supports all efforts to find those responsible for the explosion. In addition, UNMIK and its office in Mitrovica will remain engaged with all communities to encourage pragmatic dialogue and help address their concerns.]
Question: And I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka, if I could. You’d said earlier in the week there was this idea, this quote by Wemal Weerawansa, that the UN House there should be surrounded and staff kept in until Mr. Ban cancels the panel and whatnot. You’d said that you were checking to see whether he was somehow misquoted. Were you able to determine whether this minister was misquoted? And can you explain how a minister can make, if he is not misquoted, make such a statement and you characterize it as an individual statement when the person is still a Government official?
Associate Spokesperson: Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the Government has assured us that these views did not reflect the policy of the Government. Certainly there have been also no crowds outside of the UN House, which is a relief. Beyond that, we have received some indications that an apology might be in order, and we’ll see whether there is any sort of clarification or apology coming from the Government. I’ll let you know if something like that comes through.
Question: Farhan, I was just wondering whether the visit by Mr. Ross to the Friends of Sahara was a secret visit, because it was not announced in advance. I mean, I think two days ago we asked about any developments, and we were told of no developments at all.
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, no, it’s not a secret visit, this was a public announcement we just made right now. We just got the information, and made it public.
Question: But we asked two days ago whether there were any developments concerning the Western Sahara and we were not even told that Mr. Ross was conducting a tour of the Friends of the Western Sahara. That was only the day before yesterday.
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as far as that goes, as soon as we got the information we’ve put it out. We got it just now while he was there.
Question: But when did he start the visit, and when is the next visit to Moscow?
Associate Spokesperson: The visit started, I believe just two weeks ago. I think it was started on 22 June. So, it’s been about two weeks worth of travel. Yes.
[The Associate Spokesperson later clarified that the trip began on 21 June.]
Question: The question is, on 28 June, Mr. Ban Ki-moon said that he was trying to get in contact with Mr. [Bill] Clinton regarding the International Commission’s relief efforts and an update on the status quo of the aid, the pledged money and all that. Do you know if they spoke?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware. The Secretary-General is back in New York right now. He only just got back in the last few hours, so I am not aware of whether he has been able to contact President Clinton. But I’ll certainly check.
Question: Will you mark the anniversary?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, yes, we’ll have some events to mark the six-month anniversary of the earthquake. I’ll have some more details for you as they proceed. But certainly, among other things, we do expect that the Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, will be in Haiti for that occasion and we do expect to schedule a number of things to mark the six-month anniversary of the earthquake.
Question: There is a report from Mogadishu that the UN-supported Transitional Federal Government (TFG) bombed a press conference, leaving eight journalists wounded or killed. The Somali Journalists Association has protested this, and I am just wondering whether either Mr. [Augustine] Mahiga, if he’s already on the job, or the UN is aware — one, can confirm, and, two, has any comment on the targeting of journalists in Somalia by the TFG?
Associate Spokesperson: I certainly don’t have any confirmation of that at this time. We need to get details about what precisely happened. You’re certainly aware of what we’ve been saying about Somalia in recent days from both the UNHCR standpoint and the Secretary-General’s statement that I just read out. But we don’t have anything about this particular incident.
Question: Has Mr. Mahiga taken over as Special Representative of the Secretary-General? When does he take over?
Associate Spokesperson: I would need to check that, but I believe that Mr. [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah gave his farewell address to the people of Somalia just a few days ago. So, yes, Mr. Mahiga should be coming into office fairly soon.
Question: And can I ask about Kyrgyzstan? The French Minister for Human Rights, Mr. [inaudible], has said that he believes that what happened in southern Kyrgyzstan was a crime against humanity and should be investigated. I just wonder, obviously the Secretary-General has various forms of inquiries and proposals for inquiries outstanding. What’s the UN’s actual estimate of how many people were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan? And also, is there a move by the Secretariat to do anything beyond that in what seems to be at least 200, maybe, Rosa Otunbayeva has said 2,000 killings that were part of ethnic cleansing? What’s the UN’s follow-through on that?
Associate Spokesperson: In terms of our follow-through, we’ve been detailing what we’ve been doing both at the humanitarian level through efforts of UNHCR, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and various others, and at the diplomatic level through the efforts, among others, of Mr. Miroslav Jenča. And that work on the ground is going on and we’re trying to do what we can to bring the communities of Kyrgyzstan together again, and to encourage community solidarity. As for the death toll — no, we, the UN, do not have any death toll of our own that we would confirm.
Question: What I want to say is it seems like in many of these conflicts the UN says all these things are all to the good, about building solidarity or humanitarian response, but this word like “accountability” has been used in a number of contexts by the Secretariat. Is there any thought of, whatever the number is, accountability for what took place? Whether it’s through Mr. Jenča’s office or through the Secretariat, or is that not a part of the follow-through?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything specific to say about that at this point. Obviously, this is something that we would study. The needs on the ground at this stage are very great, and we’ve been focusing primarily on the needs of all the people who have been displaced by the fighting that occurred. In terms of the initial incidents, I believe my colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have already made some remarks about this. Whether there will be any further investigation, some of that will depend on the attitudes of the parties on the ground. And of course, this will also be something that we ourselves will continue to look into, to see whether anything further is needed. But certainly I don’t have anything at this stage to say about it, beyond what we’ve said.
Question: Can I ask two questions? One, about the experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: I thought there was some, there was an announcement that there was someone appointed with regard to the Goldstone Report, and I think that the update on the report from the Secretary-General to the General Assembly about what’s happening with the investigations on the Goldstone Report is to come up. Do you know, will those experts be involved in that report, or will the Secretary-General be making them?
Associate Spokesperson: No, the experts who are dealing with the Human Rights Council are dealing with the Human Rights Council’s follow-up to the Goldstone recommendations. So, they were named for that. They’re separate, apart from the Secretary-General’s efforts, which, as with his previous efforts, will involve complying with the request by the General Assembly for information on how the various parties — Israel, the Palestinian side as well as, I believe, Switzerland — have followed up.
Question: There is another piece, different question. On 18 June the Secretary-General told me he would get back to me about the issue that a non-governmental organization had been, was being investigated by the prosecutor…
Associate Spokesperson: I am aware of the lengthy question that you asked.
Question: Okay, the question is that it’s a normal procedure with many lists, over 450 lists since 1946, about different things being sent to the Security Council, and I wondered does the Secretary-General have some comment about the fact that it seems in South Korea, this is being said to be very unusual and maybe criminal, whereas at the UN, this is a standard procedure, has gone on over many years and is a norm. Does the Secretary-General have any view on this issue?
Associate Spokesperson: No, I don’t have any comment for you on this today.
Question: I just want to go back to the Goldstone; can you just explain to us what the Secretary-General will do next week? Are we assuming next week…?
Associate Spokesperson: I think it will be fairly similar in terms of the format of the response to the way we’ve responded to this request, to the previous request by the General Assembly. You’ve seen our previous update, and this is a further update.
Question: Is this where the Secretary-General’s role stands at, saying, “I did not get a request from the Brazilians, I did not get a request from the Israelis and just give me another three months”?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, it depends on the nature of the response, but ultimately what he is trying to do is share with the General Assembly the information he receives from the relevant parties.
Question: What if he doesn’t get any information?
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but at this stage, the idea is that he will share whatever the relevant information is.
Question: What’s happening with the delivery of, what was delivered, what was brought, that Israel took from the ships? Is that being delivered to Gaza by the…?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, yes, I don’t know whether I mentioned this to you, but yes, in fact, the first aid on board the Turkish flotilla did get into Gaza about, I believe, two days ago, and we will continue with our efforts to bring further aid from the flotillas into Gaza in the coming weeks.
Question: Is there some list of what’s being delivered, so that the people who brought the aid can see what is actually getting delivered into Gaza?
Associate Spokesperson: A number of UN offices are involved in trying to get the aid that had been on the boats into Gaza, and certainly we’re keeping track of what goes in.
And with that, I wish all a happy three-day weekend. And just in the next few minutes if you stay in this room, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, will be here to talk to you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record