|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.
The Secretary-General addressed the open debate of the Security Council on civilians and armed conflict this morning, telling them that the wilful targeting of civilians, disproportionate attacks, sexual violence, forced displacement and the denial of humanitarian access remain widespread in armed conflict. He said that ongoing or recent events and conditions in Kyrgyzstan, Gaza, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere remind us that the protection of civilians remains a huge common challenge. The Secretary-General identified key challenges, including designing peacekeeping mandates to increase the emphasis on the protection of civilians, increased compliance by non-State armed groups with international law, and accountability.
Discussing accountability, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the Council that, among the most significant actions it has taken to protect civilians is the establishment of commissions of inquiry. And she discussed countries where protection of civilians has been a particular concern.
And Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes pointed to problems regarding constraints on humanitarian access, including in parts of Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We have all those statements in the Spokesperson’s Office, and there are some 40 speakers inscribed in all.
** Sri Lanka
On Sri Lanka, following yesterday’s protests outside UN offices in Colombo which prevented staff and visitors from entering or leaving the premises, the United Nations country team confirms that essential staff will return to normal work starting tomorrow.
However, as there are some indications of demonstrators remaining outside the compound, the country team will assess whether all staff could return soon. We are continuing to closely monitor developments on the ground. We trust that the Government of Sri Lanka will honour the commitments made in ensuring the safety and security of our staff so that they can continue the vital work being carried out by the United Nations each day to help the people of Sri Lanka.
The Secretary-General will meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and we’ll try to get a readout.
Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the further measures announced by the Government of Israel in increasing the scope and quantity of materials entering the Gaza Strip from Israel, and also noted the agreement to facilitate the immediate start of construction of 12 United Nations education and health facilities. The Secretary-General has long called for a significant shift in strategy towards meeting the great needs of Gaza’s population. Further steps must now follow to meet those needs and to allow the United Nations to accelerate and expand its efforts. That full statement is online.
The Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, today chaired a tripartite meeting with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defence Forces at the UN position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing.
During the meeting, all the issues relevant to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) were discussed, including the situation along the line of withdrawal, or Blue Line, the ongoing visible marking of the Blue Line and the question of the village of Ghajar.
Also today, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr, and they agreed that the excellent cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces over the past four years has been the backbone of the stability that has prevailed in south Lebanon. This cooperation, they believe, must be maintained and enhanced. And there is more information in a press release.
On Darfur, a peace agreement is expected to be signed between the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement when the parties meet in Doha on 15 July, according to the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID). An adviser to President Omar al-Bashir made the announcement yesterday in Khartoum after meeting with the Joint UN-AU Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé.
Speaking to reporters after that meeting, Bassolé welcomed the parties’ decision to involve representatives of internally displaced persons, refugees and civil society in the talks. Darfur civil society groups are expected to meet on 12 July at a consultative forum in Doha.
Bassolé also said that he urged the Government to take all possible measures to restore confidence and reduce tensions in Darfur, including seeking an end to all armed hostilities with all armed groups.
**Press Conferences Today
Later this afternoon, at 1 p.m. here in the Library Auditorium, Morten Wetland, the Permanent Representative of Norway; Assane Diop, the International Labour Organization’s Executive Director of Social Protection; and Carlos Acevedo Flores, the President of the Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador, will hold a briefing on the Global Jobs Pact, created to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals amidst the financial and economic crisis.
The briefing will be held following a round table at the substantive session of ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Council.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Then tomorrow at 1 p.m., also in the Library Auditorium, Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, will announce the appointment of a new UN Goodwill Ambassador on Biodiversity.
That’s it from me.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the Secretary-General intend to speak to the Prime Minister Netanyahu about the incident of the flotilla, and will he press on him to accept the international investigation commission?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as that goes, as you know, with all of his interlocutors, the Secretary-General has continued to discuss the proposal that he has made for an international investigation into the 31 May incident, and he expects to do so again. We’ll try and provide a full readout, however, once the meeting has taken place.
Question: A follow-up on that, please, and I have another question on Lebanon. But you keep on telling us that the SG’s proposal remains on the table. Can you explain to us what that means, that it is on the table? I mean, it’s been on the table for a while…
Associate Spokesperson: Indeed it has, and he continues to discuss with various interlocutors, trying to get their positive response to his proposals. He certainly believes that this is the best way forward in resolving this issue, so he is continuing with those efforts. At this stage we continue to await a positive response from all the parties.
Question: When is it going to be moved from the table to the table next door?
Associate Spokesperson: That’s an interesting metaphor.
Question: What’s the next step, after being on the table for a while?
Associate Spokesperson: I think the next step depends upon acceptance by the parties.
Question: Okay. If I might just move to south Lebanon, please. Any reaction from the SG himself to the developments that are happening in south Lebanon itself, and the reported request by the French for a special meeting for the Security Council to discuss this matter?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any response to any request for a Security Council meeting. That’s, of course, a matter for the presidency of the Security Council. The Secretary-General did send late last week to the Security Council his latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), and included some information about the recent incidents. And, as you know, Michael Williams is on the ground and he’s been following up. I just mentioned his meeting with the Defence Minister. And we have a press release with some more details on that.
Question: Just one last question, please. Did you here at the UN have a feeling that the problems in south Lebanon recently with UNIFIL are more related to the French units rather than the UNIFIL in general, and this might be a French problem, basically?
Associate Spokesperson: Michael Williams has made it clear that — and also our report has made it clear — that this is just a problem that’s affected a small number of local communities. We’re certainly in contact — UNIFIL has been in contact with people at the community level to try and resolve these differences. But Michael Williams has also indicated that in some areas this was not a spontaneous effort.
Question: That doesn’t answer the question of whether it’s a French problem; this is now my question: is this a problem related only to the French units, and that’s why France is making a big issue out it?
Associate Spokesperson: We see this as a problem arising with certain local communities, which is why UNIFIL is trying to step up communications efforts there.
Question: Sure, Farhan. [inaudible] further on Sri Lanka. So, you can confirm that today the UN House in Colombo is not open to staff? What percentage of staff has been kept at home, until Wednesday?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, no. There some staff who have been able to go in. Not all staff have been at work today. That was just following yesterday’s incident, some staff were working from home today. However, there have been some staff at work today, and we do expect a larger number back at work tomorrow. Basically, there is about  staff in the compound on a normal day. And in this case, we expect that the essential staff, which is about a quarter of that amount, about [40 to 50] staff, would be there on the ground as it is.
Question: What I wanted to ask is that the Government minister who has been leading the protest, Wimal Weerawansa, has been quoted by BBC as saying: “If the panel is not disbanded, we will make our protest more serious. We will take more serious action in this way.” Given that he is a Government minister and having blocked staff in, he is now saying it becomes more serious. What does the UN make of this statement?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as that goes, first of all, we have announced the panel. The panel has been created and they will go about their work. So, that’s clear.
Secondly, we’ve had a number of meetings at a high-level with the Sri Lankan Government, trying to get their assurances. The Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, met with the Permanent Representative yesterday, who gave full and clear assurances of UN staff safety and security.
And as for Mr. Wimal Weerawansa, we notice that he himself said in a press conference that UN staff would be allowed to move in and out of the compound. And we trust that that assurance will be kept.
Question: Were you able to confirm that, as Reuters reported, that Mr. Weerawansa called Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, and got the police to allow the blockage to continue?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have a confirmation on that, no.
Question: Finally, he’s also been quoted in the press conference today as saying a UN representative bribed the police. Any response to that?
Associate Spokesperson: I would deny any such action.
Question: Is it true that UNIFIL met with representatives of Hizbullah in southern Lebanon in order to solve those incidents and those problems with the civilians?
Associate Spokesperson: All I can say on that is that UNIFIL has been working with local communities on the ground, and so they’ve been working with people at the local level trying to make sure that they can prevent any further incidents. And also to achieve a better understanding of when UNIFIL’s operations on the ground have been.
Question: Yes, Farhan. Is the Secretary-General aware of the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir where the Indian army has moved in after 15 people were killed in riots yesterday?
Associate Spokesperson: We’re certainly aware of the media reports concerning this, and so we’ve been informed about this. There is no comment on this, however.
Question: But there is no comment or reaction or anything?
Associate Spokesperson: There is no comment, no.
Question: I want to ask you about Sudan, if it’s possible. There are two either separate or related things. One is Amnesty International and others have talked about a crackdown on the press. Three newspapers have been closed in Khartoum, and youth, with this Girifna, have been arrested by the Government, all for purportedly supporting separation or the referendum for the south to break away. Does the UN, I heard your statement of Mr. Bassolé, but what does either Mr. [Haile] Menkerios or the UN say about the north-south issue? And it’s related to that or not related to that, are reports that recent killings in Abyei are intended to drive the Dinka people out so that the vote would go Khartoum’s way. Is there any, what’s the UN doing on the north-south front rather than the Darfur front?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, certainly the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is working very clearly with all the parties trying to ensure calm on the north-south front. I don’t have anything in particular to say about the situation in Abyei right now. As for the crackdown on the press, these allegations we’ll check first and foremost with our Human Rights and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] colleagues whether they have anything to say on that.
Question: A follow-up on Kashmir. Is UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] reporting this incident?
Associate Spokesperson: We get daily information from UNMOGIP about the situation on the border, so, yes, we do get information there. The situation, sorry, at the Line of Control; I stand corrected.
All right, and with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record