|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.
The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council this morning in closed consultations to discuss his visit to Afghanistan earlier this week, in which he co-chaired in the Kabul Conference that took place on Tuesday. That meeting, he said, marked the official launch of the Kabul process, which will see a transition to greater Afghan responsibility and ownership, in both security and civilian areas.
We know this process will be long and challenging, the Secretary-General told the Council. The Conference took important decisions, which will help get the transition process off to a good start.
The Secretary-General said that he was encouraged by the outcome of the conference. But he added that words must be followed up with deeds — by the Afghan authorities and by the international community. He said: “We can only move from vision to action with greater resolve and more goodwill and hard work”.
The Council President, Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu of Nigeria, said in a press statement after consultations ended that the members of the Security Council welcomed the Kabul Conference communiqué, which recognized the conference as an important milestone in the Kabul process. Council members welcomed the commitments made by the Afghan Government and looked forward to their timely implementation.
Council members also acknowledged the intention of the Afghan Government to engage with Council members and the international community in a transparent process of de-listing individuals from the Consolidated List under Security Council resolution 1267 (1999). They expressed their support for the leadership shown by Staffan de Mistura and the staff of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA).
The President of the United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed three pre-eminent experts to an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate legal aspects of the 31 May flotilla incident. The experts are Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Desmond de Silva of the United Kingdom, and Mary Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia.
The Human Rights Council decided on 2 June to establish this independent international fact-finding mission. The Council had previously held an urgent debate on the raid on the flotilla incident.
The experts will now define their plan of action and make contact with all relevant parties prior to travelling to the region. They are expected to report on their findings to the Human Rights Council at its fifteenth session this September.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
They said they hoped that more people displaced by years of conflict in the eastern region of the country would soon find the security they need to return to their homes and re-start farming their land.
Josette Sheeran and António Guterres said that, for this to happen, protection needed to be both a national and international priority.
WFP and UNHCR are supporting populations that have been forced from their land and villages by fighting, as well as preparing them for a better future if peace and stability endures. And we have a press release on this available.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is alarmed that the treatment of uprooted Somali civilians has deteriorated, both inside Somalia and in the surrounding region. Against the background of recent terrorist attacks, the Agency pointed to growing numbers of incidents of xenophobia, round-ups and deportations of displaced Somalis.
UNHCR says it is receiving frequent reports of verbal and physical harassment in communities, as well as arrests, arbitrary detention, extortion and even push-backs of Somali refugees. It is particularly worried by the action by the local authorities of Somalia's Puntland region in pushing back more than 900 internally displaced people (IDPs) to conflict-stricken central Somalia this past Tuesday and Wednesday. There are more details in UNHCR’s briefing notes.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that the situation in northern Yemen remains volatile, more than five months into a ceasefire between the Yemeni Government and Al-Houthi forces.
The agency estimates that, so far, only around 14,000 internally displaced people have returned to their areas of origin out of Yemen's displaced population of more than 324,000. Many fear retaliation or have no place to return to, due to the destruction of houses and infrastructure. There are more details, again, in UNHCR’s briefing notes.
**The Week Ahead
Just one item from the week ahead: at the noon briefing next Friday, that’s 30 July, Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary General for the Department of Field Support, will be the guest. Questions, please?
Questions and Answers
Question: When was the last time that Mr. Secretary-General had an interview, if I put it like that, with a media news outlet from the Third World, or even the Balkans or South-Eastern Europe?
Spokesperson: I can tell you he had an interview in a number of places on his recent trip to Africa, and as you well know, he receives many requests for interviews and they are looked at carefully. Timing is quite often important, so requests that have been made, like the one you have made, remain under constant review.
Question: If I may follow up, what would be the main criteria for one to get an interview with the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: You apply and then we will look at it. As I said, there are many requests for interviews, from all over the world, from the press, from radio, from television — many, many requests.
Question: How do you judge it, indeed?
Spokesperson: I think this is rather a technical point, and we look at all applications and requests carefully. Ultimately we need to apportion, make the best use of the Secretary-General’s time to be available for journalists at a time which may be coinciding with a visit, in advance of a visit, ahead of a major conference, for example, ahead of a major known plan, development. Those are the kinds of factors we take into account.
Question: What’s the Secretary-General’s response regarding the Israeli letter on a new flotilla going from Lebanon to Gaza? And, are you aware that there is again another flotilla that is going from the United States? There are preparations under way now, to send a flotilla from the United States.
Spokesperson: We’ve repeatedly said, and the Secretary-General has personally said, that it’s important that, particularly right now, when proximity talks are going on and we’re seeking to advance that process to direct talks, any actions which might provoke an adverse reaction and affect those talks, and affect security in the wider region, need to be avoided. There are established routes for supplies to enter by land and the Secretary-General and others, not least from UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], have made it clear that this is the way aid should be delivered to the people of Gaza who undoubtedly, urgently need it.
Question: Follow-up on that. You still consider that the blockade is illegal against international law?
Spokesperson: As you know, the key point is to ensure that aid reaches the people who need it. And that can be done through established channels. That’s precisely why, as I’ve just said, we would prefer not to see people try to deliver aid by sea when there is an established mechanism to deliver aid.
Question: [Resolution] 1860 (2009) states very clearly that the blockade should be lifted, and this was over a year and a half ago.
Spokesperson: We’ve consistently said that there has been progress in allowing supplies in, since the Israeli Government provided a new methodology of listing items which are prohibited, rather than listing items which are allowed in. We, the United Nations, believe this is a good step. There has been progress in increasing the amount of aid, but it’s far from enough. There needs to be more, and we continue to call for that.
Question: I have a follow-up to that. That means you are not further pursuing to implement 1860 (2006) in full.
Spokesperson: First of all, that is a Security Council resolution; the Security Council, I’m sure, keeps a very close eye on that. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, we’ve repeatedly said, that it’s vital that there should be unfettered access for people and supplies to Gaza.
Question: I asked a few days ago about IHH. Some countries are putting this organization [on] a terrorist list. How does the United Nations think about it?
Spokesperson: I told you I didn’t have a comment and that remains the case.
Question: Would you call on the people in Lebanon, who are preparing this flotilla, and the people in the United States, to restrain, not to go directly by sea to Gaza?
Spokesperson: Our stated preference has been, and remains, that aid should be delivered by established routes, particularly at a sensitive time in proximity talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
Question: Do you have any comments on the talks between UN officials and Pyongyang? Does the Secretary-General have any expectations or hopes?
Spokesperson: Let’s be very clear. The UN Command does not involve UN officials. This is the American-led UN Command; it doesn’t involve UN officials as such. That’s the first point. Clearly the Secretary-General has made quite a number of comments about the Cheonan incident, and he has also said, in that context, that the most important thing is to ensure security, stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and that efforts to that end are crucial.
Question: Back to the flotilla. Will the Secretary-General push ahead with the appointment of a panel of inquiry, despite the appointment of a panel by the UN Human Rights Council?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the Secretary-General hopes the Human Rights Council fact-finding mission will enjoy the full cooperation from all concerned so that it can make a positive contribution. But at the same time, the Secretary-General’s discussions continue with all relevant parties on his proposal for an international panel. And his proposal, as I’ve said before, is still on the table. That’s important.
Question: A follow-up on North Korea, on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This statement by them that they will make a “physical response” to the military manoeuvre scheduled by the United States and South Korea. Does the Secretary-General… what does he think of that, and is he monitoring it closely?
Spokesperson: Certainly the Secretary-General is aware of that statement and he keeps a close eye on this topic, as he does on many others. As I was just mentioning, stability in that part of the world is crucial. It’s a heavily militarized part of the world. And it’s important that any provocative actions are avoided to ensure that there should be peace and security in the region.
Question: Are the military manoeuvres provocative? Or is only the North Korean statement provocative?
Spokesperson: The military manoeuvres are a normal military exercise. I’m just saying that comments that could escalate further the tensions should be carefully calibrated.
Question: I was going to ask on Myanmar, but something new first, Suriname. There’s been an election of Mr. [Desi] Bouterse, a former coup leader, also convicted for cocaine smuggling in the Netherlands, given an 11-year sentence, now just elected President of Suriname. The UN doesn’t seem to do that much in terms in Latin America and the Caribbean, but is there any response to this? Has the Secretary-General written a congratulatory letter? Is he concerned with a convicted drug smuggler being now the President of Suriname?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, I would take strong issue with your comment that we don’t do much in Latin America and the Caribbean. That is evidently not the case. We have a large mission in Haiti, we do an awful lot of work there, as you well know; people lost their lives there working for…
Question: Really, I misidentified the region. I’m just wondering: has there been any response to this election in Suriname?
Spokesperson: Plus, also, we have a large office with staff looking at the broader Latin America and Caribbean region, as you know, based in Santiago. So that’s the first point. The second is that this is an internal matter for Suriname, so I don’t have any comment on that.
Question: Yesterday, during the response by Ms. [Angela] Kane and [Catherine] Pollard, they declined to say, to respond to this part of the [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius memo that said — it is only one country among many but it was the first one listed, Myanmar — and the senior UN official who spoke later, for some reason, declined also to discuss it. I guess I want to ask you, what have been the accomplishments of the good offices mandate since Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari let it go, and another official took it over. What has been done? There has been an ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] meeting, various countries have spoken about the election. Has the UN made any comment? What’s the UN doing on Myanmar?
Spokesperson: We’ve made comments in answer to you and to others, and I said just to you the other day that there are important elements here; the need for transparent and inclusive elections, that’s absolutely critical. There is also the need for political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, to be released unconditionally and quickly. And we continue to work, as I also said to you before; the good offices [team] is not one individual, if you like, it’s people working behind the scenes. Not everything that happens is in the public eye. People work behind the scenes. Sometimes you see those results quickly, sometimes it takes longer. Certainly we’ve been very public about the need for credible elections in Myanmar.
Question: Also in the Ahlenius’ memo, yesterday there was a story in The Guardian quoting Nick Haysom, saying “Nick Haysom blamed the media, saying the Secretary-General was frustrated over being caricatured as invisible, when he has been outspoken, comments that the media has failed to report”. I was a little mystified by this, maybe you can explain this. Do you think this is a widespread feeling in the Secretariat that the media is to blame and that there have been statements that were missing?
Spokesperson: I’m not going to speak for Mr. Haysom, except to say that I know that he made those comments in a conversation with the author of that article last year. He was not questioned about the Ahlenius report; it was speaking last year. I would also point out the interview [with the Secretary-General] that is referred to in that article by Ewen MacAskill was conducted in April. It was not a response to the Ahlenius report. That’s the impression it gives; that’s wrong. And I think that it’s important that that is on the record.
Question: Do you expect the Secretary-General himself to at some point either to take questions or to address it in his own name, on the record, the controversy surrounding the report?
Spokesperson: I read yesterday comments that he made to senior advisers. I was authorized to relay to you those comments. As you well know, at some point the Secretary-General will be meeting with you in a formal setting, not a social setting, and I’m sure at that point if you have questions, he will respond.
Question: One last thing about Afghanistan, because he did the readout to the Council. Before the trip, I asked you if he or his staff, while there, would raise this issue of Louis Maxwell, the DSS [Department of Safety and Security] Officer that was killed by friendly fire last October. Was it raised at all, was there any progress of the Afghans actually investigating who and how it took place? Any accountability for it?
Spokesperson: First of all, I’ll check if it was raised, I don’t know. Secondly, as I’ve repeatedly said, ask the Afghan authorities. They’re the ones who have to follow up.
Question: I guess I’m going to ask you to confirm, within the last month there has been a UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] UN employee, perished in Kabul in a friendly fire incident. I want to ask you to ask UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan]. I’m not sure if asking the Afghan mission is going to get the answer. If you can confirm, a UNOPS contractor.
Spokesperson: Well have you spoken to UNAMA?
Question: No I have not.
Spokesperson: Why not try? Ok, and we’ll see what we can find out as well.
Question: Two questions. I was not yesterday in the briefing, but I watched later on, and if I’m not mistaken, you said the Secretary-General now will report that advisory opinion to the General Assembly. I’m not sure if I’m using the proper word “report”. What [does] he have to do?
Spokesperson: What I said was that the International Court of Justice had delivered its advisory opinion on the question, and you know what that is, and then I said that the Secretary-General will be forwarding the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the Court’s advice and which will determine how to proceed on that matter.
Question: Exactly what does that mean in the form of a letter, in the form of his additional…?
Spokesperson: Not at all, it says what it says. The Secretary-General will be forwarding the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the court’s advice.
Question: When is he going to do that?
Spokesperson: Quite soon, I’d imagine. It may have already been done; I will find out.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General had today forwarded to the General Assembly the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the question “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?]
Question: Just one more of this issue on the criticism, but further from the positive note. When the Secretary-General is travelling, he is known to be a frequent traveller as the head of this Organization, whether he is receiving the direct support from the leaders of the foreign countries for his work, or criticism, and whether he is willing to share that with us.
Spokesperson: What do you mean? I don’t really understand your question.
Question: Do the leaders, when he is meeting with them, giving their support for his work or delivering some kind of criticism, and whether he is going to be able or willing to share that with us?
Spokesperson: When there are bilateral conversations, typically we would not give the full details of all conversations; that is not the way it goes. It’s clear that when any Government leader or leader of an international organization meets other leaders, they will talk about many aspects of the work in a particular country or by an international organization and it’s also obvious that sometimes people do not see eye-to-eye, but that’s what diplomacy is about — is talking to each other and finding areas of common interest and common positions, and working to resolve the differences where they exist. That’s normal diplomatic practice.
Question: Is there a timetable yet to find a replacement to OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services]?
Spokesperson: As I’ve said to you, you can expect an announcement quite soon, and as I’ve said before that means days not weeks. Last question.
Question: Yes, I’d like to close this one out. The spokesman for Kevin Rudd said he was offered a UN post, that, weeks before this meeting took place he was telephoned and offered the post, and that this was in fact discussed at the “courtesy meeting” with Ban Ki-moon. Is that not the case, or why was this not disclosed…?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you at the moment is we have no announcement on any appointment related to Kevin Rudd.
Question: There are articles there saying, how can he have a UN post and also a Government post in Australia?
Spokesperson: You can ask Kevin Rudd that; you don’t expect me to comment on that, I don’t need to comment on that. I’ve seen reports, you’ve seen reports — I can tell you what I can tell you now, which is that we don’t have any announcement to make on an appointment related to Kevin Rudd. End of story.
Question: The only reason I ask is…
Spokesperson: I said it was the end of the story, Matthew. I don’t really have anything further to say.
Question: Was it just a courtesy call or was it a meeting…?
Spokesperson: As I said, it was a courtesy call and we don’t have any announcement on any appointment related to Kevin Rudd. Okay, alright, thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record