2 September 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Secretary-General in Austria


The Secretary-General arrived in Vienna this morning.  He has been holding talks with Austrian officials, including Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. They discussed, among other topics, the Millennium Development Goals, disarmament, the Balkans and peacekeeping. 


The Secretary-General also addressed a conference on fighting corruption.  The event is part of the founding conference for the new International Anti-Corruption Academy, which will open soon.  The Secretary-General visited the academy premises, just outside Vienna.


He will spend Friday with the Austrian President before heading to the Austrian town of Alpbach to address a forum and a Security Council retreat and take part in an annual retreat with senior UN officials.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, announced today that the report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious human right violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1993 and 2003 will be made public on 1 October 2010.


She said, “Following requests, we have decided to give concerned States a further month to comment on the draft, and I have offered to publish any such comments alongside the report itself on 1 October, if they so wish.”


The report describes a total of more than 600 incidents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1993 and 2003 in which tens of thousands of people were killed.  Most of these attacks were directed against non-combatant civilian populations consisting primarily of women and children.  More than 1,280 witnesses were interviewed to corroborate or invalidate alleged violations, including previously undocumented incidents, and more than 1,500 documents were collected and analysed during the two years that it took to research and write the report.


** Somalia


B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, expressed his solidarity with the people of Somalia during a one-day visit to Mogadishu yesterday.  Pascoe, who was accompanied by the Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, met President Sheikh Sharif and Somali Cabinet Ministers.


He said after the trip, “It is crucial to show the long suffering people of Somalia that the Government can deliver basic services.”


Pascoe also praised the work of African Union forces deployed in Somalia since 2008 and commended the UN for providing them with logistic support.  At the same time, he called for more troops as well as financial and logistical support for the force.


** Sudan


Our Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has opened the first of a number of county referendum bases it is building to support the planned South Sudan referendum.  This first base is located in the Western Equatoria State county of Mundri West.


About a dozen Mission staff, including police advisers, will be deployed at the Mundri West base.  The police advisors will help train South Sudan law enforcement personnel in ensuring public safety during elections.


There’s more on the Mission’s website.


** Lebanon


Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), chaired a tripartite meeting today with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defence Forces.


UNIFIL’s investigation report on the exchange of fire on 3 August was a topic of discussion.  Both parties provided their comments and additional information of relevance for the investigation.  UNIFIL is to study the comments and information provided by the parties and will inform the UN headquarters about the respective positions of the parties.


Asarta Cuevas said after the meeting that the parties clearly put special importance on the Blue Line marking process as a way to avoid misunderstandings and prevent incidents.  He added:  “The discussions today reconfirmed that no party would like to see any escalation.”  We have a press release from UNIFIL with more details.


**Security Council


In its first consultations for this month, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for September this morning.


Immediately after this briefing, at 12:30, Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan of Turkey, the Council President for this month, will brief you in this room on the programme of work.


**Pakistan/Update


The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, says that lifesaving assistance has reached millions of people in need in flood-hit Pakistan — but major constraints hamper operations and make it impossible to deliver aid at the necessary speed.


The major obstacle is the staggering scale of the disaster itself, with 18 million people affected across an area larger than the surface area of England.  That poses enormous challenges for the procurement, handling, and delivery of relief supplies.


OCHA has established five main inter-agency coordination hubs, to ensure that assessments and response plans are devised as effectively as possible in every part of the country.


Efforts are under way to repair damaged infrastructure, and by the World Food Programme and other entities are bringing in more helicopters in the coming days.


In particular, OCHA and its partners are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Pakistan’s south-western province of Balochistan, and are working to step up their activities there.  We have more on this in press releases available from the Spokesperson’s Office.


**Answers


I was asked yesterday whether the High Commissioner for Sudan, Georg Charpentier, shared draft press statements with Sudanese Government officials.  I would like to confirm that the Humanitarian Coordinator works closely with Government officials as he does with opposition groups as well as the humanitarian country team and other partners.  He does consult with a wide range of interlocutors, but I can confirm that he does not submit any press statement to the Government for approval, with the exception of joint press releases on joint initiatives.


**Briefings


Finally, I’d like to inform you that there will be no noon briefing tomorrow, Friday.  Instead, we will update our Highlights page on the Spokesperson’s web site, and put out the events throughout the UN system, as well as The Week Ahead, on that page.


And Monday is an official UN holiday, so Headquarters will be closed and there will be no briefing on that day, either.  The regular noon briefing will resume on Tuesday, 7 September.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow, at 1:00 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Pakistan will hold a press conference to update correspondents on the situation in Pakistan.


Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, will speak to correspondents and he will be accompanied by Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.  That is at 1 p.m.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Regarding the which day?


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  I don’t anticipate any statement.  If there are statements that we need to put out to you we will release them as per normal.


Question:  You mentioned before, if I heard, because I was on my way down, that the Secretary-General in Vienna will touch the Balkan question, the Balkan issues.


Spokesperson:  He discussed this with the Foreign Minister of Austria, that is part of our readout, the meeting with Michael Spindelegger.


Question:  Anything more than that?


Spokesperson:  There is a joint press conference they did after their meeting.  And we will put out the transcript of that fairly shortly.  There are no further details about their discussion on the Balkans, but you can look at the full transcript and we will have that for you shortly.


Question:  [inaudible] does this mean that the final report of the UNIFIL on the incident has not been submitted to the Security Council, in light of these comments that were made today by both sides?


Spokesperson:  If you look at the press release it says this report is being finalized, but right now the parties also have their opportunity to make their own comments about what they have received.  But, the report’s being finalized.  At some point it will go also to the Security Council, but I would refer you to the press release that came out from UNIFIL today.


Question:  The report that was handed to both sides is not the final report?  It will be the final report plus comments that would be submitted to the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  Yes, what they said in the press release is that they are going to receive comments from both the parties and they’ll take that into consideration as they finalize that report.  I just refer you over to the full press release for further information.


Question:  [inaudible] on the Congo, is there a date set for when the deputy head of peacekeeping is to (A) come back and report to the Security Council and (B), are there any updates on the numbers that have been found?  And on the Congo, the larger, long-term report — why a month?  I mean the countries have had it since June to comment on it.


Spokesperson:  Well again, I just point out what Navi Pillay said.  And this is just taken from her press release.  Following requests, she said that they have decided to give concerned States one further month to comment on the draft and what she has offered to them, is that they would then publish any of their comments alongside the report itself on the 1 October if they so wish.  And so that is the purpose of the additional time.  As for your other questions, yes, we put out a press release yesterday afternoon from MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo], copies of which we have available in French in the Spokesperson’s Office, which mention a number of other incidents.  So, we’re already at more than 240 victims of rapes from the amount of further information that we have been able to obtain from the various communities.  But that information continues to trickle in.  As for when Atul Khare will brief that Security Council, that is a matter for the Security Council to schedule, so I will leave that for the President of the Council who will be speaking right after me.


Question:  [inaudible] it said a number of children, but there wasn’t an exact number.  Any idea?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have a precise idea of the number of children.  We are accumulating those figures and we are trying to provide them as they come in.


Question:  On the Congo and the Sudan.  Back on this issue of the 30 July e-mail, [inaudible] and that you were somehow going to act on, I’ve seen it and it’s from an Augustine Rwanda Rugari and it was sent to a variety of people and it definitely says that there was, a rape had already occurred and the same Augustine Rwanda Rugari was informed on 6 August of 22 rapes by the IMC.  I’m just wondering, sort of, I understand that when Mr. Khare comes back, he’ll have some new information.  But just in terms of the UN sort of correcting what was said by Mr. Meece, of what was known when, I guess can you confirm these things that are now, you know, this is the guy and this is what was known when.  What’s your comment?


Spokesperson:  As far that goes, we are aware of the existence of a number of e-mails and we are trying to trace how those e-mails were responded to.  Again, I would refer back to the work that Mr. Khare is doing and he will be looking into this matter, among the many other things he is looking into in terms of our response.  We certainly are aware that there were some e-mails, but the question is what kind of information, what kind of verified information, did MONUSCO have that would prompt them to act.


Question:  Mr. Rwanda Rugari is an OCHA employee in Walikale, and he seemed to know pretty clearly what happened on that day.


Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware there are some e-mails, some of that was based on anecdotal information.  What we have been telling you, and this holds true to this day, is that MONUSCO, when it did patrols in the earlier part of August, did question people about FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] presence and other topics, and at that point, as I believe Mr. Meece made clear last week, there was no confirmation that they were [inaudible] from the locals.  It’s quite possible that those people in those areas had been intimidated.


Question:  It seemed to me pretty clear from that very darkened screen that Mr. Meece said that the first that MONUSCO knew of it, it was 12 August, and it just doesn’t seem to be true anymore.


Spokesperson:  Well, I believe what he is referring to wasn’t in the context of information that was verifiable, as opposed to information.  As you know, in a conflict zone, and this is an area that has been a conflict zone for more than a decade, that there’s often times information about rebel activity or about other types of killings or rapes, but the question is, what solid information do you have to go on.  Mr. Khare is going to look into that and we we’ll see what he has when he reports back.


Question:  I heard that most of the peacekeepers patrolling the villages, did not even speak French, so could not communicate with the villagers.  Is that true?  And how do they communicate?


Spokesperson:  I believe that the peacekeepers, even in areas where they do not speak the local language, are accompanied by interpreters, or try to deal with officials who can then interpret for them.  Part of the larger problem, however, and this is part of the point you are raising, is in the area of Walikale we are talking about people who are dealing about 80, that is eight-zero peacekeepers who are conducting patrols in an area four times the size of Manhattan.  So then the question is how much territory could they cover and were they able to get to the areas where they needed to be, where the relevant information was.  This is something we’re looking into and we’ll see what kind of information we have on that.


Question:  [inaudible] a MONUSCO statement which came out yesterday, it mentioned that helicopters were being dispatched over the area.  Do you have any more details about that — how many, where they’re going and what they’re looking for?


Spokesperson:  Helicopters in which area?


Question:  The MONUSCO statement said that, it was very unclear.  There were no further details.  It said there were helicopters, that they had sent out over the area.  I was wondering what they were looking for?  How many?


Spokesperson:  If we are talking about the Walikale area, certainly they’ve been trying to expand their presence.  There were some further details in the press release that we put out yesterday.  If there’s anything more we will put that out when we get it.  Yes?


Question:  You have 80 peacekeepers for 300 square kilometres and then you have the issue of Mr. Meece saying that the information the UN received on 12 August was the only verifiable information.  So the verifiable information, it seems, from the OCHA offices on 30 July, were not verifiable to Mr. Meece and his colleagues?  Are we working in two different organizations?  Are all these non-UN organizations?


Spokesperson:  No, it’s all one organization.  The question is whether you have an e-mail that indicates that the town of Mpofi may have fallen under the control of the FDLR, is that something that can then be verified by people who are conducting patrols.  And what we’re trying to see, and Khare is there right now to see, is how was the response actually conducted, was it done properly or not.  


Question:  [inaudible] in remarks to the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Vienna today, the Secretary-General said he looks forward to it becoming a fully fledged international organization.  What did he mean by that?  Since it’s already international.


Spokesperson:  I believe he was talking about this academy.  It’s just in the process of being founded over these coming days.  So it’s going to become fully operational in the days ahead.


Question:  Regarding the Congo report, I was wondering if you knew the initial date when this report was supposed to come out.  I was interested in knowing what role did the threats by the Rwandan government of pulling peacekeepers out of Darfur, what role did this play in having such a late date?


Spokesperson:  I just refer you back to the comments that Ms. Pillay made where she pointed out that, further to the requests that they received, they thought it would be good to give more time for different parties to write their own responses, which can come out alongside our report.  As for a date, this was the first scheduled date, as you know; for days people have been saying there is no timeline by which we would expect the report to come out.  As of now, we actually do have a timeline, that it would be the 1 October.


Question:  There is a report by the UN Secretary-General on the internally displaced persons, and refugees from Abkhazia Georgia, and the Tiskin Valley region, South Ossetia, Georgia, as well as a draft resolution that reaffirms the unacceptability of forced demographic changes resulting from the conflicts in Georgia.  Can you confirm there will be a meeting on 7 September to discuss the resolution, and can you tell me how concerned the Secretary-General is about the return of the internally displaced persons and refugees in Georgia.


Spokesperson:  This is a resolution for which body?


Question:  I would assume it’s the General Assembly, but I don’t know.


Spokesperson:  Then please talk it over with my colleague Jean-Victor Nkolo.


Question:  I have a question about the role of the Secretariat with regards to managing the affairs of the Security Council, and it’s particularly about the [inaudible] list, for documents that are sent to the Security Council that come from private individuals or non-governmental agencies.  I’ve been trying to understand what happens with this and I’ve gotten no directions for quite a while.


Spokesperson:  I think you’ve discussed this with me before, but certainly I will try to put you in touch with one of the people who acts as a liaison on this question.


Question:  On Sudan and Pakistan.  On Sudan, I’ve still, thanks for the answer I guess on Mr. Charpentier, and we’ll see what comes of it.  On the things that I asked on Tuesday, the allegation by a senior official of the SPLM, that despite many calls to UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan), they did not come to see, to the morgue in one case.  The Gorifna people said they didn’t come and they were surrounded by the Sudanese security forces.  You sent me an answer saying UNMIS is fully committed to human rights, but no further comment at this time on this specific case.  Are you going to comment at all…?


Spokesperson:  Certainly once we have further comment, we’ll provide it.  


Question:  The situation in Pakistan, as far as the organization working over there still continue to say they’re short of supplies, equipment to deliver food and medicine, and organizations are saying children, women are suffering the most.  Has there been anything to re-assess by the United Nations organization that certain imperative needs are addressed, especially children’s and women’s needs?


Spokesperson:  Certainly we’re trying to push for more funding, and for more efforts to help people.  If you look at our press releases in recent days, despite the tremendous challenges posed by the situation on the ground itself, we’ve been providing food, water, tents and medicines for millions of people and we are continuing to try and step up those efforts.  And we’ll see if there are going to be any further meetings in the coming weeks to try to boost the amount of funding which as you know has started to slow down again.


Question:  Did you issue something, a reaction on the killings of the 40 people in Lahore yesterday?


Spokesperson:  There is no statement on that.  But as you know, our condolences and thoughts go with the families of the victims.


Question:  Any response from the personal envoy of the Secretary-General to Western Sahara, in response to my question yesterday?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we do have a response for you.  You and Khaled had both asked, and what we wanted to make clear was that Christopher Ross is in fact working with the parties, and continues to work with parties regarding the Western Sahara issue; he is aware of the challenges but is going to persist in dealing with the parties on this issue.  He also believes that the leak of that particular document was certainly unhelpful.


Question:  But is he planning any informal meeting with the parties soon?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific meetings to announce at this stage.


Question: [inaudible] when is the Secretary-General expecting to be back?


Spokesperson:  He’ll be back next week, I believe he should be back by next Tuesday, but right now over the coming days, as I mentioned at the start of this briefing, he will be in Alpbach, Austria, where he will go to a retreat with the Security Council and then later to a retreat with senior UN officials.  After that, he’ll come back.


Question:  On Western Sahara and Pakistan.  On Western Sahara, the expulsion of these, it’s reported that Spanish activists, from Western Sahara by Morocco; but there’s a Mexican national, Antonio Vasquez Diaz, has said that he has written to the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, I don’t know if you’ll acknowledge a letter from an individual.  But all these people say that when they raised the issue of expulsion to MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), it was not within MINURSO’s mandate to deal with this type of thing.  So I wanted to know, what is MINURSO’s mandate in terms of sort of summary expulsion from the Western Sahara territory.


Spokesperson:  I’d simply refer you back to the relevant Security Council resolutions that have set the mandate for MINURSO, which as you know is the UN mission dealing with the question of a referendum for Western Sahara.


Question:  Did the Secretariat receive a letter from Antonio Velasquez Diaz, a national of Mexico, prior to his expulsion?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that letter, no.


Question:  Yesterday the Secretary-General issued a very strong statement where something happened, four people were killed in the West Bank, suddenly there were 35 or 40 killed in Pakistan.  Because it’s a normal thing happening in Pakistan, it’s not worth a comment?


Spokesperson:  We don’t try to compare numbers across different things.  What happened is that the relevant departments in the United Nations looks at and considers each and every situation.  If and when a statement is believed to be appropriate, certainly a statement is issued, but as you know, we do condemn all terrorist attacks and we do so in this case.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  I’m not going to engage in that.


Question:  Do you have a reaction to the Moroccan authorities act of expelling the Spanish activists who were simply trying to protest?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check if we have anything to say.  I don’t have anything for you on that right now.


Question:  There are two things.  One is that are a lot of reports, the aid is being delivered in food form, but actually people need cash, so some are selling the rations, not out of corruption but just out of a need for cash.  I wonder if OCHA or whatever, or whether there is going to be any recalibration of how the aid is going to be delivered.  And also Permanent Representative Haroon has said on BBC that he acknowledges their allegations of a Pakistani elite taking down the levies on other sides of the river to flood poor people’s land and there should be some investigation of that.  Given the UN’s role in raising money for this, I wonder does the UN support that call for an investigation?


Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of Ambassador Haroon, you can hear from him directly.  He’ll be talking to the press in this room at 1 p.m. tomorrow.  I don’t have anything further on humanitarian efforts in Pakistan beyond the rather substantial information we provided yesterday and today, and I’ll refer you to those press releases on that.


Question:  The food keeps being delivered and people see a need to sell it, because they need cash…


Spokesperson:  Wherever we deliver aid we try to deliver it in the form that is determined by our humanitarian people to be the most helpful form, and we are aware that there are quite a lot of things where food or water or tents or medical supplies are needed.  And we try and provide whatever is needed in those areas.  This is why we have different clusters to deal with what is believed to be the specific needs in specific areas.


With that, have a good weekend everyone.  The President of the Council is coming right now.


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