7 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.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs


Today is also the first official day on the job for the recently appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos.  And she has started it with a three-day mission in Pakistan to see first-hand the situation on the ground and the status of the response.


Ms. Amos will meet with senior Government officials, donors, UN agencies and humanitarian partners before travelling to Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


We expect that Under-Secretary-General Amos will speak with you at noon this Thursday by telephone link-up from Pakistan.


Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that flood waters continue to move through the Sindh province’s Dadu district.  The death toll has risen to 1,752, and over 1.8 million houses are now reported as either damaged or destroyed.  In Sindh alone, just under 7 million people have been affected, of which 1.3 million are in Government relief camps.


Also in Pakistan, the United Nations Refugee Agency’s Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie arrived today to meet people affected by the floods and involved in the relief efforts to highlight the urgent need for help.  We have more on these items available from the Spokesperson’s office.


**Security Council


Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Nepal, briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).


She noted the problems in forming a Government in Nepal, as well as the climate of mistrust and of deteriorating security in the country.  She said that the Secretary-General continues to desire that the United Nations Mission complete its tasks, and that the Mission does not intend to stay longer than is necessary.


The meeting was followed by closed consultations, also on Nepal.


At 3 this afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting to receive a briefing from the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Atul Khare, on his recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Margot Wallström, the Special Representative dealing with Sexual Violence in Conflict, is also expected to brief the Council at that time.  Atul Khare says that he will speak to the press at the Council stakeout afterward.


** Afghanistan


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) fully supports the reaffirmation on Sunday by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) of its definitive decision that it will conduct the 18 September elections based on the final list of polling centres that it had published on 18 August.


Implementing the election according to this final, published list of polling centres is essential for the effective conduct and transparency of the elections, the United Nations Mission says.


Security of the sensitive polling materials, including ballot papers, depends on maintaining this list so that the Election Commission can keep track of all materials at all times.  This is a significant improvement on fraud control mechanisms compared to the 2009 elections, according to the Mission.  And we have more in a press release from UNAMA.


**Secretary-General in Austria


The Secretary-General spent the last several days in Alpbach, Austria, where he led a retreat over the weekend with the senior officials of the UN system, and also participated in a retreat with the Security Council.


Also, on Saturday, the Secretary-General spoke to the European Forum on the effects of the global financial crisis on the Millennium Development Goals, which he said have suffered grave setbacks in recent years.  This year alone, he warned, an additional 64 million people will fall into extreme poverty.  The number of hungry people has risen above 1 billion for the first time ever.  In short, the crisis has led to significant losses in education, employment, health and nutrition.


The Secretary-General said that the Millennium Declaration represents the most important promise ever made to the world’s most vulnerable people.  Keeping that promise is a collective, urgent responsibility, he added.  And the text of that statement is available online.


** Sudan


Concerning Sudan, shortly before midnight on Friday, reports were received that a fire-fight broke out in the mostly Fur-inhabited Hamidiya camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Zalingei, West Darfur.  The shooting subsided on Saturday morning.


A United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) military team dispatched to assess the situation was told by leaders of the displaced people that six of the inhabitants had been killed and over 20 injured in what appeared to be a well-executed and coordinated attack.  The death toll later increased to nine.


Some IDPs rejected UNAMID’s offers to transport the wounded to a medical facility in Zalingei, citing fears for their security there.  Accordingly, UNAMID sent military medical personnel to the camp to provide assistance.


UNAMID has reinforced its presence in the camp and is patrolling on a 24-hour basis.  As of the last reports received, the situation remains volatile, although there have not been any new incidents.


** Burkina Faso


The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says an Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan has been prepared to cover the needs of more than 100,000 people affected by flooding in Burkina Faso.


The Plan seeks slightly more than $14 million over six months for lifesaving activities, as well as to help affected populations regain their dignity and livelihoods.


Since early July, the Sahel has been successively hit by heavy rains and severe flooding, resulting in casualties and significant damage — residents in flooded areas have lost their homes, livestock, and belongings; and infrastructure has suffered significant damage and some villages are still inaccessible by land.  And we have more on this in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Somalia


The United Nations refugee agency has expressed alarm at the further deterioration as seen in the security situation in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu.  The Agency said its partners report that fighting over the past two weeks between the Transitional Federal Government and Al-Shabaab has claimed the lives of more than 230 civilians, with 400 people wounded and 23,000 displaced.  UNHCR estimates that more than 200,000 civilians have fled their homes so far this year.


Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres is in Kenya at the start of a three-day mission to review a green-energy initiative at the Kukama camp, as well as to witness progress on the expansion on the over-crowded Badob refugee camp near the Somali border.


**Press Conferences


Concerning press conferences today, at 12:30 p.m., just a little bit after this, the Chairman of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Jean-Paul Laborde, will hold a press conference to update you on the two working groups on conflict prevention and resolution.  And then at 1:30 p.m., the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake will hold a press conference about the launch of two new UNICEF publications, a new study entitled, “Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals”, and UNICEF’s flagship report entitled, “Progress for Children” and that is it for me.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Is there any further update on the situation in Somalia besides from just trying to build green energy in terms of the camps?  Because I know that 230 people have been killed so far in 14 days and…


Spokesperson:  Yes, and which we just mentioned…


Question:  Is there any other activity that is going to happen there besides just dealing with people who have fled?  Al-Shabaab has said that it’s the African Union that is responsible for the deaths.  The African Union has said that it’s Al-Shabaab.  So is there any mediation effort that the United Nations is undertaking?


Spokesperson:  We do have a Special Representative, Augustine P. Mahiga, who does remain involved with the political process.  And he certainly has been speaking out whenever he feels it’s necessary to do so. At this stage, you are right, what we’re doing is that the United Nations refugee agency is dealing with the needs of the displaced following this latest round of fighting.  And so what they’ve been trying to do is first determine the number of people affected and what their needs are.  And of course Mr. Guterres, as we just mentioned, is in Kenya trying to see the situation in the camps that deal primarily with Somalis that fled into Kenya.


Question:  From when did Ms. Amos reach Pakistan?  Did she do it without formally taking charge of her assignment…?


Spokesperson:  Her first working day was yesterday, and indeed yesterday and today she has been on the ground in Pakistan and she is doing work on the ground, as we just mentioned.  And she will be the guest at the Thursday noon briefing.  We are trying to get either a video or an audio hook-up so she can talk to you about what she is doing on the ground there.


Question:  In Bahrain there has been a lot of arrests among journalists and lawyers with serious accusations that they are planning to topple the regime or change the regime.  What is the United Nations doing to make sure that justice is done to these people?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on Bahrain.  I will see whether there is anything we have, but at present, we have not been dealing directly with the situation.


Question:  Does that mean that the United Nations will not do that in the future?


Spokesperson:  It’s always hard to predict what we will do in the future.  For now, we do not have a comment on the situation on the ground there.


Question:  On Saturday, a director of Oxfam based in Kinshasa interviewed with Al-Jazeera English and said that they had reports of a ten-day… a period of ten-days mass assault and rape on 130 women and children in the South Kivu Province and that the United Nations had not yet disclosed this.  Are you aware of this?  Have you received any communication on this charge?


Spokesperson:  We’ve been trying to get as much information as we can about rapes in Eastern Congo, particular in the Kivu areas.  On that, there will be a briefing of the Security Council by Atul Khare, who just was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent days, and he does intend to speak to reporters afterwards.  So we will leave it to him to provide further details when he discusses first with the Council and then with you.


Question: On Sudan and Nepal.  On Sudan, thanks for that report on the IDP camp.  There’s also, and I’m sure African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is aware of this, reports that UNAMID said they confirmed some of, of up to 37 people killed in a village, in a market — Tabarat Market near the town of Tawilla — that said that the United Nations peacekeepers were told of the attack and said that they could not go to pick up even the wounded until they got approval from Al-Fasher.  What I want to know is whether, how long it took them to respond and whether this approval included approval from the Government in Khartoum and if so, whether if any of the people expired there of their injuries might have been saved had the United Nations actually gone to protect civilians?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, this process of approval is a standard procedural process.  But in terms of the details, on 4 September a UNAMID patrol gained access to the Tabarat area.  It observed that Tabarat was practically deserted and reported the presence of Government police in the area.  Today, 7 September, a UNAMID mission travelled to Tawilla to further assess the impact of the violence.  UNAMID has made efforts to assist in evacuating some of the injured victims by air to Al-Fasher.  In terms of our estimated casualties, the Tabarat incident left more that 50 people dead and a large number injured.


Question:  Tawilla, to my understanding there’s a Peacekeeping unit there… that there are peacekeepers stationed there.  Is that true?  So did UNAMID sort of buttress its presence there and why weren’t those people able to go after they were told by relatives of those injured that this attack had taken place in the market?


Spokesperson:  I think I have some further details for you for afterwards, but basically in terms of the ability to gain access, as soon as we gained access, that was on the 4 September, a UNAMID patrol did go into the area.  The difficulty is in dealing with access to areas on the ground.


Question:  Just one last… that means that… somebody there gave me a copy of a United Nations document showing that the relatives of the deceased or the injured had approached the UN peacekeepers of Tawilla and were told “we can’t go there tonight.  We have to come back tomorrow because we need approval from Al-Fasher.”  And I’m just wondering, how does the approval process work?  Is it as simple as calling UNAMID in Al-Fashir and they say yes you can go out, or does it involve reaching the Government if their offices are closed or not and how does it…


Spokesperson:  It varies from case to case, but ultimately it depends on dealing with authority on the ground to make sure that approval is in place for our deployment.


Question:  Yesterday, Mr. Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon, admitted that there has been some fabrication with regards to witnesses in the case of his father’s assassination.  How is that going to affect the Tribunal, and, especially, there were serious accusations about Detlev Mehlis involved with that.


Spokesperson:  As you know, we have stood by the work of the various commissioners including that of the work done by Detlev Mehlis, the first of the Commissioners.  As far as that goes, it’s up to the Tribunal to determine how its work proceeds and we expect that any development on the ground, if they have any impact, would be assessed by the Tribunal accordingly.


Question:  The United Nations will not investigate or pursue these allegations against [inaudible].  Some of them are in a French court, I understand.


Spokesperson:  The work of Mr. Mehlis speaks for itself and has been followed up by his successors, Mr. Serge Brammertz and Mr. Daniel Belmar.  And now the investigation is in the hands of Daniel Belmar and he will decide how to proceed accordingly.


Question:  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Pakistan has been saying that much more money is needed for Pakistan’s aid now.  Is there a possibility that when Ms. Amos comes back there is going to be another flash appeal for Pakistan?


Spokesperson:  At this stage, she is assessing the situation and seeing what the needs are.  I suspect that if she believes that there is any need for further action she will take that accordingly.  But she will be able to talk to you about what the needs are and what further steps need to be done at that point.


Question:  Concerning Congo, do you have an update on e-mail trail as to when the Mission knew what because last week the Spokesperson said that he was trying to trace how the 30 July e-mail was responded to, so do you have any information on that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further detail.  We are working on being able to provide you with some further detail, but I don’t have it ready just yet.  And when we do, we would certainly provide it to all of you.  And like I said, of course Mr. Khare will be on hand and can also provide you with some details about information he has learned during his visit to the DRC.


[The Spokesperson’s Office later confirmed the UN Daily Field Security Report from North Kivu on 30 July included the following:  “Today 30 July 2010 during morning hours, the locality of Mpofi (52 km east of Walikale town) passed under control of FDLR combatants.  One woman was reportedly raped and locals fled towards Walikale and Kibua.  More information to be ascertained.”  The Spokesperson’s Office can also confirm that, on the basis of this information, an e-mail was sent by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) transmitting information of the FDLR movement.]


Question:   Sierra Leone and Haiti.  There’s report, it’s a fact that the local staff in Sierra Leone in the peacekeeping mission went on a strike and are complaining of their conditions and said that somehow the Mission is seeking to address those concerns.  Do you have anything on that?  Can you say what steps the Mission has taken the last four days to address the concerns raised by its local staff?


Spokesperson:  No.  We’ll check up on that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Mission’s national staff union has scrapped plans to go on strike, and so there was no strike or work stoppage by the UN Sierra Leone national staff.  The Mission leadership and the national staff union are now in discussions to address the issue.]


Question:  And on Haiti, there’s a call actually by the President of the Senate, Kelly Bastien, for an investigation in United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) role in the death of a 17-year-old, 16-year-old Gerrard Jean-Jille who died in the foreign police unit in Cap Haitien on 17 August.  The United Nations said that he hanged himself and there are other reports that he was being abused by the Nepalese police.  What is MINUSTAH’s response to this call by an elected official in Haiti for an investigation of this incident?


Spokesperson: On that, MINUSTAH did put out a press release mentioning that the circumstances by which a young Haitian was found dead inside that compound are being investigated.  And they did refer the matter on also to the relevant legal authorities in Haiti. So I would just refer you to the press release from MINUSTAH on that.


Question: Did the Secretary-General get this letter from the three former Prime Ministers from Nepal — they said they sent it to him — saying that his most recent report goes beyond what the United Nations’ role should have been there, that it’s showing a bias towards the Maoists, it’s a variety of a critique of his report from these three former Prime Ministers.  Has it been received?


Spokesperson:  Regarding Nepal, I would just refer you to the comments made by Karin Landgren which we have put out and which also mention some of the criticism by the parties, but where she points out that ultimately, what’s needed is for the parties to come together and form a Government.  And she’s noticed a trend towards blaming the Mission at a time when it’s been difficult for the parties themselves to come together on this crucial aspect of Government formation.  So again I just refer you to the text of her public statement to the Council.


Good afternoon.


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