4 October 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.


**Climate Change


The head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, has called on Governments to accelerate their search for common ground, ahead of the Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico.


She said that with less than two months left, a concrete outcome in December was urgently needed to restore faith in the ability of Parties to take the negotiations forward.  Governments need to agree on what is achievable in Cancún, and how it will be achievable in a politically balanced way, she added.


Figueres was speaking at the opening of the Tianjin climate meeting, in China, which is being attended by around 3,000 participants from more than 176 countries.  We have a press release in my Office with more information.


**Security Council


The Security Council adopted its programme of work for October this morning.  Ambassador Ruhukana Rugunda of Uganda, the Council President for this month, will brief you on the programme of work, at 12:30 p.m., after this briefing.


Ambassador Rugunda also read a press statement following this morning’s consultations, saying that Council members condemned the car bombing that took place last Friday in Abuja, Nigeria.


**Middle East


Earlier today, the heads of the three UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East met Israeli President Shimon Peres at his residence in Jerusalem.  The evolving regional affairs and the dangers of terrorism were discussed.  President Peres expressed his gratitude for the work of UN peacekeepers.


**Refugees


UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said today that a rise in drawn-out conflict was creating new semi-permanent global refugee situations.  He said this requires broader and better protection for the world’s 43 million forcibly displaced people.


In a speech to the opening of the annual meeting of the UNHCR governing Executive Committee, Guterres said that the environment for refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers, stateless people and others in need of help was becoming significantly more complex.  He said: “The changing nature and growing intractability of conflict makes achieving and sustaining peace more difficult.”


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., here in this Auditorium, the Secretary-General will announce the results of the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] replenishment for the years 2011-2013.  This will be following the pledging conference that is scheduled to take place today and tomorrow.


So, I am happy to take a few questions.  As I mentioned, Ambassador Rugunda, the Permanent Representative of Uganda, who is the President of the Security Council, will be here to brief you at 12:30 p.m.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Martin, thank you.  We’ve received the readout about the phone calls Mr. Ban Ki-moon made over the weekend concerning the settlement issue, and I was wondering if you can tell us, what was the reaction of the Israeli Government?  Did they pledge that they will look into his request to extend the moratorium?


Spokesperson:  Well, as is normal, it’s not for me to characterize the response of the Secretary-General’s interlocutors.  I would simply make clear that the Secretary-General spoke to each of these three, Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Senator [George] Mitchell, as part of his continuing efforts to help where he can to try to ensure that the direct talks can continue.  And as the readout said, the Secretary-General again pointed out in his telephone conversations that the settlement freeze had been an important development and that he hoped that this would be able to continue.


Question:  And he was satisfied with the outcome of his conversations…?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General was pleased to be able speak to all three.  And obviously he remains in touch and is watching developments closely; not least, obviously as you know, there will be a meeting of Foreign Ministers from the Arab States later this week.  Yes, further questions?


Question:  Sure, Martin.  There is, I guess earlier today based on the time zone, the Vice-President of Sudan, Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, has said that it is quite probable that the Abyei referendum may not go forward if it is not decided that the nomadic tribes can vote, a variety of things, which seems to put… it’s the first statement of somebody of his level saying it may not go forward.  I’m wondering if whether UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] is aware of that, what UNMIS thinks.  Does UNMIS think that this Abyei referendum will go forward and what steps is it taking to make sure that it does?


Spokesperson:  Well, you will be aware of the communiqué that was issued after the meeting here in New York of many countries, not least the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but also many other countries that came to that meeting, that stressed the need for the referendums in Abyei and South Sudan to go ahead as scheduled.  And that is clearly a major priority and preoccupation for the international community.  Let me see if I have anything further from UNMIS.  I don’t, here and now.


Question:  Can I also ask, there has been a decision this morning by the US Supreme Court not to reverse a lower court decision finding that a UN system staffer, Cynthia Brzak, could not sue for sexual harassment against Ruud Lubbers of UNHCR.  I know that, once, you’d said that you have no comment until cases are final.  This is pretty final, with the Supreme Court denying the appeal.  I just wonder, not so much on the specifics of her case, but on the idea of whether the UN itself should be immune, and its officials should be immune from… the grounds for the finding was not lack of guilt, it was just simply that UN officials are immune from any allegation of sexual harassment; if the Secretary-General is comfortable with that and would in any way seek to modify that so that staff members who feel they have been harassed could have some remedy outside the United Nations.


Spokesperson:  Let me find out if we have any further comment on that.  As a general principle, I think you are aware of the general immunity that exists.  I am not talking about specific cases or specific areas, but as a general rule.  But let me see if there is anything further.


Question:  No, I think it does exist.  I think it exists.  I guess I am just wondering if the Secretary-General thinks it’s a good… has any intention to… whether he thinks it’s a good thing in terms of behaviour.


Spokesperson:  As I said, if we have anything further, I will surely let you know.


Question:  Maybe this question has been asked earlier about this report about some Jewish settlers burning a mosque in the Occupied [Palestinian] Territory.  Do you have anything to say about that?


Spokesperson:  Well, I know that the UN Special Coordinator’s Office for the Middle East Peace Process has expressed shock about this.  And the Special Coordinator’s Office is saying that not only is it shocking, but completely unacceptable.  And Robert Serry, who as you know is the Special Coordinator, is extremely concerned about this act of desecration.  And the Special Coordinator’s Office has reminded the Israeli Government that those responsible for such attacks must be brought to justice and the rule of law upheld.


Question:  I have a question about the possible resumption in negotiations between Morocco and POLISARIO.  Anything expected soon about that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.  As you know, Christopher Ross is heavily involved in working with the parties on this.  Let me see if we have anything.  We don’t have anything right now.  But let me see if there is anything that I can get for you.


[The Spokesperson later added that the dates for the next round of informal talks have not yet been determined.]


Question:  I have a question on another topic.  I am sure maybe the Secretary-General is following the debate within the Lebanese Government about possible funding for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  And there have been some members of the cabinet trying to block any possible further finance for the Tribunal.  And I was wondering whether the SG has any reaction to that.


Spokesperson:  Well, I think we would simply reaffirm our belief in the importance of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  That’s the most important point.  And also to note that the Tribunal has a mandate from the Security Council, and we will strive to ensure that it can go about its work.


Question:  But no specific reaction that this might delay the work of the Tribunal?  Any emergency plans to provide alternative funding, for example?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, the Tribunal operates under a mandate from the Security Council, and we would strive to ensure that it can go about its work.  And also, I’d note the role of the Tribunal’s management committee in that process.


Question:  I have a question about occupied Palestine also.  There is another report in the Israeli newspapers again that a Palestinian child was used by the Israeli soldiers; it’s a report about the court ruling that convicted one of the Israeli soldiers of committing torture on a child.  Do you have any comment on that one?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think this is a court ruling.  So, I don’t think we need to comment on that.  I really don’t.   I think the court ruling speaks for itself.


Question:  Can I ask another question?  I wanted to know — Mr. [Antonio Maria] Costa, until recently the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in an interview with the BBC, has said that “we have evidence that the Taliban have infiltrated Afghan army units”.  So I wondered a couple of things.  I wondered, one, I mean I assume he… I wondered on whose behalf he is speaking, and also, two, even if he is speaking in a personal capacity, it seems to imply this is information he gleaned while working for UNODC, unless he has had extensive experience since he left.  In which case, why wasn’t this said by UNODC?  And also whether it reflects in any way on the case of Louis Maxwell, on which… in which allegedly he was seen… not allegedly, it’s still… whether there is any update on investigations performed by the Afghans themselves on the death of UN staff member Louis Maxwell, shot by Afghan national forces.


Spokesperson:  Matthew, I don’t have anything for you on this.  I have seen the same story that you have.  If I can find out anything further about the context in which Mr. Costa was speaking, then I will let you know.


Question:  And does he have… I guess my question is, does he have any role whatsoever now in the UN system since he is no longer with UNODC?  It’s sort of related to the [Jean-Maurice] Ripert question, which I think remains outstanding.


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge, Matthew.  But perhaps someone has better information that I do on this.


Question:  And this is a follow-up on Ripert, the idea of what he is going to be doing from now to the end of the year, if he is still going to be getting paid and if so, if he is going to work and also if there is any answer to Friday’s and two weeks ago question about Ban Ki-moon and the President of Sri Lanka.  Just a simple, you know, however you now understand it.  List of contacts and topics, whether there has been any movement on that.


Spokesperson:  On the first question, I don’t have anything further for you.  And neither do I on the second.  And it may be that you’ll continue to ask me about that and you’ll continue not to receive an answer.  There are many questions that are asked and I would probably say that you’ll get an answer to most of them.


Question:  So what you’re saying that one is one that you are not going to answer?


Spokesperson:  I said it may be, it may be.  We try to help you to the best of our ability where we can.  I think that’s it.  Okay?  All right, thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record