|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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will be arriving in Strasbourg, France, later today.
This weekend, he was in Morocco, where he addressed the opening of the World Policy Conference in Marrakesh. The Secretary-General highlighted three main themes: the need to pull together for the poor and vulnerable; the need to pool our energy and resources to stave off the climate catastrophe; and the need to work together on a host of new-generation challenges.
Yesterday, he had an audience with King Mohammed VI in Rabat. They discussed Morocco’s progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the fight against climate change, terrorism and regional peace.
Also yesterday, the Secretary-General met with Djibril Bassolé, the Joint African Union-United Nations Mediator for Darfur. Bassolé briefed the Secretary-General on the status of the Doha process and said he was working with the two sides on a global agreement, which he hoped would be endorsed by the groups that have stayed away from the process so far. The Secretary-General welcomed this progress, but stressed that, for the agreement to be sustainable, it had to be all inclusive and address the root causes of the problems.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will address the Council of Europe and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We will have copies of his speeches for you under embargo later today.
The Security Council is holding an open debate on the Middle East this morning. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the Council, and warned that, six weeks after direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began in Washington, we are at an impasse. The parties have not met since 15 September.
Fernandez-Taranco noted that the Secretary-General has publicly expressed his disappointment that the moratorium on settlements was not renewed, and reaffirmed that settlement activity is illegal under international law and contrary to the Road Map. He has been in direct and frequent contact with regional leaders, including President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and urged all to find a way forward.
The Quartet envoys have been in regular contact and the principals are discussing a proposal to meet soon to review developments, Fernandez-Taranco said. We have a brief and crucial window to overcome the current impasse. He said that time is of the essence and we need progress in the coming weeks. The Secretary-General continues to believe that, if the door to peace closes, it will be very hard to reopen. And we have Mr. Fernandez-Taranco’s remarks in our Office.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Haile Menkerios, told the press in Khartoum today that we have reached the most critical phase of Sudan’s peace process regarding full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; the decisions made in the next few weeks are likely to determine Sudan’s path for years to come.
He said this will continue to be a very delicate period, requiring an unwavering and tenacious Sudanese determination to prevent anything from derailing the process.
Menkerios noted that there has been a flurry of statements regarding a buffer zone and the possibility of additional new UN troops. He said that the UN is assessing needs and will continue its consultations with the parties on how best it can assist them to respond to these needs. But he added that, while the Security Council and the Secretary-General have expressed their readiness to consider additional support to address security concerns, no decision has yet been made by them for additional troops, their deployment or conditions of their deployment. And we have his remarks in our Office.
Concerning Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara, spoke to reporters earlier today, after meeting with Algerian President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika. Ross said that his discussions with the President and his team focused on key aspects of the case and the need to revive current confidence-building measures and implement new measures planned by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
There is no doubt that the status quo is untenable in the long term, Ross said, given the costs and dangers it entails, and the parties must now demonstrate the political will to overcome it. This requires negotiations without preconditions and in good faith, taking into account the efforts made since 2006 and developments since then, to a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.
Ross will soon travel to Tindouf, Mauritania and Morocco, to continue preparations for the third round of informal talks, scheduled for November, and to prepare the way for formal negotiations.
The Cypriot leaders met under UN auspices in Nicosia today for about two and a half hours, and devoted most of the discussion to the ongoing issue of property. Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, said that the representatives will now take up the discussions, meeting next on Wednesday, 20 October, with further meetings through the course of the following week. The leaders will meet again on 1 November to review the work of the representatives.
**Biodiversity — Nagoya Conference
The 193 members of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity gathered at a conference in Nagoya, Japan, this week, to seek a new strategy to stem further damage to the world’s natural life support systems and to set new global targets.
The conference comes at a time when no country was able to meet the 2010 target for reversing biodiversity loss. It intends to serve as an opportunity to set a new 10-year global strategy for combating biodiversity loss and call for financing to help meet the new targets.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And regarding press conferences, at 1:15 p.m. tomorrow, Claudio Grossman, the Chairman of the Committee against Torture, will hold a press conference to discuss the need for countries’ strict compliance with the prohibition of torture in cases of emergency.
And that’s all I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: What time is it tomorrow, the press conference?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At 1:15 p.m. in this room.
Question: I have some questions on Western Sahara, Darfur and the Congo. On Western Sahara, there is a letter that’s been put into the Council this morning by the Polisario Front, saying that 7,000 Saharawi citizens that have moved from the city to outside of towns in Western Sahara have been cut off from food and water and their camps lit ablaze. It’s my understanding that they are meeting with Alain Le Roy [Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping] this afternoon. I just wonder, you gave a readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting with the King of Morocco. You said “regional peace”; did he raise this, the issue of Western Sahara? And two, what does the UN say to these allegations of 7,000 people and the burning of camps?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, yes, I gave you the readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting, but also of the meeting that Christopher Ross had with President Bouteflika of Algeria. And if you noticed, just to repeat, one of the points I made there, he did talk about how his discussions with the President and his team focused on key aspects of the situation and the need to revive confidence-building measures, and implement new measures planned by UNHCR. In other words, UNHCR has had a series of confidence-building measures that had been previously considered, as well as new measures that were being considered regarding the situation on the ground there. So that was something that was discussed with President Bouteflika.
Question: It seems like kind of a live controversy. I just wonder; I know that in the past it has been said that MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] doesn’t have a human rights… it’s beyond its scope to speak on things that happened to activists, but this seems to be a current situation, if the letter is correct, where people are living in the desert, no food and water.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, of course, as you know, the Security Council is seized of the matter and they have the letter and can respond to it as they wish. Beyond that, if there are any further details from Alain Le Roy’s meeting later this afternoon, we’ll try to provide those once that happens.
Correspondent: Okay, that will be good.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: And you said you had another question on Sudan?
Question: I do, actually. It’s about the peacekeeper or the civilian UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] employee in Darfur who was taken during the Security Council’s trip there. There is a radio station there, Radio Dabanga, that has actually interviewed an individual named Istvan Papp, who says he is the kidnapped hostage and that he has been unable to speak to UNAMID. So, it seems, I have tried to ask UNAMID, I haven’t gotten an answer from them. How can it be… Is this the hostage? And even if you won’t say that, have they contacted him and how can he speak to the Radio Dabanga?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, in terms of Radio Dabanga, I wouldn’t confirm media accounts. As you know, all of our hostage situations tend to be fairly tricky and we try — for the safety of the hostages involved — to keep public comment to a minimum. On this particular situation, what I can confirm is that we have been in touch with the person who was abducted. In fact, the last time we were in communication and received proof of life was just yesterday. So we are in contact and we’re working with the Government of Sudan to try to obtain his safe and unconditional release. Beyond that, however, I would be constrained in anything further that I could say.
Question: And also, maybe you will have it or maybe you can get this answer. Roger Meece [Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo] spoke earlier today at the Council on Foreign Relations, and there was a question that was asked but he didn’t answer, which is: when did he tell Margot Wallström [Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict] — both when did he become aware of the rapes that took place in late July and early August, what day and what date did he tell Margot Wallström of them, if he did in fact tell her? And it seemed to be something, I understand that there are other questions about cell-phone towers and stuff, but this seems to still be an outstanding question, particularly when he told Margot Wallström and when he became aware of it. If it’s possible…? I did everything possible to get this answer, but it’s not been possible. So, maybe you can get the answer.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll see whether MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] can provide us with the answer. But you can also keep trying on that. Yes?
Question: My question is about the election in Myanmar. The Myanmar Election Commission says they will not allow foreign election observers and media to come into the country. I think that undermines the transparency and credibility of the election. Can you tell us how concerned the Secretary-General is about the announcement and do you think the UN can take some action to improve the situation before the election?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as far as that goes, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for the elections to be held in an inclusive, transparent, and free and fair atmosphere. And so anything that goes against that is naturally a cause for concern. He has, as you know, convened several different meetings on this, including one of the Group of Friends, just over the past month. And they came to an agreement again on this idea of the need for inclusive, free and fair elections. What further can be done on this, it’s difficult to mention at this stage. I think in the coming days we will have some further details of the Secretary-General’s own travels to provide for you. But he will continue to be in touch wherever he goes with a variety of interlocutors on the push for such conditions in the elections.
Question: Can I ask a follow-up on Myanmar? This good offices function that is currently headed by Vijay Nambiar… I guess I am seeking either confirmation or denial that individuals that work in that office are or have now been redeployed to other DPA [Department for Political Affairs] work in the Asia region under Tamrat Samuel, that in fact this office, which was set up by the GA and I believe is funded by the GA, is no longer entirely devoted to Myanmar. I have heard it, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true. Could you… Is it possible to know whether these individuals work [inaudible]?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, for what it’s worth, the guidance we got, including the one that I just was saying seconds ago, was in fact prepared by the good offices team, so their work is continuing.
Question: No, no, I know… It’s really a structural issue of whether individuals who are on the budget line of that office are in fact, have been redeployed to other DPA work even in the run-up to the elections.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know how much detail we would go into on questions of budget lines and so forth, but certainly the individuals who are working for the good offices continue to do that work.
Question: And on this Haiti prison riot, do you have any…? There are reports of UN involvement in putting down a prison riot in which three inmates died. And it said that UN troops or peacekeepers were in the prison at the time this thing happened. One, what do you have on the riot, and two, what were UN peacekeepers doing in the prison at that time?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: On that, I have the following: An escape attempt at the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince was reported around 10:30 a.m. on 17 October. MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] Military, the UN Police, Formed Police Unit, SWAT and Crowd Control units were informed and they were dispatched to the site to secure the area in support of the Haitian National Police.
Inside the prison, there were five MINUSTAH staff — that is to say, three UN Police and two corrections officers — as well as two foreigners visiting as guests of the UN Police. All seven were then surrounded by other inmates, who tried to escape, using them as human shields. Gunfire broke out and all seven escaped the prison without harm. Five of the seven people were slightly injured during the riot and then taken to the MINUSTAH Argentinean hospital for a check-up.
MINUSTAH units secured the external perimeter of the prison. The Director of Penitentiary Administration took control of the situation inside the prison. Three prisoners were confirmed dead by the Haitian National Police. An investigation was opened by the Director of Penitentiary Administration.
Question: But what were the UN peacekeepers…? They were there at the time that this happened? Were they, did they have some training or what were they doing inside there?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No. Like I said, two of them were actual corrections officers, three of them were police. So, there were five people inside the prison at the time who were MINUSTAH staff. The other people who came around, like I said, came to secure the area in support of the Haitian National Police. Which they did.
Question: Why were they in the prisons? That’s all, I am sorry, I just want to know what they were doing there at the time this happened.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: MINUSTAH’s functions on the ground, wherever they may be, whether it’s prisons or out on the street, are in support of the local authorities; and in this case, the Haitian National Police. Yes?
Question: Two questions. One about the [inaudible], when people submit something to the Security Council on an issue being discussed, those are supposed to be made available to the Security Council then listed, and I have been asking for a contact person…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, you’ve been asking, and we’ll try to get you a contact person who deals with that.
Question: Well, do you know when, because I have been asking for months?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, as soon as I can get it, I will give it to you.
Question: Is it some problem? Why is it so difficult?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I just need to find someone who can provide you with the right information.
Question: Okay, the second question is, there seems to be a lot changes in the website, the UN website, and it’s getting, it’s just very hard to figure out where things are. Is there some way to have somebody brief us on what’s going on? Also the speeches from the General Assembly are not available, when you are out, off the property.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the speeches do tend to get posted on the website, but in addition, I know that our colleagues in the documents counter try to e-mail people with the speeches, whether in the GA or in the Security Council whenever they can get them. So you can get them that way as well.
Question: What about the UN website? That seems to be getting increasingly inaccessible, and constantly changing.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I think the idea is to actually make it more user-friendly. If there is any problem with that, let us know and we can pass any complaints along to the people who work on it. But we try to modernize it and make it more user-friendly as much as we can.
Question: Well, it’s getting less user-friendly, so if you can, I mean, we would like to know where the things are and are made available…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, if you have specific complaints, certainly, pass that on through us and we’ll try to let the people who are improving the website know. Thanks very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record