19 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General in Strasbourg


In Strasbourg today, the Secretary-General spoke to the Council of Europe, to join with the Council in celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.  He said that one of the cardinal missions of the United Nations is to shine the light of human rights everywhere, including the darkest corners of the world.


The Secretary-General warned that in some developed nations, immigration and economic recession have combined to create anxieties which could gradually serve as a pretext for the politics of discrimination and exclusion.  He said that our universal compact on human rights needs to be reinforced and stressed the need to protect the basic rights of migrants.  And he welcomed the Council’s convening of a meeting tomorrow to discuss the integration of Roma people in Europe.  He said: “Let this be the moment when Governments reaffirm their commitment to the highest human rights standards for all.”


The Secretary-General also spoke to the European Parliament, noting that these are testing times, even in a prosperous Europe.  And a dangerous trend is emerging, he added, a new politics of polarization.  The Secretary-General said that Europe cannot afford stereotyping that closes minds and breeds hatred, and the world cannot afford a Europe that does this.  We have his remarks in our office, as well as readouts of his meetings with the heads of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.


**Secretary-General’s Travel to Asia


The Secretary-General will travel to Asia, starting on 26 October, for official visits to Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam and China.  He will discuss the UN’s relations with the countries he is visiting, regional and global issues, as well as UN-ASEAN cooperation — that’s the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


His programme will begin in Bangkok, Thailand, where he will meet with the Prime Minister and other Government representatives.


The Secretary-General will then travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where he will meet with the King and the Prime Minister.  While in the Cambodian capital, he will visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.


In Viet Nam, the Secretary-General will attend the ASEAN-UN Summit.  He will also meet with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Viet Nam.


The Secretary-General will then travel to China and visit Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing.  The Secretary-General will meet with the Chinese President, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and other senior Government officials.  During the visit, the Secretary-General will also participate in the Summit Forum and the closing ceremony of World Expo 2010.


In each of the four countries, the Secretary-General will meet with UN Resident Coordinators, UN country teams and staff to discuss the important role they play in their respective countries of assignment.


**Security Council


The Security Council received a briefing this morning from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Ameerah Haq, on the work of the UN Integrated Mission in that country, known as UNMIT.


Ms. Haq noted the stability in Timor-Leste in recent months, and said she was pleased to note that Timorese leaders continue to hold inclusive dialogue to address the current challenges facing the country.  She also highlighted advances by the Timorese in taking over policing responsibilities from the United Nations in several districts.


She said that agreement has been reached with the Government on transitional planning for UNMIT, so that there will be a smooth transfer of the Mission’s functions to Timorese institutions.  And we have her remarks in the Spokesperson's Office.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


Young-jin Choi, the Head of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), says that the campaign period for the 31 October presidential election has taken off peacefully.  Choi, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d’Ivoire, said campaigning is evolving in accordance with democratic rules despite the passion inherent in this kind of event.


He made those remarks yesterday in Abidjan, after meeting with the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission.  Choi added that the UN mission would begin delivery of printed electoral materials to voting sites later this week.  He also noted that 66,000 polling agents are being trained by the Ivorian authorities, and the UN, meanwhile, is helping to build temporary shelters in 3,200 polling stations.


** Pakistan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that an estimated 20.2 million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, with an estimated 14 million in need of immediate humanitarian aid.  An area larger than the Netherlands — 50,000 square kilometres — has been ravaged by floods, and over 2.2 million hectares of crops have been lost.  Over 1.9 million homes have been destroyed or damaged and at least 7 million people are currently without shelter.


Throughout September and October, food rations have been supplied to an estimated 8.8 million people.  High-energy biscuits and ready-to-use supplementary food is being provided for around 2 million children.  Also, since the start of the response, essential medication has been provided to cover the potential health needs of 5.15 million people.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the emergency shelter needs for an estimated 3.4 million people have been met, while 3.7 million people have access to clean water on a daily basis.  At the same time, the Office says, the Response Plan for Pakistan is still only 36 per cent funded.


Meanwhile, UNICEF is reporting an increase in polio cases in Pakistan.  Seventy-eight polio cases have been reported among children, which is a 26 per cent increase over 2009 figures.  UNICEF says its last immunization campaign in Pakistan reached more than 8.5 million children.


**World Food Security


The Committee on World Food Security has called for action on key issues related to food security and nutrition, such as land tenure and international investment in agriculture, and food price volatility.


The Committee has requested its high-level panel of experts to take a close look and make recommendations regarding “causes and consequences of food price volatility, including market-distorting practices and links to financial markets, and appropriate and coherent policies, actions, tools and institutions to manage the risks linked to excessive price volatility in agriculture”.


**Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support


I would like to draw your attention to a press release we have available in the Spokesperson’s Office from the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support; their release of the third quarter 2010 statistics on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN peacekeeping personnel.


From the press release, it says that, during the third quarter of 2010, there were 19 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, of which 5 concerned minors.  During the first three quarters of 2010, 64 allegations were reported, compared to 81 allegations during the first nine months of 2009, which shows a decrease of 21 per cent.  Further details are available on the Conduct and Discipline website.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will hold a press conference to launch their latest report, The State of World Population 2010.


At 11 a.m., on the occasion of World Statistics Day, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will hold a press conference launching their latest report, World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics.


And then at 3:30 p.m., the United Nations University Institute for Software Technology will hold a press conference to discuss a new alliance for measuring university performance, called the Global Research Benchmarking System.


And that is it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, please?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I want to ask about food security, about the volatility of the food agriculture product market.  Is there anything specific that, under the UN umbrella, you were suggesting for… Which organizations in the financial world were collaborating; the UN is collaborating, trying to bring down volatility? 


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we have more information available from the Committee on World Food Security.  Basically what they’re doing is they’re holding a five-day meeting which was the first meeting of this Committee, following a reform which aims at making it the cornerstone of global governance of agriculture and food security.  And there is more in a press release.


Question:  Some of the background on the China visit; how many times has he been to China since he was the SG and when was the last visit?  And also, will he be meeting with Xi when he is there, the new, sort of heir-apparent?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of meetings, the only details I have were the ones I just gave, which don’t actually mention the official you named.  Afterwards, we can go back and look at the website.  On our website we do have details of all of his previous trips to China, of which there have been several in the last few years. 


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General has previously visited China three times, on 23-26 July 2009, 1-3 July 2008 and 24 May 2008.]


Question:  Given that the SG is visiting both China and the ASEAN countries, do you think there is any likelihood or probability that he is going to give any comment about the free-trade zone between China and ASEAN countries?  It will be a whole year; it started from the beginning of this year.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, he is going to discuss a number of issues involving ASEAN during his time there.  I’ll leave it until close to the meeting for us to preview what they are.  But as you know, there are a number of issues on which the UN and ASEAN are cooperating, and we expect that he will discuss a range of issues.


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The South Sudanese army is accusing UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] of not reporting massive build-ups of troops along sensitive border spots.  And we haven’t been able to get sufficient information out of UNMIS, which is why I am bringing it up here.  What can you tell us about it, and why is UNMIS withholding this information, if in fact that’s the case?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I would refer you over to the fact that UNMIS has been trying to deploy more troops in the area.  In terms of details on that…


Question:  It has been recorded, this massive build-up.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d actually need to get the information about what they have been reporting.  What I would like to point out, as Haile Menkerios made clear yesterday, that at this stage, UNMIS has been making adjustments to the deployment of its existing troops that are deployed throughout the ceasefire zone to defuse tensions where they exist, consistent with its mandate and with the full knowledge of the two parties, including in Abyei.  And what they have been doing is trying to deploy in areas that are deemed to be trouble spots, just from using our existing facilities.  So we are having deployments in the troubles spots.  In terms of what the reporting is, I will try to get any further information from UNMIS about what they have been telling the parties.  But they are certainly deploying on the ground in areas believed to be troublesome, and trying to coordinate between the parties to reduce any tensions in those areas.


Question:  Okay.  But obviously, in order to make proper decisions from New York and on the ground, clear and up-to-date information about formations of northern troops in border areas will be essential, obviously.  So, certain information…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, that is understood.  And it’s also understood, as Mr. Menkerios has made clear, that he appealed to the leadership of the Sudanese parties to ensure the calm and proper functioning of the political, security and technical mechanisms that they have established.  And we’re certainly there to help them do that.


Question:  You said about UNICEF and the release of data in Pakistan, about the 20 per cent increase of the polio occurrence in the children population.  We know there is a big hardship because of the flood, but are there any other reasons contributing to this increase?  And this is quite a significant increase.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It is a significant increase.  It’s quite possible that this is in fact a flood-related increase.  And there was always the worry that certain diseases would be on an upswing.  You can get some further details from UNICEF, which does intend to do more to deal with the cases of polio immunization, which it has pursued in Pakistan in the past.


Question:  I want to ask about Sudan and Burundi.  But on Sudan, I want, in terms of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation] in Darfur, there are various reports that not only fighting in East, in Jebel Marra region, but that people are being… are fleeing the fighting and filling the refugee camps, including Tawilla and this one called Shangil Tobaya, which the [Security] Council was going to visit and then was told by the Government not to visit.  I am wondering, does UNAMID have anything to say about these reports of not just, whatever the background of the fighting is, but of increased aerial bombardments and IDPs [internally displaced persons] fleeing to camps?  And also what is the UN system’s role in this camp that the Council wasn’t allow to visit, Shangil Tobaya?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we need to check about the UN role in Shangil Tobaya.  As for Jebel Marra, we have actually had reports of attacks on as many as six villages, including Soro, as well as other villages in Eastern Jebel Marra.  These villages have not all been identified, as the information about the reported attacks is very sketchy.  Confirmation is very difficult, as there is no access in these areas, and we have been trying, including through our Humanitarian Coordinator, Georg Charpentier, to press for obtaining access to that area.


Question:  On that statement, thanks, I have seen that before.  This actually came out of something that he distributed to the Council, which came from the week of 27 September to 4 October.  I am just wondering, since that time, these reports… It’s not a question of Mr. Charpentier getting access, it’s that the reports are that people are fleeing and that the number of people in these camps is swelling and people are living outside.  That seems like something you need to confirm.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I pointed out, because of the lack of access, the details that we are getting, by necessity, have been fairly sketchy and what we’re trying to do is get additional details and the sort of confirmation we need of these incidents.


Question:  Why’s it hard to say what’s the number of people, new IDPs, registering at camps that are fleeing fighting?  That seems something that [inaudible].


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any accurate counts at this stage.  Part of that will depend on the access that we get, so that we can get access to talk to people.


Question:  Just on the Mapping Report, it includes lots of recommendations about working with the Congolese, et cetera, dealing with issues of justice.  Is there any role for the Secretary-General in this?  Where is the key point within the UN system for pushing this issue forward?  And is there a role for the Secretary-General?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has certainly played part of the role.  As you know, he has himself talked to some of the leaders who had been involved in this, and he has certainly endorsed the work that’s being done by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the team that has been involved in producing this.  At this stage, it’s the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who has been trying to follow up.  And I’d refer you to her Office for what kind of follow-up that they are doing.


Question:  I want to ask you on, I guess it’s on whether UNMIS has had anything to say about… Today, the Defence Minister of Sudan earlier today, Abdul-Rahim Hussein has said, from a pretty high level of the Government, that the referendum may be delayed, that up to 20 per cent of the border hasn’t been delineated and unless it is, the referendum probably won’t be held on 9 January.  I have heard also yesterday that Alain Le Roy said to the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] peacekeeping meeting that the two were connected; that from the UN’s perspective, the referendum of South Sudan shouldn’t happen without the Abyei one.  What is the UN’s position on both this comment and on the interrelation of these two referenda?  Is it true that Alain Le Roy said that to the full membership of the NAM peacekeeping group, working group for peacekeeping?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any comment to make at this stage about what Mr. Le Roy may or may not have said.  Regarding the referenda, we are doing our best, as we have said repeatedly, to make sure that they are held on schedule.  As far as that goes, both parties have recommitted themselves to holding the referenda on time and to respecting their outcomes in the communiqué issued after the 24 September high-level meeting on Sudan.  The Secretary-General reminds both parties of their commitment stated in the communiqué.  And the United Nations continues to operate on this basis.


Question:  Can I ask about Burundi?  [inaudible] said that Mr. Charles Petrie is leaving several months early from the country and it’s also, this is intertwined with reports of the execution of 22 ex-rebel FNL [National Liberation Front] individuals.  He is quoted, Mr Petrie is quoted, as saying that the opposition, by boycotting the elections, failed the country, but that he has accomplished — this is in a separate article — that he is leaving the country ahead of time because he has accomplished his objectives.  What exactly is going on?  What is the UN… one, can you confirm this, these reports of execution of ex-rebels?  And two, what are his objectives and why is he leaving early?  Is he being “persona non grata’d”, as some say?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he is not being persona non grata’d.  He is departing of his own volition, as he himself has said.  I wouldn’t have any further comment to add to what he himself is saying.


Question:  What were his objectives, though, if in fact no election was held and people are being killed?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Clearly, he has been talking about this, and so, you could get the answer just as easily from Mr. Petrie.  I wouldn’t have any way of adding to his own comments.  But regarding the question of reported executions, we’ll certainly look into this.  I’ll see whether there is anything further we can say about these reports.  We certainly have seen some worrying reports and we’ll need to look into that.  I’ll see whether there is anything further to say on that.


Question:  Do you have anything on Haiti?  On this jail, on the prison escape?  Some are saying that the UN peacekeepers were the firers of the shots that killed the escaping prisoners.  Is that something that you can confirm?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I mentioned yesterday that the Director of Penitentiary Affairs is looking into that matter.  I don’t have anything further beyond what I said yesterday.


Question:  It was said that the people that were taken hostage briefly were all, six of the seven were Swedish and that two of them were prison wardens.  So, I tried to ask yesterday, is the UN in some way sponsoring a Swedish contingent to actually run the prisons in Haiti?  What…  And who were the two guests?  It just seems all, at least to me, it seems murky.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I gave fairly extensive details, and in terms of people involved in the incident, I wouldn’t have any further details on nationality to provide.  Like I said, the UN has provided help to the Haitian authorities on a range of matters regarding the work of the Haitian National Police and for the justice system as a whole.  And the work we do with the prisons is part of that.


Question:  Do you have any information about the attempt on the life of the UN Special Representative in Iraq?  Do you have…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I can confirm that there was an incident which we believe involved an improvised explosive device with Ad Melkert’s UN convoy as it was on the road around Najaf.  What I can confirm as well is that Mr. Melkert is safe, that there were no casualties among UN staff and we are checking with the Iraqi authorities about any casualties or damage that they may have suffered.


Question:  And you have no idea who could be behind this.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.


Question:  But do you see it as an attack, a direct attack on the UN, intentional attack on the UN?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that would need to be investigated.  This is something that has happened fairly recently.  We are looking into the matter right now.  Mr. Melkert was in Najaf meeting the Ayatollah [Ali al‑]Sistani, and he had actually completed that meeting prior to this road incident that happened.  That’s all?  Thanks.


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