|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, everybody.
I can tell you that Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly is here and he will brief you after my briefing.
**Secretary-General in Cambodia
The Secretary-General and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met in Phnom Penh this morning for a detailed exchange of views on a broad range of subjects covering bilateral, regional and international issues.
Human rights figured strongly in their discussions, and the Secretary-General focused specifically on the essential public advocacy role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and stressed the notable role and value of its Office in Phnom Penh.
The discussion also focused on the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The Secretary-General underlined the need for the Government of Cambodia to respect the independence of the Court and to fully cooperate with it, in order for the court to enjoy international support and leave a strong legacy in Cambodia. The Extraordinary Court, he emphasized, was established to be fully independent, and even the Secretary-General should not seek to influence its decisions in any way.
The Secretary-General also visited the Extraordinary Chambers, and said there that it is fundamentally important that we insist on accountability for the shocking crimes of the Khmer Rouge years. As a young person at the time, he said, he was horrified. He added that tomorrow, he will visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, seeing it as a necessary stop for the Secretary-General of an Organization dedicated to protecting people all around the world. We have his remarks in my Office.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the information disclosed by WikiLeaks adds to her concerns that serious breaches of international human rights law have occurred in Iraq, including summary executions of a large number of civilians, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
The United States and Iraqi authorities should take necessary measures to investigate all allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for unlawful killings, summary executions, torture and other serious human rights abuses, her Office said.
The High Commissioner calls upon Iraq to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol. She also urges the Iraqi Government to facilitate visits of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and its human rights teams to monitor the human rights situation in detention facilities so that necessary advice and assistance can be provided to the Iraqi authorities.
** Middle East
Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, marked the UN Day observance yesterday by helping to pick olives with his team in Turmus’ayya, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He said that there could be nothing more symbolic in Palestine than to participate in the olive harvest. But Serry warned that in recent weeks in that village, settler extremists had destroyed hundreds of trees by poison or by knocking them down. He said he was appalled at acts of destruction of olive trees and farmlands, desecration of mosques, and violence against civilians, and he condemned these actions.
The Security Council held a closed meeting this morning, to hear from Hisashi Owada, the President of the International Court of Justice. He briefed the Council on the Court’s recent work.
I am happy to take questions. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a reaction to the death of the former Argentinean President?
Spokesperson: Well, I do know that we will put out a statement just a little later. But I can tell you now that the Secretary-General is aware of this very sad news. He learnt with great sadness of the untimely and sudden passing of Mr. [Nestor] Kirchner. And I can tell you that the Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences and respect to Mrs. Cristina Fernandez, her family and to the Government and people of Argentina. As I said, I would expect there to be a more formal statement a little later. Okay, other questions? Yes?
Question: Sure, Martin. I want to ask you a couple of things about — well, first about Cambodia, since you have just given this readout. In the readout, where it refers to the Secretary-General expressing the importance of human rights, I wanted to ask, it is reported that the Prime Minister had asked him to remove from the position the head of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights office there. Can you confirm that that request was made and what Mr. Ban’s response is to it? And also, there was an attempt by people facing eviction in Phnom Penh to make their views known to the Secretary-General; reportedly a UN official was quoted as saying Mr. Ban is aware of their request to see him or make their views known, but it is unclear yet how he is going to respond. What is his response? Does he see that as a human rights issue, and is he going to either meet with these people or take a letter, as he did in Bangkok?
Spokesperson: Well, let’s start with the second bit first. If there is some kind of written communication that these people who are protesting against eviction would like to hand over, I am sure that that would be possible. I know that the Secretary-General has, in his meeting with the Prime Minister, underlined the importance of creating political space for public debate, including on key issues of human rights. And I think that covers that part of the question, as well. As for the meeting with the Prime Minister, the readout I provided just now is a précis, if you like, of the full readout, which I am sure you have seen. And it is clear, we’ve said very clearly that human rights figured strongly in their discussions. And it is also very clear from the readout, and I can confirm that the Secretary-General stressed the notable role and value of its office in Phnom Penh, and that, of course, includes the person who heads that office.
Question: Okay, so the person is going to remain in place, despite the request?
Spokesperson: That is an internal personnel matter. I have just told you that the Secretary-General has stressed the role and value of the office, and that includes the staff who work in the office.
Question: Mine is a little off-topic. Yesterday afternoon, Martin, your Office squawked that they found bedbugs in the CMP [Capital Master Plan] conference room chairs.
Question: So I am sure all UN staff would like to know what’s being done to contain the bedbug situation. Is it just, have these dogs only sniffed this complex or have they sniffed Madison Avenue and DC One and Two and other places, and how are we all going to be sure we’re not going home with them?
Spokesperson: A couple of things. As I told you yesterday, the Capital Master Plan office had said that, over the weekend, the dogs detected these bedbugs in the Capital Master Plan conference room chairs — just there, but not anywhere else in the offices. And those chairs have been replaced. I am sure you want to know what happened to them. I can say that the chairs have been moved to an area where staff do not go, and they are being fumigated. And I can also tell you, in answer to the other part of your question, that we don’t have any other incidents of bedbugs to report at this point.
Question: So how often is the UN checking? Because someone could pick them up anytime, and we all know they’re everywhere. So how often are you checking?
Spokesperson: Well, isn’t that the bigger picture? New York City is a very large city. The UN compound is a rather small part of a very large city. And I think that you all know that if you live in New York City that there are reports, perhaps not everyday, but there are many reports about bedbugs in various locations around the city. That’s not to minimize any occurrence that there might be here, but I think one needs to look at it in the bigger context. As I say, we don’t have any other incidents of bedbugs to report at this point.
Question: How often are you checking? Weekly checking? We need to know. I am sure nobody wants to take them home with them.
Spokesperson: [handed paper] This is all about bedbugs. I am not going to read all of this out now, but I am going to send it around to you, all right? But the bottom line is that — and literally the bottom line in this information is that we continue to follow the expert advice of our exterminator specialist, making further tests with the bedbug sniffing dog to more fully assess and manage the problem. So that sounds like the dog is still in action.
Question: All right. Well, could you find out, though, how often they’re checking?
Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: Are they checking on a regular basis, or was this the first time the ever checked?
Spokesperson: It says here that, and I just mentioned, infestations have been found in many public and commercial buildings throughout New York City, and that indicates a kind of worsening problem. And I can also…
Question: Because UN staff is so spread out and they’re all coming back and forth, you can spread them from one building to the other. So if you could check that the other buildings are being checked, or is it just this complex?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, we’re taking the advice of the specialist making further tests and there are two factors here; one is that no staff, or indeed, people in the buildings have reported being bitten. And the second is that these sniffing dogs, expert though they may be, they cannot distinguish between bedbugs that are alive or dead. So that is another factor that one needs to take into account. Thank you very much.
Question: Can I just ask one follow-up?
Spokesperson: Yes, of course.
Question: In September of last year there was a similar outbreak or finding of bedbugs in the Albano Building on 46th Street, and I just wonder…
Spokesperson: This was not — I need to correct you on that. They weren’t bedbugs, they were clover mites. I know, because I went back, I asked my colleagues to check. They were not bedbugs, they were clover mites. They do not bite.
Question: It was reported on iSeek that it was bedbugs, and I just wonder, there was a controversy here…
Spokesperson: I am telling you the guidance that we received and, I think, in fact, we provided at the time.
Question: At the time there was some discussion whether the landlord of the Albano Building or the moving company who had moved the furniture into the Albano Building… the question was who was responsible for these bugs, whatever they were, and I’m just wondering, what follow-through was ever done by the UN in terms of how those got in there?
Spokesperson: Let me find out. I don’t know the answer to that question. Of more immediate concern is what we have been talking about now. And as I said, this is something that continues to be looked at. I can tell you that there has not been any confirmed bedbug activity in the Albano building since the fumigations that took place last year. Okay. And I can reiterate that, as I just told you, that these were clover mites; and it wasn’t in September, it was in May.
Question: [inaudible] this year and September last year?
Spokesperson: We’re talking about… that’s right, in September the building was fumigated, and then, as I told you, in May — this is what I am talking about — these were clover mites; these were not bedbugs. Maybe…
Question: In September it was bedbugs?
Spokesperson: That’s right, that’s right, yes. But let’s… We may wish to turn to weightier matters, important though this topic is. I am not trying to minimize it, but let’s try to keep it in perspective, please.
Question: Have they checked the [Secretary-General]’s office? Have the authorities, the mechanics, whatever you may call them, checked the Secretary-General’s office?
Spokesperson: I am going to ask that right after this briefing. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later added that there was no further incidence of bedbugs, including in the Secretary-General’s office. The Spokesperson also issued a note to correspondents on bedbugs.]
Question: Well, I have quite regular subjects. There are reports that [Daniel] Bellemare might be coming here tomorrow to… for a meeting with the [Secretary-General]. Any confirmation on Bellemare of the Special Tribunal of Lebanon? Is there any confirmation?
Spokesperson: Well, I think you know where the Secretary-General is.
Question: What about Bellemare?
Spokesperson: Yes, I know, I heard what you said. But you said “for a meeting with the Secretary-General”. The Secretary-General is in Asia.
Question: Okay. So he is not coming any time soon to the Headquarters of the UN…?
Spokesperson: That’s not what I said, that’s not what I said. I said that he won’t be meeting with the Secretary-General.
Question: Is Mr. Bellemare going to be at the United Nations Headquarters for a meeting with senior UN officials like Mrs. [Patricia]O’Brien?
Spokesperson: As you know, Mr. Bellemare makes periodic visits to report on the management of the Special Tribunal.
Question: Will that be this week?
Spokesperson: That I would need to check.
Question: Okay. I have another question, please. I am sorry. Is there any reaction to the death sentence issued in Iraq against former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz by the United Nations? There has been an appeal by the Vatican yesterday calling to commute the sentence.
Spokesperson: Well, the United Nations position on the death penalty is well known. That is that we oppose the death penalty and certainly we would, as in other cases, we would be suggesting that a death penalty should not be carried out.
Question: What about this particular case?
Spokesperson: As I said, we’re opposed to the death penalty. Yes?
Question: Just to follow up to Khaled’s first question on the Tribunal. Do you have any reaction? There was an incident this morning in south Beirut, I believe a French investigator and an Australian investigator from the Tribunal went to a clinic and they were accosted by 75 women or something, and one of their briefcases was taken and they were obstructed from their work.
Spokesperson: I have seen the reports, I don’t have anything on that at the moment.
[The Spokesperson later said that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon had issued press releases condemning the attack today on its staff.]
Question: I have question about Sudan. I wanted to ask, it’s now been reported by name, individuals that were arrested by… reportedly arrested by the Sudanese authorities after the Security Council’s visit. Mohamed Abdall Mohamed, who they say was arrested 9 October, and Abdalla Eshag Abdul Razig on 11 [October]. So, these are both days after the visit and it said that Mr. Eshag spoke with the Council in Abou Shouk camp. I know that there was… DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] was supposed to brief the Council on Monday on this very topic. I just wonder, in light of now a report naming names of persons arrested, can the UN confirm that these people have been arrested and do they dispute that these were people that spoke to the Security Council during their visit?
Spokesperson: Where is that report, Matthew?
Correspondent: It’s Video Dibanga, which also is the one that spoke to the kidnapped UN Hungarian staff member [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Right, yes, it’s based in the Netherlands. What I can tell you is that Mr. [Alain] Le Roy did brief the Council, and you have the information that he provided to the Council on this particular instance.
Question: [inaudible] asked actually investigate it further and get to the bottom of it. So I am just wondering…
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything further at the moment. If he was asked to do so, I am sure he is doing so. But I don’t have anything further at the moment.
Question: And I also… I just want… This is also on Sudan, but it’s sort of on the UN. There was an event yesterday held by DPI [Department of Public Information] in the North Lawn Building called Event, New Vision, it was about Sudan and it had Mr. [Francis] Deng speaking at some length about books that he has written. It had books for sale outside the room and had the host, the Ambassador of Sudan. But what had led me to wonder is, I know Mr. Deng is the Special [Adviser] on prevention of genocide, but it seems… I’ve heard from people that these books are written on UN time; that this is actually one of the things that he does in his UN office. And so, I just, I am unclear of what to make of the book, of the books that he produces. If they are created on UN time and with UN money, are they UN views or is there some, what are topics is his office working on in terms of…?
Spokesperson: Did you attend it yesterday?
Correspondent: I did attend it.
Spokesperson: And you asked him?
Question: And I asked him afterwards what other countries he is working on prevention of genocide; he said, “We don’t like to be country-specific.” But it seems like it’s hard to prevent genocide unless you name countries.
Spokesperson: Well, this is obviously something that Mr. Deng can comment on. I don’t have anything on that.
Question: What are rules, I guess I am saying, for UN, if a UN official spends his time in the UN building while on UN time writing books? Does the UN own the copyright?
Spokesperson: That’s what you are saying. Or you said, “Some people say”. That is not an established fact, Matthew. You shouldn’t then turn it into an established fact. You said, “Some people say”.
Question: Okay. If you can look into it and find that no staff member’s time is entirely…
Spokesperson: As I said, it sounds like you had the chance to ask Mr. Deng yesterday.
Question: But also, was, is the book being sold…
Spokesperson: Any other questions? Yes, Khaled? Yes?
Question: Sorry, I just want to go back again. Since Mr. Bellemare has been the Prosecutor of the Tribunal, we have never got the chance to hear from him here in New York as journalists. And if he is going to be present here at the United Nations, is there any chance he can provide us any briefing or any update?
Spokesperson: Well, that would be for his office to decide.
Question: We cannot do it through the Spokesperson’s Office?
Spokesperson: It doesn’t mean we won’t ask, but it’s for his office to decide. Yeah, okay. Thank you very much. Jean Victor. Yes, Jean Victor. Yeah.
Question: Was there ever an answer on whether Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari was in town?
Spokesperson: He is on leave, that’s what I can tell you.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Bon après-midi, and good afternoon.
**Official Visit of the President of the General Assembly to Japan
The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Joseph Deiss, arrived in Tokyo yesterday, 26 October. President Deiss had a working dinner hosted by Mr. Takeaki Matsumoto, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan, who was accompanied by a number of senior officials from the Foreign Ministry. The topics they discussed included Security Council reform, the Biodiversity meeting in Nagoya and other environmental issues, such as climate change, green economy, the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals high-level plenary meeting of September in New York, disarmament and human security. The President of the General Assembly thanked the State Secretary for Japan's strong commitment to and support for the United Nations.
Today, 27 October, President Deiss delivered a statement and presented the summary of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on biodiversity at the opening ceremony of the high-level ministerial segment of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya.
This was followed by a bilateral meeting with [His Excellency], Mr. Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan. Topics discussed by the President and the Prime Minister included the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, Security Council reform, disarmament and President Deiss’ forthcoming visit to Hiroshima.
President Deiss commended Prime Minister Kan for Japan's strong support for and contribution to the work of the United Nations. On the margins of the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties high-level segment, President Deiss met with the President of Gabon, Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba. They discussed the importance of moving towards a green economy. President Deiss also had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Yemen, Dr. Ali Mohammed Mujawar, during which they discussed important matters on the agenda of the sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly.
After returning today to Tokyo from Nagoya, President Deiss had a bilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Japan, Mr. Seiji Maehara. Their discussions focused largely on Security Council reform.
Finally the President of the General Assembly had a dinner with members of the Board of the United Nations Association of Japan.
As you know, the President’s visit to Japan ends at the end of this week.
Questions? Yes, Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah, I wanted to, Friday there was this session, this informal, it was called GA session on the G-20, the upcoming G-20 in Seoul. But it was some… it was a closed meeting, i.e. the press couldn’t attend it. I wanted to know why that was, and whether President Deiss, you know, what the basis for closing the meeting was. And I know he is having one on 16 November once the G-20 is held. Is that, what’s the reason for not allowing press coverage of… if he wants to increase, I guess, knowledge of the UN and its interrelation with the G-20? Can you answer that?
Spokesperson: I hear you. That’s a good question. I will check this formally with our colleagues in General Assembly Affairs, and maybe with other officials of the G-20 gathering, and we’ll come back to you with some specific answer on that. Thank you. Any other question?
Thank you. I wish you a pleasant afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record