|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.
Thanks for sticking around. I also just wanted to let you know, as our guests leave, that the Security Council has just adjourned, so it’s possible that the Council President will be at the stakeout shortly. Meanwhile, here is our briefing.
**Secretary-General on Israel
The Secretary-General is on his way to Seoul, where he will arrive tomorrow morning. He will also give a press conference tomorrow to discuss his priorities ahead of the G-20 Summit.
Yesterday evening, before his departure, the Secretary-General met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and they discussed the ongoing efforts to move the Middle East peace process forward. The Secretary-General emphasized that it was vital to break the current diplomatic stalemate, resume negotiations and produce results. He expressed concern at the resumption of the settlement activity and recent announcements of further settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister also discussed the latest report on Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), including current proposals on the issue of Ghajar. They also reviewed the regional situation, including Iran. Finally, the Secretary-General expressed hope for further measures by the Government of Israel to ease the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, told the Security Council this morning that piracy off the coast of Somalia is “a menace that is outpacing efforts by the international community to stem it”.
He said the numbers are appalling; as of 4 November, over 438 seafarers and passengers and 20 ships are held by pirates — an increase of almost 100 kidnapped victims in less than a month. Pascoe called for the immediate release of all those who are being held against their will by the pirates.
In presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on this issue, Pascoe said that warships alone will not solve the problem. He said: “We need to continue to fight this battle in the broadest manner, focusing simultaneously on deterrence, security and the rule of law, as well as providing economic alternatives for Somali youth.”
The Council also heard from the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, who said his office has developed a counter-piracy programme to assist regional countries in prosecuting pirates. He said over 700 suspected and convicted pirates are now in detention in 12 countries. And we have their remarks in our office.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos today wrapped up her five-day visit to the Sudan, telling reporters she had come to see for herself the status of the humanitarian response, to strengthen working relationships with the key stakeholders in Darfur and Southern Sudan and seek assurance from authorities on their responsibility to protect and uphold the rights of the population.
She said she asked for a renewed commitment from the authorities, in the South, in Darfur and at the federal level, to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian assistance is unhampered and free from any political, ethnic or religious consideration.
Ms. Amos said the importance of finding durable solutions for displaced populations was also raised during her discussions, and she stressed that all people have the right to return home or settle in an alternative location of their choosing, but the conditions need to be appropriate and their safety and security must be guaranteed. She said that ensuring that returns take place in a free and principled manner is the responsibility of the Government.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mobilized quickly on Monday to come to the aid of more than 15,000 refugees who had fled into northern Thailand after fighting had broken out between ethnic Karen rebels and Government troops in the Myawaddy area of eastern Myanmar the day after elections. At the request of Thai authorities, UNHCR is coordinating the efforts of non-governmental organizations and others to provide shelter, food and water to refugees in the town of Mae Sot.
Refugees had started pouring across the border early in the morning on foot and on inner tubes across the Moei River. Some had said they felt their lives were at risk after their houses had been attacked, while others said they had fled the sound of fighting.
UNHCR emptied its warehouse in Mae Sot to provide 90 tents which Thai authorities and the refugees themselves had erected in the evening. Today, UNHCR plastic sheeting is being put up to provide more shelter.
As we told you yesterday, the Secretary-General is concerned about reports of outbreaks of fighting in some areas, and he urges all sides to refrain from any action that could raise tensions further or create instability at this sensitive time.
And in Haiti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the Government has to date reported 8,138 hospitalized cases of cholera and 544 deaths due to the disease. Those cases were reported in the West, North-West, North, Centre and Artibonite departments.
Some 14 cholera-treatment centres are functioning in the West, Artibonite and Centre departments, according to the World Health Organization. OCHA says that a standard operation procedure for reporting new cases, or resurgences of water-borne disease, such as cholera, has been developed to support the response to the epidemic. This is an alert system that will allow quicker reporting in areas with non-confirmed cases of cholera and areas with confirmed cases. It will also help to identify “hot spots” and actions to be taken.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And as for tomorrow, there is a press conference here tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., in the Library Auditorium. The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia will hold the press conference.
And that’s it from me. Any questions? Yes. You can have a seat first, and then you can ask.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Secretary-General met with Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu yesterday. And he, according to some Internet, the UN website, the Secretary-General asked him about the housing to stop, I mean restraining the housing in settlements. The Secretary-General asked about access in Gaza. What did the Israeli Prime Minister say? What was his reaction?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t speak for the Israeli Prime Minister. Certainly, they did discuss all these issues, and there were certainly other issues, including the situation in Lebanon and around that were also brought up by the Prime Minister and discussed between the parties. But in terms of the details from our side, those were all contained in the readout which I just read at the start of this briefing.
Question: Okay, they are contained in the readout; what was the reaction of the Israeli Prime Minister?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, no, our readout did not provide the reaction by the other side. But certainly they did discuss this and the Secretary-General made clear his hope, for example, with Gaza, that you will have greater entry of goods into and through Gaza. Yes. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure. First I just wanted, just before you began, there was a press conference by Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. She said two things that I wanted to ask either for now or maybe later today, if necessary, for the Secretariat’s response on. One, she said that she would expect Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet to have something to say about the idea that both Iran and Saudi Arabia would be on the board of UN Women. She said that she described practices in Iran which she said are just legal discrimination and expected that Ms. Bachelet would prioritize the human rights of women over her position as the Chair of UN Women. So I don’t expect you to speak off the cuff, but if it’s possible either to have an opportunity, a Q and A with Ms. Bachelet or to get some comment from her in response to that.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I won’t speak for Ms. Bachelet, certainly. It’s up to her to decide whether there is anything she in particular wants to say on this. However, what I can say is two things: first off, the question of who gets to sit on the board overseeing UN Women is a matter that is left up to Member States. And of course, we respect the right of Member States to elect their own members of the board. And of course, it is certainly up to them. The second point, however, that I would like to make is that we do expect all Member States to uphold fundamental human rights. As you are aware, with the Universal Periodic Review, the members of the Human Rights Council are themselves subjected to a review of their own individual human rights records. And by the same token, it is to be expected that all of the members of the board dealing with UN Women would be willing to have their own record on women’s rights examined.
Question: She also said, just to finish this one up, she said with regard to her colleague Nobel Peace Prize winner — the recent winner in China — she said that she would be disappointed if the UN did not take action in this regard. And given that the Secretary-General, he is, I understand that he was here earlier in the week and he pointed to three statements that he made while in China about human rights generically. But it just seems, what’s his response to one Nobel Peace prize winner saying that the UN should speak in favour of political Nobel Peace winners or political prisoners, for example the one in China? Why didn’t… I understand you can, you gave a good answer. Is there some… is it consistent with these human rights duties for a country to imprison a person, a human rights defender that is now being granted the Nobel Peace prize?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the Secretary-General as he made clear to you, did discuss the question of human rights defenders while he was at the Central Party School in Beijing, he did speak to the people there about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in that speech, which is available, he emphasized the need to respect the right to freedom of expression and to protect human rights defenders.
Beyond that, the Secretary-General made it very clear that he did discuss human rights issues in his private talks with Chinese leaders. And as he said just a few days ago, we do all know why diplomatic discourse has sometimes, necessarily, to be conducted in confidence.
Question: Can we infer from what you said that the name of Liu Xiaobo did pass his lips while in the four days he was in China?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It’s not for me to tell you what you can infer. You can make your own inferences; but certainly this is what I just referred to you, to what he said. And you can draw your own inferences accordingly. Yes, Erol.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Did the Secretary-General — and sorry if I am asking this question that somebody else asked before me — did the Secretary-General have a chance to address, and how did he address the Security Council reform with the Chinese part? And as a follow-up, now that the American President [Barack] Obama supported India for the permanent member of the Security Council, what is the standing of the Secretary-General? That’s whether he thinks that reforms would move forward faster?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly, the Secretary-General has always been in favour of Member States coming to agreement on reforming the Security Council; making it more representative and more effective. This is something that has been long in coming and he certainly hopes Member States can come to agreement. That said, the decision on how that reform is to be carried out who is to be on the Security Council, how many members, what the powers are — all of that is a question that is strictly in the hands of the Member States. And he respects their right to go about that discussion as they so choose.
Question: Does the Secretary-General, as the final authority who has that moral standing of moving forward when he sees that these reforms for 18 year are designed to be war of all against all, somehow, and I don’t like to repeat myself and to repeat others, to move forward; and to what did he actually talk with the Chinese regarding that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t be able to share any more details beyond what is in the readouts that we provided. The trip record is available as a press release for your reference. But as far as that goes, for us the bottom line is: we do want all Member States to see it in their interest, in their own interest to have a Security Council that can be viewed as broadly representative and have the legitimacy and effectiveness that comes with that. But, again, how they do it, the formula by which they achieve this type of reform, is up to them. Yes, Rhonda.
Question: Yes, considering what you’ve just said about wanting there to be broadly representative…what about the G-192? Is the Secretary-General bringing up the issue of the G-192 and that the G-20 is not broadly representative? It’s chosen by the G-7, and I wonder if the G-192 did have a meeting here, it is a significant event that happened and it had also its own demand and its statements. I am wondering how much the Secretary-General is going to represent any of this? Can we get more description of exactly what the Secretary-General is going to be raising? I know there is the letter and we have received that.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly you’ve seen the letter. The Secretary-General tomorrow is going to give a press conference, which should be basically late tonight by our time, where he will talk about his priorities in terms of the forthcoming G-20 meeting. But as far as representing the 192 Member States, that’s exactly why the Secretary-General is going to Seoul. He has broadly consulted among the membership and he wants to represent the views of the members as a whole when he goes to the G-20 and talks to them on development issues in a way that he hopes can make sure that the G-20 hears the views of all 192 Member States.
Question: Will he mention the G-192? Because I saw in the letter, he didn’t mention it and that is a concept that is in fact being raised by the alternative, some people.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t frankly know whether that will come up. But certainly, the views that he got from canvassing broadly among the Membership are the ones that he intends to bring with him to Seoul.
Question: Farhan, you are mentioning 172 or 192?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: 0ne hundred and ninety-two.
Question: Because on the one hand we do have 87 per cent of the population; 67 population… [inaudible].
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, 20 of the 192 are already in the Group of 20; so you are right there, by the principles of subtraction you are right that he is bringing in the views of 172 others, but he tries, in other words, to fairly represent all of the 192 Member States.
Question: I suppose I don’t know if you raised this before I came in, but there was a readout from the discussion with Netanyahu, and it just said that they brought up Iran. I wondered if you can say more about what was brought up and if we can find that out and why they have had discussion with Israel about Iran when there have been a lot of threats against Iran from Israel?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we have anything further to say beyond what is in the readout. Certainly the topic was one of those that was raised, yes.
Question: I have some Sudan questions. One is, the Justice and Equality Movement is saying that they shot down a MiG jet of the Sudanese Army in Kordofan state, and I just wonder if that’s something that the UN has heard of? Can they confirm it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’re aware of the report but we don’t have confirmation of that.
Question: Okay. And I wanted, something, and I appreciate, yesterday it was said, Valerie Amos was in a camp in Darfur, couldn’t meet with, or didn’t meet with the elders of the camp. She seemed to say, “I hope that there is no fear”. And yesterday, I was sent this answer by your Office saying that it is attributable to a split in the IDPs [internally displaced people] not being able to decide on their common position. What’s that based on, and why did she refer to fear? Is this, is that a UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] answer or is that an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] answer? And why would they need a common position to give, to meet with a humanitarian official of the UN?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: That’s the answer we got from the delegation. We shared with you what we got from them.
Question: Okay. So, OCHA, all right, all right. That’s fine. And also, I had asked, I think its now, it’s a week ago. And this is a semi-Sudan question. It has to do with the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. [Francis] Deng. I had asked, but Martin [Nesirky] had said you can’t; whether you could just either confirm or deny if possible that the administrative staff, UN-paid staff of that Office, have been involved in the preparation of Mr. Deng’s books, including re-typing hand-written notes. And if so, what this says about — are those books attributable to the UN? What’s the status of those books as regards the office and his UN post?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I believe that we are looking into that matter. Once we have an answer we will certainly share that with you.
Question: A question about the six Filipinos who were not allowed to, or were sent back by the Korean, South Korean, Government to the Philippines, and they had visas, as far as I understand. And they were invited, and had submitted all the paperwork to be invited. And there is a number of other people who have been invited to be part of this; there is an alternative summit going on in South Korea. Is there any…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware of the details. But have you checked with UNHCR about this? It might be one of the issues on which they would pronounce themselves if they had the details. Okay.
Question: Can I ask one more? I don’t know if it’s [inaudible], I mean I am not sure that, there are reports that a former UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] chief, [Gen. Alain] Pellegrini, who was interviewed by Al-Manar Television, and said that encrypted reports that he sent while head of UNIFIL to Headquarters in New York, he believes were able to be taken and unencrypted by the Israeli armed forces and that he received detailed critiques of this reports prior to any response by UN Headquarters. And I just, one, I wanted to know if the UN has seen these statements by Mr. Pellegrini, if he in fact made them? I am not sure, I am really asking this. But also, obviously if he did say them, it seems pretty serious what the UN has to say about the allegation of a Force Commander that within the UN communications system, there seems to be some type of surveillance and espionage?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As far as that goes, I wouldn’t have any comment on the remarks made by General Pellegrini now that he is no longer in service to the United Nations. What I would say is that the United Nations does take the security of its communications very seriously, and we continually review and try to make sure that our system, including our system of encryption, is secure.
Question: But he did say this, right? Have you heard of this statement of his? I just want to make sure that it is sort of…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am aware of the media reports. I don’t know whether he was quoted correctly, but I am aware of the media reports, yes.
Question: Even though he no longer worked for the UN it seems to be like a pretty serious allegation if he in fact did say this. Wouldn’t you, would you mean…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: From time to time we are faced with serious allegations that different parts of our communications may not be secure, and we take steps to…
Question: What steps?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: For security reasons, I wouldn’t really go into the details, but we do take steps to make sure that the security of our communications is preserved. Yes, Ali.
Question: Yeah, I want to ask about the meeting yesterday between the Secretary-General and the Israeli Prime Minister. Is it true that the Israeli Prime Minister submitted or informed the Secretary-General that Israel will withdraw from Ghajar?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, that’s the case. He did submit some proposals, including some steps that could point to a possible solution to the issue of Ghajar. However, there was no firm offer that was made.
Question: So there is no timeline for the withdrawal?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, there is nothing firm on that so far, no.
Question: Yes, I wondered if there has been any presentation or if we can have maybe a press conference about UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], which seems to be really short of funds?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: A press conference on what?
Correspondent: Well, it seems there is, UNRWA is really short on funds to, that’s what I heard when I went to a General Assembly meeting…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we’ve made it clear that UNRWA has had funding shortfalls and there are considerable consequences of that. The head of UNRWA, Fillipo Grandi, has been making his views clear as he visits different countries. And we, from our side, would encourage all Member States to do all that they can to support the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency, which is crucial for the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. Beyond that, I don’t know when next an UNRWA person will be available to speak to you here. But the next time that comes around, we’ll certainly try to set something up.
Question: I have one question on Myanmar. There are these reports that people that crossed the border into Thailand due to fighting with the Government, between the Karen Buddhist army and the Government. Anyway, it said that Thailand is not, is affirmatively saying “no UN”; they don’t need and will not accept any UN help to deal with these something like 20,000 refugees. And I just wonder, [inaudible]?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I just said something more than 15,000. I think you were here when I read out what UNHCR is doing.
Question: What do you make of Thailand, saying so strongly that they don’t want or need any UN help? Do you feel that the people are being treated well enough? Is that something that the Secretary-General might…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, there is a very lengthy and detailed note from UNHCR about their activities today. I read out some portion of it, but I’d refer you to that. But UNHCR is present there, and it is doing all it can to help the people who have been fleeing the fighting. Thanks very much.
Question: Just a quick follow up on that. How do you respond to the fact that Thailand is also rejecting some of the refugees and sending them back into the Myawaddy Province? I was just wondering if you had anything more to say about that, because now the civilians are really being caught in the middle of the…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any firm information on that, but as you are aware, the UN refugee agency has a very strict policy against the idea of refoulement; that is to say, that if anyone is returning back, it should be on a voluntary basis. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record