|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, everyone.
**Secretary-General at G-20 Summit
The Secretary-General this evening is attending a working dinner for the leaders of the Group of 20, who are convening in Seoul. Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will address the G-20 leaders, to make the case that development is not a side issue, and that investing in development is investing in everyone's recovery.
Today, the Secretary-General attended an event on the Millennium Development Goals at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, and he appealed to the leadership of the Korean Government to push forward on the implementation of those Goals. By doing so, he said, the Republic of Korea can show its commitment to protect the human rights of the vulnerable.
The Secretary-General also met today with President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, whom he thanked for South Africa’s role in co-chairing the G-20 development working group. This would help to coordinate the work by the G-20 and the United Nations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They agreed that it was highly significant that development would figure prominently on the agenda of the G-20 summit for the first time. And we have a full readout available in our office and online.
In Haiti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the Government is focusing its efforts on areas of the country which do not have access to potable water sources, particularly in the central departments and in the greater Port-au-Prince area, and on purifying water supplies in all departments. It adds that a crisis cell has been established, and a major nationwide cholera sensitization and information campaign is being prepared.
The humanitarian community is assisting these efforts by deploying water and sanitation experts to support Government teams verifying water quality around the country. Nearly half a million water-tablets, soap and oral rehydration salts are being distributed, targeting areas where cholera has already been detected. A large-scale public information campaign to educate people on how to avoid cholera infection is also under way, says OCHA.
But OCHA stresses that the aid effort will have to keep moving with at least the same momentum in the days and weeks ahead. National and international resources are now stretched to the limit, it adds. Urgent needs include additional medical personnel and equipment, water purification equipment and tablets, water tankers, water treatment units, family water kits, hygiene kits and soap.
The Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina. Council members will receive a briefing from the High Representative for Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, on his latest report about his office’s work.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is to pay her first visit to Bolivia from 12 to 16 November, where she will meet with President Evo Morales Ayma. Pillay’s visit takes place in the context of a recent agreement with the Government which extends the presence of the Human Rights Office in Bolivia for a further three years, until 2013. And we have a press release with more details.
Last, since 1995, more than 40 million people have been cured of tuberculosis and six million lives have been saved. That’s according to the World Health Organization, which issued its most comprehensive report ever on the progress being made in combating the tuberculosis epidemic. But with nearly 2 million people dying from tuberculosis last year, these successes are far too fragile, the WHO warned. It called on Governments to step up efforts to tackle the epidemic. And we have a press release on this in our office.
And that’s it from me. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: About this situation in Pakistan, since the floods. The situation has stabilized, but still there are areas which are under water and there are fears that an outbreak of the sort that is in Haiti may break out over there, also. And funding for [the appeal] is still at 40 per cent; am I right? Has funding for the UN appeal improved since then or not?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Actually, in recent days, just over the past few days, the funding has gone upwards a bit. So now, we believe that the response plan for Pakistan is 45 per cent funded. So it’s an increase. And we certainly welcome that, although clearly we are appealing for more funding than what we have. By the way, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has told us that more work is being done also to bring people back to their homes because as the flood waters recede, more people are returning. For example, in the Sindh Province, because the waters have been receding in recent days you’ve seen the return of something like 200,000 [families] to their homes. And OCHA is helping with that.
Question: Has there been any assessment of the situation as far as health is concerned of the people who have been uprooted by the floods?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes. We’re assessing the health situation, and there are worries about the spread of disease. As you know, in any case where you’ve had problems with water and sanitation, such as those created by the rise of the flood waters, there is the worry of outbreaks of such diseases as cholera. So we are monitoring that and trying to provide medical help as necessary.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Secretary-General, when he spoke to the Assembly in his own country, the Republic of Korea, said that the country has become an idol and model for the whole world to follow. At the same time he noted that Korea, South Korea, offers the least development assistance among all the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, and he strongly appealed to the leadership to increase that assistance. Does he think he has made a strong case and successful case?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He certainly tried to make a very strong case. And as you know, in his meetings with the President, with the Prime Minister and now at the National Assembly, he has been pushing the Republic of Korea on these sorts of issues. So, he certainly wants its ODA levels, its official development assistance, to increase. At the same time, he does believe that the Republic of Korea has done an exemplary job in trying to create a social safety net within the country and he wants to show how that achievement can help other countries if they were to enact those sorts of policies. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just as actually a follow-up to M Abbadi’s question; while in Seoul, the Secretary-General, what is his actual position? What would be the most important, or to put in different way, the issue that will mark this Seoul meeting? I am asking this because, if you read various commentary, including mine in Deutsche Welle, for example, they would point to his currency issue, some others would say improving Secretary-General’s appeal in general to the countries for humanitarian help and not to forget the poor, and we have the Pakistan issue. So what would be, for him, the issue that would mark this Summit?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is well aware that there are a number of concerns at this particularly trying time for the global economy. He knows that many of the G-20 leaders are worried about trade issues, currency issues, imbalances. At the same time, his focus and what he wants the focus of the G-20 to be as much it possibly can be, is on development and on the needs of the world’s poorest. He believes ultimately that focusing on development will help all the G-20 economies, as well as those of the world at large. And that is a point that he intends to make in his remarks to the G-20 leaders tomorrow. I’d also like to draw your attention to the press remarks that he made yesterday where he was asked about issues like the currency and trade issues. And he made an appeal for a unified response and for unity of purpose among the G-20 leaders as they deal with these interlocked and connected crises. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I want to ask a couple of questions about Sudan and Burundi and Somalia. On Sudan, the Government in Nyala has sentenced 20 alleged rebels or rebel supporters to execution. Some are from JEM [Justice and Equality Movement], some are from LJM [Liberation and Justice Movement]. So, still, LJM in Doha has said that this would violate the ceasefire agreement that might lead to them no longer negotiating with Khartoum. But I wanted to know first whether Gambari, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] or anyone in the UN system has any comment on this, these death sentences handed out. And also whether it’s true in terms of the UN, AU, mediated talks, does the UN think this violates the peace, the ceasefire agreement and does Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé think that this is a problem for his endeavour of trying to bring peace in Darfur?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, no, there has been no comment from Mr. Gambari or UNAMID. So we would need to check the details of these sentences. As you know, I am sure you are already aware of the UN’s position against the imposition of capital punishment. At the same time, one thing to point out is that it’s Mr. Bassolé’s role to monitor how the Doha process goes and he will be monitoring that. If there are any problems there, we trust that he will inform the parties, and inform the public about any particular obstacles.
Question: On Sudan, I wanted to ask, what can you say about these reports that the Government of Sudan has blocked the UN radio station, Radio Miraya’s website? Is that true and what does the UN have to say about it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, in fact that is true. The Radio Miraya website was blocked yesterday afternoon for a few hours by the National Telecommunications Corporation. There was no access for those using local internet service providers, though the United Nations Mission in Sudan’s network access and access through international service providers were not affected. The site was blocked from 4 p.m. to about 8 p.m. local time. There was no pre-warning or reasons given for the blocking. The United Nations Mission in Sudan will raise the issue with the Sudanese authorities to seek clarification as to why the blocking occurred. Yes, Masood?
Question: I asked, I just want to follow up on a question on the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Has there been any communication between the Secretary-General and Israeli leaders since Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu spurned the UN; I mean this request to stop the settlement activity and the American request against unilateral steps; have there been any talks since then?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You mean have there been any talks in the last day or so? No, the Secretary-General has been travelling, so he hasn’t spoken to Israeli leaders since Monday, when he did bring this issue up with Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting. Yes, Erol.
Question: Farhan, while we are talking, here in the General Assembly there is a vote presented on the Security Council and reforms. I know that you and Martin are constantly saying that the Secretary-General would like to leave that to the Member States. But I would like to ask you, since I am sure you can articulate that well, what is the position of Secretary-General regarding concrete enlargement and the regional representation of the Security Council? How does he view that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am sorry if I sound like a broken record on this, but ultimately the precise formula for how reform is to be carried out is in the hands of the Member States, as it should be. Ultimately it is they who will vote on reform and any Charter reform has to, of course, pass through the legislative process of a wide number of Member States before it can be accepted. So, it is clearly their call. What the Secretary-General’s view is, is that he does support the expansion of the Security Council; he does support the effort to reform the Security Council in ways that can enhance its legitimacy and its effectiveness. But ultimately, as you are aware, there is any number of formulae about how that’s to be carried out. And he leaves it to the Member States to work it out amongst themselves.
Question: Just one small one. And I am sorry also that I sound as a broken record as well, but what would be the role of the leadership of the Secretary-General, since we have the situation obviously not only for 18 years, but since he undertook the office, that we have the situation of war of all against all, and that reforms are not moving forward. We had a situation, Pakistan against India; China against Japan, and I don’t like to repeat. So what would be the role of the Secretary-General to move in as a leader of the Organization? In which direction does he go?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly, to the extent that the Secretary-General can help make a pitch for the unity of the Member States, and can encourage them to come to a united response, he will continue to press ahead to do so. But he is not offering specific proposals on the table. Obviously that is up to them.
Question: On that point, the Secretary-General has indicated he is very interested in having the Group of 20 unite its ranks. Would he be interested in inviting the Group of 20 to meet here at the United Nations under the global lights?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage, something like that isn’t in the cards. We’ll have to see whether that becomes something, an issue in the future. But at this stage, this is still a matter where the different Member States are discussing amongst themselves, and we’re happy to encourage them as they go about that effort.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, there are these reports out of Burundi of the Government fighting with what are described as gangs, but it is in an area that was previously held by the rebels. And there is… so I wanted to know… there is a quote from what they are calling the outgoing UN representative in Burundi, Charles Petrie, saying that this is a serious matter. I just wanted to know, where did that stand? I though that Mr. Petrie had told that he was leaving 1 November and was going to work on this Somalia issue? Can you say…well, first of all, can you confirm? It just seems dicey, like is he still in Burundi? And two, is he going to work for the UN or for the EU [European Union], as some had reported in Somalia? And what does the UN make of this renewed violence, a country where it has had a peacekeeping and political mission for some time?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ll check with the office about Mr. Petrie’s precise whereabouts and his status. Yes, he has raised also the question of violence. If you look at the Secretary-General’s recent reports on Burundi, he has been very clear about his worries that there may be renewed violence in the country. But we’ll see whether there is any update. Yes, James.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On the Security Council report by the group of experts, North Korea, linking contraband trade to Syria, Iran and Myanmar, given the SG’s current location in Seoul and the presence of all the important players from the six-party talks, is there any plans for any discussion of this issue and this report while he is in Seoul?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Ultimately it is up to the Council members to discuss that report once it becomes a document. As far as I am aware, it is still not an official document.
Question: I just wanted to ask if the Secretary-General has formally announced that he will be seeking a second term in office. There has been a lot of behind-the-scene deals. He has been talking to ambassadors. So I want to know, is he going to actually make a formal announcement?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, he has not made any announcement. Ultimately right now at this stage he continues to focus on his existing term and the work he has to do right now. There has been no declaration like that.
Question: First I just wanted to ask about Somalia, but just to follow up on that; there is a letter to the editor of the New York Times by Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar, that was responding to their editorial, which very much spoke about a second term and said maybe the US should think of no second term because of the failure to mention human rights in China. I wasn’t clear, when Mr. Nambiar or whoever officials write such a letter… was that the full text, was it longer? Did he…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: That was the full text.
Question: That was the full text. So…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: That was the full text.
Question: So, it didn’t, it contested the idea that he hadn’t raised human rights but it didn’t make any comment at all on what was the actual thrust of the editorial, which is that perhaps there should be no second term. Is there a UN response to that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, the thrust of the editorial was on human rights in China and that was what he was responding to.
Question: Well, what about that particular point where the editorial seems to say…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, he didn’t say anything about that.
Question: Okay. And can I ask on Somalia? I just… this is a factual, it’s not clear to me if it’s true or not. But the UN could probably find out. There are some parliamentarians in Somalia saying that they were told by the African Union, AMISOM, peacekeepers who are supported in turn by UNSOA [United Nations Support Office for AMISOM] and DFS [Department of Field Support] people, that they, basically, barring them from holding a meeting in Mogadishu. Apparently their thinking that they were barred not only on security grounds but sort of because they are, somehow it’s viewed that it wouldn’t be helpful to the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] although they are part of the TFG; can the UN, maybe not right now, but can they find out whether in fact these peacekeepers whom they support blocked a meeting of elected people?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, although AMISOM has some logistical and technical support for the UN, this is properly a question for AMISOM, not for the UN. So, I’d suggest that you take that up with the African Union. First off, I think it would be an issue for the African Union to comment on.
Question: 20 November will mark the 15th anniversary of Dayton Peace Accord since the war in Bosnia was stopped 15 years ago, and it is important for the United Nations; will the Secretary-General announce anything or mark that with his remarks or so?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t believe that there is any message envisioned at present for that. But, depending on what type of the anniversary it is – tenth or fifteenth or whatever - it varies whether we have a message or not. At present I am not aware of any message on that. But I will check.
Question: On the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, is the Secretary-General planning a visit to Haiti sometime in January, or on the first anniversary?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: There is no announcement to make this early in the day about that. I think closer to the event we can let you know who will be there. But obviously we will mark the anniversary of the earthquake in some form. But we will give you more specifics closer to the day.
Question: How about a progress report by the UN on its work in Haiti in the last year?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we give periodic progress reports, but certainly we’ll have more of an evaluation closer to that day.
Question: Can I just ask one more question for a UN response?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: If you need to have the last question, certainly.
Question: No, no, it’s not to have the last, I just wanted, meant to ask this. There is a report today by Human Rights Watch about the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), saying that the current attempts to put an end to this murderous group or bring about a halt of their actions haven’t been as successful and they say that Joseph Kony and LRA forces are somewhere between Central African Republic (CAR) and Darfur and specifically call on the UN to deploy more peacekeepers to LRA-affected areas. While I understand to some degree it’s a Security Council question, I guess I am wondering, from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], I know that DPKO has held some coordination meetings, but not including UNAMID to my knowledge, is there some… What’s the UN’s response to this report and is the elimination of MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] and its CAR component actually going to make things more difficult to hold the LRA back? What’s the UN doing about the LRA at present?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, on that report we do fully share the concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch. The Lord’s Resistance Army continues to perpetrate horrendous human rights violations against civilians. And there should be an end to their atrocities. We are doing the best we can with the limited resources at our disposal. We do support the humanitarian efforts in this vast zone of influence of the LRA. The extreme difficulty to access their areas of operation makes it very challenging for all, including for UN troops.
Although we have a protection mandate, this is not a problem we can solve alone. As has been mentioned many times in the past, it is an issue that requires a broader approach, which means engaging more partners and evidently more resources. In this regard, we salute the recent meeting convened in Bangui by the African Union, where all the countries that are affected by the LRA decided on new joint mechanisms aimed at reinforcing the fight against this group.
Question: Does UNAMID have any role in this UN strategy on the LRA, given the reports that Joseph Kony is in Darfur?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, those reports have not been confirmed. Anyway, that’s it. Thanks.
* *** *For information media • not an official record