|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.
The Secretary-General returned to New York yesterday evening from his trip to Japan and the Republic of Korea. To the extent that it’s possible for him to do, the Secretary-General intends to have some time off this week, but he was at work at UN Headquarters this morning, where he met his senior advisers.
The Secretary-General spent Sunday visiting the village where he was born in Eumseong County and speaking to high school students at his old high school in nearby Chungju. The Secretary-General told students at his old high school that they enjoyed far greater prosperity, security and opportunity than his generation, and he urged them to engage in addressing poverty, hunger, climate change and other threats. He also paid respects at his father’s tomb.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released today its report on alleged violations of international law in South Kordofan, Sudan. The report covers the period between 5 and 30 June of this year.
The Office says that, if substantiated, the violations could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes. Reported violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, attacks against civilians, looting of civilian homes and destruction of property, as well as massive displacement. The report also describes aerial bombardments on civilian areas in Kadugli and elsewhere in South Kordofan.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is calling for an independent, thorough and objective inquiry with the aim of holding perpetrators to account. She also expressed concern about continuing violence in the six weeks since the end of the period covered by the report and asked for unhindered access for human rights monitors, as well as for humanitarian actors.
The report also notes that the former UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, was treated with disregard of its status as a UN body, and it presents a long list of attacks and harassment of UN staff.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, said that it was gravely concerned about the heavy gunfire from Syrian security forces in and around the Palestinian refugee camp situated in Latakia.
The Agency received reports from the camp yesterday of incoming fire from tanks which had encircled the area, as well as fire from ships at sea. The Relief and Works Agency condemned all harm to civilian life and called on the Syrian authorities to order their troops to exercise maximum restraint in accordance with international law, and ensure that Palestinian refugees and all civilians are unharmed. And we may have a statement from the Secretary-General on Syria today.
On Somalia, in response to reports of food aid being stolen, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that, through its monitoring systems, possible theft of food has been uncovered and is being investigated. The World Food Programme adds that it will investigate all alleged incidents and suspend any parties found responsible.
The World Food Programme has put in place strengthened and rigorous monitoring and control in Somalia. However, given the lack of access to much of the territory due to security dangers and restrictions, humanitarian supply lines remain highly vulnerable to looting, attack and diversion by armed groups. The World Food Programme condemns all parties who would use the desperation of the hungry in Somalia to block, attack, or divert life-saving humanitarian supplies for their own benefit.
On Somalia, by the way, we also have a press statement that was issued this morning by the Security Council concerning recent developments in Mogadishu.
**Noon Guest on Wednesday
We do not at present intend to have a briefing tomorrow at noon. But the following day, Wednesday, we will have the Noon Briefing with Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, as the Noon Briefing guest. And she will talk about Somalia.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks for getting that statement from the World Food Programme. One of our reporters in Nairobi is following this story of the stolen aid. I was wondering, is the World Food Programme or the UN in general going to ask Somalia, the Somali Government, to do anything about this? Her idea being that that’s the only way it could be stopped.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, as you can tell from their statement, they are right now investigating all the alleged incidents. Beyond that, what they have made clear is that donor Governments are aware of the risks working in Somalia, and at the same time, [the statement] emphasises that the food assistance that the World Food Programme and other humanitarian agencies deliver is a vital lifeline to the people of Somalia. So they do want cooperation so that the food assistance can get to the people who actually do need it. Speaking of which, since you were mentioning the Associated Press report, I would like to point out that one of the things that the World Food Programme has just said in the past hour is that based on the evidence that was presented to it by the Associated Press, the World Food Programme rejects the scale of diversions that’s alleged in the AP report. Yes, Erol?
Question: Farhan, since we now know that the Security Council meeting debate on Kosovo will be actually held on 29 August, not on 24th as was previously stated, can you confirm or say that the letter of the Serbian leaders from northern Kosovo will be somehow included in the Secretary-General’s report, as an amendment or anything else, or will it be even commented on?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I wouldn’t be able to provide details of the briefing before it has been given. Clearly, as with other cases, when there are more recent developments since a written report has gone to the Security Council, those further developments would be included in the oral briefing to the Security Council. Beyond that, we’ll just share with you the briefing once we have it. Yes?
Question: Are you expecting that to be included?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said, at this stage, I wouldn’t predict what we are going to say at a briefing that is taking place two weeks from today. But certainly it would include whatever the latest developments are. Yes, Tim?
Question: Can you give us any details of the Secretary-General’s Envoy to Libya and the negotiations today in Tunis? Apparently he’s able to bring the two sides together for the first time.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr. Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, did arrive in Tunisia to hold consultations with Tunisian officials. So far, he has met with the Prime Minister and he is scheduled to meet later with the Foreign Minister. If we have further details about the briefings and the meetings he is having in Tunisia, we will provide it for you at that point.
Question: You cannot confirm there are officials from Benghazi and Tripoli there, then?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: What I can say is that he might meet with some Libyan personalities residing in Tunisia on the sidelines of his other meetings. Yes?
Question: Sure, Farhan, I wanted to ask you… I have taken a look at this now released report on Southern Kordofan, and… and just… I want to really ask you about a particular one… there’s other differences, but in… in at least one instance, there was a description of an UNMIS independent contractor pulled out of a vehicle and presumably shot and killed. And in the initial draft, it says UN peacekeepers were present and did not intervene. And in the final draft, the presence of UN peacekeepers is entirely erased from the report. And I just wonder, I really want to know on… on this edit in particular, what was the process that… that took place in moving to this final report in which the peacekeepers are sort of airbrushed out?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, there are actually very few differences in substance between the final version and the draft version, which was an internal draft which was still undergoing revision. The basic point is that the published report was shortened and was brought in line qualitatively with UN standards. What happened is that we did have to err on the side of caution to remove unsubstantiated elements from the report. At the same time, the basic thing is that the report was brought in line with the standards of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for public reporting, including the use of appropriate human rights language. And the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights went to great lengths to try to cross-check the substance of the report. For example, when allegations were based on one witness account, this was made clear.
Question: But can I ask… I mean, just, I want… this particular change, it seems, it’s only… it’s only six words, but it… are you saying… is it not a substantial change to drop out the presence of the peacekeepers? Did they find that the peacekeepers weren’t present on 8 June or is it…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Again, the basic point was to remove unsubstantiated elements. Also, of course, the report was carefully reviewed by legal and other experts.
Question: Can we get an… is it possible to get an answer, you’ve listed various reasons that certain things could come out, this particular removal of the presence of peacekeepers when somebody was killed…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t comment on any particular change of wording. My basic point to you is that this is the process that it went through. Otherwise, of course, we wouldn’t… in general, we don’t comment on the difference between an internal draft and the final draft. This is the final draft that has gone through the editing process and the process of legal vetting that all reports have to go through.
Question: Does DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] have some kind of… does it… was it allowed to edit this line out? That’s really where my question goes, since it is reporting on the UN’s own presence and inaction while a death took… occurred, it seems strange to have the… one of the editors be one of the parties presumably being reported on.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Again, the entire point was for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to put the language in line with its standards. And that is what it has done through this particular process. Yes, Masood?
Question: My question is about this upcoming UN General Assembly session. In view of the economic crisis all over the world from… which is gripping countries like France, Greece, United States and what have you, there was a sort of an effort on the part of UN General Assembly, I mean, the President in 2008, to somehow come up with some sort of solutions which will somehow develop some consensus to overcome the economic crisis. It seems it has not worked. Will the Secretary-General be able to ask the Member States this time to look at this contagion that is… this economic crisis that is gripping the world and come up with some sort of a solution, or evolve a consensus how to overcome this crisis?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I think on that, of course, we are continuing to monitor developments. But the Secretary-General believes that consensus-building within countries and between nations to implement stabilizing economic policies will be important to calm markets and support the global recovery. And we will need to carefully assess the developments in the global financial market, and we will continue to do so. Beyond that, in terms of events taking place in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, I’d ask you to check with the incoming President of the General Assembly.
Question: But he has not thought of somehow having a thematic debate in the General Assembly on the issue as yet?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any particular thematic debate on this particular topic to announce as of yet, no. Yes?
Question: On the issue of South Kordofan, given that the Security Council has so far been unwilling or unable to come up with any kind of statement or action, is there more that that the Secretary-General could do in requesting an investigation?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you can see, this report itself does request an investigation. The High Commissioner wishes to carry out a thorough human rights investigation in South Kordofan, based on her general mandate, as contained in General Assembly resolution 48/141. However, the Sudanese authorities have not granted access for such an investigation. At this stage, Ms. Pillay, the High Commissioner, would therefore benefit from the support of the Security Council to carry out an investigation into the recent events in South Kordofan and to ensure ongoing human rights monitoring in the area, since that situation there continues to be of concern. Yes?
Question: Sure, I have a question on Somalia and Libya, but I wanted to ask you this one directly, since I am sure you’ve seen it. There is an editorial in the Guardian that came out over the weekend, called “United Nations: Weak leaders wanted”, and it is, one of the lines is: “China, Burma, Sri Lanka have benefited from Mr. Ban’s lax hand. To save his legacy he must refresh his top team with people who understand the UN’s principles.” What’s the UN… what does it think of this editorial and… and is there… is there a plan to actually make some kind of a shake-up; not necessarily obviously in response to this editorial, but what’s the response to that analysis that weakness on Sri Lanka, Myanmar, et cetera, have stained the UN’s legacy?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, as you will no doubt be unsurprised to learn, I don’t agree with that particular evaluation. On Sri Lanka, for example, the Secretary-General, acting on his own authority, did create a Panel of Experts under the leadership of Marzuki Darusman, which came out with a report which to this day is one that we believe is worthy of study and further action from Member States. We do believe that there are many issues on which the Member Governments of the United Nations themselves need to take action. But on cases where they have not done so, as you know, the Secretary-General has taken it upon himself, as in Sri Lanka, and indeed as in his own good offices efforts in Myanmar. Beyond that, you’d also asked about whether there would be a shake-up. Of course, there is no point or intention to do any shake-up in reaction to any editorial or indeed any articles here or there. But the Secretary-General, as you are aware, will be starting his second term in office in January. And he does expect to make different moves and reinvigorate and revitalize his team for a second term.
Question: Just one follow-up on that, just on the Sri Lanka side, because I… I guess there is a sort of a difference of opinion. Did the Secretary-General ever transmit that report to the Human Rights Council? I mean, more just directly, does he think it is unfortunate that action wasn’t taken in this… in this session, all of which took place after the report was released? Is he… did he ask them to take action or is there some future goal to transmit it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, as you know, the report is a public document. It has not been formally submitted to the Human Rights Council by the Secretary-General at this stage, although that could still happen in the future. Right now, what we expect and hope to see is that concerned Member States who are now appraised of the contents of that report will take it up and push for something further. As you know, the report has a number of recommendations, including for further investigation and for further efforts at accountability. And we believe that they need to be taken up very seriously.
Question: Can I ask one Libya question? It’s a very… it’s a very… I mean, there was a long article in the New York Times of Sunday about how the rebels are divided, it quoted people as saying that, if they were viewed as [Muammar al‑]Qadhafi supporters, their houses were burned, they were chased out of villages. I know that there were some statements last week, but I wanted to… one, is there any reaction to this pretty detailed article? But it quotes Dirk Vandewalle as a Libya expert at Dartmouth and he presents a view. So I… it… I wanted to know, is Dirk Vandewalle still a consultant to the UN and Ian Martin’s post-Qadhafi team, and if so, was his contract renewed? What’s the status of that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He is a consultant working with Ian Martin on the transition team, yes.
Question: Are his views attributable to the UN?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: His views on this particular topic, I believe, if you are referring to this particular article, he did that in his capacity as an expert at Dartmouth University. Yes?
Question: Just a technical question, I guess. If the Security Council continues to be paralysed on the issue of South Kordofan, could the Secretary-General then not appoint a panel of experts, like he did in Sri Lanka, to take this investigation or call for an investigation? Would that be… is that something on the horizon as a possibility?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, today’s report makes it clear that the High Commissioner for Human Rights would like an investigation, and would like the access necessary. Let’s see where we go from there. I wouldn’t want to speculate on what course of action would happen if we don’t get the access we need, but right now, we are pressing to get the sort of access we would need for this. Thanks very much.
Question: Can I ask on the Samuel Koo thing? You’d told me to ask UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme], so I did, but I don’t have any answer, if it’s a paid position and… and what it… the position consists of.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Again, I believe it’s up to UNEP to make an announcement on this. I think that they will have some further information; once they have it, we can share it. Thanks.
* *** *For information media • not an official record