|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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the briefing.
The Secretary-General is in New Delhi today, where he received an honorary doctorate degree from Jamia Islamia University.
In his remarks there, the Secretary-General said that we are in a period of great transition, with people rising up to shape their own destiny, starting with the Arab Spring.
He noted that India is a beacon for the world, proving that democracy and development are one and the same path. He also said that as the world’s third largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping, India is the backbone of the UN’s efforts to prevent conflict and keep peace worldwide.
The full text of the Secretary-General’s remarks is available online.
He met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna; and Speaker of the Lok Sabha, or Lower House of Parliament, Meira Kumar.
The Secretary-General’s last meeting of the day was with Madame Sonja Gandhi, Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance. You will have seen that the readouts of some of these meetings have been issued already.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Mumbai, where he will meet with Prithviraj Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra State, and meet with business leaders committed to utilizing their expertise to promote the health of women and children. He will also visit health facilities where he will have the opportunity to witness first-hand the progress being made on the health front.
This morning the Security Council and the General Assembly elected Dalveer Bhandari of India as a member of the International Court of Justice.
The Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, met with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders today in Nicosia, to brief them in more detail about his discussions with the Secretary-General on 20 April on the status of the Cyprus negotiations and the way forward. Mr. Downer held a press conference on this topic earlier today in Cyprus, and we hope to have a transcript of his remarks soon.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern today about the situation in Papua New Guinea, where the Government has taken a number of measures in recent months that undermine the rule of law, breach international human rights standards, impinge on the independence of the judiciary, and could lead to serious instability in the country.
Navi Pillay says the judiciary must be allowed to operate free from external pressures, threats or executive or legislative interference — international law is clear on this matter.
On Brazil, the Human Rights Office was alarmed that yet another journalist has been killed in the country, bringing to at least four the number of journalists murdered so far this year.
Concerning the United States, the Human Rights Office welcomed the signing of a law in the State of Connecticut that abolishes the death penalty.
The number of Somali refugees at the Adollo Ado camp in southern Ethiopia has now past the 150,000 mark, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In recent weeks, the camp has been receiving a weekly average of 450 new Somali refugees as insecurity, potential revenge killings, fear of forced recruitment, combined with last year’s famine, continues to push more Somalis across the border to seek asylum.
Meanwhile, UNHCR says refugee camps in both Kenya and Ethiopia have been hit hard by heavy rains which have caused extensive flooding and damaged roads and hundreds of temporary shelters. Delivery of humanitarian aid and services to the refugees, including water provision, has also been severely disrupted.
In anticipation of malaria cases, UNHCR’s health partners have started distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. 220,000 nets will be handed out in the next four weeks, accompanied by demonstrations and information sessions on their use and care.
The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Robert Mood of Norway as the Chief Military Observer and Head of Mission of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria. Major General Mood brings to his new position extensive command experience and knowledge of peacekeeping attained through service at the national and international levels, including in United Nations peacekeeping operations. We have more information on Major General Mood in my Office.
The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Karin Landgren of Sweden as his Special Representative for Liberia. She will replace Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj of Denmark, who completed her assignment in January 2012. Ms. Landgren is currently the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Burundi and Head of the United Nations Mission in Burundi (BNUB). We have more information on this appointment in my office.
In response to a question yesterday about asbestos abatement during the renovation of the Secretariat buildings, I have the following:
The handling and abatement of asbestos is among the mostly strictly-regulated areas of any industry in the United States. It is regulated by a number of authorities from City to Federal level. The UN is applying all the regulations regarding asbestos abatement.
An area in which asbestos is to be abated has to be marked by warning signs seven days before the work commences. The abatement is being performed by a licensed contractor employing certified workers. As required, all steps in the abatement process are monitored by a certified independent environmental consultant.
I was asked yesterday about a budget document relating to the "Office of the Joint United Nations — League of Arab States Special Envoy for Syria."
The references to extra budgetary funding in the estimates relate to contributions by Member States received by the Department of Political Affairs under its Multi-Year Donor Appeal mechanism, more specifically for Rapid Response.
On detained staff mentioned by USG Ladsous, we have nothing further to add on these matters than what has already been shared with you. The United Nations is making every effort within its capacity to secure the safe release of the staff members.
With respect to the PNG-ed UNAMID staff member, Howa Halyer, as previously stated, an explanation from the Government of Sudan for its decision to declare the staff member persona non-grata has been sought via Note Verbale and we are pursuing a response. The staff member remains employed by the United Nations. I'm afraid it wouldn't be appropriate for the Organization to comment further on an individual staff member's situation.
That’s all from me. Questions, please. Tim?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Following the appointment of General Mood, does the UN have pledges for the full 300 ceasefire monitor team yet?
Deputy Spokesperson: To the best of my knowledge, we are working on that; we expect the first contingent of 30 to be in place by Monday, and we are working very hard to get the rest of the mission in as soon as possible.
Question: Okay. But no information whether you have the full 300…
Deputy Spokesperson: No information yet, no.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesperson: Masood?
Question: Just a follow up on Tim’s question. I mean, there have been no plans at all made for these 300 people at all, or are they ready, and they have been called in and that they will be placed in position soon?
Deputy Spokesperson: Planning has been under way intensely. As you will recall, the Security Council only passed a resolution six days ago. It take time to negotiate with Member States, get the troops ready, get them vaccinated, get everything that they need ready. So, this is being done as expeditiously as possible by the United Nations.
Question: Do you have any… like, what countries have been approached to send…?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, we are not going to be discussing identifying the countries. Once we have a team in place, then this information will come up. Right now, we are in negotiation with a number of troop-contributing countries and we are hopeful that we can get the situation on the ground resolved as quickly as possible. Matthew?
Question: Sure, Eduardo, I wanted to ask, maybe you have some UNMISS statement on this; there is a report of fighting in, between the South Sudanese army and an unnamed militia that some would think is, is supported by the north in, around Malakal in upper Nile State, they said that, that these clashes occurred and I am just wondering if, if the UN peacekeeping mission there can confirm it and say, most importantly, who is behind, you know, what, what militia is this, that’s deep inside the territory of South Sudan?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on a militia deep inside South Sudan, we will try and get something for you from the mission.
Question: Okay. And, and this may be and thanks for those answers given today to the questions from yesterday. One, I, maybe you will have this, or maybe you can get this. Yesterday, there was the proposal by Mr. Ladsous to, to decrease the size, at least on paper, of the Darfur UNAMID mission. Some ambassadors were saying that a lot of these posts aren’t actually filled at all; that it’s kind of, Susan Rice said it’s not a down-sizing, it’s a right-sizing; others said that some of these are phantom posts. But I, try as I might, I couldn’t find, in Mr. Ladsous’s presentation, how many of these posts, you know, he talked about the reduction of hundreds of engineers, hundreds of police. Is there some way to get from you guys, is this really a reduction of actual bodies for the UN in Darfur, or is this just an accounting…?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I think Martin has discussed that before here. It is a right-sizing of the mission; Mr. Ladsous himself has said, on a number of occasions, that the mission in Darfur has changed; the level of threat has changed, from political violence to criminal violence, and we have to be ready to address those threats. So, that’s what Mr. Ladsous was referring to; we are going to make sure that we have the right kind of mission in place for the right type of situation.
Question: Sure, there seemed like, for example, he said that things are better now in north Darfur, so there will be a re-deployment to other areas. Later, at the stakeout, Ambassador Rice said the US is particularly concerned about Jebel Marra in north Darfur. So, since he didn’t do a stakeout and apparently never does a stakeout as the head of DPKO, I am asking you: what is the reduction, the actual reduction in physical bodies of UNAMID if it is not… [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll check DPKO so we can get that for you.
[The Deputy-Spokesperson later noted that the following reductions apply: Police – 663; Military – 3,260; Engineers – 450; Logistics – 525; Air support – 200; Reconnaissance Unit – 240; Signals – 245. The envisaged reduction is related to the presence as mandated by the Security Council. Further details on deployment can be found on our website (un.org/peacekeeping).
Question: Okay. That will be great.
Deputy Spokesperson: Masood?
Question: [inaudible]… Secretary-General is in India, he expressed hope that India and Pakistan will resolve this, the Pakistani dispute, I mean. But, he did not offer any ideas or anything as a way forward especially at, on, the Kashmir dispute, which has been languishing since last say, about, almost 60 yeas.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as I said, there are some readouts about his discussions with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. Whatever we have to say is included in the readouts.
Question: Yeah, I know, I, I read the readout. That’s why all I am asking is… he doesn’t have any ideas at all to, I mean, to tell the Indian Government or Pakistani Government to move forward?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Masood, not everything that is discussed goes into the readout. Diplomacy is a combination of public diplomacy and private diplomacy. The Secretary-General reserves the right to engage in private diplomacy with Member States when he feels it is more effective. Matthew?
Question: Yemen and Sri Lanka. In terms of Yemen, there has been a lot, at least one change recently where one of the two generals ordered by Mr. Hadi to quit has, in fact, quit, and Mr. Benomar was quoted as praising that. But, it is unclear if this second general, who is a relative of Ali Saleh, who is the head of the presidential guard, has quit. And it is unclear from any news accounts if he’s quit. Is the UN, through its special advisor or otherwise, still pushing to see that this takes places and what’s the special advisor been doing in Yemen?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Mr. Benomar has been working with all sides to resolve the situation of military appointments made by President Hadi. He will continue doing so with his team in Yemen, and will await further word of transition in that country.
Question: Okay. But I mean, it was unclear if, the second guy, his name is Tarik Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, and he is a relative of Mr. Saleh. Do you know if he is still in place or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know if he is still in place or not, no. I don’t have that information.
Question: And, I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind this, maybe you will have something on this, given the Secretary-General’s engagement on and off with Sri Lanka. It was recently reported that a UNDP technical advisor on mine action has confirmed the use of cluster munitions during the 2009 final stage of the conflict. There is a UNDP e-mail has been published by Associated Press saying cluster munitions were used. There has been a follow-up story today interviewing a person that was actually injured by cluster munitions. Since these are illegal, I am wondering, does the Secretary-General, given his report, given his having General Silva as an advisor, does he have any response to this UN confirmed use of cluster munitions in that conflict?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we have seen the reports; I’ll try and get you some more information [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesperson: Okay. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good weekend.
* *** *For information media • not an official record