|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
**Secretary-General’s Press Conference
To start, I’d like to remind you that on Monday the Secretary-General will give his first press conference for the year, which will take place in this room at 10:30 a.m. He will talk to you about his priorities during the coming year, and will also take your questions.
Because of his press conference, we will not give our daily noon briefing on Monday, but will have his press remarks, as well as other items of interest, posted on our web page.
On Kenya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that around 250,000 Kenyans are now internally displaced. That’s a considerable increase compared to previous estimates. A further 5,400 Kenyan refugees have crossed into Uganda. Overall, the number of people affected by the post-election violence is between 400,000 and 500,000.
For its part, UNICEF is working to reduce malnutrition among displaced people in the worst-hit areas. It is also working to establish so-called “safe spaces” for displaced mothers and children, provide water and sanitation to over 100,000 people, and distribute family kits to supply up to 100,000 people with blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking sets, soap and jerry cans.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) will shortly provide food through the Kenya Red Cross for 100,000 people displaced in the northern Rift Valley.
Kenyan security forces recently escorted 20 WFP trucks, allowing them to carry food aid to north-western Kenya, Southern Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, insecurity and vigilante roadblocks are still hampering humanitarian access.
We have more information upstairs.
In response to your questions, the Secretary-General spoke earlier today with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. He also spoke a few minutes ago with opposition leader Raila Odinga. In both conversations, he discussed the return to calm and normalcy in Kenya and humanitarian needs. The Secretary-General called upon the political leaders to resolve their issues through dialogue.
The Secretary-General has also been in touch with other parties dealing with the situation in Kenya, including, by phone, with President John Kufuor of Ghana, the current Chairman of the African Union.
**Secretary-General’s Town Hall Meeting
The Secretary-General this morning addressed UN staff, both here in Headquarters and around the world via videoconference, in a Town Hall meeting in which he laid out his priorities for 2008.
He told staff that the coming year will be special. The United Nations, he said, will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It will build on the achievements made in Bali on climate change. It will push for everyone to redouble efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals. And it will mount an unprecedented peacekeeping operation in Darfur.
In peace and security, he said, the United Nations is deploying its largest number of peacekeepers to date. He said it is better equipped to support peace operations following last year’s restructuring and strengthening of UN peacekeeping operations, adding that the task now is to strengthen the capacity for preventive diplomacy.
The Secretary-General also stressed his interest in staff security, noting that the United Nations is conducting a review of security policies and procedures, and will engage with Member States to strengthen the security and safety support they are providing to the UN family in their countries.
In addition, he said, he has asked the Department for Safety and Security for a full report on the Algiers attack by 11 January and will make further decisions based on this report.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today released the preliminary findings of its investigation into events that happened in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa in March 2007. The investigation concluded that serious human rights violations took place during the hostilities between Government forces and members of the personal security detail of former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.
The investigative team recommended that a judicial investigation be carried out by the Congolese authorities, that victims who lost family members, who were injured, or whose property was damaged be compensated or indemnified, and that the Congolese authorities should issue a comprehensive public statement about the events, explaining what happened and what has been done by the authorities to correct wrongdoing by Government forces.
We have more on that upstairs.
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is assisting that country’s Government in a new sensitization campaign in the Kivus. That campaign is aimed at disarming all remaining armed groups, both national and foreign, in the area.
MONUC is supporting the Government by producing radio broadcasts and distributing leaflets that encourage combatants to surrender and return home. There are approximately 8,000 foreign combatants remaining in the Kivus, the majority of them FDLR combatants from Rwanda, according to MONUC.
The Mission notes that much progress on the issue of armed groups will depend on the upcoming Kivus peace conference, which starts Sunday in Goma.
We have more information upstairs.
Turning now to Chad, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) started its training of trainers programme for the Chadian police today. A total of 36 officers, including 20 internationals and 16 nationals, are taking part in this seven-day training. The Chadian participants are from the Gendarmerie Academy and the police force. The purpose of the training is, as the UN Security Council states in its 1778 (2007) resolution: “To enhance the capabilities of Chadian police and gendarmes to provide effective police service to the population in eastern Chad affected by the Darfur crisis, including refugees, IDPs, local population and humanitarian workers.”
The 36 officers in training today will, in turn, train 200 Chadian police each month for the next four months. The goal is to reach a total of 850 trained Chadian police who will specialize in the protection of refugees and IDPs in Chad.
A new study, which was supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), has shown that treating children with severe pneumonia at home is just as effective as treating them in hospitals.
That finding could significantly change the way the illness is managed in developing countries -- saving a significant number of lives every year and taking pressure off health systems.
According to WHO, pneumonia is the largest single killer of children under five around the world. Almost four children die from pneumonia every minute.
We have a press release on that in my office.
Regarding the question I was asked yesterday about a UN staff member in Afghanistan who had been asked to leave the country last month, our negotiations are ongoing to see the return of this very able and capable staff member so that we can continue with the vital work of building peace, stability and progress for the Afghan people.
We are relieved that the Afghan consultant who was working with us on this visit to Helmand Province has now been released by the Afghan authorities without charge.
We are pleased that the Governor of Helmand Province has also publicly confirmed that no UNAMA staff member was involved in activities that could be seen to be detrimental, and we welcome the President's recent comments that this incident should not reflect on the vital work that UNAMA does for the Afghan people and their Government.
We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bert Bolin.
The Secretary-General pays tribute to Professor Bert Bolin, the pioneering scientist on global warming and co-founder of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who has passed away at the age of 82.
The Secretary-General commends Professor Bolin's immeasurable contribution, not only in being one of the first to recognize the consequences of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases decades ago, but also in alerting the world to what was required by Governments to protect our planet from the impact. He is moved that Professor Bolin was able to see IPCC be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month and negotiations launched at the Climate Change Conference in Bali.
The Secretary-General joins Professor Bolin's colleagues in IPCC and around the world in giving thanks for his work, and in resolving to build on his legacy.
We also have for you, as every Friday, “The Week Ahead at the United Nations”. Just to flag a few things, on Monday the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).
From Monday until Wednesday in Manhasset, New York, the latest round of negotiations on Western Sahara takes place.
And on Tuesday, the guest at the noon briefing will be Shamil Idriss, Acting Director of the Alliance of Civilizations, who will discuss the upcoming Alliance of Civilizations Forum, to be held on 15-16 January in Madrid.
And on Wednesday, the Security Council is scheduled to discuss the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Force in Darfur.
And at 11 a.m. in Room 226, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launches the report on World Economic Situation and Prospects 2008.
This is all I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you give us a sense of the Secretary-General’s concern about Pakistan, which has been identified by some of the Bhutto family as a suspect in the assassination, that they can carry out a credible investigation into the crime? And also, does he think that it would be a good idea to set up an independent international investigative team to give greater public credibility to the process?
Spokesperson: There is no real change from what I said yesterday. As you know, the fact that was mentioned, that there could be a Hariri-like tribunal, as you know, this does not depend on the Secretary-General. It was a decision in the case of Lebanon taken by the Security Council and there has to be a request coming from either the Security Council or the Government of the country that is concerned.
Question: Often he kind of uses his own position to sort of weigh in on various issues, as he has done on Kosovo before there was a final agreement in the Council whether to push forward with the Ahtisaari plan. Doesn’t he have a view over whether it’s a good idea to have a credible process or whether he can at least give his opinion as to whether what the Pakistanis are doing is going to be sufficient to bring about greater public confidence in Pakistan so that this case can be resolved satisfactorily?
Spokesperson: He’s following the situation and listening to different parties. But he’s not at all ready to give an opinion on something which involves other bodies within an intergovernmental institution like this one.
Question: You just indicated that among the Secretary-General’s priorities next year would be human rights and the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary. Sweden has just cut off its contributions to UNDP by €8 million because, in the view of the Government of Sweden, UNDP failed to integrate into its document human rights issues. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this action?
Spokesperson: Not on that specific issue, no. But it is true that that is one of his priorities and he certainly will discuss this with you on Monday.
Question: Any reaction of the Secretary-General to the escalation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in Gaza and the West Bank as well? Has he contacted any members of the Quartet to ask (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: I was asked the question earlier. The Secretary-General has expressed his concern at the reported killing of civilians in IDF military operations in Gaza and he has reiterated his call for full respect by the IDF of international humanitarian law so that risks to civilians are minimized. He also reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of rocket fire into Gaza from Israel, and he calls on all parties to refrain from actions which endanger civilians. This is what we have.
Question: Regarding the terrorists’ attacks in Turkey yesterday, in which five civilians died, has there been any reaction from the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t at this point.
Question: Regarding Gaza, when you say he wants the cessation of rocket launching, why does the Secretary-General not call for the cessation of targeted killing of fighters in Gaza?
Spokesperson: He calls for respect of… If you read both paragraphs…
Correspondent: It sounds like it’s okay to kill militants but not civilians. This is what I understood.
Spokesperson: I think he’s talking about human lives.
Question: If you read it again…
Spokesperson: As an Organization, of course, we defend the rights of civilians.
Correspondent: Because every time there is an arranged ceasefire in Gaza, it is Israel that initiates what they call targeted killings of Palestinians that are represented by Hamas and that are represented by others. These killings, it sounds as if they are justified in this statement, is what I believe.
Spokesperson: It’s not what he said. What the statement said is that he’s concerned about civilian lives. That’s what he says.
Question: Sorry, I missed about Kenya. The IDP numbers have grown to how much?
Spokesperson: Right now we have 400,000 to 500,000 people affected by the strife, and in terms of the actual numbers of [internally] displaced people, it has grown to 250,000.
Question: According to?
Spokesperson: According to OCHA, there are 250,000 Kenyans that have been [internally] displaced by the recent events.
Question: About the sixtieth anniversary of the human rights declaration, are there any plans for high-level meetings on this matter?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General will be discussing this with you on Monday.
Question: North Korea said that it turned over information about its nuclear weapons programme to the United States, I believe last November. Was this information shared with the United Nations and, if so, what’s been the Secretary-General’s response?
Spokesperson: It hasn’t been shared. If it has been shared with one organism of the UN it could be IAEA. The Secretary-General doesn’t have any specific reaction to that.
Question: Can you say whether indeed it was shared with IAEA?
Spokesperson: I can check for you if it was shared with IAEA. But the UN is not involved in the talks; the US is. I think that’s what the difference is.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the statement on the Western Sahara talks. Is there any possibility that someone from the United Nations during the talks come and brief us about what’s happening? And also do you have any agenda of the talks, of what the two parties are going to discuss?
Spokesperson: We cannot divulge any agenda. It’s a private meeting and there’s nothing we can say about it. As I mentioned yesterday, you won’t have access to Greentree. However, I’m trying to discuss with whoever will be there from the Department of Political Affairs to see whether we can get some information. They cannot talk about the substance of the talks, as you know. It’s something that has to stay private unless the parties agree to put out the results. So, it’s a matter for the parties to decide. And we cannot in advance say what is going to happen.
Correspondent: But there is usually someone from the UN at least coming to us once during midday or at the end of the day, telling us they are talking, whether things are going well or going bad.
Spokesperson: We can try to arrange this. But, if it is arranged, it’s going to be arranged here at UN Headquarters. It’s not going to be in Greentree so as to avoid you going there in the cold and waiting.
Question: Human Rights Watch has said, as to Sri Lanka, that the Nordic monitors are now going to be leaving the country and have made a call that the UN should send either monitors or become more involved. I know that there was a statement about that yesterday that it’s unfortunate that the ceasefire is over. But is the UN actually considering sending monitors or is DPA, or is any UN body, involved in trying to get a ceasefire back in place?
Spokesperson: At this point, the situation is being observed very closely and discussed. As you know, the Secretary-General yesterday was the one who insisted that we issue a statement on Sri Lanka and the ceasefire, the fact that the agreement was broken. So I think it is a matter of great concern. Whether there will be a decision by the UN, it’s not in the pipeline yet.
Question: On South Sudan, there continue to be reports that the Sudanese Government missed the deadline to pull its troops out of South Sudan and now there are reports of actual fighting being restarted.
Spokesperson: We filed a request this morning to people in the field to get an answer. We don’t have answers yet for you.
Question: On the Post headline “The UN to meet NYC building codes next week”, are you going to meet that deadline?
Spokesperson: From what I gather, yes. But I can give your question to the Department of Management and get a more concrete and factual answer for you.
Question: Just to follow up on your earlier statement about Kenya, as he talks with the various parties, what sort of options is he weighing?
Spokesperson: It’s not the Secretary-General who has to decide on an option. We’re dealing with a sovereign country and he’s talking with the political actors there to try to see if he can help. But there are no specifics on the table.
Question: What kind of help is he considering?
Spokesperson: It’s going to depend on what is asked.
Question: Has anything been asked so far?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: Last week they called for a presidential election in Lebanon, 50 plus one. Does the Secretary-General have any view on that, whether he supports this idea or not?
Spokesperson: He’s not going to say anything specific about this at this point.
Question: What time is the briefing on the Alliance of Civilizations going to be on Tuesday?
Spokesperson: You can have the “Week Ahead” upstairs. It’s available. Let me see what time. The Alliance of Civilizations would be on Tuesday. Mr. Shamil Idriss will be the guest at the noon briefing.
Question: I just wanted to ask you this, the status of what they call the system-wide coherence, yesterday ACABQ seemed to say there hasn’t actually been any proposal put forward to it. So there’s been a lot of talk about it, but where does it stand in terms of actually making a proposal? Is it anticipated that the Secretariat will come out with some kind of a plan with budget impact and all of that?
Spokesperson: I don’t know when yet.
Correspondent: And this is kind of a long shot. Yesterday there was this story about a group wanting the UN to declare suicide bombings a crime against humanity. I don’t know if you’ve seen that.
Spokesperson: I’ve seen the full-page ad, yes.
Question: You’ve seen the ad. Does the Secretary-General have any view? He’s against suicide bombings. This we know. But what does he want the UN to do about this?
Spokesperson: This is going to be a matter, as you know, decided on by the Member States.
Question: Sometimes he’ll take kind of a role and say, “Yes I’m full-square behind this.” What’s his position on suicide bombings?
Spokesperson: He has expressed his positions on suicide bombings. You said it yourself, right Matthew? So there is nothing more to add on this. I’ve seen the ad.
Question: Has he seen the ad?
Spokesperson: I’m sure he has.
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