|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 Statement on United States President Barack Obama
In a statement issued today, the Secretary-General congratulated Barack Obama on his inauguration as the forty-fourth President of the United States, and expressed “great optimism” at the start of his Presidency.
According to the Secretary-General, more than ever before, the challenges we face as a community of nations are global in scope: economic uncertainty; climate change; pressing issues of peace and security, including disarmament and non-proliferation; and the multiple crises of food, energy and human development. By their nature, these are issues that require strong and collective responses.
President Obama, the Secretary-General said, was explicit in committing his administration to tackling all of these problems, urgently and decisively. He spoke of the need to “harness the sun, the winds and soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”. He expressed his determination to “roll back the spectre of a warming planet” with a more sustainable, responsible United States energy policy. He vowed to work with developing nations to “make farms flourish and let clean water flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds”.
This is also the work of the United Nations, the Secretary-General added. Our goals are shared. Together, he said, the United States of America and the United Nations can look forward to a new era of strong and effective partnership, delivering results and the change we need.
The full statement is available upstairs and online, and it’s in the name of the Secretary-General himself.
**Secretary-General Returns from Middle East
The Secretary-General returned to New York this morning from his week-long trip to the Middle East, which wrapped up yesterday with visits to Gaza and to the southern Israeli town of Sderot.
He intends to brief the Security Council on his trip, in an open meeting, followed by consultations, at 3 p.m., this afternoon. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, who accompanied him on the trip, will also participate in the Council briefing.
The Secretary-General will not be able to speak to reporters following his briefing to the Council, but will try to talk to you once he has rested a bit from his trip. Right now, I can tell you he has lost his voice. Mr. Pascoe says he will speak to you at the stakeout following the Security Council briefing.
** Gaza Humanitarian Update
On Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes has arrived in Jerusalem. He will lead a humanitarian needs assessment team in Gaza tomorrow -- together with the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.
Meanwhile, OCHA reports that Gazans displaced during the military operation continue to make their way home. But with the extensive destruction of homes, many people have found they are now homeless. Thus, they remain with host families or in shelters run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). As of late yesterday, more than 18,000 people remained in 30 shelters.
OCHA also reports that the majority of mills and bakeries in Gaza remain closed due to a shortage of wheat flour and cooking gas. This has resulted in an acute shortage of bread.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is trying to solve this problem by delivering flour to bakeries, and WFP-contracted bakeries are now working to produce 5,000 three-kilogramme bread parcels per day. WFP also reports that a first shipment of 10 tons of nutritious date bars -- supplied by Egypt under WFP’s Operation Lifeline Gaza -- made it into the Strip yesterday.
But WFP remains concerned by security constraints, which are limiting access to its warehouses. Specifically, access to some 520 tons of food –- or 12 per cent of WFP’s current stocks in Gaza –- is not possible at this time.
Meanwhile, with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) support, an important vaccine storage facility in Gaza is now functional, and routine vaccines will be available until March. In addition, two therapeutic centres, supported by UNICEF, are working at full capacity to provide services for 120 malnourished children per day.
UNICEF also reports that, yesterday, it managed to deliver six trucks of family hygiene kits to needy Gazans. It also managed to get more than 1,300 water purification tablets into Gaza. That’s enough to purify drinking water for 30,000 people for the next three months. The agency is also disbursing $50,000 to support rapid repairs to the domestic water network.
In an attempt to get schools up and running again as soon as possible, UNICEF is working to repair windows, desks and chairs at schools, as well as to provide clean sanitation facilities for girls. It is also providing a first wave of 40,000 students with school supplies.
OCHA reports that the Gaza crossings at Erez, Karni, Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom and Rafah were all open today. OCHA also notes that funding needs for priority projects in Gaza amount to $117 million. But of that, only $63 million has been committed or pledged so far.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
In a statement just released, the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) stressed that it has not been involved in the planning of military operations now under way against DRC-based Rwandan Hutu militias. These operations are the result of an agreement between Rwanda and DRC. They are being conducted by the armies of the two countries backed by certain Congolese armed groups.
In light of this, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, urges the parties to ensure the protection of civilians. The parties must also fully adhere to international humanitarian law. The Mission, for its part, will uphold its mandate requirement to assist the Congolese army in protecting civilians. It will continue to support the Congolese Government’s efforts to integrate armed groups into the army. And the Mission says it will also continue to assist the political process as well as humanitarian workers.
The Mission, meanwhile, said it was concerned by reports that Congolese troops have denied access to United Nations peacekeepers, Red Cross workers and journalists to the area of operation against the Hutu militias.
The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says it will deploy hundreds more troops within the next two months as part of the Mission’s efforts to speed up deployment in Darfur to ensure better safety and protection of local civilians.
Additional troops are expected to arrive by March from Egypt, South Africa, Senegal and Bangladesh. Later this year, further troops will arrive from Nepal, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia. Tanzania has also announced it will send an entire infantry battalion of about 900 personnel and an advance party including engineers.
The announcement of the arrival of new troops comes as UNAMID continues to expedite its deployment target. Earlier this week in Addis Ababa, the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of the Sudan met in the framework of the Tripartite coordinating mechanism to discuss ways of accelerating the deployment of UNAMID to reach its authorized strength of 26,000 military and police personnel.
At the end of the meeting, a Memorandum of Understanding on air operations was signed by the Government of the Sudan and UNAMID to enable the latter make a more effective use of the infrastructure of Sudanese airports to speed up the deployment process.
This morning, the Security Council received a briefing on the work of the United Nations Office in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) by the head of that peacekeeping Mission, Choi Young-jin. Mr. Choi also briefed troop contributing countries earlier today.
He told the Council that the progress of the identification process in Côte d’Ivoire was encouraging, with more than 3.5 million people being identified. The peaceful progress of identification efforts, and peace and stability in Côte d’Ivoire, has allowed the United Nations peacekeeping Mission to propose a reduction in its military personnel by one battalion by this March.
This afternoon, following the briefing on the Middle East, the Security Council will also hear from Said Djinnit, head of the United Nations Office in West Africa (UNOWA), about that Office’s work.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is hailing the record number of women in the latest class to graduate from the Liberia National Police Training Academy.
Women made up more than 100 of the 150 recruits who completed the one-year training, which was carried out with help from UNMIL. Women now make up nearly 13 per cent of the 3,800 officers trained for the new Liberian National Police force since March 2005. There is more information on that upstairs.
**Advancement of Women
The Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja, is today delivering a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf to the second ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Advancement of Women, which is taking place in Guatemala City.
In her message, Ms. Mayanja notes that there has been remarkable progress on the gender agenda, but there is still a long road ahead. Too many girls cannot get an education beyond primary school. Even if they do, they struggle to find a job, and those who do work are often stuck in low-paying jobs with little security.
She calls for the promotion of decent work principles and measures that allow both women and men to balance work and family. Above all, she calls for intensified action on maternal health to provide universal access to reproductive health by 2015, and the stopping of violence against women. We have the full text upstairs.
**Child Rights Envoy Welcomes Suspension of Guantanamo Trials
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, today welcomed the decision of United States President Barack Obama that led to the suspension of ongoing trials at Guantanamo -- including those of Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad.
Coomaraswamy had been especially concerned about the creation of an international precedent where individuals were tried for war crimes allegedly committed when they were children. She hopes that these particular cases will be resolved in a manner that will respect the international standards that safeguard the rights of children. And she will continue to follow these cases closely.
** Sri Lanka
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, today expressed concern also for the fate of thousands of children caught in the ongoing confrontation between Sri Lankan Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
With worries about the children who are internally displaced as well as for the child combatants used by LTTE, the Special Representative urges the Tamil Tigers to allow all children and their families to move to safe areas away from the fighting. She called upon the Government to welcome these families and to create conditions that respect their fundamental rights and which offer a viable alternative to life in a war zone.
The Special Representative also urged the Tamil Tigers to immediately release these children and stressed that the Government should make necessary preparations to reintegrating them back into their families.
** Nepal Combats Avian Influenza
Over in Nepal, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Government of Nepal has intensified precautionary measures and declared districts bordering India as a “High Risk Zone”, after receiving information of Avian Influenza outbreak in West Bengal and Assam, two Indian States bordering the eastern region of Nepal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has received a $9.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. WHO and UNICEF will use the money to conduct research on “child size” medicines, designed specifically for children.
The research will focus on developing doses and guidelines for treatment, testing and using medicines in children. More than 50 per cent of medicines prescribed for children have not been developed specifically for them or have not been proven to be effective and safe for their use.
“Children are suffering and dying from diseases we can treat, and yet we lack the critical evidence needed to deliver appropriate, effective, affordable medicines that might save them,” says WHO.
At 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Kiyo Akasaka; Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships; and filmmaker Romuald Sciora, on the world premiere of a documentary entitled “Planet UN”.
You are all invited to attend the premiere, which will take place at 6 p.m. today at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium. The documentary, which is produced and directed by filmmaker Sciora, highlights the challenges faced by the UN in the twenty-first century.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, Mr. Akasaka, and the Permanent Representatives of France and Switzerland are expected to deliver opening remarks at the premiere. And we have more information on this upstairs, and of course, you’ll get more details at the next press conference at 1 p.m.
Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., Robert Orr, Assistant-Secretary-General for Policy Planning, and Sandro Calvani, Director of the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), will brief on the Institute’s conference on “Innovative Policies to Advance Security Governance”.
The conference will take place all day tomorrow in Conference Room 4 and will showcase the recent activities of the UN Security Governance and Counter-Terrorism Laboratory, which the Institute launched last year. We have more information on this upstairs.
This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding the investigation decided upon by the Human Rights Council on the events in Gaza, there are indications that three former UN members will be on this team, namely, Martti Ahtisaari, Mary Robinson and Peter Hansen. Is this correct?
Spokesperson: The Human Rights Council has, as you know, its own independent mandate and it has voted to dispatch that mission. I don’t have all the details yet, and the mission is supposed to probe grave allegations against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). We are all following this process with interest. We will not comment until the report has been completed, but I will give you more information when I get it from the Human Rights Council.
Question: Will these three mentioned be on the team?
Spokesperson: We are still waiting to get complete confirmation, but I have heard the names the same way you have.
Question: Just a follow up that: can you please clarify for us what exactly the Secretary-General meant when he asked for an investigation in Gaza yesterday, when he said that someone should be held accountable. I mean, whom does he want to conduct the investigation, Israel itself, or…can you please clarify this for us?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General’s position, I think, has been made quite clear. International humanitarian law must be respected by all combatants. Allegations of violations should be thoroughly investigated in full. Where violations are found to have taken place, accountability must be ensured. The determination of possible crimes should be handled, in the first instance, by appropriate judicial processes at the national level. And then, as you know, the Human Rights Council has its own independent mandate. Of course this will be pursued very closely by the Secretary-General, but it has to be addressed by international judicial bodies.
Question: So, he’s basically asking Israel to investigate itself?
Spokesperson: Well, in the first place, yes. But he has asked for an independent investigation.
Question: By whom?
Spokesperson: This has to be determined by the legal people. It has been determined that there will be an independent investigation.
Question: But what does that…?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the decision yet, what is the next part of the process in the investigation. But, in the first place, there is an assessment mission on how much has been destroyed, and all this, how many people have lost their lives -- which is being undertaken, as you know by UNRWA on the ground. So we have our assessment and our own investigation taking place within UNRWA and the legal people who work with UNRWA are involved in that.
For the second step, of course, we are waiting for answers from IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Government of Israel. The third step is the international independent investigation. The Secretary-General cannot initiate that, but he has called for an independent investigation.
Question: But, to follow up then, who would he ask that from? Who do you appeal to? I mean is there somebody…?
Spokesperson: I will let you know as soon as the full consultations with his legal team have been completed. They are working on it.
Question: But that’s different from the Human Rights Council team?
Spokesperson: It is different, yes.
Question: The Human Rights Council team is on their own, so…?
Spokesperson: It is going, and we have to find out from the legal people whether we should wait for the human rights investigation to be completed first. This is still being discussed on how we will proceed. But, we do know that the Human Rights Council investigation is being put together, and they should be going there pretty soon.
Question: The newspaper Haaretz quotes Ehud Olmert saying that he asked Ban that any UN investigation also include an investigation of the rockets. Then it says: “Ban has agreed to do so, a top Government official said.” If it’s referring to the Human Rights Council’s process…
Spokesperson: No, he isn’t referring to the Human Rights Council. He is referring to the need for an investigation, and saying, of course, any investigation should cover what happened in Gaza and also should cover the situation in Sderot.
Spokesperson: Yes. He cannot decide himself on [the parameters of] an investigation.
Question: What’s the war crime in the rockets…I mean, there are incidents of the schools and the United Nations compound and convoys which have been bombed, which is what most people would refer to as the war crimes. What’s the relation with Sderot and the rockets and what happened there?
Spokesperson: The determination of what is a war crime and what is not is something that is to be done first by the Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council has to refer its investigation to a judicial body. And this is what is being discussed right now: what is going to happen afterwards. But there is a determination that there will be investigations made and the process has already started with the Human Rights Council.
Question: When the bombing of the UN premises in Baghdad and Algiers occurred, the United Nations was very clear about it, saying this is a terrorist attack on the United Nations. But in the case of UNRWA, where 9 people were killed and 11 people were injured in that incident, there was no mention of a terrorist against those premises, although those premises had been known for a long time and had been targeted three times in this war. Why is this not a terrorist attack?
Spokesperson: I’m suggesting that beyond that one word, you go to the statement made by the Secretary-General in Gaza. You will see how strong that statement was.
Question: Well, he has been very quick to describe the rocket attacks as terrorist attacks on many occasions, whereas when it comes to attacks on UNRWA, he has refrained from doing that. Why?
Spokesperson: I don’t know whether he refrained. I think you should read his statement again. You’re talking about one word, the word “terrorism”, but I think you really should read that statement. It is an extremely strong statement and all media are picking up that statement.
Question: But it stops short of describing the UNRWA attacks as terrorist attacks…
Spokesperson: You want the word “terrorist”. The word “terrorist” cannot…
Question: It was used by the United Nations in Baghdad, but not in Gaza or any other…
Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General was very clear about the attack on the UNRWA schools and about the attack on the premises also. He was very clear on that.
Question: On the subject of North Kivu: does MONUC’s mandate permit participation in an offensive against Hutu militias?
Spokesperson: No. What MONUC has done…you’re talking now about the offensive of…
Question: The joint Rwandan-Democratic Republic of the Congo offensive.
Spokesperson: …the United Nations has nothing to do with it. MONUC has nothing to do with it.
Question: Did the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo give MONUC any reason for closing off North Kivu?
Spokesperson: Not that we know of. As I read earlier, they are protesting the fact that they were not allowed to observe to the extent that there are civilian populations involved.
Question: I just have a follow-up on that: there’s a quote by a leader in the lower house of Parliament in Kinshasa saying the Congolese Congress wasn’t consulted on this deal with Rwanda. In what you read out, you said that Alan Doss said that this had all been agreed by the Governments, but there seems to be some dispute about that. Is MONUC in a place to say this was fully agreed to between the Governments?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s not something MONUC has anything to say about. It’s a bilateral agreement between two Governments.
Question: So you’re not even saying that it’s an agreement that’s been appropriately approved…?
Spokesperson: No. We’re just saying it’s a bilateral agreement between two Governments. We are not involved in it. We are not part of it.
Question: Okay. Because there’s sort of a United Nations angle to this guy, Bosco Ntaganda, one of the leaders of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP)… it’s unclear what his involvement is. Is CNDP working, to the United Nations knowledge with FARDC and the Rwandan army? And if so, this guy has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. What does the United Nations have to say about that?
Spokesperson: I cannot comment on that operation at all. We have nothing to do with it. Whether Bosco is participating in it is not our concern. As I said, it was an agreement by Governments. Yes Masood?
Question: Despite this “strong statement” that you keep on referring to by the Secretary-General regarding Gaza, has the Secretary-General weighed in on who’s going to pay for the death and destruction there?
Spokesperson: Well, this is going to be determined by what we’re talking about…
Question: One of the (inaudible) is that you go for yourself to see who has done it and it’s very clear who did it. It’s not a secret.
Spokesperson: Because there have been contradictory statements, this is why the Human Rights Council is sending an investigation team to look into the specific details. You can’t just talk about it without really specific information; the type of information that we were receiving from our colleague on the ground, John Ging [Director of Gaza Operations for UNRWA] two days ago. So, it’s going to be determined by the people who go there and carry out the investigation, the same way the extent of the reconstruction needs have to be assessed, which is why Mr. Holmes and Mr. Serry are there right now. All those things have to take place in a sequence.
Question: I understand what you’re saying, but it’s still not clear. Who perpetrated the death and destruction in Gaza? Was it Israel or could it have been somebody else?
Spokesperson: I’m not saying that, Masood. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that there have to be legal determinations before you have any action whatsoever. Any pursuit has to be based on specific facts. The specific facts have to be gathered on the ground. That’s all I’m saying.
Question: Who decided how long the Secretary-General could stay in Gaza and what places he could visit while he was there? How was that coordinated? Did he decide for himself, for example, only to visit UNRWA, or did he coordinate with some military, because of safety or other reasons?
Spokesperson: He determined how long he stayed. Whom he met was determined by him –- by the Secretary-General.
Question: What about what to visit?
Spokesperson: What to visit was determined by UNRWA on the ground.
Question: Was he concerned, for instance, that another mistake would take place while he was at the premises of UNRWA..?
Spokesperson: He went there, didn’t he?
Question: …since it has happened three times…
Spokesperson: He went there didn’t he?
Question: But for example, before going there, didn’t he coordinate with the Israeli generals that he would be there and please don’t hit…?
Spokesperson: Well, as John Ging has been telling you, every move they make and the coordinates of all their schools and compounds are known by the Israel Defense Forces.
Question: But did they advise him not to go to certain areas?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: They didn’t restrict where he could go or not go?
Spokesperson: I know that this was arranged with the UNRWA people on the ground, essentially on where he was going and what he was going to see.
Question: Did the Israeli generals advise him that certain areas were too dangerous for him to visit?
Spokesperson: I don’t think this came up. But, of course, we have risk assessments determined by our own people on what the Secretary-General can and cannot do in terms of security.
Question: And when he went to Sderot, did he have any precautions that he might be hit by a rocket or something?
Spokesperson: Well, he was taking his chances, right? In both cases.
Question: But usually they do some kind of preliminary…
Spokesperson: Yes, there are risk assessments made every time the Secretary-General goes anywhere.
Question: What about contacts with the parties concerned? I mean, for example, did he have any contacts with Hamas or Israeli generals in this regard?
Spokesperson: No. No. As we said over and over again, he did not meet with Hamas. His contacts on the ground were mostly with UNRWA, but he did see the destruction in Gaza outside of UNRWA compounds, outside of the schools. So he has seen with his eyes what happened in Gaza. In terms of how dangerous it was for him to go, obviously there was a risk assessment made and he decided that he would take the risk and go.
Question: And the reason he didn’t meet with Hamas is because the United Nations has determined that [it] is a terrorist organization?
Spokesperson: We’ve never used that word ourselves. The United Nations does not use that word.
Question: But the determination been made?
Spokesperson: The determination is that we are dealing with one…
Question: Hamas is the elected Government at this point, right? It’s an elected Government. It’s not a dictatorship. So why couldn’t he meet with the elected Government there?
Spokesperson: I have to say that the [legitimate] Government in our eyes is in the West Bank and is represented by President Abbas, whom the Secretary-General met. In terms of contacts with Hamas on the ground, John Ging already explained to you that there are daily contacts on the ground with Hamas, since Hamas runs local administration in Gaza. So those contacts are made at the working level, and we have said this over and over again.
Correspondent: Well, regarding the Palestinian Authority, it is no longer legitimate because its term expired on 8 January.
Spokesperson: I understand that there is an agreement for this to be continued. This has to do with regional politics, not with us. It was not a decision taken by the United Nations.
Question: So it’s up to (inaudible) Presidents and Kings to decide for the Palestinian people who will rule them?
Spokesperson: At this point, I don’t think I can answer your question.
Question: Will the Secretary-General ask the Security Council today to back his request for an independent investigation? Will he ask the Council for some sort of statement to that effect? How will the Council be involved? Specifically, what is he asking to be investigated, just the attacks on the United Nations facilities?
Spokesperson: No. The investigation is of what happened in Gaza in general. In terms of what he’s going to tell the Security Council, I don’t have the information yet, so I cannot give it to you yet. The Secretary-General came back quite sick and, right now, he is not coming into the house until the Security Council meeting. He will not be able to speak at that meeting and Mr. Pascoe will speak on his behalf. So you have to realize: I don’t have that information yet, so I cannot give it to you.
Question: Considering the fact that what happened with the United Nations compound was pretty dangerous, in that it did not give the people of Gaza a lot of confidence that they can see the United Nations headquarters as a place of shelter, does the Secretary-General want something more than an apology or them saying they’re wrong and carrying out an investigation? What does he want from the Israeli…?
Spokesperson: Well, he said what he wants accountability. The accountability is going to be determined by some judicial body. And that process is going to be determined through the process I mentioned earlier.
Question: By Israel? You see, that’s what I’m…
Spokesperson: Not in Israel.
Question: So he wants an international body to carry it out?
Spokesperson: Well, we have to first see what the investigation leads to. First, the human rights investigation and then whatever the Secretary-General decides to put in place…well, he cannot put anything in place, he can ask for something. You might have some answers this afternoon when he speaks to the Security Council.
Question: On the same subject. In the Qana massacre, which happened in 1996, there was an investigation and it determined that Israel had hit that camp on purpose. Still, until today, Israel has not paid compensation for that incident in South Lebanon, which was quite a serious incident. It was quite serious and they decided that Israel had done that on purpose. If these investigations don’t really lead to any results and force the aggressor to pay for it, what’s the idea, then?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what the idea is. I know what the Secretary-General can try to do in that context and what he can try to push for. What the results of those types of investigations can give or what type of impact they will have in the future…as you know, countries have to be parties to a convention or a legal instrument themselves. In this case, I don’t think we can say that it was possible, because Israel is not a member of the judicial body.
Correspondent: Well, since 1948, Israel has never implemented a United Nations resolution in full, or they have been reluctant to implement those resolutions. Now, nobody blames them for all these atrocities that are so plain and clear…
Spokesperson: What do you mean, nobody blames them?
Question: I mean it was obvious that UNRWA was hit by Israeli shells. And still there is no clear-cut blame by the United Nations…
Spokesperson: There is no clear-cut blame? Have you heard what we have been saying for the last week? There is no clear-cut blame?
Question: Well, you are still asking for an investigation. And then you want to establish…
Spokesperson: An investigation is a normal process in anything of this sort. You can express your indignation. However, the pursuit of any issue has to be based on a number of specific facts. Those facts have to be gathered on the ground. Our first concern was with the people, people being protected, people being taken care of in hospitals. That was the first part of the issue.
The part of investigating what happened, asking for reconstruction money, are things that are coming as we go along. You cannot expect that, today, two days after the actual fighting stopped, when we are still concerned about the welfare of the people –- providing water to them, providing electricity, providing food -– those are our basic concerns. The other concern is still a major concern, but it’s going to take a little more time. We have to first help the people.
Question: I’m sure the people in Gaza appreciate very much the United Nations effort to provide basic necessities, but, at the same time, they want guarantees that this will not be repeated again and more people will be killed. So what are…?
Spokesperson: Well, this is what the Secretary-General has been working on.
Question: But what are the facts that you are looking for? Is there anyone denying that Israel bombed the United Nations school? I mean…
Spokesperson: Well, Israel is denying it. They are saying they did it in self-defence. So they have their own version of what happened.
Correspondent: But even in international law and what I understand from human rights groups is that, even if someone fired from a school, if you know that there are hundreds of refugees inside, you should not fire on that school.
Spokesperson: This is our understanding also.
Question: Since some facts seem to be clear, what is an investigation going to do?
Spokesperson: Well, these facts have to be collected. That is what UNRWA is doing. Specific facts, you know, and that’s what they are doing. My God, we are just two days away from the actual bombing. So those facts have to be investigated. Any judicial process has to first start with a fact-finding investigation.
Question: How long do you expect this to take?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I cannot answer that question because I don’t have the answer.
Question: Another thing. There were three mosques destroyed. Did anyone establish that there were any munitions inside any of them?
Spokesperson: Well, this is what the human rights investigation process is supposed to go through.
Question: Will there be a strict timeline? An investigation can go on forever, like in the case of the [Rafiq] Hariri investigation.
Spokesperson: You should ask that question first to the Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council can tell you what the timeline is for them. I don’t have that information. You can get it from them.
Question: But, it’s the Secretary-General who is the supreme moral voice of the international community. He is the one who should weigh in on this. This is such a horrible crime against humanity. Who will say it? Well, (inaudible) let’s put it this way, it’s such a horrible crime against humanity that some timeline should be established and somebody should come up with answers…
Spokesperson: That’s what the Secretary-General has been asking for. My God! The man just went through 10 gruelling days of travelling to so many cities to try first to get a ceasefire. That ceasefire finally happened. So let’s step back and think a little about what was achieved: first, to stop the fighting. The Secretary-General is not saying that he did it, but what he’s saying is that a number of actors played in the efforts to get the ceasefire. That was the most important thing. We had to stop those weapons. We had to get some peace and stop people from dying and being wounded, and stop hospitals being shot at. All this had to be done first.
Question: When will the Secretary-General meet with us? Will he have any time for us?
Spokesperson: He cannot talk. He has lost his voice completely, Masood. He was planning to meet you this afternoon after he meets with the Security Council. He cannot even speak at the Council; his statement is going to be read by Mr. Pascoe.
Question: I just wanted to ask a factual question. There are reports that an UNRWA truck has been hijacked from the Kerem Shalom border crossing and that UNRWA has suspended other trucks from coming in. Are you aware of that? Is that the case?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that incident, but we can try to find out for you, of course.
Question: This is a non-Gaza question. There was protest by 300 Burmese refugees –- these are Muslims from Burma -- in Malaysia, saying that there is an “official problem in the granting of refugee status”. They are saying that the UN is not processing them correctly. Is the Secretariat aware of that or Mr. Gambari or somebody that deals with Myanmar? What’s the response to these 300 protesters there?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to get some ore information for you on that.
Question: The Secretary-General was quick to ask for the curtailment of weapons smuggling to Gaza. The Gazans have been subjected to years of slaughter, assassinations, blockades, collective punishment, etc., and there was no international mobilization to protect them in any way or prevent Israel from getting banned weapons to use against them. If they stop smuggling weapons into Gaza, how can these people protect themselves? The international community has been failing them since 1948…
Spokesperson: Do you actually expect me to answer that question?
Question: Yes of course. The Secretary-General is quick to say that they have to stop smuggling weapons and never mind that Israel gets all the weapons. So he has an opinion about this but he really doesn’t come forward with a protection plan…
Spokesperson: He has asked for the weapons to stop on all sides. He has been specifically asking. Since I have been the Spokesperson, I can tell you -- the situation of the population of Gaza -- in every meeting he has had with every Head of State that I have been witness to, that comes in all the time, the blockade of Gaza and the situation in Gaza. So the fact is that that is not something new. This is something the Secretary-General has been working on on a very steady basis. It’s not just now that he is concerned about this. He has been concerned about it and trying to change the situation. He has been asking for the opening of the crossings. He was doing that way before this, over and over again, way before this last conflict.
Question: Like the conflict in Bosnia, when there was an arms embargo. Because of that embargo, the Bosnians did not have the means to protect themselves and they were slaughtered in a massacre. The same thing has happened in Gaza. Don’t you think that the Gazans should be entitled to get weapons to protect themselves? This is what the Secretary-General should also answer when he asks for stopping the smuggling of weapons.
Spokesperson: I cannot comment on that at this point. I’ve said everything I will say.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a reaction to [General Assembly President Miguel] d’Escoto that the United Nations should not be taking part in the Quartet, basically because the Quartet maintained the closure in Gaza? Others have said that the United Nations participating in the Quartet while it backed the closure was a violation of international humanitarian law. What’s his reaction to d’Escoto’s statement?
Spokesperson: [Inaudible] Of course, the Secretary-General is aware that there are people who disagree with his participation in the Quartet, and he is also aware that a number of people are aware that his participation in the Quartet has probably [drawn attention to the plight] of the Palestinian people by his constant reminding to the Quartet members of the situation in Gaza. So I don’t think he feels at all that his participation in the Quartet in any way is a problem. He feels, on the contrary, that his participation in the Quartet has allowed him to push further for what he believes should be done for the population of Gaza.
Question: A follow-up to the previous question. The Secretary-General has taken up a position like he is trying to be neutral with regard to the rockets being fired at Israel and what’s happened in Gaza. Yet, Gaza is a blockaded place and Richard Falk has basically said that having a blockaded area like that is an act of war. Also, Gaza is occupied. Is the Secretary-General rethinking what he has seen as neutral in this situation?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry. The Secretary-General -- in this specific case, in what just happened in Gaza -- has not been “neutral” in the sense of ignoring what has happened in Gaza. He has been from capital to capital just crying out and underlining the fact that the people in Gaza were being killed, that they were being wounded, that they were being attacked. So, what he has been saying is that there were also victims from Hamas. He is not “neutral”, because he is on the side of the people being wounded and slaughtered. So to him, he is not being “neutral” in any way. He is trying to be balanced, saying that there have been also victims from another side. That’s all. This is not being “neutral”, because his statements about what has happened in Gaza have been the strongest he has issued on any single issue I can think of.
Question: But there are a number of newspaper accounts that have shown, on the whole issue of the ceasefire, that it was actually violated by Israel on 4 November. Richard Falk and others have looked into the situation and seen that the issue of what Israel has been claiming regarding its right to self-defence is not realty accurate, because Hamas had offered to have a new truce if the blockade was lifted and Israel would not negotiate on that. The Charter does say that a country is obliged to negotiate. It’s not self-defence when you refuse to negotiate. So I wonder if the Secretary-General is looking into this and what has happened? It seems the Secretariat has failed to bring these issues to light so they could be presented to the international community of the Security Council…
Spokesperson: Ronda, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but it seems to me that the violations you’ve mentioned have been denounced over and over again. In terms of the Secretary-General’s involvement, I just mentioned before you came in that he is just coming back from a trip that had as its primary objective to do something to stop the killing of Palestinians in Gaza. He had asked for the opening of the crossings. He had asked for a number of things.
Right now, the ceasefire that has occurred is not a process of negotiations, as you know. Both sides declared that they were stopping the fighting. It’s a very fragile process. The process of actually making it a political process, where there will be negotiations -- the negotiations you mentioned -- is going to be done within the next few weeks, few days, we hope. At this point, what we have is a very fragile ceasefire, but it’s a ceasefire we welcome because it spares lives. So this is where we are. Okay? Thank you so much all. Yes?
Question: The Secretary-General is viewed in the Middle East as having conveyed Israeli conditions to Hamas. He was not seen, as demonstrations against him in Beirut and Ramallah showed, as an impartial broker for peace. When he asked for stopping the smuggling of weapons by Hamas but doesn’t ask for banning weapon supplies to Israel, which is an aggressor and has been doing the killing…
Spokesperson: First, let me deny the information you just gave, which is that the Secretary-General had been conveying Israeli conditions to Hamas. Untrue. This has never happened. This has never happened.
Question: After the ceasefire was signed they wanted to stop any supply of weapons, smuggling and other things, and he wanted to stop…
Spokesperson: He has been saying this for months.
Question: He would have looked impartial if had asked for an embargo on the supply of weapons to Israel, which is an aggressor.
Spokesperson: I would like you to know that the echo you are getting from the region is not the same one I am getting. In terms of the population of Gaza, you have heard someone who you can not accuse of not being on the side of the population in Gaza. You have heard from John Ging every single day. So, I think the population was rather relieved by the Secretary-General’s efforts.
Question: But we have seen on television, including on Al-Jazeera, that after he left Gaza, some of the inhabitants criticized him for only having visited UNRWA.
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot comment on this. I think that I have said what I need to say and I’m not going to go beyond that.
Thank you so much.
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