Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

12 February 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

12 February 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest -- UNODC Report

My guest today is Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  He’s here to launch UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

As part of today’s launch, there will be a high-level panel discussion on human trafficking from 3 to 5 this afternoon in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  During that ceremony, Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino will be appointed a Goodwill Ambassador to combat human trafficking.

We have more information upstairs and, of course, you have more details with Mr. Costa when he comes.

** Darfur

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Ameerah Haq, has called for immediate access to over 100,000 civilians in Muhajariya and two other areas of South Darfur.

International humanitarian agencies have attempted to reach the area four times since 7 February, but are unable to obtain clearance for humanitarian flights.

Ms. Haq said aid agencies need urgent access to the people who are in critical need of assistance.  Unless access is immediately granted, the situation for hundreds of thousands of civilians could deteriorate rapidly, she warned.

The UN and NGOs in Nyala stand ready to provide vital food, water, shelter and medical care to vulnerable civilians who were displaced from Muhajariya into the surrounding areas following recent hostilities in the area.

**International Criminal Court Clarification

For those of you who have not seen it, I want to draw your attention to a press release by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which says that no arrest warrant has been issued by the ICC against President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan.

The ICC press release also says that no decision has yet been taken by the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber I concerning the Prosecutor’s application of 14 July 2008 for the issuance of such a warrant.

Finally, the ICC says that the decision will be made public once it is reached by the normal way of a press release and publication on the Court’s website.

** Zimbabwe

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a press release issued in Geneva today, said she hoped the establishment of Zimbabwe’s new Government of national unity would result in an immediate effort to restore the rule of law.  She expressed continuing concern over the disappearance of opposition officials, the reported use of torture to extract false confessions and infringements of the independence of the judiciary.

And you’ll recall, the Secretary-General, in a statement yesterday welcoming the swearing-in of Morgan Tsvangirai as the Prime Minister, said the new Government of national unity will need to immediately address the economic and humanitarian crises in the country, including the current cholera epidemic.

The period ahead will also be critical for consolidating human rights and democratic freedoms.  He reiterated the United Nations offer of support to the new Government in its recovery efforts to ease the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.

According to the latest available statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cholera cases has risen above 73,000, with the cumulative deaths reported at 3,513.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its consultations this morning by receiving an update on the work of the Sanctions Committee dealing with resolution 1718 (2006), which concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  That Committee is chaired by Ambassador Baki İlkin of Turkey.

The Council then received briefings on recent developments in Somalia, as well as on support for the African Union Mission there.  Under-Secretaries-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, and for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, are briefing Council members.

Mr. Pascoe intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once those consultations have ended and, of course, we’ll let you know when that happens.

** Afghanistan

Still on the Council, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council President, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, read out a press statement on behalf of the Council members that condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks at Government facilities in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier that day.

He said that the members of the Security Council reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism, and they reiterated that no terrorist act can reverse the path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

We also have available upstairs and on the web the Secretary-General’s statement on the Kabul attacks, issued earlier yesterday.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Olusegun Obasanjo, says that talks will resume soon between the Congolese Government and the armed National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).  Obansanjo said that yesterday, following a round of consultations with the concerned parties in Goma.

He also said that it now appears that all the parties would like the talks to be held on Congolese soil when they resume at a date still to be specified.  For his part, the Special Envoy said that it remained desirable that the talks proceed in Nairobi.  He also encouraged Congolese armed groups other than the CNDP to join the talks.

Obansanjo arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday and began an assessment of current conditions with a visit to the areas most affected by recent developments.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire, Georg Charpentier, has led a UN multi-agency assessment mission in the west of the country.  A number of non-governmental humanitarian groups also took part in the mission.  Charpentier and his party met with local authorities and formerly displaced people who are resettling in their original villages.  The returnees and their representatives told the visitors that living conditions are difficult.  They say they lack sufficient food, water and medical infrastructure.  They also face insecurity caused by violent ex-combatants and rogue youths.  They appealed for UN assistance -- a request Charpentier and his team assured them would receive due consideration.

** Sri Lanka

With fighting continuing in northern Sri Lanka, some 24,000 displaced people have crossed over from the Vanni region this year so far.  Transit sites are becoming overcrowded due to the relatively rapid influx of people and the limited number of sites prepared so far.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says a new “safe zone” has been demarcated along the western boundary of Mullaitivu Lagoon.  This area includes the location where UN staff and their dependents are staying.  Some 368 people, including wounded children and orphans, have been evacuated to Trincomalee, where the hospital now lacks space for new arrivals.

Health authorities have identified a facility to accommodate approximately 100 of those less severely wounded, while the United Nations and Sri Lanka’s Department of Public Health are reviewing the adequacy of levels of preparedness and response.

** Myanmar

Following his recent visit to Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, completed his consultations in the region on behalf of the Secretary-General.

In this context, Gambari visited Beijing, where he was received by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei.  They held extensive and detailed discussions on the outcome of his recent visit to Myanmar.

From Beijing, Gambari went on to Tokyo, where was received by Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, and held a working meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae.  They discussed ways in which the international community can further support the Secretary-General’s good offices efforts with a view to encouraging the Government and people of Myanmar to engage in a credible and inclusive democratic process.

** Gaza

According to the office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a truckload of cut flowers made it out of Gaza today and into Israel en route to Europe for sale.  This is first time since January 2008 that Israel has allowed any exports from Gaza to leave the Strip.  It is not yet clear whether more exports will be allowed out of Gaza in the coming days, the Humanitarian Coordinator’s office says.

Meanwhile, the office also reports that a number of crossings between Israel and Gaza were open today.  At Karni, for example, 34 trucks, including 23 carrying wheat flour, made it into Gaza.  Also, 440,000 litres of industrial fuel for Gaza’s power plant went through the Nahal Oz pipeline.

** Greece -The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, met with both parties yesterday afternoon, here in New York.

Yesterday’s encounter was considered an exploratory meeting, as this was the first joint meeting with Skopje’s new negotiator, Ambassador Zoran Jolevski.  The parties continued to exchange views about the “name issue”.

For his part, Nimetz stressed the need to create a positive atmosphere and to avoid creating irritations among the parties.  Although no new proposals were aired, he described yesterday’s talks as a “good, solid discussion”.

The parties decided to meet again, but no date has been set yet.

**Senior Managers’ Compact

The Secretary-General signed this morning his senior managers’ compacts for 2009.  Nineteen senior managers were present at the ceremony here at Headquarters.  Five senior managers participated via videoconference.

The Secretary-General stressed the need for teamwork, saying “from the Millennium Development Goals to combating climate change and improving staff security, we confront problems that no senior manager or single department can solve alone”.

The next crucial step, he added, is to look closely at what works, and to fix what doesn’t.  The Management Performance Board will be charting progress each quarter.  The ceremony was chaired by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who leads the Management Performance Board.

**Child Soldiers

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will attend an event related to the Red Hand Day campaign, whose aim is to highlight the continued use of child soldiers.

The Secretary-General is expected to say that the forced recruitment and use of child soldiers is unacceptable and one of the most appalling human rights abuses in the world today.  He will also say that the recruitment and use of children in warfare violates international law, as well as our most basic standards of human decency.  Along with the entire UN system, he is determined to stamp out such abuse.  We have embargoed copies of his remarks in my office.

UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, will also address this afternoon’s event, which starts at 4:30 across the street at UNICEF House.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, here in 226, the Permanent Mission of Spain is sponsoring a press conference with Joaquín Antuña, President of Peace and Cooperation, and Elvira Sanchez Egual of the World Association of Childhood Educators, to launch the “Peace and Cooperation School Award 2009: Peace and the United Nations”.

Following my briefing tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., the General Assembly Spokesperson will be joined by Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, to brief you on Security Council reform.

At 1:15 p.m., Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein and President of the States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, briefs on the conclusion of the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression.  This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein.

And at 2:15 p.m. tomorrow, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be here to brief you on his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He just came back from there.

This is all I have for you. We’ll take brief questions because I want our guest, Mr. Costa, to come up as soon as possible. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I know that the ICC issued a report denying that an arrest warrant was issued about Mr. Bashir.  But what about what was mentioned in the rest of the article about the fact that the meeting between Mr. Ban and Mr. Bashir was “stormy”, that they shouted at each other, and that basically it was not a very good meeting?  Do you have any reaction to that from the SG?

Spokesperson:  No.  I will not comment on a conversation of that sort.  The Secretary-General did say as much as he could say about it himself during his press conference.  He talked about his conversation with [Mr. al-Bashir] during our stay in Addis Ababa.

Question:  Are you saying that what’s mentioned in the report is wrong?

Spokesperson:  No, I am not saying that.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, could you give us an idea of the time taken by Israeli authorities to clear the consignment of cut flowers -- Gaza cut flowers -- bound for Europe?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details of how long it took to get them out, but we have noted this because it is the first time it has happened in quite a few months.

Question:  The Secretary-General in his press conference announced the name of the chairman of the Benazir Bhutto commission.  But what about the other members?  They have not been announced so far?

Spokesperson:  We will have them shortly, and I will release it as soon as I get it.

[Three questions were posed in French, and the Spokesperson responded in French.]

Question:  Can you please repeat the answer on the sealed envelope?

Spokesperson:  His question was, was there a sealed envelope?  I said no there was no sealed envelope delivered to the Secretary-General concerning the case of Mr. Bashir.

The other question was why did Mr. [Philippe] Kirsch [President of the International Criminal Court] cancel his meeting with journalists?  I said this was a scheduling problem.

The first question was, was [Kirsch’s] meeting with the Secretary-General about the ICC case against Mr. Bashir?  I said they discussed matters relating to the ICC.  It was just a courtesy call.

Question:  My question is related to that.  When and how -- not when, sorry. How is the Secretary-General supposed to receive the first information from the ICC?  We understand he will not receive it on the Internet with a press release.  He’ll have an informing process.  How will it be?

The second question is, once he receives that, what kind of obligation does the Secretary-General have to fulfil such an arrest warrant, generally speaking?

Spokesperson:  The ICC does not have to inform the Secretary-General of a decision it takes.  As you know, the Secretary-General is not informed whenever a decision is taken to indict other people.  Will the Secretary-General necessarily get it, when the Secretary-General gets it, if he gets it…  This is a decision for the Court, to send it as a courtesy to the Secretary-General or not.  But if not, they don’t have to do it.  They never do it.  So why would they do it this time around?  That’s the best answer I can give you.

Question:  In general, for other cases as well, the other arrest warrants from the ICC, what is the Secretary-General’s designated role?

Spokesperson:  He has no role.  He has no role.  The ICC is an independent body. It’s an international tribunal.  Yes, James?

Question:  Although the Court has not formally issued a warrant, Sudanese officials have been quoted speaking as if a warrant has been issued or is at least forthcoming.  In this context, is the Secretary-General concerned about the peacekeeping troops stationed in Sudan?  And does he reiterate any previous comments to Sudanese officials?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been saying the same thing over and over again. He talked to you at length during his press conference about this conversation with Mr. Bashir, where he mentioned the fact that they did discuss that issue. What else do you want to know?

Question:  Is he more concerned now about the safety of the troops?

Spokesperson:  He’s always concerned, but as he said over and over again, the ICC decision is a decision by the ICC.  The Secretary-General has nothing to do with it.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, some diplomats are saying -- this is about the same issue -- that the Secretary-General was informed that a warrant against al-Bashir will be issued on the 20th of this month.  In fact, this is a day that some diplomats are talking about and they had been informed.  Do you have any information about that?  And I have another question about…

Spokesperson:  I think the first one I’ve already answered.  We have not received anything.

Question:  Information that…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we have not received anything.

Question:  Okay.  The second question is about the Lebanese judges appointed to the tribunal.  Is it correct that they are going to take the oath at The Hague next week or so?  Do you have any information on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on what will occur during the signing ceremony, but I will find out for you whether the judges will be sworn in at that time.

Question:  Is it still a secret, let’s say, the names of the judges?  Are they going to take oath without telling the public who are they?

Spokesperson:  I think the names of the judges will be known.  Of course, as you know, there are great security concerns around the judges, particularly the Lebanese judges.  But I will let you know as soon as these are revealed.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I have two questions, Sri Lanka and Benon Sevan.  On Sri Lanka, the item that you read out -- thanks for that about the number of people who left from Vanni to these camps.  Can you either confirm or discuss that the UN is going to be recommending or urging that there be some kind of monitoring in these camps?  That there’s some -- that the idea is not just they’re understaffed, but that somehow people are being interrogated.  Or, or… that it’s not…  The reception that’s being received as they leave is not what the UN would want.  I’ve heard it from somebody within the UN…

Spokesperson:  We are trying to get more information about what is happening there.  As you know, information is not readily available.  Vanni is not that close…  We have some people there, as I said.  They are trying to help the displaced people as much as they can.  But if you want additional information, we can try to get more for you.

Question:  Have you asked for access to this area to which the Tamil Tigers are now confined, in which there are civilians?  Are there any UN staff in that area?

Spokesperson:  I know that they had asked.  I don’t know whether anything was done.  Every time we have had a truckload of humanitarian aid going to Vanni, we have let you know about it.  So we have been keeping you informed of everything that is going on in the Vanni region to help the displaced people and the civilians.

Question:  Has the Deputy Secretary-General met Mr. Akashi of Japan, who is their representative to Sri Lanka -- is that -- does that have to do with the crisis?  Or is it merely a courtesy call?

Spokesperson:  It’s a courtesy call.

Question:  Then the last thing is, do you have any comment on this decision of the Administrative Tribunal to award eight hundred and some thousand dollars of attorneys’ fees to Benon Sevan, former chief of staff, who was charged with bribery and fled the country to Cyprus and has not left?  What does the Secretary-General think of a decision to pay the attorneys’ fees of an individual who left in that situation?

Spokesperson:  Whatever the Secretary-General thinks, the UN Administrative Tribunal has decisions that are binding.  So the judgement will be executed.  The judgement, by the way, is available as a document, so you can have it.

Question: I guess what I’m saying is that he’s spoken so much of sort of, sort of the integrity of the UN.  If an individual was charged with corruption and in fact the UN is going to end up paying all of his attorneys’ fees, is it something that he regrets?  Does he, does he…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think he will comment on it since there was a decision taken by the Administrative Tribunal.  As you know, first there was an agreement to pay for Mr. Sevan’s fees.  That agreement was rescinded during -- when he was found in the Volcker report, when he was accused, let’s say, of some wrongdoings.  So, it was that decision, the second decision, that went to the Tribunal, that Mr. Sevan took to the Tribunal.  And the Tribunal said that the UN should be paying his legal fees.

Question:  I have one follow-up.  Are you basically confirming that on 1 March, it will become public, the names of the Lebanese judges?

Spokesperson:  No, I did not say that.  I will let you know when those names will be made public.  I will find out for you.  But you know that you can, of course, contact OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] concerning the specific situation of the Tribunal.  But we’ll try to get more information on what will happen exactly on that day.  Yes?

Question: Do you know why Ms. O’Brien has cancelled the briefing which was scheduled today?  Is it because some papers in Lebanon revealed that she’s going to speak to some -- to brief some journalists only?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea why that was cancelled.  I can find out for you from Ms. O’Brien.  She’s not difficult to reach.  You can find out why by yourself.  I don’t need to go through this myself, but if you want, of course I will ask her.  I know she has had a lot of things -- OLA has a lot of things on their plate right now and that has nothing to do with Lebanon.

Okay, thank you so much. I’ll invite Antonio Maria Costa to join us.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.