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

6 March 2009

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

6 March 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 at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will brief on his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he met with high-level United States Government officials to discuss climate change.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Secretary-General is contacting leaders in the region to follow up on his appeal to the Government of the Sudan to reconsider its decision to expel 13 non-governmental organizations which aid some 4.7 million people in Darfur.  His recent contacts included telephone calls with the leaders of the African Union and the League of Arab States.

The UN Refugee Agency, meanwhile, said it shared the deep concern of the Secretary-General and the rest of the United Nations system over the ordered departure of the aid groups and the serious implications this has for humanitarian efforts on behalf of hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable people in Darfur and elsewhere.

For UNHCR's [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] part, at least five of the non-governmental organizations asked to leave the Sudan have been UNHCR implementing partners carrying out important humanitarian programmes, not only in Darfur but also in Blue Nile State and Khartoum State.  So it is noteworthy that their removal could have an impact not only on Darfur, but on vulnerable people elsewhere in the country.

UNHCR also says it is concerned at the possible implications this could have more broadly in the region.  Experience shows that, when vulnerable populations are unable to get the help they need, they go elsewhere in search of protection and assistance.  If food can't get through to people, they will soon suffer and have to look elsewhere.

The United Nations team in Darfur has helped many displaced people stay as close to home as possible while also relieving pressure on neighbouring Chad, where UNHCR and its partners are already caring for nearly 250,000 refugees from Darfur.  UNHCR provides a string of 12 remote camps spread over 600 kilometres near the Sudan border.  Any influx to Chad would be an additional challenge for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies because of ongoing insecurity and instability in the country, as well as limited resources, like water.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the decision could lead to the increase of mortality and morbidity due to the interruption of health services, the decline of immunization coverage and the increase of mortality and morbidity among children if they do not have access to therapeutic feeding and nutrition services.

UNICEF said its main concerns were in the areas of water and sanitation, nutrition and health.  UNICEF is doing what it can to ensure that those programmes continue, whether by using existing non-governmental organizations whose licences had not been revoked, or other partners to implement such life-saving assistance.

A fact sheet prepared by OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is available upstairs, and OCHA’s Catherine Bragg will brief you at the stakeout following her humanitarian briefing to the Security Council this afternoon.

Meanwhile, according to the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), a number of banditry activities targeting UNAMID personnel and aid groups was reported in all three sectors.  Banditry activities included armed robbery, theft of personal belongings and harassment.  No injuries were reported.  UNAMID is investigating these incidents.

During the last 24 hours, UNAMID military forces conducted 18 confidence-building patrols, 7 escort patrols, 9 night patrols and 1 investigation patrol covering 42 villages and IDP [internally displaced persons] camps throughout Darfur.

**Security Council

The Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3 this afternoon on the Sudan.  Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg will brief Council members on the latest humanitarian developments, and she expects to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout afterwards.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is concerned about a possible deterioration of security conditions in North Kivu.  The situation, however, remains calm because United Nations peacekeepers and Congolese troops are occupying positions vacated by the Rwandan rebel group FDLR during a joint DRC/Rwanda military campaign against it.  The Mission continues to appeal to FDLR fighters to voluntarily join the disarmament and repatriation programme.

The UN Refugee Agency, meanwhile, says it’s finding it increasingly difficult to reach newly displaced civilians in North Kivu.  A United Nations team sent there to assess the needs of IDPs had to abandon its mission yesterday for security reasons.  This is because FDLR has conducted sporadic attacks in isolated areas, killing some 20 civilians.  FDLR is also targeting non-governmental organizations and humanitarian relief convoys, according to UNHCR.  Some 160,000 people have been displaced since the start of the year, bringing to more than 850,000 the number of displaced civilians in North Kivu.

Still on the Congo, a pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court yesterday decided to delay the confirmation of charges against former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.  The Judges have asked the Prosecutor to consider submitting an amended charge sheet.  According to the Judges, the Prosecutor’s current submission appears to seek charges different from what the Prosecutor is arguing for, namely Bemba’s criminal liability as a commander.

** Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization said some 88,000 people were now affected by cholera in Zimbabwe, including 3,975 deaths.

This week had seen a confirmation of the declining trend of new cholera cases reported at the national level.  Very high levels of cholera cases had been reached at the beginning of the year, with as much as 8,000 cases per week.  Since a few weeks, there was a slight decrease as the number was now around 4,000 cases per week.  But there was still a need to remain alert as the health crisis was still important and cholera continued to cause casualties every day.  The rainy season has also restarted and cholera cases could increase again due to that rainy season.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will travel on Sunday to Dar es Salaam to participate in a joint International Monetary Fund-Government of Tanzania Conference on “Changes:  Successful Partnerships for Africa's Growth Challenges”.  That Conference takes place from 9 to 11 March.

The Conference will aim to address key economic policy questions, with the common goal of forging a renewed partnership for growth in Africa in the twenty-first century.  It will consider what Africa’s successes tell us about the main bottlenecks and risks to sustained growth, poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  It will look at how countries can tap into the potential of the private sector and the financial sector to advance these Goals.

The Deputy Secretary-General will provide one of two keynote addresses at the Conference, and she will participate in a press stakeout following her remarks.  She intends to meet with a broad cross-section of international representatives, Ministers and local Tanzanian officials while she is in Dar es Salaam.

** Kenya

On Kenya, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reacted today to the murder last night of two Kenyan human rights defenders.  

One of the victims, Oscar Kamau Kingara, had met last week with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston.  And Mr. Kingara’s foundation had provided testimonies to the Special Rapporteur regarding alleged killings by elements of the Kenyan police.

Pillay today urged the Government of Kenya to ensure the safety of the witnesses to last night’s shooting, to investigate the killings, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Pillay also urged the Kenyan Government to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of all people with whom the Special Rapporteur met during his recent visit.

** Nepal

Turning to Nepal, following the deaths of two protesters and a member of the Armed Police Force during the past two days, the United Nations Human Rights Office in Nepal is urging all sides in the Chitwan protests to exercise restraint and to resolve their differences through dialogue.  Stressing that protesting groups should only use peaceful means, while the Nepal armed police use minimum force, OHCHR said if force is necessary, both sides should ensure that it is proportional to the threat posed.

The Office expressed extreme concern about the use of live ammunition by police.  One person was reportedly killed and several others injured after police fired live ammunition on the night of 5 March.

The Office is also extremely concerned at reports that two Armed Police Force members were attacked by protesters with large knives during a demonstration on 6 March.  One constable has since died and the other is seriously injured.

The Human Rights Office in Nepal reiterates its call for thorough and independent investigations into all killings which have occurred.

**Human Rights Council

Today in Geneva, the Human Rights Council held its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities.  Speaking at that debate, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that, with the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last May, a major legal protection gap had been filled.  And she noted that the implementing bodies established by the Convention were now in the initial phases of their institutional development.

Also at the Human Rights Council today, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang presented a number of reports on a variety of topics -– including genocide, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, activities by UNIFEM to eliminate violence against women, and the protection of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS.  There is more information on today’s proceedings on the website of the United Nations Office in Geneva.


To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that the current global economic crisis was likely to have a disproportionate impact on millions of women, who already formed the majority of the poor.  She stressed that women’s economic and social rights were at risk of being further curtailed as the crisis deepens.

In another statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman underlined the significant role men and boys have to play in ending violence against women, and called for putting in place programmes and activities that educate them.

Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), called for gender equality to be at the core of all our actions.  This is not only necessary for social justice, but also for achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, he said.

We have these three statement upstairs, as well as others marking International Women’s Day on 8 March.


The 2009 Kilimanjaro Initiative Climb concluded yesterday after climbers reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  Disadvantaged youth joined members of the private and public sector -– including United Nations staff -- on this climb, which aimed to raise awareness about the effect of climate change.

Upon their descent, the climbers called the Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team in New York, Janos Pasztor, to report their first findings.  They observed that there was now less water in the streams and less snow on top of Kilimanjaro.  You’ll recall that, last weekend, the Secretary-General witnessed this himself when he flew over Mount Kilimanjaro.


A United Nations workshop on implementing UN Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) begins on Sunday in Doha, to enhance national capacities for the management of export-control processes at a practical level as well as improve information and experience-sharing on disarmament matters.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

A proposed multinational fuel bank under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a milestone this week when Kuwait pledged a financial contribution of $10 million.  That pledge means that the international financial target for the fuel bank has been reached, putting into motion the efforts for a future decision by the Agency’s Board to actually create it.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei welcomed the achievement.  He said that bold measures, including assurances of nuclear fuel supply and making sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle a multinational issue, are vital to curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and eliminating them altogether.

**Week Ahead

And we also have upstairs for you “The Week Ahead” at the United Nations, where we note that, on Monday, the Secretary-General travels to Haiti with former United States President Bill Clinton.  And on Wednesday, the Secretary-General will be in Washington, D.C.

And this is all I have for you.  Any questions?  Yes, Bill.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Getting back to the Secretary-General’s contacts relating to the Sudan.  First of all, were those the only two calls?

Spokesperson:  No.  He made five this morning.

Question:  Could you…?

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot give you all the details.  I mentioned the Arab League and I mentioned the African Union because those are organizations.  But he also made phone calls to a number of leaders of neighbouring States to see whether they could actually use their influence to change the course of events.  I cannot specifically…

Question:  So that would be three of those…?

Spokesperson:  I cannot specifically give you… Not only neighbouring countries, also countries that can have an influence.

Question:  Is it Amre Moussa and [Jean] Ping?

Spokesperson:  Well, yes, Amre Moussa and Jean Ping, I can confirm that.

Question:  So it’s five in total, two who are Ping and Moussa and three others, correct?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  Also, is the Secretary-General doing anything in terms of meeting with or talking to heads of agencies such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme, to see what they can do to compensate for the expulsion of the non-governmental organizations?

Spokesperson:  Oh, yes.

Question:  What can you tell us about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, all morning he has been in touch with them and he has had reports from them.  Yesterday, you had some of it from OCHA, and the Secretary-General is getting updates on a regular basis on what the other agencies are doing right now and what they’re planning to do.  And, of course, you can get a lot more from OCHA, because, as you know, Catherine Bragg is the one who is actually coordinating that effort.  Yes.

Question:  What, if any, contact has there been with the Sudanese and have they said anything about reconsidering?

Spokesperson:  Not directly, as far as I know.  If it was done on the ground, definitely not directly from the Secretary-General, but there were contacts taken on the ground, yes.

Question:  (inaudible) reconsidering?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have answers yet.  Yes, Laura.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned about the way President [Omer] al-Bashir accused the United Nations of neo-colonialism as well as the call to aid agencies yesterday?  And also have there been any contacts with the Sudanese after the issuing of the arrest warrant, and have they continued to give reassurances about the safety of United Nations peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  I’ll repeat what I said to Neil.  There were no official contacts from the Secretary-General.  I am sure there were contacts on the ground between the agencies that are concerned and the Sudanese authorities on the ground about this.  For the time being, you have heard the range of protests we have had from every single United Nations agency because it is as if their arms and legs have been cut off to the extent that they cannot reach the people.  The instrumental people actually distributing the aid were that network of non-governmental organizations.  Yes.

Question:  Just to go back to the same question Bill made about the phone calls.  Was it basically only about the expulsion of the non-governmental organizations or…?

Spokesperson:  His concern about the non-governmental organizations, yes, that was the main subject.

Question:  But nothing about the International Criminal Court itself and the decision by the Court?  Article 16, did they discuss something like that?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Can you confirm, Michèle, two things?  Number one, the Secretary-General called President Asif [Ali] Zardari yesterday afternoon and asked after the UNHCR employee John [Solecki], asking for his release; I mean securing his release.  And the other thing is he condemned the deaths of people in the terrorist attack in Lahore?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there were several subjects to the phone call.  It was in the morning yesterday and he did talk about the situation of Mr. Solecki, our UNHCR colleague, and they also talked about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Question:  Were you not aware of this phone call yesterday when you did the press briefing?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I was aware of it, sure.

Question:  Okay.  Can I ask you another question?  Can you also confirm that the Pakistani Government has transferred some $5 million to the United Nations towards facilitating the establishment of the fact-finding commission for Benazir Bhutto?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I can confirm that is true.

Question:  So that goes to my other question…

Spokesperson:  This is one extra step towards establishing the commission, which is the question you have been asking for quite a few days.

Question:  Yes.  So my next question of course is, when will that commission be established?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  My answer is the same.  But I think it’s a significant step that right now there were some funds delivered.  And we’re still working on, from what I gather, the composition of the third member of the commission.

Question:  When did the money… was the money transferred yesterday?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes.

Question:  Michèle, on this question of whether the Secretary-General was exclusively calling for al-Bashir to surrender: two weeks ago, at the African Union summit, he was quoted as saying “he should fully cooperate with the decision of ICC”.

Spokesperson:  Which is still his position.

Question:  Is that what you’re saying now?  It seems like he’s not even going that far now.

Spokesperson:  What I said yesterday is that he should follow the decisions of the International Criminal Court.  

Question:  (inaudible) he should surrender?

Spokesperson:  Well, the word “surrender” was not used, if that’s what you want to know.  The word “surrender” was not used.  What he says is follow the Security Council resolution and the International Criminal Court decision.

Question:  Okay.  But he is also saying, Michèle, that it is up to each State to implement the resolutions the way they want, which is quite clearly not as obligatory in any sense as saying you have to cooperate with 1593.

Spokesperson:  It’s mandatory, according to 1593.

Question:  But if you were to comply, cooperate with the decision of the Court, then he would surrender, correct?

Spokesperson:  Well, he doesn’t see it this way.  But it is a fact that it involves…

Question:  Okay, can I ask you another question to get you off that one?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  The other day, the Sudanese Ambassador was in here and questioning this 300,000 figure that all of us use in our reports over and over again and quoting the United Nations.  Could you tell me who, and how, they came to that decision of 300,000?

Spokesperson:  You mean the people affected by…?

Question:  (inaudible) the United Nations system has made this estimate and how did they make that estimate, 300,000 dead since 2004?

Spokesperson:  Okay, we can get you that information on how this was done throughout.  It’s a number that has been used for quite a few years now.

Question:  It hasn’t changed for a few years.  So let me know…

Spokesperson:  We have to find out exactly what it is right now, what the evaluations are.

Question:  (Several correspondents speaking at the same time)…It was said by John Holmes; it was Holmes who said it… a year ago.

Spokesperson:  Holmes said it, yes.

Question:  Michèle, (inaudible) says it’s sending a high-level to the United Nations, will the Secretary-General be meeting with them and in terms of, obviously, they’ll be out calling for him to get involved.  Is he going to take a role or having a meeting (inaudible)? How is that going to work?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any definite information on that.  I don’t know when they’re coming; I don’t know if they’re coming and I don’t know whether they have requested to see the Secretary-General.  As you know, the Secretary-General is travelling next week.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Do you have any update on the status on the work of the non-governmental organizations in Gaza, where they are being impeded in delivering their services, and related United Nations agencies?

Spokesperson:  We’d have to get you in touch with UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] people on the ground, they can give you that information of course.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Michèle, North Korea has said that it can’t guarantee the safety of South Korean airliners that fly over it.  This thing that keeps being called the UN Command, the United States-led UN Command has had some comment on it.  First, I want to know if the Secretariat has any comment on what is viewed as a breach of international law; one country threatening another country’s airliners.  And two, could you describe what is the relationship between the United Nations Secretariat and this UN Command that’s between South Korea and North Korea?  Does Ban Ki-moon…?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a body that’s been there for quite a few years right now, and we would have to bring your question to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the United Nations Command is not a United Nations operation.  Its name comes from the fact that it was formed after the Korean War in 1953 under Security Council resolution 82, which authorized United Nations Member States to provide military forces for the border.]

Question:  Does he have any response, I guess to the…?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, at this point, no.

Question:  Also, I wanted to ask, there is this, the Ghana peacekeeping mission to MONUC, their paymaster has been arrested for not paying the troops that served in MONUC, for fraud and taking money.  I wanted to know if the United Nations is aware of that?  If it has, what steps did it take to guarantee that actual peacekeepers receive their funds?  Do they just turn it over to the Member States and count on them to pay the peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  This is usually the way it’s done, but, of course, you can have additional information from DPKO.

Question:  But what do they do in cases where…

Spokesperson:  There is a process which they follow in all cases concerning peacekeeping missions, and they can tell you what the procedure is and what is done in case it is not carried out.

Question:  And also, Mr. Guterres met with the Secretary-General.  Did the issue of Darfur come up?  What was the topic?  And could we maybe speak with…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a readout yet, but I can try to find one for you.

Question:  Yes, Michèle, just a follow-up on the Gaza issue.  I mean, the donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh did basically pledge up to $4.5 billion.  I was wondering if there is any follow-up mechanism with the United Nations because a lot of this money is going to be funnelled through United Nations agencies.  Is there a follow up…?

Spokesperson:  It’s not clear at this point.  We should find out what was done.  There was a number announced, but we’re still waiting for the modalities, ways in which that money is going to be disbursed; who is going to get it.  This is still being worked out.  Yes, Bill.

Question:  Two things:  first of all, when will the Secretary-General hold his monthly press conference?

Spokesperson:  He wanted to do it next week.  We’re still trying to arrange a time.  As you know, he is travelling.  When he comes back, we’ll see with him when.

Question:  Secondly, going back to the sort of phone calls and so forth; has the Secretary-General been in touch with anybody from the United States Administration?  Anybody -- President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice, concerning the expulsions?

Spokesperson:  He met with the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Ms. Rice, yesterday.

Question:  And the subject was the…?

Spokesperson:  One of the subjects, yes.

Question:  Michèle, I just want to find out, now that Stephane Dujarric has been made Director of Communications for UNDP…

Spokesperson:  We’re very happy for him.

Question:  Yes, very happy.  I just want to find out, has there been any movement (inaudible)… to the selection of the new UNDP Chief?

Spokesperson:  It’s still in the works; it’s still being worked out.  Interviews are being conducted.

Question:  And you have not been given any shortlist on that as yet?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Just a bit of housekeeping, Michèle.  The gentleman that was in here with you giving us the legal interpretation the other day; could you educate him as to the prospect that, when press calls him on deadline and request that he call them back, that he do so?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am afraid that is not within my powers.

Question:  If you could perhaps pass that message…

Spokesperson:  It’s not within my powers, Frank.  Of course I can ask him to answer your questions.

Question:  What impact, if any, is the expulsion of the non-governmental organizations in the Sudan having on peacekeepers there?  Or might it have kind of a trickle down impact on peacekeepers in increasing…?

Spokesperson:  Well, so far, it hasn’t had any.  But we don’t know.  I mean, right now, we’re worrying about the impact on the civilian population of the fact that so many non-governmental organizations had to leave the country.

Question:  A quick follow-up to the Gaza question.  Even with the money coming out of Sharm el-Sheikh, what’s being done with the logjam outside the checkpoints?  We still haven’t seen any significant opening and does the Secretary-General…?

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get you an update on Gaza since we haven’t had one for a while.  Maybe we should again have a regular, not a regular, but at least have one with our friend John Ging.  We’ll try to have that for you.  Dennis?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Has the United Nations evacuated any staff from Darfur?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  Yes, Pat?

Question:  Thank you for the good news about Benazir Bhutto’s investigation.  And I wonder if you have anything on this fake non-governmental organization called (inaudible) in Kenya, which is apparently behind a lot of the murders that you mentioned…?

Spokesperson:  I have absolutely no information on that, Pat, sorry.  And in terms of good news, I think our friend here will disagree with you.  Masood thinks we don’t have enough information to give him.

Okay, Mr. Yvo de Boer will join us now.

* *** *

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