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

10 March 2009

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

10 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

I see we have some guests.  Welcome.  I hope you are enjoying your stay in New York and learning some things at the United Nations.

**Secretary-General in Haiti

The Secretary-General has left Haiti, and is on his way to Washington, D.C., where he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House this afternoon.

As I mentioned earlier, he and the President expect to discuss a wide range of issues, including managing the consequences of the global economic crisis, climate change, challenges in Sudan, Afghanistan and the Middle East, non-proliferation and disarmament, human rights, UN reform, and US-UN relations.

Then, this evening, the Secretary-General will speak at a dinner hosted by the UN Foundation.  Tomorrow, he has scheduled meetings with a number of US leaders in Washington.

The Secretary-General wrapped up his trip to Haiti this morning, visiting a factory of about 1,000 workers who were working for the garment industry, and meeting with staff of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH.

He spoke to the press this morning, telling them that Haiti needs one thing above all else:  jobs.  He added Haiti has hope for the future, with a window of opportunity provided by MINUSTAH’s presence and by a new US law allowing access to the American market for Haiti’s garment industry.  We expect to have a transcript of his press comments later today.

And yesterday, the Secretary-General met in Port-au-Prince with President René Préval, accompanied by former US President Bill Clinton.  The Secretary-General said that Haiti can be made into a success story, since it has many friends and all the right ingredients for recovery.  But speed is of the essence.  We must start moving now to create jobs for the poor and give the people hope for a better future, he stressed.  We have these remarks available upstairs.

And in a communiqué issued after the meeting, which we also have upstairs, the Secretary-General and President Clinton took note of the progress achieved in terms of public security, political stability and good economic governance.  The Secretary-General undertook to support the forthcoming donors’ meeting in Washington, D.C., and to encourage increased bilateral and multilateral assistance in order to meet immediate needs and pave the way for longer-term progress.

**Secretary-General’s Report on Haiti

Also on Haiti, the latest report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is out on the racks today.

In it, the Secretary-General notes that continued and determined engagement by the Haitian authorities together with enhanced support by the international community will be critical for the country in the coming months.

While underlining the urgent need to improve the daily living conditions of the Haitian people, the Secretary-General says the present situation still offers an opportunity to advance towards the consolidation of stability.  And that report is upstairs.

** Darfur

Turning to Darfur, yesterday evening, a UNAMID -- the African Union-United Nations hybrid operation in Darfur -- patrol returning to its base in El Geneina, West Darfur was attacked by unknown armed men who fired at the vehicle with small arms.

Four peacekeepers were shot and wounded in the attack, one of them seriously.  The injured personnel were evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment to the Mission’s hospital in El Fasher, North Darfur, where their conditions were listed as stable and not life-threatening.  UNAMID is investigating the incident.

UNAMID strongly condemns these acts of violence against its peacekeepers who are in Darfur to help bring peace and stability to the region and for the benefit of the population.

Violence against UNAMID personnel and banditry have increased over the past six weeks in West Darfur.  The number of incidents until now in 2009 have exceeded those for the entirety of 2008.

Also yesterday in El Fasher, in North Darfur, a UNAMID vehicle was carjacked by three unknown armed men.  No injuries were incurred and the incident was reported to the Sudanese Government police.

This morning, a UNAMID military observer en route from his residence to the Mission team site in El Daein, approximately 160 kilometres south-east of Nyala, was shot at by two armed personnel.  One bullet entered the rear of the vehicle and hit the front window.  The driver lost control of the vehicle and hit a pole but no serious injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, during the past 24 hours, UNAMID force conducted 31 confidence building patrols, seven escort patrols and nine night patrols, covering 41 villages and camps housing internally displaced persons.

Similarly, UNAMID police conducted a total of 96 patrols in and around villages and IDP camps.

** Darfur — Humanitarian

On the humanitarian front, the United Nations remains highly concerned over the safety of national and international staff in light of repeated reports of intimidation and harassment.

Despite assurances given by the Sudanese Government that harassment and seizure of assets would stop, such reports continued to be received daily, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Crucial assets had been confiscated from these humanitarian organizations, including computers, vehicles and communications equipment, as well as essential data.

But OCHA reports that there have been no further revocations of permission to work.

But as the rainy season was now coming up, and as the country would soon be split in two due to the rains, it was urgent and essential to pre-position food and non-food assistance in the warehouses as rapidly as possible, OCHA says.

Some 1.5 million people were at risk in terms of health.  An estimated 1.2 million people risked having no more access to potable water and education and hygiene programmes in the weeks to come, according to UNICEF.

Even though UNICEF is currently working 24 hours a day with their UN partners and their technical partners in the various ministries, UNICEF says it could not overcome the lack created by the absence of the various non-governmental organizations.

The World Food Programme meanwhile says that four of the expelled non-governmental organizations were crucial partners.  They were providing 35 per cent of their food distribution capacity in Darfur.  They had been distributing food to 1.1 million people plus 5,500 malnourished children and mothers receiving supplementary feeding in Darfur.  WFP and other humanitarian agencies do not have the capacity to fill such a large gap, they say.  WFP says it is doing everything it could to respond to the urgent needs in the areas where the non-governmental organizations had been forced to leave.  And they were planning a one-off distribution of enough food for two months through local food relief committees.

And the World Health Organization says more than 1.5 million persons would no longer have access to primary health care with the absence of the non-governmental organizations.  Their absence would be highly felt on several programmes:  immunizations would be disrupted and the communicable disease early warning alert and response system would be interrupted.  This situation would increase the risk of disease outbreaks and higher rates of mortality and morbidity.  Further, an outbreak of meningitis had been reported in the Kalma Camp, which currently houses 89,000 people.

The United Nations and the Sudanese Government have agreed meanwhile that three joint UN-Sudanese Government teams, composed of experts from both sides would visit Darfur to conduct an assessment of critical short-term needs in four sectors:  food; nutrition; water; and emergency shelter.

And there is more on this in the briefing notes from the humanitarian agencies upstairs.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council began its work this morning with an open briefing on the work of the 1737 Sanctions Committee, which deals with Iran.  Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, who chairs that Committee, briefed Council members.

The Council then went into consultations on Lebanon.  The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams provided an update on recent developments and presented the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), which we mentioned to you yesterday.  Council members also heard an update from Director of the Asia and Middle East Division of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations on the work of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

And Michael Williams says he intends to speak to the press at the stakeout once he is finished in the Council.  And hopefully if he is coming during the briefing we will be informed so we can alert you.

Also this morning, the Security Council expects to discuss sanctions on Sudan.  Then, at 3 this afternoon, François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic, will brief the Security Council on developments there, in an open meeting followed by consultations.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative for Iraq for the Secretary-General, strongly condemned the bombings in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib area this afternoon, which killed dozens of innocent civilians and injured many more after the conclusion of a reconciliation meeting between Sunni and Shi’a leaders.

He said that attack was a horrible crime that is designed to sabotage reconciliation efforts by the Iraqi people, adding that he is confident that they will continue on the road of dialogue.

De Mistura extended the United Nations sincere condolences to the bereaved families and its wishes for the full and speedy recovery of the wounded.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory reports that the overall humanitarian situation in Gaza remains unchanged.  A total of 729 truckloads were allowed entry into Gaza over the past week.  And more than 40 per cent of those were for humanitarian aid programmes.  That represents an increase from the previous week, when less than 600 truckloads were allowed in.

But problems still remain.  For example, no livestock, vehicles or construction materials were allowed entry into Gaza over the past week.  In addition, two shipments of UNICEF T-shirts, which were meant for disadvantaged girls in Gaza schools, were refused entry on the grounds of not qualifying as “a humanitarian priority”.

In yet another case, more than 700 packets of washing powder were kept out of Gaza since they lacked a so-called “environmental certificate” ‑‑ even though an identical cargo had been allowed in through the same crossing in late February.

In addition to the nearly $10 million in cash aid that the UN Development Programme has recently provided to needy Gazans, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will start handing out cash next week to refugee families whose homes have been destroyed or damaged.  That cash aid is meant to support those families until construction materials are allowed in and major repairs can take place.  Without such construction materials, in the meantime, UNICEF has been forced to carry out minor repairs of school windows using nylon sheets.

Meanwhile, in related news, today in Cairo, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd delivered a message from the Secretary-General to the UN Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People.  In that message, the Secretary-General reiterated that only a permanent negotiated political settlement, which ends the occupation, can provide a sustainable solution to the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinian people and lasting security for Israel.  And we have more on all of this upstairs.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says that the UN’s appeal to Rwandan rebels to surrender their weapons and return home is having a positive impact on peace and security in the Kivus.  Doss and the UN Mission (MONUC) report progress in that effort and in the consolidation by UN peacekeepers and Congolese soldiers of improved security conditions brought about by the Rwanda-DRC military campaign against the FDLR.  The Mission cites the case of an additional 335 Rwandan nationals who agreed to be returned to Rwanda since the start of this month.  Meanwhile, FDLR rebels are also surrendering their weapons to UN peacekeepers in small but steady numbers.  They, along with their dependents, will be returned to Rwanda with UN assistance.

** Madagascar

On Madagascar, the United Nations is closely engaged with the efforts under way to urge a peaceful resolution to the political crisis.  We are working in concert with the international community in this regard, including in support of efforts being made collectively to ensure the safety of persons involved.  The senior UN adviser on the ground, Mr. Tiébilé Dramé, is in contact with the parties, the mediation and the diplomatic community and is keeping us abreast of the situation.

The UN is actively engaged in support of the local facilitation to find a peaceful solution in Madagascar.

**Human Rights – Drugs

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today stressed the key roles that human rights and harm reduction should play in the response to drug use.  Noting that drug users often suffer discrimination and are hurt by approaches that over-emphasize punishment, she said, “Individuals who use drugs do not forfeit their human rights.”

Pillay said drug users, including those held in detention, should be given appropriate health treatment and services.  She also stressed that people charged with drug offences must never be transferred to countries where they will face torture.

She was speaking in advance of the high-level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will take place in Vienna tomorrow and Thursday.


We also have a press release upstairs on 10 million new “green jobs” that could be created by investing in sustainable forest management.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

**WIPO – Trademark Registration

And there is also the latest report released by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  International trademark activity remained robust in 2008, the report says, with a record number of applications for trademark registrations.  And you can read all about that in their report and in a press release.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And at 1 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Hania Zlotnik and Gerhard Heilig from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the latest findings of the 2008 Revision of the World Population Prospects.  And as I mentioned to you, Michael Williams will be speaking to you on Lebanon at the stakeout following his briefing to the Security Council.

That’s what I have for you.  Benny.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So on Gaza:  are the local authorities involved at all in determining who gets the cash and who doesn’t?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I… this is all I have for you in terms of the overall programme.  I think we need to follow up with UNRWA, or you can follow up with UNRWA and UNDP, which is providing the funds.

Question:  Is there any rule about that?  Like UNDP has rules about disseminating all kinds of aid in countries that do not involve the local authorities, is there any rule about Gaza because UNRWA is a separate entity?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, I just said that you have to follow up with UNDP and UNRWA on details of the programme.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Can we get a readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Obama later this afternoon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course.  But my understanding, just for your planning purposes, is that after their meeting, which is, I believe scheduled now at 5:30 p.m., there will be a press opportunity.  My understanding is that it will be the usual set where the two leaders will be sitting on chairs in front of the camera; they’ll both be making some remarks, which I am sure will be televised, so that will probably be the fastest way for you to get a readout.  My understanding is that, of course, we will provide a transcript of that afterwards.  Yes, James.

Question:  On the attack on the UNAMID peacekeepers in Darfur, you said it’s going to be investigated.  Will they be assessing whether or not the attack is linked to the ICC warrant against Bashir?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the fact that they’re looking into this incident right now.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  You indicated that the Secretary-General will be meeting with President Obama and other officials.  Who would be meeting him regarding…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s on his agenda for today.  Other than the dinner at the UN Foundation, at the moment I only have the meeting with President Obama.  Tomorrow, I believe that he will have meetings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and others may be included.  But I don’t have the programme for tomorrow yet.

Question:  Marie, you have just mentioned in your statement that we’re seeing 500 to 600 trucks a week in Gaza now at this point.  From what we were hearing before, it’s 500 a day is what’s needed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.  Is there any progress, or is the Secretary-General planning to make another push on that effort?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is always making a push on the humanitarian effort into Gaza.  But I think what I read to you if I recall correctly that the numbers had increased to 729, which was an increase over the 600.  So I would, rather than shuffle through these papers…

Question:  Is that over the week?  That was over the week, right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe so, yes.  A total of 729 truckloads were allowed entry into Gaza over the past week.  That’s more than 40 per cent of those for humanitarian programmes, and that represented an increase from the previous week where less than 600 truckloads were allowed in.

Question:  Let me just kind of quickly follow up.  Unless it’s changed.  The estimate from John Ging was of about 500 to 600 a day was needed to alleviate the situation, as…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’d have to check with John.  If John said that, I am sure that’s correct.

Question:  And Michèle mentioned last week that he may join us again at some point; is that a possibility?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If she promised you, I am sure we’re looking into it.

Question:  On this update you have on Madagascar, Mr. Dramé has been quoted as saying that the UN has placed the opposition leader and former mayor “under the UN’s protection in a diplomatic residence”.  So I was just wondering, what does that mean?  Is that Department of Safety and Security?  Who in the UN is actually providing this protection that’s being… if a person is under the UN’s protection?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can say about that is that, at this point, the diplomatic community as a whole is addressing this issue, and we are not as the UN providing protection, as we’ve said, but we are engaged in efforts collectively by the international community to ensure the safety of the mayor.

Question:  Can you confirm if there’s either a French Embassy or mission there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further than that.

Question:  And also, I wanted to ask about this Joint Inspection Unit report on procurement, which is pretty damning and says that the Secretariat waives competition routinely in a non-transparent manner, overuses consultants, and makes a variety of recommendations.  What is the UN… Does it disagree with this critique of its waiver of competition, for example, like Lockheed Martin in Darfur, and other cases?  And what is it going to do about this report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The article issued by Fox News on 9 March provides a series of assertions and allegations that are largely unfounded as regards UN Secretariat procurement.  The note by the JIU presented a study of procurement procedures pertaining to the UN system as a whole.  While the note describes differences in procedure from one organization to the other, and provides recommendations for the whole UN system, the content does not always provide a clear indication as to which UN organization the findings pertain to.  Nevertheless, of the 22 recommendations issued by the JIU, the following applied to the UN Secretariat.  Eight were already in place in the UN Secretariat prior to the Note.  Three would require an Enterprise Resource Planning system.  Three would require coordination with the high-level Committee of Management.  Five are accepted, and three would require additional clarification from the Inspectors as their recommendation is too vague.

It should also be noted that the amounts in question relating to the corporate consultancies are a highly specialized element of procurement.  This represents an average of $15 million expenditure, as indicated on page 5 of the Note, which is just 0.5 per cent of the $3.2 billion reflected in the Fox News piece.  This does not form a basis from which generic conclusions may be drawn regarding management of UN procurement as a whole.

Don’t ask me any more questions, because this is all I have.

Question:  Right.  But I guess I just want to be clear.  I was asking actually about the JIU report.  It seems like it’s fighting… maybe the UN disagrees with the Fox characterization.

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is a clarification of the JIU report.  And you know the JIU report is the [inaudible].

Question:  Is it possible to know which of the five recommendations the UN is actually going to act on?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have just said I have nothing further on this.

Question:  When is the Secretary-General holding his monthly press conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This I’m trying to get, nail down, a date.  But he’s coming back tomorrow night.  So I’m hoping by the end of the week.  I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Question:  I don’t understand your answer here.  Are you saying that all you’re going to say about the JIU report is that the Fox characterization of it was wrong?  Is that all we’re going to hear about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, this explains to you the report.

Question:  No.  It answers… what you did is answer allegations by Fox News.  Matthew asked you about the actual report, not about Fox News.  I mean, I understand that you’re not happy that Fox News is not giving you a glowing report.  But this is about the report as well.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The reason why that response was to this, is because this is what’s been in the public domain.  Most of you have not read the report and this was a clarification of the Department of Management on behalf of the Secretariat.

Question:  You’re not going to answer any more questions about the report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I said I don’t have anything further than this, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to answer it, Benny.

Question:  What is the status of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that’s a question you have to ask the General Assembly Spokesperson.  We’ll see whether he’s around and he can give you a briefing on that.

Question:  It has been announced that President Obama will travel to Turkey to attend the forum of the Alliance of Civilizations.  Has the Secretary-General been told about this?  And is he pleased with this announcement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is going to meet Mr. Obama at 5:30, so we’ll find out what he’ll be informed of after they meet.

Question:  Is there an update on the situation on Gaza crossings, and so forth, opening or anything like that?  Is there any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read, I just read a pretty lengthy update and I repeated bits of it again.  So yes, I think we did.

Question:  Could I follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is there anything happening to change that circumstance?  Because it’s quite a while since the devastation and nothing…  This seems to be the opportunity now to open these crossings.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General, together with UNRWA and all the humanitarian players concerned, are totally focused on this issue.  And that’s why we bring you updates when the situation worsens, and when the situation does show somewhat of an improvement.  And today was a little bit of both.

Question:  Non-procurement.  There’s a report that was supposed to be done by the Secretariat on the Djibouti-Eritrea dispute.  It’s been delayed and some were saying… there’s a mention by the President of the Council that Mr. Pascoe is somehow involved.  Others have said that France has put it… has delayed the report.  Can you say what the Secretariat is doing in terms of meeting the deadline set by the Council for the report, and what Mr. Pascoe is doing on that conflict?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If the Security Council had asked for a report, I’m sure the Secretariat would be responding to that deadline.  But other than that, I have nothing further on that.

Question:  And also, the President of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, has made this proposal that 0.7 per cent of various bailout packages be devoted toward developing countries.  Sometimes this is described as a UN proposal, UN-system proposal.  What does the Secretary-General… does he endorse this figure, 0.7 per cent?  And should it come out... should that be calculated off bailouts and stimuluses?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not familiar with the World Bank proposals, so I’d have to look into that for you.

Question:  I just want to follow up on Rhonda’s question.  Did you say that you had an update on Palestinian prisoners?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  You said that earlier, right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On Gaza, yes.  On the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Question:  Not on the prisoners?  Not the prisoners.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Last question.

Question: You indicated that peacekeepers in Sudan were attacked and some of them were injured and hospitalized and that UNAMID condemned these attacks.  Does the Secretary-General do likewise?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course, he does.  No other Question for me?  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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