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

16 March 2009

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

16 March 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good morning.

**Guest at Noon

The Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, was going to originally brief you at 12 sharp.  He is now going to start at 12:15 p.m.  So in order not to waste your time, I just thought I’d begin the noon briefing earlier and take your questions up until that point.

**MINURCAT

We issued a statement over the weekend, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the transfer of military and security responsibilities of the European Union Force, known as EUFOR, to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).  The event was marked by a ceremony in Abéché attended by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy.

The Secretary-General commended EUFOR for the important role it has played over the past year in enhancing security for internally displaced persons, refugees and other vulnerable groups in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic.  He added that he is confident that the UN force will build upon and strengthen EUFOR’s military achievements while continuing to execute the full range of its mandated tasks.  Copies of Mr. Le Roy’s remarks in Abéché are available upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has visited the north-eastern town of Dungu to attend an event marking the start of the Ugandan Army’s pullout from the DRC.

Ugandan soldiers were in Congo’s Haut Ouele province and surroundings under a bilateral agreement aimed at flushing out the Lord’s Resistance Army from the region.

Both Congolese and Ugandan officials at the event praised the cooperation and assistance they received from the UN Mission (MONUC) in their joint military operation.  They also appealed for the Mission’s continued assistance to the Congolese Army which will now pursue the operation against the LRA.

In his remarks, Special Representative Doss commended the DRC and Uganda for their joint effort but said that the LRA remained a threat to civilians in the region.  “Now, we must look to the future and the future operations,” he said.

** Somalia

Four UN staff members were abducted early this morning by unknown armed men in Waajid, in southern Somalia.  They were on their way to the airport when their convoy was stopped by gunmen.  No violence or shooting was reported to have occurred during the incident.

The United Nations and local authorities in Waajid are doing everything to secure the unconditional release of the staff.

[The four United Nations staff members who were abducted early Monday morning were released unharmed late Monday night.]

** Sri Lanka

And on Sri Lanka, the United Nations Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka today expressed grave fears for the safety of one UN national staff member and three dependent family members who were forcibly recruited over the weekend by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, inside the Government-declared No Fire Zone.

The forced recruitments included the 16-year-old daughter of a UN national staff member.

The United Nations in Sri Lanka has protested to the LTTE that UN national staff, as well as children in general, are protected under national and international law from recruitment by armed groups, and has called for their immediate release.  Another national staff member was recruited two weeks ago, and has yet to be released, despite repeated requests for the LTTE to do so.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, is continuing a round of consultations with a number of political figures in Iraq regarding power-sharing in Kirkuk, as well as developments in parts of Nineveh and Diyala governorates.  In recent days, he has held meetings with the Prime Minister’s Office, Iraqi political leaders, the Kirkuk Provincial Council Chairman and others.

These consultations with Iraqi politicians will be intensified after the end of the parliamentary recess, and prior to the expected submission to the Iraqi authorities by the UN Mission in Iraq of its analytical report on disputed areas in northern Iraq.

In a press release today, the UN Mission in Iraq clarified that it has absolutely no plans to include in its analysis any suggestion for the territorial division of Kirkuk province, nor has De Mistura voiced any opinion about the deployment of the twelfth Iraqi Army Division.  There is a full press release on this subject upstairs.

**Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, is in the United States this week and is scheduled to discuss the work of the UN Mission in that country with the Security Council this Thursday.  And we’ve asked if he can brief you, following his briefing to the Council.

Over the past several weeks, Eide has travelled to Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and saw in all of the countries a significant interest in working more closely with Afghanistan, including in such fields as infrastructure projects, water and the sharing of expertise.  There are more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.

**Security Council/Haiti Trip

The Security Council has completed its mission to Haiti this past weekend after four days of discussions on issues including security and peace consolidation, and economic and social development.  Before leaving Haiti, the Council delegation took part in the reopening of the Port-au-Prince School of Magistrates in Port, which marks a major step in the reform of the Haitian judicial system ‑‑ one of the key mandated priorities for the UN Mission in that country (MINUSTAH).

Justice sector reform was also among the topics of discussion between the Security Council delegation and President René Préval and his Prime Minister.   Costa Rica’s Ambassador Jorge Urbina, who led the delegation, asked the UN Mission to help with rebuilding the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety, which is to carry out relevant Government initiatives.

**Human Rights

The Human Rights Committee is holding its ninety-fifth session here at Headquarters starting today and running through 3 April.

The Committee oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

At this session, it will be reviewing the country reports of the following States parties:  Australia; Chad; Rwanda; and Sweden.

The report of Rwanda will be considered this afternoon starting at 3 p.m.

**Forests

The need to reform forestry institutions and increase investments in science and technology are key to the better management of forests.  That’s according to the State of the World’s Forests 2009, launched today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report notes that in the short-term, forests and forestry are greatly affected by the global economic crisis ‑‑ with a severe negative impact on investments in industries and also on forest management.

According to the FAO report, a general concern is that some Governments may dilute previously-ambitious green goals or defer key policy decisions related to climate change mitigation and adaptation as they focus on reversing the economic downturn.

There is a press release on this from FAO upstairs.

**Water

The fifth World Water Forum opened today in Istanbul under the theme “Bridging Divides for Water”.  In an opening statement, Sha Zukang, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs -- who is representing the Secretary-General at the Forum -- said that water and sanitation issues are critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

He reminded the Forum that the world is lagging behind in reaching its MDG target to reduce by half the proportion of the population without access to basic sanitation services.

The Forum runs through 22 March.  The Director-General of FAO and the Director-General of UNESCO are also participating.

**Cybersquatting

Allegations of cybersquatting by trademark holders continued to rise in 2008, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

A record of 2,329 complaints were filed with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center last year ‑‑ that’s an increase of 8 per cent over 2007.

Complainants in domain name disputes where mainly from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.

And there is more in a press release on this upstairs as well.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And as I mentioned, at 12:15 p.m., we’re expecting John Holmes to give you an update on the situation in Darfur.

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann on his recent trips to Syria, Finland, China, Bahrain, Switzerland and Iran, as well as on current General Assembly issues.

And that’s what I have for you.  And I’ll take a few questions before our guest arrives.  Shall we start with Edie?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, I wonder whether the Secretary-General has any reaction to the open letter from 16 prominent jurists calling on the United Nations to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli troops and Palestinian armed groups during the recent Gaza war.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General is currently looking forward to receiving the report of the Board of Inquiry that he has set up on a number of incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27 December and 19 January, and he is expecting that investigation to complete its work by the end of the month.  And he will review that report and decide at that point what further steps, if any, to take.  In the meantime, as you know, the President of the Human Rights Council is also preparing a fact-finding mission as mandated by that Council with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  And as for the report that you mentioned, we’re aware of it, but as far as I know, the letter has not yet been received.

Question:  It’s about the kidnapping in Waajid in Somalia.  Do you have ‑‑ two questions ‑‑ their nationalities and the organization which they were working for?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not sure we’re going to have too much to say on the situation of the abductions there.  Experience in previous cases of abduction has proven that sensitive handling by the media can assist in leading to the early release of abductees.  So, we intend to be cautious in providing information and are grateful for your understanding and assistance in the careful reporting of this issue.  And so right now I think we’re not at a point to disclose the nationalities or anything beyond what we’ve said.

Question:  Marie, first I know people in your office have received calls from reporters asking what time the noon briefing begins.  But given that this one was supposed to begin at 11:50 a.m., it may not be a stupid question any more.  On the follow-up to Edie ‑‑ that letter from Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson and others specifically says that it should go beyond, this investigation should go beyond just attacks on UN facilities and personnel.  So amongst the options the Secretary-General will consider at the end of the month when he gets the report, will that be one of them, to call for a wider investigation?  Does he feel constricted only to investigate what happened to the UN?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The mandate of the investigation that was initiated by the Secretary-General has been out for a while, and I just read you the terms of reference for that.  So that is already an investigation that is finishing up its report now.  As you know, as I just mentioned, the Human Rights Council also has a separate investigation that they’re preparing.  So you might want to ask them where the status of the Human Rights Council... [interrupted].

Question:  Do you think that might satisfy the request of the...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I don’t have the letter, we don’t know who the letter is addressed to and, therefore... [interrupted].

Question:  To the Secretary-General and the Security Council.

Deputy Spokesperson:  ...so, we’d have to address that obviously when that letter is received and analysed.  You’d have to go and talk to not just the Secretary-General, but all the parties that the letter is addressed to.  Tarek and then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Do you have any comments to Egypt’s call for holding an international conference on the Darfur crisis, especially after the indictment of President Bashir?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not familiar right now with the conference that you refer to, so I have no specific guidance on that.

Question:  Egypt’s Foreign Minister, he announced this last week that Cairo is planning to host such an international conference to [inaudible] how to proceed with the peace process between the Government of Sudan and the rebel groups, especially after President Bashir was indicted by the ICC.

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I have no specific comment on that reported proposal.  But you know the Secretary-General’s position on this is very clear; that in addition to providing the humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance to the people of Darfur and to Sudan, he is also still very much involved in trying to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for all of Sudan ‑‑ north and south ‑‑ and the Darfur peace process on track.  So he is clearly pursuing all the issues on those three tracks.  Matthew first and then I’ll go to Laura.

Question:  You mentioned the pullout of the Ugandan Army from the DRC.  The lead negotiator for the Lord’s Residence Army said that a petition was delivered to the Secretary-General while he was in Tanzania.  Can you confirm that this was received?  What’s the UN’s role going forward, both with Mr. Chissano and with MONUC in the Congo, in terms of military action against the LRA?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the letter, but we can certainly follow up and ask for you on that.

Question:  And on Madagascar, it was said last week that the UN was, along with the international community, providing protection to the opposition leader.  Is that still the case and does the UN have any comment on his request that the President either step down or be arrested?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have specific comments on the latest press reports, but you know what we’ve said and we do have a UN senior official that is involved in this issue, and you’ve seen the Secretary-General’s remarks on this.  Laura.

Question:  How many UN staff are being held by kidnappers across the world, do you know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is the question that I asked this morning and I hope to have an answer for you shortly.  I think you can do the calculation yourself in terms of the numbers that we’ve been reporting on, but we wanted to get a comprehensive look at that. Yes.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the number of abducted United Nations staff worldwide stands at eight:  three abducted in Niger, one in Pakistan and four in Somalia.]

Question:  Russian TV.  Without releasing the nationalities of the people that were abducted in Somalia, could you confirm that there were no Russian nationals?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t really go beyond what I have for now on the record.  Yes, Sho?

Question:  Yes, it’s a follow-up.  Can we say at least they’re foreigners?

Deputy Spokesperson:  At this point, as I said, we feel that it would not be useful to discuss the nationalities, but yes, three of the abductees are international staff and one is a national staff member.

Question:  Is Robert Fowler [inaudible] considered a UN abductee and is there any update on his abduction?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no update, and yes he is considered one.  Matthew.

Question:  There’s a recent ACABQ report on the Secretary-General’s proposed amendments to the staff regulations and they said that the Secretary-General should have included information about whether he consulted with staff before changing the rules, what the authority was for the proposed changes to the rule and [that he] should report on this to the General Assembly.  One, are you aware of the ACABQ report and what’s the Secretariat’s response to this pretty scathing... [interrupted]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think if the ACABQ is looking into something, we’re obviously very engaged with them; so I have nothing... [interrupted]

Question:  They’ve reported... they’ve... [interrupted].

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what the ACABQ is saying.  If there are no other questions from you ‑‑ if you could just hold on for a few minutes and we’ll try to get John Holmes down here as soon as possible for you.  Thank you.

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