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

20 March 2009

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

20 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.

** Somalia

The Security Council is discussing Somalia this morning in an open meeting.

In his remarks, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, told the Council members that Somalia appears to be back from the brink.  He said that’s because the Djibouti Agreement, which is the result of an integrated United Nations approach linking governance, security and development, is beginning to address some of the complexities of the Somali crisis.  He said that, while large resources remain available for Somalia, a major problem continues to be their effective and timely disbursement.  He asked that this issue be addressed urgently.

This could be done through immediate support for the new authorities, immediate diplomatic and financial assistance to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and through the transparent and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, among other means.  On the issue of piracy off the Somali coast, Ould-Abdallah said that it is an off-shore reflection of the lack of State authority on land.  However, the international naval presence in the Somali waters is an encouraging show of solidarity with the country and the whole region.

We have copies of his speech upstairs.  And we expect to hold a press conference in this Room immediately following the conclusion of the Security Council meeting.

** Sudan

This afternoon at 3, the Security Council has scheduled an open meeting to hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Darfur.  That briefing will be provided by Rashid Khalikov of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  There are also consultations this morning on the format of that meeting.

OCHA reports that three joint teams comprising personnel from the Government of the Sudan and the United Nations have finished their assessments in each of the three Darfur States, to ascertain the humanitarian impact of the expulsions of 16 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Darfur.  The assessments concentrated on four life-saving sectors:  water, sanitation and hygiene; health and nutrition; food aid; and non-food items and shelter.  The outcomes of the teams’ findings will be shared on 22 March.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has started a one-off food distribution which will provide sufficient food for two months’ worth of rations for 1.1 million beneficiaries.  Distributions were organized through existing food distribution committees in each of the three Darfur States.

By the way, once the Security Council briefing on the Sudan is finished, Council members will hold a weekend retreat with the Secretary-General this weekend.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon on that country, saying that it still needs adequate resources and political will to meet its main challenges.

Eide said he hopes the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan, to be held in The Hague on 31 March and to be attended by the Secretary-General, will be a new departure point.  He said the meeting could provide a new energy and a shared readiness to implement international priorities and use resources in a flexible and coordinated way.

He told the Council, “It is an occasion for us to push the doom and gloom atmosphere aside, roll up our sleeves and support the positive trends that we now see emerging in Afghanistan.”  We have his statement upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations refugee agency has reported a resumption of attacks on civilians by Rwandan rebels in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says these sporadic attacks may be in retaliation for a joint Rwanda-Democratic Republic of the Congo offensive against the rebels, who had appeared to have beaten back into retreat.  The rebels are known by their French acronym, FDLR (or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda).

Citing Congolese authorities, UNHCR says that civilians in their thousands have been displaced from the Lubero area of North Kivu in the past two weeks due to FDLR attacks.  The agency says it is beefing up its presence in the region to provide emergency aid to the displaced.

**Central Asia

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.

The Secretary-General welcomes the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.  Opened for signature on 8 September 2006, it has now been ratified by all five Central Asian States and will enter into force on 21 March 2009.

The Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, for which the Government of Kyrgyzstan is the depositary, has five States parties:  the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan.  The Treaty is of particular significance.  This will be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone to be established in the northern hemisphere and will also encompass an area where nuclear weapons previously existed.  It will also be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone that requires its parties to conclude with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and bring into force an Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with IAEA within 18 months after the entry into force of the Treaty, and to comply fully with the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Treaty, the Secretary-General would like to urge the States concerned to address any outstanding issues that may affect its operation.  We have the full statement upstairs.

**Racial Discrimination

Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General urges all countries to work together in the struggle against racism -– which exists in all countries.  He adds that next month’s review of the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is a timely opportunity for countries to reaffirm their commitment to the battle against racism.

And in another statement to mark this day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, notes that the Durban Review Conference will be convened under the banner “United against Racism:  Dignity and Justice for All”.  She adds that we should be united in our efforts to truly make progress in creating a world where the promise of “dignity and justice for all” is not an empty slogan.  We have both of these statements upstairs.

**World Water Day

And Sunday will mark World Water Day.  The Day’s theme this year is “Shared Waters, Shared Opportunities” -– highlighting how transboundary water resources can act as a unifying force.

Water is our most precious natural resource, says the Secretary-General in a message.  “More than ever, we need to work together to use it wisely,” he adds -- urging Governments, civil society, the private sector and all stakeholders to recognize that our collective future depends on how we manage our precious and finite water resources.

In another statement, Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), warns that water could become one of the limits to human development.  He also notes that investing in the world’s fresh waters could be one of the keys to aiding the global economic recovery.  And we have both these messages in my Office.

**Cyber Security

The global headquarters of the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats, or IMPACT, was inaugurated today near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

IMPACT is the world’s first global public-private initiative against cyber-threats.  Its collaboration with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides ITU’s 191 Member States with the expertise, facilities, real-time information and rapid access to resources to effectively address the world’s most serious cyber-threats.

Speaking at today’s inauguration, ITU head Hamadoun Touré said, “Cyber security is one of the most critical issues of our time.”  We have more on that upstairs.


Over in Timor-Leste, the Ministry of Health, supported by the United Nations Population Fund, launched last week a new radio drama series which chronicles the story of the, a typical Timorese family dealing with the issues of family planning, safe motherhood and other reproductive health issues.

Titled “Domin Familia”, this programme on Radio Timor-Leste featuring a forbidden love story was produced at the initiative of the Ministry of Health to emphasize the importance of creating culturally-sensitive and rights-based materials addressed to the people of Timor-Leste.

The objective of the 24-episode radio soap opera is to address reproductive health issues in an entertaining way, ensuring that the audience has access to relevant information intended to increase awareness.

Domin Familia will be broadcast every Saturday on Radio Timor-Leste.

And this is all I have for you. 

**Week Ahead

Of course, we also have the Week Ahead.  And on Monday, I would like to flag that the Security Council will hold a debate on the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  The Council is also expected to adopt a resolution on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

I would like to flag also on Wednesday, 25 March, will be the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  The Secretary-General will participate in an outdoor ceremony to mark this year’s commemoration under the theme “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum” Day.

That Wednesday also marks the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

On Thursday, the Secretary-General will be in Moscow, in the Russian Federation, on the first leg of a trip that will also include stops in Doha, Qatar; The Hague, in the Netherlands; London, United Kingdom; Paris, France; and Istanbul, Turkey.

And on Friday, he will participate in a conference on Afghanistan, under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

And that is all I have for you today.  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, in view of this upbeat report given by Kai Eide on Afghanistan, does the Secretary-General have any opinion of the new American plan for Afghanistan, which was revealed in the last two days?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General of course is following this very closely and this will be discussed in the different meetings that will be held.  As you know, there are going to be two Afghanistan meetings the Secretary-General is going to participate in.  I don’t have any immediate reaction for you today, but I am sure you will follow those two conferences and the issue will certainly come up.

Question:  The other thing I wanted to find out; in view of Israel’s decision to at least investigate alleged war crimes by its soldiers in Gaza, does the Secretary-General still intend to go ahead with his own inquiry? 

Spokesperson:  Of course.  His own inquiry, as you know, is limited to death, injuries and damages that occurred in United Nations premises.  That’s what the United Nations inquiry is about.  He had asked early on, and as I have said several times, he had asked the Israeli authorities to provide him with a report on what happened in Gaza; and that will involve of course the charges that you’re talking about.

Question:  Do you think this report -- is there any plan to do -- will eventually be part of the Secretary-General’s understanding…?

Spokesperson:  It will be a different part of it.  It will be part of several inputs that we’re getting on Gaza.  They’re separate inquiries, of course, as is separate the inquiry that the Human Rights Council is launching.

Question:  The Human Rights Council is launching the thing only on the United Nations premises?

Spokesperson:  No.  With the Human Rights Council, it’s an overall investigation.  At least, that’s what the resolution that they adopted said.  Yes, James.

Question:  Thanks, Michèle.  I have two questions.  The first one is really quick.  Is there any possibility for journalists to travel with the Secretary-General on his next trip?

Spokesperson:  On this coming trip?  No.  We don’t have a special plane and so we have really made no provision for that.  We only do it when there is the possibility of getting a plane for part of the trip.

Question:  Thank you.  And the second question is on the nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia that is coming into force tomorrow, I think you said; does the Secretary-General support the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East?

Spokesperson:  He certainly does.  As you know, those have been decisions taken by the General Assembly and there have been several resolutions about nuclear-weapon-free zones and the Secretary-General of course supports those decisions.  Yes, Tala.

Question:  [Inaudible] two questions.  The first being that Coomaraswamy’s Office is submitting a report to the Human Rights Council at the end of this month on her trip to Gaza.  That information is going to be integrated and presented to the Secretary-General as well or are these [interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  Well, she always presents her results and reports on her trips to the Secretary-General first, of course.  But those are separate issues… She is submitting it to all the different relevant bodies asking for it, but, of course, she first sends it to the Secretary-General.

Question:  And that is going to be, I think [inaudible] March, is that correct?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay, so next week.  Additionally, I understood that FDLR was being repatriated back to Rwanda.  Has that been halted now due to the recent…?

Spokesperson:  Well, that hasn’t been halted, but you know, there are rogue elements that still are on the ground that are not part of the repatriation process.

Question:  But they’re continuing to…in the joint agreements and some of those [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, Dennis.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Did the Secretary-General speak with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah this week and do you have any details on their conversation and what prompted it?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have that information, but you can be sure I’ll get it for you.  Of course, after the conversation takes place I can give you a readout of the conversation.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I wanted to ask for the Secretariat’s response to a few things.  There is a letter from the Syrian Mission to the Secretary-General disagreeing with his proposed framework for Terje Roed-Larsen’s mandate under 1559 (2004), saying that Roed-Larsen has overstepped, that he’s meddled in the Syria-Lebanese relation, and you know, it’s a follow-up on the budget debate that led to this.  Has the Secretary-General received it?  I mean, it’s on the racks, but what’s his response to Syria’s critique of Roed-Larsen’s expansion of his mandate?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General forwarded the letter to the Fifth Committee that takes care, as you know, of budgetary matters.  As you know, it was published under the General Assembly, as a General Assembly document for what they call agenda item 118, which has to do with the budget.  I am not going to comment on the letter because the Fifth Committee proceedings are going on.  What I would like to say is that Mr. Larsen continues to work as the Special Envoy dealing with the implementation of resolution 1559 and his mandate derives not only from 1559 (2004), but also from the subsequent resolutions taken by the Security Council -- 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006).  And those resolutions provided a road map or benchmarks, if you want to put it this way, for securing Lebanon’s sovereignty, and that involved of course the delineation of the border with Syria.  So Syria is somehow of course part of that mandate.  Also, as I said, that letter is in front of the Fifth Committee.  It’s important to bear in mind that the Fifth Committee cannot give an opinion on the mandate.  The mandate is for the Security Council to review if it deems necessary.

Question:  Maybe you had a similar statement on, there is a controversy about the Secretary-General’s move to have more say in appointing the Executive Secretary of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).  Some are saying that this is an attempt to squelch the United Nations watchdog, and also JIU itself said that it was a sort of a, it was a quick and stealth move, that they called it illegal, I believe in the report.  Why does the Secretary-General want to have more say and does he disagree with the Unit’s own sort of bristling at this new move on his part?

Spokesperson:  If I remember correctly, I have answered that question from you before.  It has to do [interrupted].

Question:  No, it’s different [interrupted].

Spokesperson:  No, it’s the same question, because it is about one post, the Executive Director of the Joint Inspection Unit.  The Secretary-General, as you know, is the Chief Administrative Officer of the Organization and he appoints the staff of the Organization.  The Joint Inspection Unit is operationally independent, but the Executive Secretary is a staff member of the Organization.  And in accordance with all the procedures we have had so far, the Secretary-General has of course the final say on this.  When he was submitted, he received a recommendation from the Joint Inspection Unit, having only one name.  He asked the Senior Review Group, to see the other candidates so he could have a choice of three names.  The reason this has been going on -- and you know the fact that the Secretary-General referred to the Senior Review Group is nothing new.  It has been happening since 1994.  Whenever there are issues like this, the Secretary-General refers to the Senior Review Group.  And in that specific case, it was also in accordance with the General Assembly wish that there always be consideration of at least one female candidate.  Remember I said that to you before.

Question:  I guess it’s now that JIU itself has come out, this report has been made public in which they themselves call it an illegal move.  That’s why I guess I kind of [interrupted].

Spokesperson:  There is absolutely nothing illegal about it, and I stand with what I said before, that the Secretary-General has followed all the rules and procedures that are established.

Question:  I have one more.  I don’t want to…I’m sorry, it’s going to be.

Spokesperson:  Any other questions?

Question:  Yeah, I just want to find out in reference to appointments as to why it’s taking so long to appoint UNDP’s head?

Spokesperson:  This is an important post, Masood, and important posts take a long time.  That’s all I can say.  Because they deserve of course to be examined fully and all the candidates need to be evaluated.

Question:  Is he interviewing everybody individually?

Spokesperson:  Not personally, no.  It’s being done, and he will have the final say once they have chosen the last three.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  This is sort of a sad one.  Yesterday, the Staff Union made and passed a resolution about the death of a staff member some two weeks ago where they said that the ambulance didn’t come for, they say, an hour.  And they passed this resolution calling on the Secretary-General to take steps to ensure the safety of staff, to have an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation into the circumstances of the death, and they also said something about Mr. Veness, or sort of what they called a lack of confidence in the leadership of the Department of Safety and Security.  I am assuming that you’re aware of these things. 

Spokesperson:  Yes, I am fully aware.  It happened last week.

Question:  No, no, absolutely.  I guess what I am saying, and I don’t want to ask this, I guess I am wondering, are there steps being taken -- what’s been the Secretariat’s, I guess, response to the concerns that have been raised?

Spokesperson:  The concerns have been raised and, from what I gather, we’re looking into exactly what happened.  I gather also that it involved the arrival of an ambulance from the outside that took the staff member to a hospital in New York and the staff member died in the hospital the next day.  So in terms of how long it took the ambulance to get here, this, I think, is under review.  I don’t know what you said about an hour, I don’t know whether it’s accurate.

Question:  That’s what they said.  I mean I was there…

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t have that information and I just know that they’re looking into it. 

Question:  Okay, thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  Thank you so much.  And I would like to say that the Secretary-General is always concerned about staff security.  It’s a priority.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, any update; yesterday, you said that you’ll have some information about the new Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

Spokesperson:  Did I say I would have some information?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  No, I did not say that.  No, I said that there were two posts being reviewed and that you had a chance of asking Kai Eide about it, and he answered your question.  I don’t know whether it was yours or someone else’s.

Question:  But actually, in fact, I’m sorry to do this, he deflected everything.  He said that’s a question for the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  The only thing I can say is that the process is ongoing.  The decision has not been taken yet.

Question:  One of the things that he deflected, one of the things that he deflected is again this question has become, that there is a question and answer from Congress in which Mr. Galbraith said he didn’t violate United Nations sanctions or arms embargo on Croatia because it was only under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter and that he doesn’t have to -- it’s required to comply with that.  That was a written response that he gave to Congress, that Chapter VI resolutions don’t have to be complied with.  So I think the question, and maybe you’ll answer it or not, is whether, what is the thinking of the Secretariat?  Is that still his position on Chapter VI resolutions and, if so, should he be a United Nations official?

Spokesperson:  I will not comment on appointments that have not been made.

Question:  It seems like a United States official told the Washington Post that he’s already gotten the job.  That’s like the origin of the story; there are these stories saying that he already has the job.  You’re saying he doesn’t have it?

Spokesperson:  We already answered that question yesterday, saying that we don’t have a final decision on the job yet.

Question:  Alright, okay.

Spokesperson:  Thank you so much.

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