|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
**Secretary-General in Ireland
The Secretary-General today spoke at Dublin Castle in Ireland to discuss the challenges faced by UN peacekeeping operations. Those operations currently field some 78,000 military personnel, more than 11,000 police and more than 23,000 civilian staff.
He said that peacekeeping has experienced serious setbacks, with mounting difficulties in getting enough troops, the right equipment and adequate logistical support.
Supply has not kept pace with demand. And a number of missions struggle to operate amidst stalled peace processes and ongoing violence.
The Secretary-General said that the United Nations is talking to all stakeholders to determine how to address these challenges, in what is known as the “New Horizon” effort. We have his statement upstairs.
The Secretary-General also met today with Irish President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen. With both of them, he discussed Ireland’s contributions to the United Nations in peacekeeping efforts, as well as development aid, the fight against hunger and public health.
And he held a press encounter with the Prime Minister, in which he expressed concern about the two aid workers recently abducted in Darfur and added that the United Nations was doing its best to obtain their release.
He’ll meet later today with the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and for the Environment.
**Secretary-General Statement on United States-Russian Federation Agreement
[The following statement was issued immediately following the noon briefing.]
The Secretary-General welcomes the Joint Understanding for a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) between President [Dmitry] Medvedev and President [Barack] Obama yesterday in Moscow, which commits Russia and the United States to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500-1,675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500-1,000.
This agreement is consistent with the disarmament obligations by the two largest nuclear-weapon States under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Secretary-General believes that this agreement will make a significant contribution to the process of nuclear disarmament as well as nuclear non-proliferation during the lead up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference and eventually to achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
On Iraq, the Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Ad Melkert of the Netherlands as his Special Representative for Iraq. Ad Melkert currently serves as the Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme, (UNDP), and will replace Staffan de Mistura, who has taken up his duties at the World Food Programme (WFP). The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. de Mistura’s valuable leadership in a challenging security environment in Iraq.
Mr. Melkert brings to the new position a unique combination of extensive political experience, as a former Member of Parliament and Minister in the Netherlands, and economic and development expertise from his time at UNDP and the World Bank. As a result, he enters with a deep understanding of the nature of challenges and priorities that face Iraq at this phase of its transition. We have his bio data upstairs.
Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, briefed the Security Council this morning in an open meeting in which he presented the Secretary-General’s recent report on the important reduction in violence there. Yet West Africa’s significant progress remains extremely fragile, he warned. Djinnit pointed to a number of challenges, from terrorism to governance, to drug trafficking and organized crime.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also briefed the Council, telling them that around 20 tons of cocaine still pass through the region every year. The rule of law in West Africa must be strengthened, he said, and rich countries should assume their share of responsibility by curbing their appetite for drugs.
Council members are continuing to discuss West Africa in closed consultations.
Earlier today, the Security Council voted to extend the mandates of judges serving on the Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, is today in Gonaives, one of the Haitian cities most affected by the floods that ravaged the country last year. The visit, with Haitian President René Preval, focused on disaster prevention, labour intensive rehabilitation projects and assistance in providing basic services to local communities in the Artibonite Valley.
President Clinton and President Preval visited the refurbishment project of the La Quinte River that flooded Gonaives last year. They also stopped at an emergency hospital that has temporarily replaced the regional hospital destroyed by the last hurricanes and spoke to victims of the floods, who are wary of the new hurricane season now under way.
The Special Envoy, who also met last night with President Preval and Prime Minister [Michèle] Pierre-Louis, is expected today to visit a garbage recycling project that has created jobs in the impoverished suburb of Carrefour Feuilles in Port au Prince. He is scheduled to meet later with Parliamentarians and tomorrow with members of the private sector, international and national NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society, most particularly with women groups.
During his three-day visit to Haiti, the Special Envoy will discuss with Government officials how best to support their efforts to prepare for hurricanes, generate new jobs and enhance the delivery of basic social services. Clinton will also focus on how to ensure that the United Nations, civil society and the donor community align their activities with the Government’s recovery plan as well as with each other.
The Joint United Nations and African Union Special Representative in Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, has described the current security situation in Darfur as “calm but unpredictable”, and called on the international community to do everything possible to advance the peace process for Darfur.
He said the joint UN and AU (African Union) mission in Darfur (UNAMID) will continue to work hard on the ground to reduce violence, protect civilians –- in particular, the internally displaced persons -- and create an environment conducive to the success of the peace process.
Adada was addressing a delegation of French Members of Parliament, who visited UNAMID Headquarters in El Fasher today.
On Somalia, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is warning that escalating fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is causing enormous suffering and massive displacement, with a devastating impact on the city’s population.
UNHCR says an eight-week offensive by anti-Government militiamen has now left more than 200,000 people displaced. The agency’s local partners have put the death toll in the past week alone at more than one hundred, with nearly 400 others injured.
The agency says that though the majority of the displaced are seeking assistance in the Afgooye corridor, some 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu, thousands more have been crossing the border into Kenya, where they are seeking help at the UNHCR-run Dadaab refugee complex. We have more details in a UNHCR statement upstairs.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The latest report of the Secretary-General on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has been released as a document today.
In the report, the Secretary-General says the overall situation in the DRC continued to pose many complex challenges. In the eastern part of the country, the report says that the security situation remained volatile and the humanitarian situation deteriorated.
The Secretary-General further notes that military operations against foreign armed groups and the remaining Congolese armed groups have resulted in attacks by these groups against civilians. This has led to high levels of additional population displacements and human rights abuses. These abuses include increased sexual violence, carried out sometimes by Government security forces.
On the issue of sexual and gender-based violence the report says that military commanders, police investigating officers and magistrates have continued to encourage families of rape victims to accept out-of-court settlements, a situation that’s perpetuating the pervasive culture of impunity.
On Lebanon, the Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), concerning Lebanon, says that the cessation of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon continues to hold. The parties also continue to make progress, in cooperation with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to visibly mark the Blue Line; Israel also handed over technical strike data on cluster bombs to UNIFIL in May.
The Secretary-General said that he is concerned at the allegations by Lebanon’s Government that Israeli spy cells have been operating in Lebanon and that the Israeli Defense Forces helped alleged spies to cross from Lebanon into Israel.
He also congratulates the people and Government of Lebanon on the successful conduct of the parliamentary elections. He trusts that the process of Government formation will proceed smoothly and expeditiously.
In Geneva today, the UN fact-finding mission on the recent Gaza conflict, mandated by the Human Rights Council and led by Justice Richard Goldstone, wrapped up its second round of public hearings.
The purpose of this round of interviews was to hear from victims, witnesses and experts, from southern Israel and the West Bank.
During a press conference in Geneva today, Goldstone said his team had heard “moving stories” that were “very difficult to hear”. And he reiterated that the purpose of the hearings was to show a human side to suffering and give a voice to the victims.
With the conclusion of the hearings this afternoon, Goldstone said, the mission is moving towards the end of its investigative phase. It will now soon be moving into its report-drafting phase.
That final report is due to be completed early next month and will be presented in September to the Human Rights Council, Goldstone added.
Goldstone noted that his team had also travelled to Amman, Jordan, to hear from Israelis and people from the West Bank. He also said that he would be sending questions soon to authorities from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, asking for input on areas where his team had been unable to gather sufficient information.
**Greece-The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is currently on his way to Athens from Skopje.
While in Skopje, over the past two days, Nimetz held constructive meetings on the “name issue” with the country’s Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister, and other officials. He presented to them some changes to the proposals he had submitted to the parties last October, for them to study.
Nimetz said he hopes these latest changes will lead to a positive reaction and accelerated negotiations. He added that the leaders he met in Skopje had assured him that they were eager to move forward.
Nimetz will now discuss the issue with the Greek side.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today said she was “alarmed” by the large number of casualties during Sunday’s rioting in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region –- and by continuing reports of tension and unrest there. She labelled the developments “a major tragedy” and called for restraint by all actors.
While recognizing the authorities’ duty to maintain public order, Pillay also emphasized the right of demonstrators to peacefully exercise freedom of expression.
Pillay stressed that those who have been arrested should be treated in accordance with Chinese law and international human rights standards and norms. She also called for a transparent independent investigation into the causes of the rioting and the reasons why it escalated, as well as the identities of the victims and what happened to them. We have more on that upstairs.
On Pakistan, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today completed the first day of a four-day visit to Pakistan. Holmes met Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi and General Nadeem [Ahmed], head of the Special Support Group, as well as the humanitarian country team in Pakistan.
Over the next two days, Holmes will gain a first-hand impression of the humanitarian situation in the North-West Frontier Province through field visits to camps for internally displaced people, to host families and to spontaneous settlements of the displaced. He is scheduled to depart Pakistan on 11 July.
Also, the Government of the United Arab Emirates and the UN Refugee Agency yesterday signed a partnership agreement to support vital humanitarian operations in Pakistan. The agreement will procure relief items like tents and blankets, to meet the needs of internally displaced people, mainly women and children.
In Nepal, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday met with the Nepalese Defence Minister and expressed concerns about the recommended promotion of Major General Toran Jung Bahadur Singh to Lieutenant General.
In 2006, the human rights office released a report of its investigation into arbitrary detention, torture and disappearance at Maharajgunj Barracks, which was under the control of a battalion that Major General Singh commanded.
The report concluded that “the commander also knew about these actions by the battalions”, and recommended that “those potentially implicated directly or through command responsibility for units involved should be suspended from any official duties pending the investigation, and should not be proposed for participation in UN peacekeeping missions”.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is calling for further support to alleviate world hunger, as the G-8 summit gathers this week in L’Aquila, Italy, to discuss the global food security crisis. It recommends a twin-track approach to food security by supporting long-term agricultural production and providing continued support for immediate hunger assistance.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that the number of hungry people in the world has skyrocketed to more than 1 billion. FAO is calling for bold decisions from high-level political leaders at the summit and collective international action. There is more on this upstairs.
**Guests at Noon Tomorrow
Senior officials from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and INTERPOL will be guests at the noon briefing tomorrow. They will be here to discuss the West Africa Coast Initiative, to be launched after the press conference. We will have more information on this available tomorrow.
And this is all I have for you, thank you. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Michèle. Two quick questions: Do you have the symbol of the newly-released report on DRC?
Spokesperson: We can find out for you upstairs.
Question: And the second -- would the report by Judge Goldstone to be presented to the Human Rights Council -- would that be released at the end?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. It’s a matter for the Human Rights Council to decide. Yes.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the report would be made public.]
Question: Michèle, you spoke of an agreement signed by UAE and UN. Where was it signed?
Spokesperson: We can get more information on this; you have more information upstairs. I assume it was signed in Pakistan. But we can get more information for you upstairs. Yes.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that it was signed in Abu Dhabi.]
Question: Thank you. Today, 10 Nobel Laureates sent a letter to Ban urging him to do more to help get political prisoners released in Iran after the demonstrations. Does he have any plans in this regard? Maybe send an envoy out there or… [interrupted]?
Spokesperson: Not at this point. He has not received the letter yet.
Question: He hasn’t received the letter?
Spokesperson: So, you know, when he receives the letter we’ll see what his reaction is to the letter. [She later said that the letter has been received.]
Question: [inaudible]… start dialogues or…
Spokesperson: He hasn’t really been working on this at this point, no. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Sure, Michèle. The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended that President [Ellen] Johnson-Sirleaf be barred from public office for 30 years for having supported Charles Taylor, including economically. Does the… given the central role in Liberia and Sierra Leone, what does the UN think of this recommendation?
Spokesperson: This is a report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, and the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has received the draft of the Commission’s report. It will be up to the Liberians to determine how they want to take forward the reconciliation process. It is not for the UN to decide; it is for the Liberians to decide.
Question: What about the issue… because I have seen a lot of UN statements very laudatory of President Johnson-Sirleaf. She has acknowledged apparently giving $10,000 to Charles Taylor rebels at the time. Does that change the UN’s opinion at all?
Spokesperson: I will not comment on this.
Question: I wanted to ask you also on Myanmar, during the Myanmar trip, it’s since come out that apparently one of the former armed groups that met with the Secretary-General has said that they were told by the Government what they could say and couldn’t say to the Secretary-General. Was it his understanding that those groups, former armed groups, were free to say what they want? What did he take from the meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes, it was his understanding.
Question: Is he aware of the reports… [interrupted]?
Spokesperson: He is not. He is not yet, but he will be soon.
Question: Okay, fair enough. And I just wanted to ask about another thing about Siemens, this German conglomerate has been barred by the World Bank from doing business with it for two years for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. So now the UN is only barring them for only six months, and I am wondering if the Department of Management or Procurement or the Senior Review Panel -– what’s the difference in terms of the acts? Why would the UN… [interrupted]?
Spokesperson: Each body has its own decision making process, you know. Here, it is for six months and for longer over there. You know, it’s a matter of the individual administrations to decide.
Question: But how would… I mean, is it fair to say that from this one could say the World Bank is more serious about anti-corruption than the UN? I mean… [interrupted]?
Spokesperson: That has nothing to do with this. This is just an administrative matter. They have been banned for six months. So it’s not a question of which organization is more stringent than the other. I don’t think this is the issue. I think the issue is that each one of these organizations has taken measures about Siemens.
Thank you all so very much.
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