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

16 July 2009

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

16 July 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.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guests today will be Robert Orr, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, and Dr. David Nabarro, the Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, and Coordinator of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.  They will be here shortly to discuss issues relating to global food security and Influenza A (H1N1).

**Secretary-General Statement on Pakistan

We have two statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The first is on the killing of a UN staff member in Pakistan.

The Secretary-General was shocked and saddened by today’s killing of a senior national staff member of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], Mr. Zill-e-Usman, in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan.  One camp guard was also killed in the attack.  A UN national staff member and a camp guard were also injured.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns this brutal attack on humanitarian personnel who are working for the well-being of the Pakistani people.  The United Nations remains committed to continuing humanitarian operations to assist the large number of people in need.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the family of the victims and the Government of Pakistan.

** Pakistan -- Killing of Staff Member

The United Nations in Pakistan also condemned the brutal killing of one of its staff members.

Mr. Usman was leaving the camp when his vehicle was attacked and a kidnapping attempt. He was shot several times in the chest and later died of his wounds, according to the UN office there.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan said the UN community in Pakistan is once again devastated to have yet another staff member a victim of a brutal attack.

Stressing that there is simply no cause or justification for such acts, the Resident Coordinator reiterated the UN’s determination to continue humanitarian support to the Pakistani people and ongoing development work in spite of the daily difficulties and dangers that they may face.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said: “It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers doing such vital and selfless work are attacked in this way.”

And he called on armed groups of all descriptions to cease attacks on humanitarian workers whose mission is to provide protection and assistance to the needy.

UN staff gathered at headquarters in Geneva on Thursday at noon for a minute of silence to honour their colleague.

**Bhutto Commission

Also from Pakistan today, we have an update on the Bhutto Commission.

The independent UN Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto arrived in Islamabad today and held a productive meeting with the President, Asif Ali Zardari.

President Zardari was accompanied by his three children.  Also present at the meeting were the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Law and Justice and Human Rights.

Earlier, the Chairman of the Commission, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz and his two colleagues were given an extensive briefing by senior officials of the Ministry of the Interior, explaining some details about the assassination of the former Prime Minister.  The commissioners then engaged the officials in a period of questions and answers and further clarifications.

The Commission continues its activities in Pakistan, with meetings and interviews with relevant officials and individuals.

**Secretary-General Statement -- Natalia Estemirova

The second statement I have attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General is on the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.

The Secretary-General is appalled and saddened by the murder of the Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova following her abduction from her home in Grozny.

He urges the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation in order to bring the perpetrators of this heinous killing to justice, and by so doing, to send a strong and unambiguous message that the targeting of human rights activists will not be tolerated.

The Secretary-General expresses his solidarity with human rights defenders around the world who work courageously and selflessly each and every day, in defence of basic rights and freedoms.

** Russian Federation

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added that this case underlines the need for Governments to do much more to protect human rights defenders.  She also noted that the work of human rights defenders in Russia, and in particular the North Caucasus, is precarious.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed shock and deep sorrow at the murder.  The Russian non-governmental organization for which Ms. Estemirova worked is one of UNHCR’s implementing partners.

We have their full statements upstairs, as well as the Secretary-General’s.

**Security Council

Now turning to the Security Council.  As you all know now, the Security Council held a meeting this morning on Sierra Leone.  Addressing Council members, Stephen Rapp, Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, noted the Special Court’s importance for the thousands who were mutilated, the tens of thousands who were murdered and the hundreds of thousands who were subjected to sexual violence.

And he just spoke to you at the stakeout, and he will be the guest, I understand, at the briefing tomorrow.  In fact, the President and Prosecutor were both just at the stakeout.  And Stephen Rapp will join us tomorrow here.

** Sudan

The latest report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is out as a document today.

The Security Council is scheduled to take up the report in closed consultations tomorrow, and Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations will be briefing on the report.

Mr. Le Roy is also planning to brief you at the stakeout afterwards at a time yet to be determined.  We are still waiting for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to get back to us on the exact timing, and we will let you know as soon as we do.

And in the report, the Secretary-General notes a deterioration in the security situation in Southern Sudan, saying that escalating intertribal violence in Southern Sudan is a significant threat to the stability of the country as a whole.  He warns that key milestones in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, such as the elections and referendums, could easily be affected by the growing insecurity.

He says the conduct of peaceful, transparent and credible elections is fundamental for the process of democratic transformation throughout Sudan, and it is only possible if all Sudanese stakeholders, including those in Darfur, work together to enhance a conducive political environment.

The report notes the recent positive developments in the joint efforts of the Government and the United Nations and its partners to narrow the most critical humanitarian gaps in the aftermath of the 4 March expulsion of international NGOs.  But the Secretary-General notes that the current levels of assistance in some areas remain below the necessary standards.  He urges the Government to do its utmost to provide a safe and secure environment for these operations to continue.

And you can hear more in person, as I mentioned, from Mr. Le Roy who will have just returned from Sudan.

** Somalia

In Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is calling for urgent action in light of the deteriorating health situation in the south and central parts of the country, including in Mogadishu.

OCHA says that the increasing frequency of communicable disease outbreaks, rising rates of severe acute malnutrition and decreasing immunization rates are symptomatic of the poor coverage and quality of essential health care, as well as of the shortages of life-saving medicines and trauma supplies.

With the country already facing one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, the humanitarian health community is finding itself constrained by the health funding deficit.  According to OCHA, a number of critical life-saving health projects haven’t been initiated and ongoing ones are under threat of cessation.

There is more on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Kenya -- International Criminal Court

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has received material on post-election violence in Kenya.

This week, he received two reports from the Kenyan Attorney General.  In the coming days, the Prosecutor will receive materials transmitted by Kofi Annan, the Chairman of the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities.  These materials consist of six boxes of documents compiled by the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence -- known as the Waki Commission -- and an envelope with a list of possible suspects by the Waki Commission.

According to the ICC, the content of the envelope will remain confidential, and the Office of the Prosecutor will use all information received in its analysis work.

The situation in Kenya has been under preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor since 2008.  No decision has been made yet as whether or not to open an investigation.

And there is more information on this upstairs.

** Benin

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UN agencies are working to help disaster survivors in Benin in West Africa, where heavy rainfall has led to severe flooding.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for example, has made funds available for relief coordination and needs assessments.

For its part, UNICEF has provided 3,000 chlorine tablets for water treatment and 1,000 mosquito nets.  The agency has also provided $100,000 to finance water and sanitation activities and to fund a health awareness campaign.

And the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has donated blankets, mosquito nets, mats and tents.  And the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is working to fund maternal health care.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic

And the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has decided to breed barn owls in Lao People’s Democratic Republic to protect food supplies from further rodent attacks.  Rodents wiped out crops in seven provinces in the country last November, where hunger is already widespread.

FAO says that the owl-breeding project is still in its planning stages, and that the birds will be distributed in the areas hit by the food shortages.

**Economic and Social Council

I have just one more thing for you.  This morning in Geneva, the Economic and Social Council held a dialogue with Executive Heads of the United Nations funds and programmes.  They discussed the UN development system’s contribution to national capacity-building and technology innovation.

Among the funds and programmes represented, Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF, discussed how mobile phones proved to be an extremely powerful development tool in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda.

The Council will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hold a dialogue session with Helen Clark from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Denis Aitken from the World Health Organization (WHO).  I am sure that it has already started, because it is beyond 3 p.m. in Geneva.

**Secretary-General -- Sarkozy

And for those of you who have been asking, in response to some questions about the Secretary-General’s lunch plans tomorrow, I can confirm now that the Secretary-General will be attending a working luncheon with the President of France tomorrow in New York.

So, that’s all I have for you.  I think the guests should be here momentarily.  Let’s start on this side, let’s start with Tarek.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon receive a letter from the Iranian President concerning the murder of an Egyptian lady in a court in the German city of Dresden?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware, but I can check for you.   Masood.

[After the briefing, the reporter was informed that the letter from the Iranian President was received yesterday afternoon.]

Question:  I just want to know, will this killing of the UNHCR worker have any impact on the UNHCR programme there in Pakistan as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I just read to you, both UNHCR and the UN country team in Pakistan, while they’re reviewing the various security arrangements on the ground, they’re going to continue their work in spite of the dangers that they’re facing.

Question:  On this Benazir Bhutto Commission that just arrived and met with the President in Pakistan, do you have a timeline for them?  How long are they going to stay there?  Are they going to stay there continuously and finish their work, come back, or are they going to keep on coming back and forth?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, for security reasons, Masood, I can’t go beyond what I have given you today, and we’ll continue to give you updates as we receive them.  And as I mentioned to you yesterday, they have a six-month mandate, I believe, and we have reported to you that they will be writing their report at the end of that period.

Question:  So, in that case, it will be fair to say that they will be coming back and forth, they can’t stay there for six months, right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll leave that up to your imagination for the moment.  Yes?

Question:  Any update on the IDPs, these internally displaced persons, like the one update that was given yesterday by Mr. Holmes?  Are there any further updates on repatriation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As of now, I have not seen any further reports.  You can check with UNHCR, but I think for today they have been dealing with the aftermath of this tragic attack on one of its staff members.  So, if there is anything, I am sure they will post it on their website.  The guests are here, but let’s try to make a quick round.  Go ahead, yes?

Question:  Marie, Natalia Estemirova, a long-time activist of human rights in Chechnya had a lot of interaction, especially in the 94-99 period, with UN observers in Chechnya, murdered yesterday.  Has the Secretary-General issued a statement, will he issue a statement…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I read to you the statement that the Secretary-General has already issued on it, as well as a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the High Commissioner for Refugees.  Benny?

Question:  Marie, a couple of questions on this explosion in southern Lebanon.  First of all, was there complete access afforded to the UNIFIL forces to check what happened?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only update I got on that this morning is that UNIFIL is concerned that there were some civilians attempting to interfere with its access to the site.  But regardless, following further coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and when the site was deemed safe enough for specialized teams to go in, UNIFIL did go in, and UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces are at the site now and investigations are ongoing.

Question:  Is this a violation of [Security Council resolution] 1701 (2006) that allows for no weapons to be between the [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, Benny, they’re just at the site now and an investigation is ongoing, so I have nothing beyond that for now.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that, based on information available, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) considered the incident a serious violation of resolution 1701 (2006).]

Question:  One more question.  UNDP has named the daughter of [Libyan leader Muammar] Qadhafi, Aisha, as its Goodwill Ambassador and has also announced the establishment of a school in Gaza to honour martyrs.  Can you confirm that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received…

Question:  …this is from the Libyan news agency.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received anything… You said UNDP?  Did you say UNDP?

Question:  UNDP, yes.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, I will follow up immediately after the briefing.

Question:  But that’s a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

Deputy Spokesperson: I will follow up with them.  Matthew? 

[The reporter was later informed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that Dr. Aisha Qadhafi has been named as a national Goodwill Ambassador in Libya to raise awareness of issues related to reaching the Millennium Development Goals, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and advocating for women’s rights.  Her activities relating to UNDP are limited to Libya only.  In her role, she will promote and participate in information and sensitization campaigns on women’s rights and also work to bring about social and cultural change, so that HIV/AIDS prevention can be more effective, especially in rural areas.

In regard to the school, the reporter was informed that UNDP is working on a project designed to build a new 22-classroom primary school, to replace one that has been destroyed, for the benefit of 900 boys and girls in the middle area of the Gaza Strip.  This project is expected be implemented with a grant of $1,533,096 from the Waatasemu Charity Association of Libya, an organization headed by Dr. Aisha Qadhafi.  The project will work towards poverty alleviation as it will generate income and will also help to provide job opportunities to those who have lost their employment due to the ongoing closures.  There is absolutely no intention of naming the school after “martyrs”.]

Question:  You mentioned the ICC getting these boxes of materials from Kofi Annan about Kenya.  Since his mandate was assisted by, or in some sense affiliated with, the UN, did Mr. Annan check with either the Secretary-General or anyone in the UN system on a decision to make this filing with the Court, which jumped its deadline that he’d set?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now. all I have is the press release from the ICC, but I am sure that the colleagues are in constant touch with the former Secretary-General in his capacity and his work in Kenya.  Yes?

Question:  I just wanted to ask one thing.  Yesterday, I had asked Michèle whether the Secretary-General of the UN believes that its staff in Sri Lanka are immune and should not be arrested and detained by the Government, and whether this had been raised by the Secretary-General to the President of Sri Lanka?  Do you have any… What is the position, or do you have a response to the Staff Union saying that that is the position that those staff members should be released and the UN should advocate on their behalf?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General did… I think Michèle did mention to you that the Secretary-General did raise the issue of the staff members when he met with the President of Sri Lanka when he was in Sharm el-Sheikh, but further…

Question:  But they’re saying they’re immune and should be released…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that degree of detail, Matthew, I don’t have anything beyond what Michèle had told you on that.  But the Secretary-General did raise the issue and he continues to follow and monitor and raise this issue as much as he can.  Yes.

Question:  Marie, the incident in Russia is one of several in the past couple of years that an activist has been murdered and the Russian courts simply haven’t come up with any answers.  We appreciate the Secretary-General’s statement, but will there be any effort on behalf of the UN to more aggressively push for the Russian Government to investigate these murders?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d like to draw your attention to the press release, the strong statement issued by Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  She particularly does say that the Government, that this case underlines the need for Governments to do much more to protect human rights defenders, and she notes in particular that the work of human rights defenders in Russia and in particular the North Caucasus is precarious.  So I would look at her press release and follow up with that Office, because they are in the lead on that issue.

Question:  [inaudible] my question is, when I was in Russia and I met many of the key people from the Caucasus, I discovered they’re a very independent group.  Is there anybody that is being liaised with from the Caucasus, from the groups themselves, the leaders there which might lead in some way to a better trail?  Because if you go through the Russian Government, it’s actually a very independent group in the Caucasus.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Your point is noted, and for further questions about liaising, I’d probably suggest to you to contact the High Commissioner for Refugees, as I understand that they were working very closely with the organization for which she was working.  Tarek, last question.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  You know, yesterday, President Qadhafi of Libya made very severe remarks about the role played by the United Nations and the Security Council.  And he made these remarks while the Secretary-General was already there.  And also he called for a new Security Council to be set up within the Non-Aligned Movement.  Is there any response from Mr. Ban Ki-moon regarding these statements or remarks?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General is in the air now, so I have not been in contact with them this morning.  But we did have a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting [with the Libyan leader] in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that was from the night that he arrived.  So, we can give that to you and that’s the extent of what I have right now in terms of the communication between the Secretary-General and the Libyan leader while they were in Sharm el-Sheikh.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, sources are telling us that Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy has met with President Bashir during his visit to Sudan.  Can you deny or confirm this and give us a readout of the meeting if it happened?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm or deny, I have not been informed either way.  As I mentioned to you, Mr. Le Roy will be briefing the Security Council on Sudan tomorrow in closed consultations and he has promised to brief you afterwards.  And so I think you can ask him directly.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed correspondents that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had informed her Office that there had been no meeting between the Sudanese President and Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.]

If there is nothing else for me, our guestsare here.  We have Bob Orr and we have Dr. David Nabarro, and they are here to talk to you about the latest on food [security] and the H1N1 virus.

* *** *

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