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

4 September 2009

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

4 September 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 afternoon.

** Madagascar

In case any of you may have missed early yesterday evening -- the Secretary-General did have a statement on Madagascar.  I am sure you have it by now, but just [wanted to flag it] to you.

** Guatemala

Today, we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG.

Today, as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala marks its second anniversary, the Secretary-General reaffirms his strong support and appreciation for CICIG’s ground-breaking efforts to help strengthen the justice sector and rule of law in Guatemala.  He commends Commissioner Carlos Castresana and his staff for their dedication and notes with satisfaction the broad support the Commission has earned from all sectors of Guatemalan society. 

The Secretary-General calls on Guatemala’s political and judicial authorities to strengthen their commitment to the fulfilment of CICIG’s mandate over the coming two years.  He urges full respect for the Commission’s mandate and independence, and calls for prompt action on legal and institutional reform proposals made by the Commission aimed at removing obstacles to the identification and prosecution of criminal organisations.

The Secretary-General encourages the international community to continue to provide political and financial support to the Commission.  The people of Guatemala deserve judicial institutions they can trust and be protected by, and the United Nations is pleased to be assisting, through the Commission, towards these ends.  You can pick up that statement upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York after completing a week-long visit to Austria, Norway and Switzerland.

Before leaving Geneva today, the Secretary-General met with World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan, with whom he talked about the UN response to H1N1 Influenza.

He then met with the President of Mozambique and they talked about climate change and peace and security issues in Africa.  He also hat meetings with the heads of the International Labour Organization and the International Telecommunications Union.

The Secretary-General yesterday discussed climate change and other topics in meetings with a series of leaders who were attending the third World Climate Conference.  Among them were the Presidents of Tajikistan, Slovenia and Ethiopia and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

** Afghanistan

Peter Galbraith, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, today expressed his concern about reports of casualties among civilians from an air strike against stolen trucks in a district of Kunduz Province.

As an immediate priority, everything possible must be done to ensure that people wounded by this attack are being properly cared for, and that families of the deceased are getting all the help they need, he said. Steps must also be taken to examine what happened and why an air strike was employed in circumstances where it was hard to determine with certainty that civilians were not present.  The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) is sending a team to look into the situation.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian services in Pakistan are shifting focus from hosting communities to areas of return, to better meet the needs of the increasing number of returning displaced persons.  This one is for you, Massood.

As of 1 September, over 234,500 families, or roughly 1.64 million people have returned to their homes.  The rate of IDPs returning home from camps and host communities has slowed significantly in the past few weeks, OCHA says.

The World Food Programme and humanitarian agencies dealing with food have been asked to cover the food needs of over 56,000 families (that is nearly 400,000 individuals) in the district of Swat.  The aid community currently has 14 humanitarian hubs, and this will be increased.

** Myanmar

Following reports of refugees fleeing fighting in parts of Myanmar in recent weeks, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on the Chinese authorities to allow access to the border area.  The refugee agency (UNHCR) has also proposed a joint needs assessment.

UNHCR hopes to visit these locations to assist the Government in the provision of humanitarian assistance and to determine whether any of the people who remain there are in need of international protection, should the situation deteriorate in the Wa State near the Myanmar-China border.

The refugee agency has expressed deep appreciation for the Government of China for hosting this population and for everything the authorities in Yunnan Province are reported to have done in terms providing emergency shelter, food, clothing and medical care for the 13,000 or so refugees who are accommodated in seven camp sites.  And you can read more about this in UNHCR’s briefing notes upstairs.

** Yemen

The UN refugee agency reports continued heavy fighting between Al Houti forces and Government troops in the Sa’ada governorate in northern Yemen. It says that the situation is most critical in the city of Sa’ada, which has been cut off from the rest of the world for more than two weeks.  The road to Sa’ada is extremely dangerous as clashes continue.

There has been no water or electricity in that city since 12 August, UNHCR reports.  Food reserves are running low and the situation is becoming untenable for families, many of whom are hosting friends, relatives or neighbours displaced by the street battles.

The refugee agency adds that it still has no access to Al Jawf Province, where an estimated 4,000 internally displaced persons are seeking shelter.  UNHCR estimates some 150,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen, including those displaced by recent hostilities.  And there is more on that also on the refugee agency’s briefing notes upstairs.

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met today with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and congratulated him on his recent initiatives to engage all the parliamentary blocs in discussions on forming the government.  Williams told reporters afterward that he hopes the formation of a new government will be accomplished soon, particularly given the many social, economic and security challenges that it will have to face.

He added that he is pleased with the calm that has prevailed in southern Lebanon.  We have his press remarks upstairs.

** Somalia

The World Food Programme (WFP) is urgently appealing for 217,000 metric tons of food -- the equivalent to $218 million -- to feed 3.5 million people by the end of October when stocks will run out.

The appeal follows a recent FAO report indicating half the Somali population, or 3.8 million people, are in need of assistance.  WFP is calling for critical donor contributions to avert a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), led by the Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Charles Petrie, has visited Somaliland this week, to explore ways of strengthening the UN’s engagement there.  The delegation met with representatives of various political parties and civil society plus other officials.  They also held a constructive meeting with the President there.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, welcomed the visit and said he hoped it was proof of Somaliland’s determination to move towards peace and compromise.  And you can read more about that upstairs as well.

** West Africa

OCHA reports that floods across West Africa have affected an estimated 350,000 people.  Burkina Faso appears to be worse hit country with some 110,000 people relocated, mainly in the capital Ouagadougou.  The authorities have reported five deaths and the main university hospital was flooded with patients needing to be evacuated.

A seven-member UN assessment team should be in Ouagadougou today to determine what level of humanitarian assistance is required.  Other affected countries in West Africa, where heavy rains have caused damage, are Benin, Niger, Ghana, Guinea and Senegal.

**Timor-Leste

The United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste today held a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the announcement of the result of the United Nations-organized Popular Consultation (referendum) which led to Timor-Leste's independence.

At the ceremony attended by President Jose Ramos-Horta, 100 Timorese UN staff who have served the United Nations continuously since 1999, received awards as recognition of their service.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, highlighting the unique nature of relationship which has developed between the Timorese people and the UN, said that great friendships have developed over the past ten years between Timorese UN staff members, and international staff members as well as UN Volunteers from all over the world.

** Philippines

The World Health Organization's representative to the Philippines says urgent financial and material support is needed to strengthen the health response to recent conflict and flooding in the southern part of the country and reduce the suffering so many people are facing.  I refer you to their press release upstairs.

**Climate Change

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that faster action on climate change may be possible if nations make significant cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.  It will offer a big boost to climate, crops and human health.  UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner says: “It is clear that the world must deploy all available means to combat climate change.  At this critical juncture, every transformative measure and substance contributing to climate change should not be overlooked”.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**Children and Armed Conflict

On the racks today, for those who are interested, there is a report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  It is a report to the General Assembly and it highlights a number of critical themes and emerging issues of concern, such as the effects of terrorism and counter-terrorism matters on children and rampant sexual violence against boys and girls in situations of armed conflict.

** Darfur Appointment

The Secretary-General and the African Union Chairperson, Jean Ping, have today appointed Mohamed Yonis of Somalia as Deputy Joint Special Representative for Operations and Management in the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  Currently serving as Director of Mission Support in UNAMID, Mr. Yonis brings to his new post extensive management and operational experience, particularly in relation to Darfur.

He succeeds Hocine Medili of Algeria.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Medili for his tireless dedication and invaluable service to the United Nations over the past thirty-seven years.  And there are copies of Mr. Yonis biography upstairs.

**Weak Ahead

And from the “Week Ahead” just a couple of things to flag:

The Deputy Secretary-General will be travelling to Rome this Monday to deliver the keynote address at a ministerial-level international conference on violence against women.  This conference is being held under the auspices of the Italian G-8 presidency.

The Deputy Secretary-General will speak about the UN’s work to end violence against women and girls.  And she’ll highlight the Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign, which calls on world leaders to launch national campaigns aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

During her visit, the Deputy Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with the Italian Foreign Minister and Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunity.  The Deputy Secretary-General will also travel to the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict.  She will also meet with staff from the Rome-based UN agencies and the Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on Friday, 11 September.

For other matters, I will refer you to the “Week Ahead”.

On Tuesday, the guest at the noon-briefing will be Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team.  He will brief on the preparations for the upcoming high-level event on climate change [22 September] as well as on other climate change related developments.  We had a request for this yesterday and others have been asking.

At 1:30 p.m. in Room S-226, the President of the General Assembly and Heiner Flassbeck from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) will hold a press conference to launch the 2009 Trade and Development Report.

On Wednesday, the Security Council has consultations on the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and an open debate on the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

On Thursday, at 4 p.m. here, the President of the General Assembly and the Chairman of the Commission of Experts of the President of the General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, will hold a pre-publication launch of the report of the Commission.

And for those of you who may not be aware, UN Headquarters will be closed on Monday for Labour Day.  So I wish you all good three-day weekend.  But before then, I will take a few questions.  I’ll start in the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, has the Secretary-General been made aware of the letter written from the DPRK that was given to the President of the Security Council with regard to their nuclear position that is in clear violation of a number of different sanctions, resolutions rather, that have been passed?  Has the Secretary-General read this letter?  Is he aware of it?  Does he have any response to it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, is on an airplane, he’s been on an airplane for the past few hours.  I am not sure if he’s seen the letter, but as far as his position regarding DPRK on this issue, I will refer you to his past statements.  Edie.

Question:  Marie, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the continuing stories about UNRWA and the teaching of the Holocaust in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I sent you a statement from UNRWA yesterday on this.  At this moment, I have nothing beyond that.

Question:  So there is nothing new on that?  Because it is being reported that UNRWA is not planning to teach Holocaust education at all, and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has protested about several statements by UN officials and asked the Secretary-General to remove them from their jobs.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, UNRWA does have a statement out.  I refer you to the UNRWA statement.  If there is anything further from the Secretary-General, I will give it to you later.  But, as far as that issue is concerned, UNRWA implements a human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance programmes in its schools in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.  In Gaza, UNRWA is strengthening this programme by developing a dedicated human rights curriculum anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  UNRWA is committed to human rights education and rejects any denial of the holocaust as a historical event.  And, as far as, I think you mentioned the top officials at UNRWA, they are ably continuing their jobs and are carrying out their mandate to bring assistance to those in desperate need in the West Bank and Gaza.  Masood.

Question:  Marie, I want to find out about these Gaza crossings that UNRWA had said that, asked Israelis authorities to open them up to allow some equipment to come through so that water can be provided to them.  What has happened?  Has the Israelis responded at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received an update on the situation from UNWRWA today, but hopefully we will get one to see, because the, as you mentioned, they did yesterday strongly appeal for immediate assistance to ease the impact of the water and sanitation crisis there.  Yes.

Question:  The other thing that I wanted to ask about also, that the Israelis have announced that they will continue settlement building in the West Bank.  Is there any response?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s position on settlements has been loudly articulated and is also part of the Quartet statement.  Matthew.

Question:  I have questions on Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but I wanted to follow up on Edie’s questions.  In what you just read out, does UNWRA teach the Holocaust course or not?  Somebody in the office said that to us that UNRWA follows whatever the curriculum is of the host country.

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is correct.

Question:  Is it possible to give just a yes or no answer.  Do they teach… what do they teach about the Holocaust?

Deputy Spokesperson:  [We] read that statement to you the first day, when you asked about Hamas’ accusations about the UNWRA programme, and [we] did mention that the Holocaust is not taught.  That was in accordance with what you just mentioned about the e-mail that you just received.  This is in response to another criticism.  So now I am telling you that UNRWA does have a statement and that UNWRA implements human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance programmes in its schools and that there is no truth to the fact that they are denying the Holocaust, which is the latest accusation that the Agency is faced with.

Question:  Just to be clear, they don’t teach it, but if somebody denies it, then they teach it.  I want to understand what the distinction is.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I already answered your questions.

Question:  Can I move to something else please?  There is this letter from the Iraqi Prime Minister addressed to the SG about forming an inquiry commission.  I was wondering, what is the reaction of the SG and whether the request is for the SG or for the Security Council?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has, as we mentioned to you, transmitted the letter to the Security Council President and it is up to the Security Council to decide how to move forward on this issue.

Question:  I was told by one Security Council member that this letter is addressed to the SG, so that we should check with him whether he wants to form this independent…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, this is all I can tell you.  He has transmitted the letter to the Security Council and it is up to the Security Council to decide on the way forward. 

Question:  On Myanmar, there are reports that in this Kokang region, not in China but in Myanmar itself, that there were UN agency staff from WFP and other agencies that were not allowed to reach the region and now are leaving the region and suspending operations there.  Is that something that the UN can confirm?  It is also said that they were kept there so as not to report what was going on.  Can you comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received anything from WFP, but I am sure that if you ask them, they will be able to provide you with an update on their situation there.

Question:  Okay, and I wanted to ask you about reports in Sri Lanka that in the [inaudible] IDP camps, that despite all counting, the governing agent of the [inaudible] district says that 10,000 people suddenly are not accounted for in the camps and only 2,000 are subject to visits from the ICRC.  Is that something that OCHA or the UN, which has some involvement in the camps, can speak to?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Specifically, on that incident or on the reports that you are mentioning, I suggest that you follow up with the agencies involved, but for those of you who may not have heard, yesterday, in Geneva, the Secretary-General did meet with the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka and they discussed the conditions in the camps for internally displaced persons, particularly with the approaching monsoon season.  They also discussed the return of IDPs as well as the importance of free movement of people among the camps and free movement of UN and international humanitarian workers.  They talked about the importance of reconciliation and they also discussed accountability, particularly in the light of recent accusations of extrajudicial executions.

Question:  But did they discuss the issue of actual IDPs missing…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think this covers a wide range of the bigger picture of the situation there.

Question:  Thank you very much for providing us with this update on Pakistan’s IDPs… You said 1.4 billion going back…  I just want to find out, are there any camps still open in that area?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You know what, I don’t think I mentioned quite that alarming sounding, but if you can follow up with our Office or with OCHA, they can give you further details.

Question:  There was reportedly a protest in front of the UN in Geneva by Swiss people about these two Swiss businessmen who were “hostage” -- according to the Swiss -- in Libya.  There are also stories that Libya may be proposing during the upcoming GA to split Switzerland up.  Since the SG was there, is the UN aware of that protest and does it have anything to say on either of those two issues.

Deputy Spokesperson:  On your first issue, no, I haven’t heard anything on that.  On the proposed inclusion of such an item, all I can say on that is that it is my understanding that the letter has been withdrawn.

With that, have a good afternoon, have a good three-day weekend and we will see you on Tuesday.

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