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

20 October 2009

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

20 October 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.


**Guest at Noon Today


Since you had the Secretary-General today, I’m not sure I’ve anything more to add to that.


We do have two guests.  We have Ann-Marie Orler, the Acting UN Police Adviser, and Ata Yenigun, the Chief, Mission Management and Support Section of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ (DPKO) Police Division.  They will be here shortly to brief on the UN-INTERPOL agreement that was signed last week in Singapore.  They will also talk about a recent ministerial meeting co-chaired by the UN and INTERPOL, which resulted in a Declaration strongly supporting the UN Police Division and DPKO.  And they will provide an update on the UN’s efforts to recruit more police, especially female police officers.


**Secretary-General on Afghanistan


And to recap, the Secretary-General, in remarks to reporters this morning, warmly welcomed the statement today by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, making it clear that the constitutional process regarding the Afghan elections must be fully respected.  He said that the United Nations will do its utmost for the conduct of the second round of elections, scheduled for 7 November 2009, in a free, fair, transparent and secure environment.


The Secretary-General said that the courage and patience demonstrated by the Afghan people and their leaders must be recognized and applauded.  And he added that the United Nations has supported the work of the Afghan institutions in their efforts to ensure that all valid votes cast in the elections of 20 August were taken into account and that the voice of the Afghan people was clearly heard.


Asked about steps to ensure that fraud can be prevented during the second round of elections, the Secretary-General said, among other things, that the United Nations will advise the Independent Election Commission not to re-recruit those officials who might have been involved in fraudulent electoral processes.  “We must not repeat what they have done last time,” he said.


And we have his remarks and his questions and answers afterwards upstairs.


And speaking in Kabul today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said that Afghanistan’s electoral institutions have functioned the way they should.  He said that, in a country in conflict which is a young democracy, it is of particular importance that the institutions that underpin that democracy work solidly.


And we have his remarks upstairs as well.


** Pakistan


And turning to neighbouring Pakistan, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Pakistani civilians continue to flee South Waziristan following the start of military operations against insurgents over the weekend.


UNHCR is supporting the registration of new arrivals in two neighbouring districts of the North-West Frontier Province where some 32,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) ‑‑ comprising almost 4,500 families ‑‑ have been registered by local authorities since 13 October.


They join more than 80,000 people (11,000 families) who had fled South Waziristan since May this year, bringing the total number of registered displaced to more than 112,000 people.


So far, the IDPs have been accommodated by the host families.  Generally, this has been the trend in the north-west part of Pakistan.


However, the Government has informed UNHCR they are considering the establishment of camps and the refugee agency says it stands ready to assist in providing all-weather tents and site preparation if required.  Various sites are being explored by the Government, according to UNHCR.


Meanwhile, access to people in need remains the key challenge for humanitarian agencies in this operation given the volatile security environment in the displacement areas.  In addition to the aid given to individual families, assistance will need to be extended to hospitals, schools and other public facilities that may come under strain with large influxes of people.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), security in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is seriously hampering humanitarian access, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  OCHA says that attacks on humanitarians have risen sharply in recent weeks ‑‑ with seven incidents reported during last week alone.  Since the beginning of the year, a total of 108 attacks against humanitarians workers were recorded in North Kivu, compared to 105 during the entire year of 2008.


John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, says that by decreasing access to the areas concerned, those responsible are contributing to the suffering of millions of vulnerable people.  He also added that unfortunately, they are almost never brought to justice.


Also on the eastern DRC, OCHA is denouncing human rights violations in Uvira, South Kivu ‑‑ where attacks against civilians by unidentified armed elements and rape against women remained widespread.


OCHA says that on 5 October, five women were raped by armed men believed to be members of the national Army.  One of the victims was killed.  At least 5,387 cases of rape against women were reported in the South Kivu province in the first six months of 2009.  OCHA adds that humanitarian agencies continue to call for these violations to stop and for their perpetrators to be brought to justice.


You can read more about this upstairs.  And we’re also trying to get John Holmes for you when he returns from his long mission, to brief you further.


** Angola-Democratic Republic of Congo


Tens of thousands of Angolans recently expelled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  Nearly 60,000 expelled people are in urgent need of shelter, food, medicine and sanitation facilities.


An assessment by UNHCR shows that the supply of clean water is insufficient and some of the expelled have to drink from nearby contaminated waters.  UNHCR is particularly concerned that there are significant numbers of Angolan refugees among the people who have been forcibly returned.


And meanwhile, UNHCR welcomes the official agreement between the DRC and Angola to end the tit-for-tat cross-border expulsions.  And at the request of the Angolan Government, which has been trying to help those forcibly returned, UNHCR plans to provide assistance to the groups expelled.


And there is more on that upstairs.


**Secretary-General Appointment


On the UN Mission in Liberia, the Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Lieutenant General Sikander Afzal of Pakistan as Force Commander of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  The Lieutenant General will replace Lieutenant General A.T.M. Zahirul Alam of Bangladesh, whose duty ended yesterday.  And there is more information on this upstairs.


** Iraq


On Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ad Melkert, yesterday brought together the heads of the three main Iraqi institutions involved in ensuring responsible, fair and accurate reporting on elections.


With just 90 days to go before important parliamentary elections in Iraq, the meeting was called to understand the constraints faced by each institution in performing its role in the electoral process and to identify how the United Nations could provide support.


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


**Iraq-Kuwait


And the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on Iraq-Kuwait is out on the racks today.  It says that a recent confidence- and cooperation-building period have brought about initial indications of movement on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals in Iraq.  But he warns that progress on the issue remains fragile, and the main task of discovering and identifying the victims and closing their files lies ahead.


** Yemen


There is an update on the humanitarian situation in Yemen in Geneva’s briefing notes.  It says that UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and Africa, Mahmoud Kabil, has issued an appeal today, following a visit to Yemen.


Mr. Kabil said that he had seen children on the brink of death due to acute malnutrition and dehydration.  Insecurity and fighting were stopping humanitarian aid from reaching many children.  UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies had repeatedly called for safe corridors to deliver urgently needed supplies.


An estimated 150,000 Yemenis have been affected by the fighting since 2004, including those displaced by the recent escalation.  That figure is according to UNHCR.


** Indonesia


And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says shelter remains the biggest need in areas of Indonesia that were hit by the recent earthquake.  You can read more on that upstairs, as well as an update on the Philippines.


** Philippines


The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, will start a three-day visit there to witness at first hand the huge impact of the catastrophic floods that have affected more than 7 million people in that country.


**International Fund for Agricultural Development


There is also a press release I have been asked to flag for you from IFAD.  Restrictive laws and costly fees are hampering the power of remittances sent home by African workers to lift people out of poverty.  This is the key finding of a new report by the UN’s rural poverty agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).  The report, titled, “Sending Money Home to Africa”, says African workers send home more than 40 billion US dollars each year.


**Secretary-General on Olympic Truce


And here at UN Headquarters, tonight, the Secretary-General will unveil a sculpture dedicated to the Olympic Truce, ahead of the Winter Games to take place in Vancouver, early next year.  The sculpture will stay at the United Nations for a month before being moved to the Olympic village.


In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to stress the importance of truces.  He will say that these pauses in fighting save lives, make it possible for humanitarian workers to reach people in need, and open up diplomatic space to negotiate lasting solutions.


The event will take place at 6:30 tonight and is taking place in conjunction with the adoption yesterday of the Olympic Truce resolution for the 2010 Winter Games.  And that was by the General Assembly, as you know.


**Secretary-General Trip Announcement – Seattle


Just two more announcements.


Starting Sunday, the Secretary-General is scheduled to travel to Seattle, Washington, from 25 to 27 October.


The Secretary-General will engage with local leaders, the private sector, civil society and the local community to discuss the work of the United Nations to address global challenges, particularly climate change, as well as environmental and economic sustainability.


The Secretary-General will also meet with Bill and Melinda Gates to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, including joint efforts to advance food security and global health, particularly maternal, newborn and child health.


During his visit, the Secretary-General will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Washington.  As part of the programme at the University, the Secretary-General will also deliver a lecture on our common future in the face of climate change.


**Press Conference Today


And I already mentioned to you, we will have our guests from the Police Division of DPKO here shortly.


And later today at 3:30 p.m., Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, will be here to discuss his latest report to the General Assembly.  And that’s at 3:30 p.m. here.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


And tomorrow at 10 a.m., we will have Olivier de Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, who will be here to brief on his report to the General Assembly.


And tomorrow at 2:45 p.m., the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay; Anti-trafficking activist Ruchira Gupta; and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, will be here to brief in connection with a special event entitled “Giving Voice to Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking”.  The Secretary-General will deliver opening remarks at the special event, which will take place at the Economic and Social Council Chamber from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., on Thursday, 22 October.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


[Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Angela Kane, the Under-Secretary-General for Management.  She will brief on the United Nations financial situation.] 


And that’s what I have for you.  Before we get our guests up, Masood.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, I mean, Marie!  Given the catastrophe that’s again emerging in Pakistan, earlier OCHA and the Secretary-General had appealed… made a flash appeal, which was only 60 per cent funded.  Will there be a new flash appeal for the new IDPs which are coming out of South Waziristan, you know, to mitigate their suffering?  Or will there be use of the last money, which in only 60 per cent funded?  So, how will it work out?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that, so we’d have to ask OCHA.  But if it’s only 60 per cent funded, obviously they don’t have enough to cover their costs at the moment.  So there are a number of tools that the humanitarian community has.  And they can issue appeals, they can dip into their CERF funding…  So, there are different ways to go about it.  So, I’m sure that OCHA is listening and they can advise us on how they’re going to go about this.


Question:  This is has to be done on an emergency basis, right?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sure that the humanitarian agencies, especially UNHCR is going ahead with what they can do to assist those in need regardless of the immediate funding situation.


Question:  On another matter…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  …just on the Iranian Ambassador has written to the Secretary-General on this, yesterday’s incident of bombing, the day before yesterday’s bombing in which 37 people were killed in southern Iran.  Has the Secretary-General received that letter?  Has the Secretary-General replied to that…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, had a statement yesterday.  The letter that I think you’re referring to was actually addressed to the Security Council in which he’s requesting the Security Council issue a statement.  Mr. Abbadi, and then Matthew.


Question:  Marie, the Secretary-General this morning at the stakeout alluded to the fact that the UN has learned some lessons from the experience in Afghanistan.  In addition to the fraud, which is an observation, what other lessons has the UN learned from the experience?


Deputy Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General addressed this for you, so I encourage you to go back and look at his remarks that he made.  But again, from the field as you know, this announcement was just made today, so I am not going to get into too many details.  But the Secretary-General, for instance, mentioned that they will not include the officials, for example, who were implicated in the previous fraudulent allegations, and according to the Mission, 200 district field coordinators will be replaced, either because they did not follow correct procedures, ignored or were complicit in attempted fraud.  The Afghan electoral institutions and Afghan and international security forces, with UN support, will revisit the number of polling stations that can be opened and planned for.  They will try to make sure that as many Afghans can vote as possible, but polling stations that were not opened in the first round will not be opened for the second round.  Also, the Afghan authorities are reviewing the polling stations from which complaints were received to determine whether they should be opened.  And of course, the Secretary-General and his Special Representative will continue to appeal to the candidates and their supporters not to interfere with the electoral process.  Recent developments demonstrate that it is in nobody’s interest when irregularities are committed.  And again, the Secretary-General emphasised to you at the stakeout, and Kai Eide did today on the ground, that at the end of the day, what is essential is that the mechanisms be in place to ensure that, if fraud should happen, it is detected and dealt with just as has been the case for the first round.  And we continue to support them in this effort.  Matthew.


Question:  Marie, I have a couple of Sudan questions.  One is:  UNAMID has said that there is a build-up of forces in North Darfur; the Abdul Wahid faction in the Army.  Has that continued and, more than reporting on it, what can the UN do about it?  And also, there is this report from UNMIS in South Sudan that UNAMID is flying hundreds of guards of General Matip to Juba.  It sounds serious, there’s fighting with tanks.  What’s the UN’s assessment of the problems in both regions of the Sudan?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen a report from UNAMID or UNMIS -- our two missions in Sudan -- on either one of those subjects today.


Question:  And I also wanted to ask, I mean, it seems strange there are reports in the field on both of these problems, so it seems sometimes the UN is very aggressive in reporting on what’s happening there.  Is there…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything, and if I did, I’d report it to you.


Question:  All right.  Okay.  I wanted to ask you whether the Government in exile in Myanmar, they’re saying that they have filed with the Secretary-General some request to be credentialed.  Are you aware of that, and what did the Secretary-General do upon receiving this…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any request.  I’m not aware of such a request.  Masood again and then Mr. Abbadi and then we’ll turn to our guests.


Question:  Okay.  Michèle… Marie, yesterday I had asked Michèle about these 12 new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and she had said that, has the Secretary-General spoken to the Israeli authorities about it last week and she said he had not spoken yet.  The last he had spoken is some time last week.  Will he be speaking about these settlements again with the Israeli authorities?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Specifically on the reports you’re referring to, I am not aware of any calls going in on that issue, but the Secretary-General’s position on settlements is well known, and he will continue to press all parties on that issue if and when he has a chance to do so.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  [inaudible] communicating and talking to them about…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard of any specific communication on this issue.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment or reaction to the newly announced US policies towards Sudan; namely, engaging the Sudanese Government?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we answered; Michèle answered that question yesterday.  I don’t think I have anything beyond that.  Yes.


Question:  I just wanted to know, I know that the Secretary-General met with his senior, I guess senior officials before the general debate, and one result of this was having Mr. Le Roy, Mr. Pascoe, various Under-Secretaries-General come here and do briefings.  I wanted to know whether that, did that include let’s say, UNDP?  Because I am beginning to wonder more and more why we have never received a briefing from Helen Clark of UNDP.  Does the Secretary-General think that his senior officials should, you know, come in and take a few questions and give us a briefing on their agencies’ work?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The answer to your question ‑‑ first, you had a question about whether the Secretary-General met with the head of UNDP ‑‑ the Secretary-General meets with his senior management regularly; once a week, and UNDP is a member of, obviously, that management group.  And of course, you know, you should direct any interview requests to UNDP.  It is an independent agency and so you have to convey that request directly.


Question:  [inaudible] I was asking specifically about this meeting that took place before the general debate at which it was said that the various USGs came through a briefing.  I believe that Mr. Ban had said that he thinks that senior officials should make themselves available, so…


Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, the head of UNDP is part of all senior management group meetings that the Secretary-General holds.


Question:  So, does believe that after six months of Ms. Clark’s presence at UNDP that such a briefing…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I said you need to request your… your request for her to come down here directly to UNDP.


Question:  [inaudible]


Deputy Spokesperson:  All you can do is continue to push and we can do the same.


Question:  Okay.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Your earlier question on Darfur -- the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has expressed grave concern over a military build-up by the Government of Sudan and by the forces of the Sudan Liberation Army, the Wahid faction observed by peacekeeping field personnel in two areas of North Darfur.  UNAMID says that the sizable and unusual military activities may signal the impending start of a new cycle of armed confrontations in the area.  The mission has issued a call on all parties in Darfur to refrain from resorting to any acts of violence.  UNAMID further stresses that the only way for a peaceful resolution of the Darfur conflict is through dialogue and negotiations.  UNAMID also reports an attack over the weekend by unknown gunmen on an escort of one of its former police units that left three mission policemen wounded, two of them critically.  And you can read more about that incident upstairs.  So I did have something from the mission on that today.


And with that, I think, the door keeps opening, so I think the guests must be in there.  So I think we’ll get them for you.


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