Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters

5 May 2009
SG/SM/12224

Press Conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at United Nations Headquarters

5 May 2009
Secretary-General
SG/SM/12224
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON

AT UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, 5 May 2009

Secretary-General:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a great pleasure to see you.  I am sorry that I couldn’t have a press conference with you last month, because of my very hectic schedule.  I am pleased to have this monthly regular press conference today.

Yesterday, as you know, I briefed the General Assembly on the latest developments regarding the H1N1 epidemic.

As you know, this outbreak is yet another reminder that we live an interconnected world.  A threat to one country is a threat to all, requiring a collective, global response.

I understand that the World Health Organization does not plan at this time to raise its alert level.

That said, there is still much that is not known about this new strain and the dangers it poses.  We must therefore be prepared.

Whatever trajectory the current outbreak may take ‑‑ and so far we have been fortunate that its consequences have been relatively mild ‑‑ we have learned valuable lessons.

Our watchword in potential health crises, now and in the future, must be solidarity ‑‑ a global solidarity.

In this spirit, I will, therefore, be asking Governments in the coming weeks to:

First, reach agreement on sharing of samples of viral and other materials, as well as data on outbreaks, in line with the International Health Regulations;

Second, agree to establish coordinated long-term financing mechanisms for supporting poorer countries so that they are able to build their defences against global health threats;

Third, ensure that WHO has all the resources it needs, when it needs them; and

Fourth, reverse restrictions on trade and travel unless there is clear scientific evidence that it is necessary.

I will begin these discussions in earnest when I travel to Geneva later this month for the World Health Assembly.

I will also meet with donors, technical partners and the private sector, including pharmaceutical companies, to explore how all can contribute.

As I say, we still do not know how this particular health challenge will proceed and we must be prepared.  As previous pandemics in the twentieth century showed, the situation can unfold in stages ‑‑ what begins as mild in the first stage might be less so in the next.

As we look forward, we must remain vigilant and alert to the warning signs.  This will help ensure the proper response that benefits all the people of our world.  And I am very pleased to sit together with Dr. David Nabarro who is working as a senior UN Coordinator for Influenza, and who will be very happy to answer any questions you may have after presenting my remarks.

Let me turn, here, to the Middle East.

This morning I transmitted to the President of the Security Council a summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry regarding incidents affecting United Nations personnel, premises and operations during the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.

Let me emphasize from the outset the independent nature of this Board and its work.

I want to thank the chairman, Ian Martin, and its Members for concluding this inquiry.  I recognize the difficulty of conducting investigations such as this one.

I wish to place on record my appreciation for the cooperation provided by the Government of Israel in the course of the Board’s work.  The Board also appreciated its reception by the Palestinian Authority and meetings with local authorities in Gaza.

I would emphasize that a Board of Inquiry is not a judicial body or court of law.  It does not make legal findings and does not consider questions of legal liability.

My purpose in establishing this Board was to develop a clear record of the facts surrounding these serious incidents and their causes and to determine where responsibility might lie, bearing in mind the complexities of the overall situation.

As with all United Nations Boards of Inquiry, this report is an internal document.

It contains information shared with the Board in strict confidence.  It also contains information whose disclosure could prejudice the security or proper conduct of the UN’s operations.

For this reason, the Secretariat is releasing a summary of the Report for the purposes of sharing its findings with the Security Council and other bodies.

This summary is a faithful and objective reflection of the Board’s full report.  I fully respect complete independence of the Board’s activities and assessments.

As to those matters that did not fall within the Board’s terms of reference, it is not my intention to establish any further inquiry.  I intend to address any other incidents relating to UN personnel on a case-by-case basis, and through dialogue with the Government of Israel.

The Government of Israel has informed me that it has reservations and objections to elements of the summary.  At the same time, I am pleased that the Israeli Government has agreed to meet United Nations officials to address some of the Board’s recommendations, in so far as it relates to Israel.  It has further confirmed to me that it is eager to improve existing coordination mechanisms.

The plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza is reflected in the report of the Board of Inquiry.  We should keep in mind that Israeli civilians in southern Israel faced and continue to face indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

In a larger sense, the report reminds us that there has still been no progress on the critical elements that would secure long-term peace for the people of the region.

As I have said before, we need a durable ceasefire, which includes an end to arms smuggling, the opening of the crossings, recovery and reconstruction in Gaza, and steps toward Palestinian reconciliation.

More importantly, we need to give new momentum to the search for a resolution of the conflict in the Middle East.  For this, direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must resume, and the international community must engage.

I understand that US President [Barack] Obama will meet Israeli President [Shimon] Peres today and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud] Abbas in the near future.

I also commend Russia for convening a special meeting on the Middle East in the Security Council on 11 May.  I hope this will be an opportunity for the international community to reinvigorate the process.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me turn to other areas.

With respect to the crisis in Sri Lanka, I have been monitoring the situation daily.  This morning, I spoke once again to President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka.

I called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.  This would allow more desperately needed aid, above all food and medicines, to get in.  It will allow the UN to have access to the conflict zone to assess the situation properly.  It will save lives.

I have urged the authorities to avoid the use of artillery and heavy weaponry in zones where civilians are especially at risk. I have also appealed to the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] to let civilians go and stop forced recruitment.  Above all, there is an urgent need for the two sides to bring the conflict to a peaceful and orderly end.

It is very important that the Government lay out the conditions under which this conflict can end without further bloodshed.

I repeat:  Protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law must be priority one.  The world is watching events closely, including for violations of international law.

On Nepal, let me add that I am seriously concerned about the political situation.  I call for dialogue and consensus to preserve and enhance the gains made from the peace process.

Last but not least, the economic crisis is still with us.  Following up on the G-20 Summit in London, we will support a Global Jobs Pact to generate decent work ‑‑ a mainstay of any global stimulus.  We will also launch a UN Global Vulnerability Alert, an early warning system on the social fallout of the economic crisis.

Taken together, these issues provide a sobering reminder of the scale and velocity of change in our times.

We are living in an age when a credit crunch in one country can trigger the biggest global economic crisis in decades; when melting ice can threaten a tropical island; when an upheaval in one area can spread through a region and spill into the seas: when a cough in one corner can infect the world.

All of this cries out for global cooperation.  We must harness power, purpose and principle to build a new multilateralism.

Thank you very much for your attention, and with that, I will be happy to take your questions.

Question:  Secretary-General, thank you so much for this press conference.  But we’d like to remind you, you still owe us one from last month.  And on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) and our president, Giampaolo Pioli, I’d like to welcome you, sir.

My question is concerning the report that we received in the last half hour, or the summary of the report, concerning Gaza.  The report states that [in] eight cases of the nine cases investigated, Israel did not implement sufficient effort and precaution to fulfil its responsibilities to protect property and personnel.  In six cases, death and injury and damage was caused by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and in one case [damage to] the vehicle, the property, was also caused by IDF forces.  However, many might describe your reaction to the report, or the summary of it, in the Middle East as “timid”.  There’s no future inquiry.  There’s only case-by-case basis dialogue with Israel.  There’s no talk about compensation.  Don’t forget there’s damage that the report itself estimates at $10.4 [million] to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and three quarters of a million [dollars] to the United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process [UNSCO].  There’s no talk of compensation.

And I would like to remind you here, the report states that Israel, in many cases, the attacks happened after apologizing for the last attacks and promising, to take all precautions not to repeat it.  So what gives you confidence that this dialogue, this time, will succeed?  And what about the compensation for the damage and the lives of the people?  I understand this is not a legal document and no legal action is anticipated by the United Nations.  But the people in the Middle East expect more from the United Nations.  Thank you, sir.

Secretary-General:  You have covered a wide area of all the reports, without leaving any opportunities for other people, maybe, to raise questions.

As I said, I took the initiative of establishing a UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry to investigate the nine most serious incidents involving UN personnel and property.  These have already been thoroughly investigated by the Board of Inquiry.  It is my considered view that I can adequately address the remaining incidents involving the United Nations on a case-by-case basis, at the operational level.  It is my full intention to do so.

On the other question about compensation:  I intend to seek reparation or reimbursement of loss and damage incurred by the United Nations.  As you know, I have been carefully reviewing these recommendations with a view to determining what course of action the United Nations and I, as the Secretary-General, should take in future, if any.  As I said in my letter to the President of the Security Council and this morning to you, I do not consider it necessary for me to initiate any further formal inquiry in this regard, which are outside the terms of reference of this Board.  But again, the Israeli Government, in our consultations, stated that they would engage with the United Nations Secretariat to address the Board’s recommendations in so far as they relate to Israel.  This has been quite a thorough investigation, and I hope you will understand all these situations.  This Board’s report is quite extensive and provides the factual circumstances surrounding all these incidents that have taken place.

Question:  If I may follow up, the report states very clearly that many of the attacks also happened after assurances and dialogue and verbal and written communication by the United Nations.  What gives you the confidence now that these things will not repeat in the future?  Because you had assurances in the past?

Secretary-General:  In fact, in the course of all these happenings, I was in the region.  I immediately took action to talk to concerned ministers of the Israeli Government, including the Prime Minister and Defense Minister and Foreign Minister.  They all assured me that this will not happen again and they would look into the cases.  Unfortunately, after that, other incidents also took place.  That, we have protested.  And this has been looked into by the members of the Board of Inquiry.  One of the recommendations states that there needs to be a much more effective and closer coordination mechanism to avoid all these kinds of happenings in the future.

Question:  On the same topic, Secretary-General, there are media reports out there that you’ve personally worked over the last several days to somewhat water down the details contained in this Board of Inquiry report.  Can you, will you, confirm or deny those reports?  And if so ‑‑ if you worked in some way to prepare details of this report ‑‑ can you address why?

Secretary-General:  This is an independent Board of Inquiry, even though I have appointed, established this Board of Inquiry.  The nature and work of the Board of Inquiry is completely independent.  And, therefore, I respect the independence and activities and findings of this Board of Inquiry.  Therefore, I have no authority to edit or change or alter any recommendations and conclusions of this Board of Inquiry’s judgement.  However, because it contains some very sensitive information, then I decided to summarize, respecting the full integrity of this report and conclusions.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, although we do have maybe a lack of medical knowledge still on what’s going on with this influenza ‑‑ swine flu or whatever it is to be politically correct, and go with the other name ‑‑ we do have some statistical data.  And we also have some media knowledge.  After all, we have the experience of our Joe Lauria, who made that quarantine story.  There is also an extreme situation that’s going on, that was developed in China, that all Mexicans were put in quarantine.  And also, for example, in Croatia, a leading newspaper went and gave 100,000 masks as a gift to the possible Croatians who were going to get that influenza.  So what would be your clear message?  Should we stay on high alert?  Or should we calm down, because the media went hyper?  What is the clear message from you that you would offer?

Secretary-General:  I will answer in general terms and I will ask Dr. David Nabarro to answer in more detail.

First of all, I’d like to voice appreciation to the role of media and journalism in, first of all, letting this information... disseminating it all throughout the world so that everybody, every country can be prepared for this virus.  Whatever actions and measures individuals or a sovereign nation should take should be based on scientific evidence, as well as be in accordance with international humanitarian regulations.  There may be some difference of levels of measures that each individual Government may take, according to where this happens and according to where people travel.  But that is their own decision.  What I’d like to emphasize is that the World Health Organization and international public health experts, in accordance with all these regulations, have provided guidelines.  These guidelines should be respected.

Dr. Nabarro:  I think you’ve said it very precisely.  We want to be very clear that the World Health Organization is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of this novel influenza.  The science and evidence available suggests that any effort to limit travel or to impose travel restrictions would have very little effect on stopping the virus from spreading.  And it would also be extremely disruptive to the functioning of the world community.  Of course, we have advice for individuals who are ill ‑‑ we ask them not to travel.  And also we have advice for people who fall ill, if they travel, about the care that they should seek.  We do notice that some countries have adopted measures that are significantly interfering with international traffic, such as detaining travellers and delaying them for a period of time.  The situation is that countries do have a duty to explain to the World Health Organization the public health rationale for these measures because, under the International Health Regulations 2005, that is their obligation.  I hope that answers your question on this specific issue.

Question:  Secretary-General, what is your message to the world with that, your clear message to the world after all that you just heard here?  And what is your message after these two extreme situations in China and the boosting of the circulation of the leading newspaper in Croatia by giving 100,000 masks for the people?  So what’s your message to the people?

Secretary-General:  I have clearly stated my position yesterday in the General Assembly.  And again, I stated it clearly, to be followed by Dr. Nabarro.

Question:  You know my case.  Simply, I came down with the flu.  I travelled from an airport where there are 30 flights a day from Mexico.  I simply wanted to get tested ‑‑ I was unable to.  And my question to you is, what are the World Health Organization’s guidelines about testing?  The health authorities explained to me it’s not necessary to test a lot, or even at all.  They wanted to see where there was a small outbreak and control that.  But I’d think that my experience and my story shows the problem may not be with the policy, but with explaining to the public, to people who are not expected ‑‑ because they are laymen ‑‑ to know these things.  Do you think they’re doing a good job ‑‑ the authorities ‑‑ to explain it?  What is the policy on testing?  And what about the public relations aspect of it?

Dr. Nabarro:  Thank you very much indeed.  In fact, I am familiar with your case, sir, that you fell ill and you believed that you might have Influenza A, and you tried to get yourself tested and it was difficult.  And I think it’s fair to say that it’s not been easy to make sure that there is adequate capacity everywhere in the world for the tests to be done for this new virus.  You would appreciate that you have to develop new testing capacity for a new virus.  It’s now clear that from a public health perspective it’s not necessary for everybody to be tested, and so that is the situation right now.  This is sufficiently mild a disease at present, that it is not absolutely essential for everybody who gets it to have the test.  All we do ask is for people who are sick to keep themselves away from others if they can, and also that a high quality of personal hygiene is practiced.  And I’m really glad to see that you’re so well.

Question:  But are the public officials doing a good enough job explaining what you’ve just said?  To get out there in front?

Dr. Nabarro:  We believe that the authorities here in this country are doing a fantastic job of public communication, and we also have a lot of confidence, of course, in what the World Health Organization is doing.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  On the release of the four Generals in Lebanon for insufficiency of evidence, since then the UN and the Lebanese judiciary is under attack and, yourself, you have been under attack by [Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah.  How much do you take seriously all the attacks, and are you ready to engage into full revision of the investigation?

Secretary-General:  The release of the generals was a decision taken by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is an independent body and whose work, I believe, is a positive contribution to the people of Lebanon.  I would not comment on the decision of the Tribunal, which it takes independently.  I would like to point out, however, that the generals, they were detained by the Lebanese authorities according to Lebanese law.  The Tribunal has now taken their decision after it was officially established as of 1 March.  Therefore, I respect the decision that has been taken.

Question:  Just a follow-up, Mr. Secretary-General.  Do you believe that the judiciary system in Lebanon was endangered by this decision taken by the international tribunal?  And can you say, please, a word about the Israelis withdrawal from Ghajar?

Secretary-General:  The Special Tribunal was established in accordance with a Security Council resolution for a specific purpose, for a specific case.  Therefore, in terms of legal precedence, the decision should be respected.  This is the purpose and principles of international law, as I understand them.  Therefore, it has nothing to do with infringing upon the legal judicial system of Lebanon when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has requested and decided to release the detained generals.  So I hope there should be no misunderstandings in that regard.

About Ghajar, we have been working very intensively and closely on this issue.  As you know, whenever I have been meeting with the Lebanese and Israeli authorities, this issue has always been discussed at my level and at other senior levels.  The UNIFIL [UN Interim Force in Lebanon] has made a proposal and this has been accepted, agreed to by the Lebanese Government.  Now, still we are awaiting the response from the Israeli Government.  We have seen some reports of the new Israeli Administration on this issue, but we have not yet been able to do that.  One of my senior advisors [Alain Le Roy] is going to visit Israel at this time to discuss this matter.  I sincerely hope that this issue, Ghajar, will be resolved as soon as possible.  But there is some encouraging atmosphere which has been created on this issue.  I am going to work very hard on this matter with the new Administration of Israel.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, the US today submitted its proposal on climate change for a global warming treaty which you hope to get enacted in Copenhagen later this year.  What is your feeling about the significance of this submission by the US, in terms of the likelihood of getting an agreement?  Are you disappointed at all that there was no specific numerical goal contained in that [proposal] for the US to cut emissions by a certain date?

Secretary-General:  In general, I am very encouraged by the very proactive and constructive and forthcoming position and attitude of the US Administration in addressing this climate change issue which is a global threat for which we must really “seal the deal” in Copenhagen in December.  President Obama has made it quite clear, this is one of the priorities and they have taken the initiative by convening a Major Economies Forum last week, which was again quite different from the past major economies meetings.  We are encouraged.  All these domestic measures which the US Government and Congress will take will be very important.  Now what is important at this time for developed countries is to set a target for the midterm by 2020.  I know that this is not sufficient still; there is some more to do by the United States Government, but this is a good step and I would encourage further that the United States take more concrete and more bold initiatives.  The European Union has also taken leadership and, at the same time, major developing countries should also be ready to take some mitigation actions among themselves which may not necessarily be within the international framework, but nationally appropriate measures should be taken by them.

Question:  My question is about the Gaza report.  You said in your opening remarks that the Board of Inquiry is not a judicial body or a court of law and that it does not make any legal findings.  But the second recommendation of the Board is that the UN should take appropriate action to seek accountability.  You also mentioned that you are going to seek reparations, that is a separate recommendation.  My question is what actions will be taken to seek accountability?

Secretary-General:  As I said in my opening statement and my follow-up questions, at this time I do not see that it is necessary for me to establish any further inquiry on this issue.  And whatever the cases there may be, where appropriate, I will take some action on a case-by-case basis on this.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, is the Secretariat or any of the UN bodies seeking to stop the use of children in armed conflict and tend to examine the extent of Hamas’ alleged use of children as human shields in Gaza?  I believe there was a petition that was going to be submitted to your Office asking for such an inquiry.  Have you gotten such a petition and, if so, have you taken any action on it?

Secretary-General:  As a matter of firm principle, it is a totally unacceptable situation to use children against any international humanitarian law.  That must be eliminated wherever, whenever it may happen by any country, any group or any individuals.  As you may remember, last week, I have appointed a Special Representative on violence against children and I have made quite a strong commitment to eliminate such intolerable and unacceptable human rights violations of children and women and all other persons particularly when it comes to children like child soldiers and children being used for forced labour and all other purposes; those practices must be eradicated.  The United Nations has a firm commitment and we continue to do that.

Question:  Just as a follow-up.  Did you receive any petition, which I believe was supposed to be submitted by some human rights organizations, asking for a specific UN inquiry into Hamas’ alleged use of children as human shields in Gaza?

Secretary-General:  I am sure that my Special Adviser on children and armed conflict will look at this case, whatever complaints have been received.

Question:  There has been a lot of focus about President Obama’s first 100 days and I am curious to know your take on how relations between the United States and the UN had gone over the course of first 100-plus days.  And perhaps you could be specific in some of the details.

Secretary-General:  First of all that I am very happy to work with President Obama and his new team.  They have shown great commitment and support for the United Nations.  President Obama has shown strong commitment for multilateralism.  This is very encouraging.  I have had many opportunities of engaging with President Obama, including my own formal meeting at the White House in early March.  I have been able to discuss many important issues with President Obama.  And I am very much grateful for his strong commitment and support for the United Nations on all global issues.  I sincerely hope that the United States will continue to exercise such leadership and participation in working together with the United Nations in addressing many global issues and many regional conflict issues.

Question:  Because of the new relationship that you have with the Obama Administration, was there any pressure put on your office for you to water down the report that you were talking about on Gaza and to only issue a summary to the Security Council, robbing the Palestinian people of their day in the media, once again?

Secretary-General:  First of all, I would like to categorically reject any impression, any word, called “watered down”.  I told you that this Board of Inquiry is independent.  I respect the complete independence of this report.  You may ask all our senior advisers who have been working on this.  I do not have any authority to edit or change any wording on this conclusion and recommendations.  You should have no doubt about that.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.  You said in your statement that your busy schedule is hectic and you were not able to give a press conference last month, which is understandable.  In fact, you have been very dynamic in the past five months, travelling to every continent, meeting Heads of States, attending meetings and, in general, advancing the cause of peace and development around the world and yet some of your critics, both inside of the UN and outside, say that you have been travelling too much and staying away from Headquarters for too long, letting decisions pile on your desk.  What is your answer to these critics?

Secretary-General:  I admit that recently I have travelled extensively away from Headquarters but in this era of communications, you should understand that wherever I may be staying there is absolutely no problem, no difficulty in communicating and consulting with our senior advisers or the Government leaders of any Member State.  I have been receiving telephone calls any place in the world with any Government leaders or ministers, prime ministers and presidents.  So, as far as performing my duties as Secretary-General, I do not see that there was any such gap.  My physical absence from Headquarters had made it very difficult to meet you in person like this, as we are engaging and meeting my colleagues at the United Nations.  I regret that I have been away, but you should also understand that I have been receiving many invitations and there are many such multilateral settings where my presence is essentially required.  In many cases, I was the convener of multilateral meetings like the donor conference on Haiti, donor conference on Somalia, and I was invited by many multilateral summit places like Summit of the Americas, African Union meetings, League of Arab [States] summit meetings.  All those are very important responsibilities of a Secretary-General.  I hope you will understand this.

Question:  How many countries did you visit since you took office, and how many miles did you fly, and how many days did you stay in the office, on average?  I know you keep that data very updated, and you ask your staff to do so.  And would it be wrong to say that you spent more time on the red carpets than in the office?  And, if so, how can the UN Secretary-General strike the right balance between being the top world diplomat, and, on the other hand, exert your function as UN Secretariat top manager, and also being the guardian of the UN Charter?

Secretary-General:  First of all, I haven’t counted how many countries I have travelled to so far.  But, as you know, sometimes I had to visit the same countries many times.  Therefore, I have to count again how many countries, in terms of number of countries ‑‑ I’ll let you know later.  In terms of distance I have travelled, I have not calculated this year.  But as of last year, I think I had travelled almost 450,000 km last year.  This is about 13 times around the globe ‑‑ so that means I have been travelling more than one [time] around the globe every month.  That has been quite hectic.  Now, you have asked quite a pertinent question, how to strike a balance between being a top diplomat and being a Chief Administrative Officer ‑‑ that I try to balance and I spend quite a significant amount of time and energy on managing this Secretariat.  As you may ask any senior officers; quite a significant amount of time I spend on managing, to make this Organization more reformed, to meet the expectations of the international community.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, I appreciate the number of calls you’ve made to the President of Sri Lanka.  Some questions have arisen about the UN’s objectivity and protection of civilians there.  What people are saying is that, for example, the number of civilian casualties were compiled by the UN, but not released.  Recently, there have been satellite photos that were taken by UNOSAT, but, unlike in Gaza and Sudan, weren’t released.   When UN staff were detained in IDP camps, nothing was said until the question arose here.  NGOs were driven out of the northern part of the country and nothing was said.  I guess what people have wondered is why in this conflict you didn’t call for a ceasefire, only for a humanitarian pause.  Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar went, and you said there was a commitment to a humanitarian assessment team.  I don’t mean to make a litany here, but why is this conflict different?  Are you, in fact calling for a ceasefire?  If the Security Council can’t discuss it, would you invoke Article 99?  What’s your view of civilians standing there getting bombed from the air?  It seems like you’re treating it differently than you have from the situation in Gaza certainly, and Darfur, on humanitarian grounds.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much for your question.  It is very important and useful that the agenda ‑‑ this issue of Sri Lanka should always be kept as a high priority on the agenda of the international community.  That is why I have been spending, again, quite a significant time in addressing this issue.  This morning, I had a quite lengthy telephone call with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa covering all the pending issues.  The highest priority is on the humanitarian issues ‑‑ how we can protect the civilians still caught in the war zone.  The situation is quite worrisome at this time, where we have not been able to see much progress in evacuating people trapped there.  We have been trying to provide, through ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and our UN Mission, to provide humanitarian assistance, but it is far [too] short to feed them.  As far as UN staff detained, I was told this morning that all the people whose names have been provided by us have been released.  This is what he told me this morning.  That was encouraging.  I have again and again urged him to allow the UN humanitarian team into the conflict zone, not only these IDP camps.  John Holmes was able to visit the IDP camps and humanitarian teams were able to visit there.  Since they are still confronting militarily, this is a very difficult situation, even for the Sri Lankan Government to ensure safety and security.  While the Sri Lankan Government is allowing us to approach by ship through ICRC, my position was that it’s not enough ‑‑ they should be able to land and deliver all humanitarian assistance and assess the exact situation; how many people are trapped and how the international community can help them evacuate safely to a safe zone.  I am working on that, in close coordination with many members of the international community.  As you know, already, many European leaders, foreign ministers also have visited ‑‑ some parliamentarians from Europe are going to visit.  We will continue to do that until we can see the end of this, a resolution.  I have made it quite clear to President Rajapaksa that the United Nations stands ready to provide any post-conflict facilitation.

Question:  Have you thought about sending an envoy?

Secretary-General:  That, we will discuss later on.

Question:  Mr. Secretary-General, thank you.  You spoke about crises in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Nepal, but nothing about Pak-Afghan region, especially in Pakistan ‑‑ the rise of Taliban insurgency and the grave situation that prevails for peace, and with the Pakistan Army confronting the Taliban in Swat region now.  Does the UN have any role in this situation, sir?  And secondly, where does the inquiry commission on the Benazir Bhutto investigation stand?

Secretary-General:  For your second question, we are still looking for a third member for this Bhutto Inquiry Commission.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to find an appropriate person, who will work on that.  I am working very hard to establish that Inquiry Commission as soon as possible.  The United Nations has been very closely cooperating with the Pakistani Government in their very efforts to address these very difficult challenges.  Recently I have appointed, as a Special Adviser on Pakistan, Mr. Jean Arnault, and he has been meeting in the Group of Friends for a Democratic Pakistan, which was held in Tokyo last month.  We are working very closely with many countries in the world.

Question:  How much chance do you have of seeing in September in New York the next G-20, organized under the big and more enthusiastic umbrella of the United Nations?  What do you do to achieve that goal eventually?

Secretary-General:  I am not in a position to tell you clearly what the status of this next meeting of the G-20 would be in September.  In my understanding, at the time of the G‑20 Summit in London was that there was a proposal to have a G-20 summit meeting in New York at the time of the General Assembly.  Since then, there has not been any further consultation on this matter.  But I think that there will be a G-20 summit meeting around that time, and I understand that the countries concerned are now discussing this matter.

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