Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

20 January 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

20 January 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

 

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Secretary-General at Ceremonies on Haiti

Okay, I just wanted to update you on a number of things; Haiti-related, some of them, and some of them not.  But let’s stay with Haiti for the time being.

This evening at 6:00, the Secretary-General will participate in a mass to remember those who died in Haiti.  The mass will be presided over by the Permanent Observer of the Holy See, Archbishop Celestino Migliore.

And yesterday, as I’m sure you know, the Secretary-General marked the one-week anniversary of the earthquake by laying a wreath in honour of the victims at 4:53 p.m. precisely, and by calling for a moment of silence throughout the UN system to remember those who died.  And, as you will have seen, there were many staff and delegations and other representatives present.  The wreath laying was followed by a candlelight vigil.

Question:  Where is the mass?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  Where is the mass?

Spokesperson:  It’s taking place at the church which is right opposite, exactly, the Church Centre, right opposite here.  [He later clarified that the Church was on 47th Street between First and Second Avenues.]

**UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)

The funeral and burial of Hédi Annabi, the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, will take place in Tunis on Friday, 22 January.  And Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy will be representing the Secretary-General in Tunis.

And in Brazil, tomorrow, which is 21 January, 2010, a memorial service will be held for Luiz Carlos da Costa, the former Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti.  And the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro later today with close family and friends of Mr. da Costa to attend the ceremony.  And another ceremony and his burial will take place in New York on Saturday, the 23rd. 

And today, at 5:15 pm, there will a memorial service will for Guido Galli at the Church Centre (First Avenue and 44th street).  And we have been requested to extend this invitation to all friends and colleagues of the UN family in Haiti. 

And of course, memorial services for all our colleagues who’ve died are being planned individually, and there will be a service for all of them in the next few weeks.  This will happen as soon as we have gathered fuller information on the extent of our loss, and once the next of kin have been notified and have had the opportunity to arrange their private services.  And obviously a date for this memorial service will be shared with you as soon as possible. 

And when we have information about services for individual colleagues, we will of course share that with you.

** Haiti

As you know, John Holmes will be here to brief you in more detail on what’s happening on the ground in Haiti.  That will be at 1:30 p.m.  But I just wanted to flag a couple of things:

On the search and rescue front, international teams there are reporting that four more people were rescued yesterday, and that brings the total of lives saved by those teams to 121.

Search and rescue of survivors remains a top priority.  And we are doing everything we can to rescue every survivor possible.

But we are also starting to shift our central focus to aid delivery; effective and timely distribution of assistance is clearly an extremely high priority.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the affected population is receiving an increasing number of relief supplies, including medical assistance, food, water and shelter.  And the delivery of assistance is increasingly moving beyond Port-au-Prince to other affected areas such as Jacmel, Carrefour and Leogane.

And OCHA says that the central coordination role of the United Nations for humanitarian assistance is fully recognized by all concerned.  Humanitarian aircrafts are being prioritized and the system in place at the extremely congested Port-au-Prince airport is improving all the time.

And concerning health, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) say that currently, more than 30 health care teams, including from local and international organizations, are supporting Government efforts to treat the injured and ill.  And these organizations are procuring shipments of supplies from Santo Domingo, helping to ensure quicker availability.

Let me also flag that Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP), is on her way to Haiti.  And she should be able to start assessing the situation in Port-au-Prince tomorrow.  During her two-day trip, Sheeran will visit those affected by the earthquake and meet Government and relief agency officials.

And as you know, since the earthquake struck, the World Food Programme has been streaming humanitarian assistance into Haiti, opening up air, sea and land corridors.  And so far, WFP has distributed approximately 1 million food rations to around 200,000 people in and around Port-au-Prince.  So, that’s on Haiti.

** Sri Lanka

I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General is concerned about the growing violence in the lead-up to the presidential election in Sri Lanka, including the reported killing of political activists.  He appeals to all parties in Sri Lanka and their supporters to show restraint and refrain from violence, to adhere to the electoral laws and rules, and to avoid provocative acts throughout the election period and its aftermath.  The peaceful conduct of the first post-conflict national election is of the highest importance for long term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

**UNRWA

The Secretary-General, following consultations with the Advisory Commission of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has appointed Filippo Grandi, of Italy, as the Commissioner General of UNRWA.  That appointment takes effect today, with Grandi replacing Karen AbuZayd, of the United States.  The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Ms. AbuZayd for her tireless and dedicated service to the Palestinian people and excellent leadership of UNRWA at an important juncture.

Grandi has been the Relief and Works Agency’s Deputy Commissioner General since September 2005.  He’s been a strong advocate for the rights and dignity of Palestine refugees and an excellent manager.  He’s also been instrumental in the success of UNRWA’s comprehensive and far-reaching management reforms.

The Secretary-General has also announced the appointment of Margot B. Ellis of the United States as Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, replacing Filippo Grandi.   Since July 2008, Ms. Ellis has been USAID's Acting Assistant Administrator for Asia.  And we have more information on both Mr. Grandi and Ms. Ellis upstairs.

** Gaza

UN Agencies in Gaza, and the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing over 80 NGOs (non-governmental organizations), today warned of the impact of the blockade on Gaza on the health of Gaza’s population.  And they’re calling for an immediate opening of Gaza’s crossings. 

Max Gaylard, the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said, “The continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is undermining the functioning of the health care system and putting at risk the health of 1.4 million people in Gaza.”

Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during the fighting one year ago, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.  Operation “Cast Lead” damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals, and 43 out of its 110 primary health care facilities were either damaged or destroyed.

**Alec Collett

There will be a memorial service for Alec Collett, whose remains were found in Lebanon last November, at the UN Church Centre across the street, here in New York, tomorrow morning, from 11:15 to 12:15.  The ceremony is being organized by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, for whom Mr. Collett was working when he was abducted in Lebanon 24 years ago.  His widow, Elaine Collett, will attend, and you are all invited.  And Nicholas Fink Haysom, head of the Political Unit of the Secretary-General’s Executive Office, will represent the Secretary-General at the ceremony.

That’s what I have for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A busy place, the Church Centre.

Spokesperson:  Right.

Question:  I was not very good at arithmetic, but yesterday the Secretary-General said 90 people had been pulled out of the rubble, now you said four [more].  When I add 90 to four, I don’t get 121.  Could you help me on that? 

Spokesperson:  The latest figures we have are 121.  The number who were reported, as I said, to have been pulled out overnight, that’s the figure I gave you:  four.  The figure of 90 is what we had at that time, and it may not have been exactly up to date.  But the latest we have is 121.  As you know, there are 43 teams, rescue teams on the ground, which is an unprecedented number; and 1,700 rescue workers in those teams.

Question:  All 121 were taken alive out of the rubble?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  And where?

Question:  Can you give us an update on the UN staff, who’s confirmed dead and who’s unaccounted for, because those numbers have been jumping around too, I’m a little bit confused; I’m wondering where we stand on those?

Spokesperson:  Right.  The number confirmed dead is 49 at this point, and we have more than 300 unaccounted for.  But as we’ve stressed before, the number of people unaccounted for is likely to go down because we were able to account for people, for example as telecommunications have improved.  And indeed, that number of unaccounted for people has been going down.

Question:  Any clear idea of how many people were in the Christopher Hotel wreckage?

Spokesperson:  You mean recovered or not yet recovered?

Question:  Not yet recovered.

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have a clear picture of that, no.

Question:  Two questions:  One’s Darfur and the other is corruption.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  On Darfur, I wanted to know, there has been this call by one of the rebel groups that UNAMID [the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur] should provide patrols.  They say that a town in north Darfur has been bombed by the Government.  So, I’m wondering whether UNAMID has heard that and whether it has gone out to check that.  Also, it’s reported that Chad has informed the UN that it does not want the mission, MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad], for Darfur spillover issues -- does not want it renewed in March.  I’m wondering what the UN’s response to that is?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  On UNAMID, I haven’t heard about this.  I’ll check and we’ll get back to you on that.  On Chad, we’ve been engaging in discussions with the Government of Chad over the past weeks regarding the renewal of the Mission’s mandate, MINURCAT’s mandate, which expires on 15 March.  And the Government has raised with us its concerns regarding delays in the deployment of the MINURCAT force, and the development of infrastructure support for the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS).  We’re working to address these and other matters.  And Government representatives have conveyed their willingness to work with us to tackle these outstanding concerns.  And so, we’ll be sending a team to Chad in the next few days to discuss these matters with the Government.

Question:  Just very quickly, just before the earthquake in Haiti there was a pretty detailed Associated Press [AP] report about the cancelled procurement task force in the investigation division of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services].  It painted a picture of the UN, that they’re saying the Under-Secretary-General banned many investigations, investigations cancelled.  I wanted to know, one, I didn’t really see a UN sort of response to this story, which is understandable.  But, I wanted to know factually, the story describes a memo by Michael Dudley, the acting head of the investigation division, saying that employees of third parties and former UN staff are not under the jurisdiction of the investigations division; and that investigations into either should be stopped, which to many would seem to be really a step back by the UN to track down corruption where it occurs.  Does that memo actually exist, and what is the UN’s response to this damning story?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the memo, I don’t really have anything specific on that.  What I can say is that investigations continue.  Investigations continue. And what I would like to do is, we’re aware very much of this story; the AP story, we’re very much aware of it.  And I’d like to come back to this at the next briefing and give you a much fuller response.  As I say, we’re aware of it; and we do wish to respond to it.  And that I would like to do tomorrow.

Question:  That would be great.  And just to know whether, just factually, whether the memo exists, now that it’s been reported on, if it could be released and explained…?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I heard what you said, and I think that will be part of the response that comes. 

Question:  I know that there was some toing and froing a couple of years ago in the General Assembly.  Was this procurement division simply something the Secretariat organized?  Or was it mandated then withdrawn by the General Assembly?  And any of the General Assembly…  Can you check on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, as I said, we’re aware of it and there is guidance in the works, and that’s why I want to be able to come back to it in detail tomorrow.  But we’ll add that to the list of points.

Question:  There has been a report that some of the peacekeepers in Haiti are moving money from the banks.  I wanted to know if you could confirm this and if there is any update that you may have?

Spokesperson:  What do you mean by “moving money from the banks”?

Question:  Well, I supposed, you can’t -- after the rubble, after the banks fell there was money lying around, they’re trying to relocate it.  These reports that we’ve heard, and I just wanted to know if they’re true or not, because the UN peacekeepers are actually supposed to be in charge?  It is assumed that they’re the ones in charge of moving this money, according to reports.  So, I wanted to know if you had any updates on this or and if you know of it.

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things.  The UN indeed through its peacekeeping mission has as a very central part of it mandate -- security in the country clearly [is] first and foremost at the moment, in the capital.  It’s absolutely correct that in the earthquake many banks were destroyed, along with many other buildings, including the Finance Ministry.  It’s a priority amongst many others; but it is clearly very important to ensure that the banking system, as you heard earlier from Rebeca Grynspan, can function so that the money can flow one way and another.  There is the intention, with UN support, to establish a number, between 30 and 40 places around the city where money will be available.  Now, whether that’s really a bank or not remains to be seen -- exactly how that will be done.  The intention is to enable people to have access to cash, which they haven’t been able to have.  But the specific point that you’ve raised, of UN peacekeepers or police securing cash that’s lying around -- that I haven’t heard specifically.  But my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] may have more information on that, and we’ll try to see whether we can find out between now and within the hour, when John Holmes is here, perhaps we’ll have information so that he could provide that.

Question:  Two questions:  One on Haiti, and one about the appointment of Grandi.  About Haiti, about the rescue operation, the number is 121, if I understood?  Of those, because we heard a report saying that some of those people that were actually alive, because they didn’t have the proper medical attention, they actually died.   I mean, some of them died.  I don’t know the numbers; I don’t know whether it’s a percentage.  The question is, as for today, does this include the people they actually saved?  Then do they have the proper attention, medical attention?  There is some improvement on that?  Because, after you find somebody alive and then they die because the reason is they don’t have the proper attention, that puts the rescue operation, I don’t want to say useless, but…

The question abound Grandi is:  the appointment of Grandi today, you said that he’s a manager, he the expert, he’s the right person, but the fact that Italy is a country that has the most important role at this moment in the peacekeeping operation in Lebanon.  Did it influence the appointment to put an Italian for the Palestinian, for this other position, which has nothing to do, of course, with the other, but did it have some influence in that, or will the appointment have carried through anyway?

Spokesperson:  You’ve answered the question yourself.  It has nothing to do with it.  And on Haiti, on the rescue efforts, I will need to check.  But my understanding is that the 121 people who have been rescued alive have stayed alive.  But, we need to check, and if there is some different information that comes through, we’ll let you know.  You’re absolutely right that some people have, unfortunately died, after having been rescued.  I think that you have to look at the magnitude, the scale of the task that both the rescuers and the medical services are facing.  The hospitals destroyed, many doctors and nurses having also suffered themselves, some of them killed in the earthquake -- I think you can understand that, therefore, it has been extremely difficult to get fully up to speed.  But, as you’ve also heard, not just from me, but from others; that the pace is building up, the supplies are coming in, the teams are building up the level of work that they can perform.  But, if you look at the scene there, and I was there with the Secretary-General and others on Sunday, the devastation is catastrophic and shocking.  And, therefore, you can quite imagine that, in those circumstances, there will be losses, however sad and tragic that is, there will be losses.  It’s just the scale of the thing.

Question:  Is 121 the most people ever rescued from an earthquake?

Spokesperson:  I have heard some people say that, but I think we would need to check.

Question:  I was talking to David Wimhurst yesterday by cell phone.  He wasn’t able to give me any update on the 2,000 additional troops adopted or approved by the Security Council yesterday.  Do we have any idea, or update on who is going to go where and what percentage of them are going to be allocated to what task to help the Americans and the Canadians, or is it for security?  Do you know?

Spokesperson:  There are a couple of points here.  One is that the Secretary-General has made it very clear that the decision by the Security Council to go ahead with this, to approve this request from him, was extremely rapid, and now he’s looking for an equally rapid response from the Member States.  There have been indications of interest.  I wouldn’t want to say which countries at the moment.  Four or five countries, that’s a very initial expression of interest.  There are likely to be others.  And as to the countries, as I said, I really wouldn’t want to go into the details at this point.  But, clearly from a logistical point of view, it makes sense for the countries which have already contributed troops and have logistics in place on the ground to supply additional troops or police.  And the list of countries that have people on the ground is publicly available, and it’s quite long.  And so, I think that would give you an indication…

Question:  Only five from those lists will receive initial approval?

Spokesperson:  No, no, that’s not what I said.  I said that there was, there have been initial expressions of interest, bearing in mind that the decision was taken by the Security Council this time yesterday, and there were initial expressions of interests from four or five countries, is what I have heard from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  There will be others.  They need to study how best they can slot into the picture, what kind of troops, what kind of police, engineering troops, for example.  Medical teams, for example, would be extremely useful and welcome.  And the aim is to help with security on the streets, and it’s also to help deliver the aid.  That’s important.  To be able to accompany and escort aid convoys and others, and to actually take part in these early recovery efforts.

Question:  I thought I heard yesterday that the Dominican Republic was sending 800, and that the EU [European Union] was trying to organize the police needed.  Is that not correct?

Spokesperson:  First of all, it’s correct that the Dominican Republic has offered to send 800 troops.  This is a sovereign country.  It’s up to the Haitian Government to then say when or if any contributing country would send troops.  What was your second point, sorry?

Question:  That the EU was trying to organize a police…

Spokesperson:  EU, sorry, yes.  Yes, I mean, I’ve seen those reports, and the EU police gendarmerie would clearly be a welcome, useful addition.  We would welcome that support, should it come to pass.

Question:  Martin, is it true that President [René] Préval has said “no thank you” to the Dominican Republic soldiers, first of all?  And I’m sorry to belabour the “missing” point, but, in those initial days, there were anywhere from 50 to 100 [missing] in the Christopher Hotel.  And when we were there on Sunday, they said, people who were standing around watching said it’s still 100.  So, if it is 100, that means a third of the unaccounted for are in that hotel.  Is that…  Am I jumping to wrong conclusions there?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would just urge you to be a little bit careful with the mathematics because, you know, it has been a moving target.  The figures that I mention ‑‑ more than 300 ‑‑ that’s not just from the Mission, but from other premises around the city, from the different UN agencies and so on.  For the most part, people in the other agencies outside of the Mission have been accounted for, for the most part.  But the precise figures of who remains to be recovered, one way or another from the Christopher Hotel, that’s not something that we can really nail down easily.

And as for whether the President has said yes or no to Dominican Republic troops, clearly you can ask him that.  Not you personally, but your colleagues on the ground.  I would simply repeat that Haiti is a sovereign country and it’s up to the Government of the country to say which troop contributing countries can send troops.

I’m very conscious that Jean-Victor [Nkolo] has been sitting patiently, so I’m just going to take one question from you, first of all, up the back here.

Question:  Thank you.  It’s a different topic.  On Christmas Day, an American Christian missionary named Robert Park walked into North Korea trying to protest their prison system.  And there has just been a report in the South Korean press that he has been horridly beaten in the custody of the North Koreans.  Are any of the UN officials working in North Korea involved in trying to obtain information on him, or in any way involved in some way in that case, or are there plans for them to be?  In other words, is the UN taking any interest in this?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find out.  I’m obviously aware of this case, as is the Secretary-General.  I’ll see what I can find out about that for you.

Question:  I wanted to know, again during this week of dealing with the earthquake, Jonathan Pershing, the United States’ main climate change negotiator, was quoted there.  The Guardian’sheadline is “UN should be sidelined in future climate talks, says Obama official,” and his quote is, “It is impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in every detail.”  So, it seems like, given what the Secretary-General said about the centrality of the UN, and now this statement.  I wonder if he took note of it, and what does he think of it?  And what’s he going to do about it?  If you’re doing anything about Nigerian Jos --

Spokesperson:  This is more than one question, Matthew.

Question:  If the UN is doing anything about this violence in Jos, in Nigeria, where there’s 400--

Spokesperson:  That’s more than one question.  You’re just going to have the one question answered, right?

Question:  I don’t know why…  Again, I’m going to say, I’m not sure that after a week of no questions that there’s a limit or quota.

Spokesperson:  Well, you can ask me the question afterwards and I can help you, as I always do.  I’m just trying to be courteous to my colleague here.

Question:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  But, I also have an answer to the earlier question for you, so you are double-dipping to a certain extent.  But this toing and froing has meant that I’ve now forgotten your first question.

Question:  Sure -- response to the Obama Administration saying the UN being sidelined.

Spokesperson:  Right.  First of all, the Secretary-General is aware of that report in the Guardian; the quote.  And we checked it out.  The man quoted says he was misquoted.  Okay?

And just in response to your earlier question about the AP story.  We’ve spoken with the Office for Internal Oversight Services, and they say that the allegations in the AP article on the OIOS shelving investigations and not pursuing cases is just not true.  These allegations have actually been refuted in the past, including the allegation that the OIOS has stopped investigating United States vendors.  We continue, as I said earlier, to investigate vendors.

Question:  Does the memo exist or not?

Spokesperson:  I said I’d find that out.  That’s not what I have here.

Okay, so Jean-Victor, do come on up, with apologies for the delay.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Martin.  Good afternoon. 

Just to recall that yesterday, the Acting President of the General Assembly, Her Excellency Ms. Byrganym Aitimova, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan, met with His Excellency Mr. Zhang Yesui, the Permanent Representative of China, who is President of the Security Council for the current month.  The Acting President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council discussed, in particular, the situation in Haiti, following the devastating earthquake that struck the country on 12 January.  Ambassador Zhang Yesui briefed Ambassador Aitimova on the resolution adopted by the Security Council earlier in the day, approving the deployment of an additional 2,000 soldiers and 1,500 police officers to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), to support ongoing efforts.

The Acting President of the General Assembly informed the President of the Security Council that convening of an urgent, formal plenary meeting of the General Assembly was envisaged this week, to further address the consequences and humanitarian challenges posed by the earthquake in Haiti, including the adoption of a resolution by the Assembly.

Recalling the importance of further strengthening the coordination and cooperation between the two principal organs, both Presidents stressed the key role devoted to the General Assembly in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction.  They agreed that urgent humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for Haiti, as well as the long-term reconstruction of the country, will require further coordination and mobilization by the entire international community.

That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  No?  Thank you and good afternoon.

* *** *

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