|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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everybody.
The Secretary-General is planning to travel to the United Kingdom next week to attend the London Conference on Afghanistan.
And after a day in London, he will then head to Addis Ababa, to attend the summit of the African Union. And while in Addis, the Secretary-General will also hold bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government.
And the Secretary-General plans to tell you more about this trip prior to his departure.
**Press Conference and Stakeout Today
At 2:30 p.m. today, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, the Deputy Permanent United States Representative to the United Nations, will speak to reporters in Conference Room 1.
And at approximately -- and I stress the approximately -- 3:30 p.m., the Secretary-General and Bill Clinton, the former United States President, will speak to reporters on the second floor of the Temporary North Lawn Building (TNLB). And as you well know, Bill Clinton is the United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
And just a brief note for tomorrow, we expect to have guests from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) join us, at 12:00 p.m., by videoconference, and they will do so on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of next week as well.
And Ms. Catherine Ashton, who is a Vice-President of the European Commission, will speak to reporters at approximately 4:45 p.m., at a stakeout position in the Temporary North Lawn Building. And we’ll let you know the exact location later today.
I just wanted to update you on a few points on Haiti.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is welcoming the establishment of a humanitarian corridor between the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti -- that is between Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince. And this will allow the speedy delivery of aid to the areas most affected by the earthquake.
And the Mission, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), says that the security situation remains under control in the capital as well as in the rest of the country, despite isolated cases of looting. And these localized incidents are mostly in areas that were already considered high risk prior to the disaster.
And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is telling us that the cluster system is now up and running and working well, bringing together NGOs (non-governmental organizations), UN agencies and all other humanitarian organizations.
And the Office is telling us that 150 flights a day are coming in and that the first ship has now arrived in Port-au-Prince with 123 metric tons of aid. And of course other ships are expected in due course. And the arrival of that first ship is because a part of the port has been made operational.
Yesterday, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Edmond Mulet, met representatives of the private sector to discuss ways for the Mission to help to secure the business sector in resuming their activities, mainly by protecting certain roads and streets, and by patrolling fuel stations and banks.
**Secretary-General on Palestinian People
I’d like to turn to Palestine, now. The Secretary-General spoke at the meeting this morning of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. He told them that he supports United States-led efforts to restart the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. And he said that, in the absence of these talks, confidence between the parties has diminished. And if we do not move forward on the political process soon, we risk sliding backwards.
And the Secretary-General added that in East Jerusalem, a series of worrisome events has not only stoked tensions in the city, but also has the potential to endanger stability in the region. And he said that he deeply regrets that the United Nations proposal to kick-start civilian reconstruction activity has not been approved. And he repeated his call to Israel to end its blockade and to fully respect international law. And we have the full remarks of the Secretary-General in our office.
Choi Yong-jin, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, briefed the Security Council this morning, telling Council members that the Ivorian electoral process has made remarkable progress in a peaceful environment.
But he also said that a contentious problem emerged when the Independent Electoral Commission cross-checked one list of one million non-traced people and produced a second list of 429,000 traced people. The dispute surrounding the second list has yet to be resolved, and it may be several weeks, therefore, before the electoral process gains speed again.
The Council meeting on Côte d’Ivoire was followed by closed consultations on the same topic. And as you know, Mr. Choi has just spoken to you at the stakeout.
And earlier today, the Security Council also adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal until 15 May.
And something I think you may also be aware of already, but just to reiterate that the new Joint Special Representative of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, will arrive in Khartoum on Friday. And he will deliver a brief statement on arrival at Khartoum International Airport.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
I was asked yesterday about Robert Park, an American missionary who walked into North Korea to protest against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea prison system.
The Secretary-General is aware, as I mentioned yesterday, and has been following this particular case. We are also aware that he is a United States national and that the United States Government is working for his release.
The Secretary-General hopes that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will release Mr. Park on humanitarian considerations, responding to the repeated calls by his family and the international community.
**Office of Internal Oversight Services Question
And I was also asked yesterday about a comment, or a memo, attributed to an official at the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) concerning whether third party employees would continue to be investigated by the OIOS. We’ve checked with the OIOS, who say that the comments about investigations into employees of third parties seem to have been misinterpreted or misquoted. The comment actually relates to a short administrative entry in the OIOS electronic case management system.
According to its mandate, established by the General Assembly, OIOS investigates reports of violations of United Nations regulations and rules. This includes UN staff members, who are obliged to cooperate with OIOS in accordance with the Organization's rules. But OIOS investigations may also extend to UN contractors; and those contractors, in turn, are obliged to cooperate with OIOS, in accordance with the standard contract terms and conditions for doing business with the United Nations. And it is not accurate to say that such contractors cannot be investigated.
So, that’s what I have for you.
As you know, John Holmes and Ambassador Wolff will be available to brief you further on the humanitarian side of the disaster in Haiti. But I’m happy to take questions on that and anything else. Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I was just checking again if there is any update as well on the figures on Haiti. And is the removal of the bodies under the Christopher Hotel finished now, or are they still trying to pull out more?
Spokesperson: The figures that I can give you are: The death toll stands for the UN as a whole in Haiti at 61. And the number of people unaccounted for is now below 180. As I told you yesterday, the figure for unaccounted is likely to go down and, as you can see, it has come down overnight or within the last 24 hours, as increasingly our colleagues on the ground are able to make contact with each other.
So, that is obviously a welcome development; that that number is going down. Clearly, that the death toll has gone up further, and as we’ve also said, it seems likely that that figure will still go up. That is something that we don’t really wish to face, but is the reality. To answer your question about whether all the bodies have been recovered from the Christopher [Hotel]; I don’t think that’s yet the case. Meaning that the number of people unaccounted for in that collapsed structure -- we’re still not absolutely certain whether we have been able to account for everybody there or not.
Question: Can we have a breakdown of those deaths? I mean, from the Montana, the Christopher…
Spokesperson: Not by location; we can’t do that at the moment. But, clearly the vast majority of the staff for the Mission were at the Christopher, those who are unaccounted for. Afterwards, I can provide a more detailed breakdown. But essentially we’re looking at 61 people who are confirmed to have died, and now less than 180 people who are unaccounted for. Yes.
Question: How many of the unaccounted -- what’s the timeframe before the UN assumes that they are under the death toll?
Spokesperson: Well, we continue to search and to look. And that is the case across the general population; not just the UN Mission and the UN as a whole on the ground in Haiti. Clearly, people want to know, to the extent possible, what has happened to their friends, colleagues and family members. We’re not putting a time frame on when we move numbers from one column to another. That’s a rather kind of clinical approach. I think what we’re trying to do is -- and I know that our colleagues on the ground with help from search and rescue and others, they’re working round the clock to find people alive or to recover their bodies. So, we’re really not putting a time limit or something like that on it.
Question: Is there an assumption that -- this is a follow up -– that some people just haven’t been able to get access to communication to report where they are; simply might be travelling to the north? What is the kind of process in accounting for those unaccounted for?
Spokesperson: Well, in accounting for people who as yet are unaccounted for, what’s been happening is that, as staff on the ground, from the Mission and from other agencies and funds and programmes, the UN as a whole, they have been trying to reach their colleagues. Increasingly that’s been possible to do as telecommunications have come back up. People have been calling in or sending text messages and so on to let folks know that they are okay. That’s the way that it’s really being… That’s the way that people are tending to find out whether those who’re unaccounted for are now alive and well. And that’s the route.
Question: I have something, please. When you say 180 unaccounted for, I assume that among the peacekeepers, the police and the military, their nations have already announced the number of the dead. So most of the 180 are among the UN staffers themselves? Is this the case, or do they still include people from the peacekeepers and the policemen?
Spokesperson: No, the figure of less than 180 -- I didn’t say 180, less than 180 -- is for anybody who was working for the United Nations or is working for the United Nations on the ground in Haiti. No distinction.
Question: Can you confirm that the Haitian Government has rejected the offer from the Dominican Republic to send 800 troops to secure the roads from the Dominican Republic border to Port-au-Prince?
Spokesperson: No, I can’t confirm that, and quite the contrary, the Dominican Republic has offered to send 150 military personnel, and they will be deployed to help protect the corridor. And I spoke yesterday to the acting Special Representative, Edmond Mulet, and he made it very clear that the Dominican Republic had offered the military personnel and that Haiti had accepted it. And those military personnel will be working side by side with the Mission’s Peruvian contingent, which is already stationed at the border. And they will be under the Mission’s Force Commander.
Question: We’d heard 800 from this platform a few days ago, that Haiti turned down from the Dominican Republic…
Spokesperson: What I understand is that there was a formal proposal, in writing, and that formal proposal was for 150. So, what status that initial figure had is probably different, because there was then a written proposal. And, as I said, 150 were offered; and this is to protect this corridor, which as you know is a vital conduit now, alongside the air route.
Question: There is some politics between the 800 and the 150, because we didn’t make either number. President [René] Préval was not happy with the Dominican Republic sending troops. That’s nothing that was invented in this house; it had to come from UN officials. Do you know anything about that?
Spokesperson: What I’m telling you is what I have here, and I spoke to Edmond Mulet yesterday about this precise subject, and he made it very clear, because he was in the room at the time, that the Dominican Republic offered, and Haiti accepted. Okay.
Question: Préval never changed his mind?
Spokesperson: You need to ask him; I don’t know. I’m not a mind reader.
Question: He didn’t say yes from the beginning. Didn’t he say no and then there was pressure…
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that. All I know is that an offer was made, and an offer was accepted. That’s what I know.
Spokesperson: I don’t know precisely when it was. I think it was the day before, but I would need to check. I will check and let you know.
Question: What the time frame was.
Spokesperson: Yes, I will check.
Question: I have a question on Haiti, and I have two questions on Côte d'Ivoire, I don’t know how you want to organize it. But, on Haiti, the UN specialized agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), is reported to be a creditor of Haiti in the amount of $13 million. There has been a lot of talk about cancelling debt. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has talked about it, other of Haiti’s creditors. I wonder whether the Secretary-General, as the head of the UN system, does he believe that UN system bodies should in fact cancel outstanding debt obligations of Haiti at this time, particularly this IFAD loan?
Spokesperson: I’ll check with IFAD.
Question: Do you have any more details about the Dominican troops; are they going to be military or police? And when are they going to be deployed?
Spokesperson: These are military personnel, and they will be working alongside the Peruvian contingent.
Question: Are they going to be deployed right now, or there is a date…?
Spokesperson: No, no, soon. I don’t know exactly when. We need to find that out, but soon. That’s the intention. And, as I said, they have a very specific role, and a rather logical one; to help patrol the corridor.
Question: From the Dominican side you mean, the corridor, or is it across the border? Where is that corridor?
Spokesperson: The corridor is, we’re talking about Haiti here. The roads
in the Dominican Republic are going to feed up to the border; and then from the border to Port-au-Prince, you need to have secured routes. And when I say secured, it’s a question of keeping them open and free for a large volume of traffic of trucks carrying supplies, including fuel as well as food.
Question: What’s the UN’s expectation of the Monday meeting, the ministerial meeting in Montreal? We just want to know what your interpretation is of what’s going to happen there.
Spokesperson: Well, obviously the United Nations welcomes the initiative to do this. This is a first, if you like, preliminary meeting. There are going to be others. As you’re aware, others have proposed similar meetings on different themes, but obviously related to the same topic. This is an important first step, if you like, and the Secretary-General has asked John Holmes to be at that meeting, and he will be. And there will be other UN representatives there, too. I’m sure that Mr. Holmes will be prepared to give you more details about what he would expect to come out of that meeting, at 2:30 p.m. when he briefs you.
Question: Flash appeal: will he be giving us new figures, or do you have that?
Spokesperson: I have some figures, if you’d bear with me. I have some figures. Okay, so: $195 million has been received so far ‑‑ received ‑‑ and $112 million pledged. So ‑‑ I was never very good at arithmetic ‑‑ but I have been told that makes 34 per cent of the flash appeal so far. And, of course, more is rolling in all the time. That was as of this morning. [He later provided updated numbers, saying that $207 million have been received, and another $106 million pledged, with the appeal now being 36 percent funded.]
Question: Is there a country breakdown that I can see?
Spokesperson: Not right here, but I’m sure that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs could provide that. And also, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, the CERF, has allocated an immediate $25 million.
Question: That’s in addition to the $10 million that [inaudible] brought?
Spokesperson: I would have to check on that.
Question: Is there an update on the number of people the World Food Programme (WFP) is feeding? Earlier in the week it was 200,000 and they hoped to reach one million by the end of the week.
Spokesperson: It’s 200,000 people who are receiving an amount that is good for three meals a day. That’s according to the WFP. And WFP has already distributed more than 1 million food rations, which amounts to 3 million meals. And, of course, more is on the way. What WFP is doing is carrying out distributions in Port-au-Prince, but also outside. We’re talking about high-energy biscuits. And also water is increasingly available.
Of course, we’re a long way from being where we would like to be, and where particularly the people of Haiti would like to be, but progress is being made. However, these conditions are extremely difficult, and the aid workers are doing their level best in those circumstances. But it is improving every day, and they will continue to work to improve it further.
Question: Sorry, Martin. I was wondering whether the Secretary-General has a reaction to some reports appearing, saying that his personal reaction was not rather as fast as it should be. Some people even went as far as saying that it is his own Katrina ‑‑ I mean, if you understand the parallel, of course. Also, for the sake of record, when was the first meeting the Secretary-General had after he learned that the earthquake happened? The earthquake happened at 5:00. So, when was the first formal meeting that he held to check about what he can do?
Spokesperson: I’m very glad that you raised this. You said “someone”, you said “some people”, have made that allusion. One person has made that allusion so far, okay?
Question: But it’s being carried in others. I mean, one person--
Spokesperson: You heard what I’m saying. There are a couple of points here. In fact, there are several, but I’ll limit myself to just a couple.
The first is, the Secretary-General was on his way back from the regional organization retreat with his advisers. He was already on his way back around the time that the earthquake struck. As he stepped out of his car, on arrival back at the Residence, he was informed about the earthquake. He immediately -- he had his advisers with him -- and he immediately ordered that they should be starting to activate the crisis management group that deals with precisely this kind of disaster.
Already, in parallel, the Situation Centre, which, as you know, is part of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and is the real nerve centre, was already in high gear -- already. And they had immediate meetings that lasted throughout the night with senior advisers. The key priority at that point was to try to reach the Mission to find out what was happening, and to contact them. This was going on.
The whole time, the Secretary-General was being updated by phone. He was, meanwhile, also speaking by phone to others. He spoke to Susan Rice, the United States Ambassador here, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He spoke to [Special Envoy to Haiti] Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, Mr. [Alain] Le Roy, John Holmes, Susana Malcorra, Edmond Mulet, who at that point was still here ‑‑ the key people were working on this, already activating a crisis plan and crucially trying to reach the Mission and other UN staff on the ground to get an assessment. At 7:30 the next morning, as daylight was already breaking in Haiti and obviously here, it was easier to get a visual assessment of what was going on. There was a meeting of the Secretary-General with key staff, the key advisers ‑‑ the Under-Secretaries-General and so on ‑‑ and it was there that it was decided that Edmond Mulet would be dispatched as soon as possible to Haiti to help, or to take charge, because at that point, we did not know what had happened to the leadership of the Mission. So, that was a first important decision.
As you know, the Secretary-General then came to the stakeout shortly after 8:00 [a.m.] and made it very clear that this was a major, catastrophic earthquake and that the consequences would be dire. You can read the transcripts. You were probably there.
Question: I’m not, of course, I don’t have the capabilities of the United Nations, but almost an hour after the earthquake happened, everybody all over the world knew that the main headquarters of the United Nations has collapsed. So I don’t know exactly… and probably, you can guess that the leadership is inside. So, just my question: the leadership is inside the building. The entire thing has collapsed. So my question actually is, at least, could he have liaised through his contacts, asked for more rescue teams to go as soon as they can? I know the entire situation in the country was dire, but since he’s also responsible for the UN, don’t you think you could have asked some of his international contacts, particularly the United States, to speed up, rather than wait for the Chinese to arrive from China on the second day?
Spokesperson: I just said to you, Khaled, that one of the first phone calls he made was with Susan Rice, with the United States Permanent Representative. That’s the correct conduit to launch precisely that kind of appeal or request, and to seek coordination -- as you know, the UN has been coordinating, and was, right from the very get-go. That’s what the Secretary-General was doing.
As you also know, a statement was put out ‑‑ and the peacekeeping chief, Mr. Le Roy, also put out a statement ‑‑ very quickly making it clear that we knew that there was severe damage to the Mission ‑‑ meaning physical, to the premises, and to the staff ‑‑ and that we were trying to find out the extent of it.
As you also know, there was an impromptu briefing late that evening in my office, where Mr. Le Roy, Susana Malcorra and Edmond Mulet were able to provide what information they had at that time, based on the contacts that they’d been able to have. I think that that speaks for itself.
Question: During the stakeout that night -- because I saw Le Roy’s statement ‑‑ I thought there was a Q&A with the Secretary-General, or am I mistaken?
Spokesperson: There was an impromptu stakeout, if you like, in my office, at… I can’t remember exactly when, it’s-- Sorry?
Question: With Alain Le Roy?
Question: It wasn’t in front of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: No, it was in my office.
Question: The issue is whether the Secretary-General could have appeared for the press that night too.
Spokesperson: As I say, his role at that point was to be in touch with the senior leadership and to be starting those contacts with leaders outside.
Question: Can I ask a question about Montreal?
Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: I’m a little bit ignorant of this. They’re going to try to actually get pledges at that conference towards the rest of what is needed for the appeal? Or is this something separate from that?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure about that. Maybe the Canadians can help you with that. Or maybe John Holmes can give you more details.
Question: Before Côte d’Ivoire, I wanted to ask you a follow up on this, the piece they were all referring to, Colum Lynch’s “Ban’s Katrina” piece. One of the other assertions in it is “peacekeepers drove past armed looters without intervening”, but he doesn’t source that. Combined with the MINUSTAH briefing that we got ‑‑ where they said the press shouldn’t be reporting on it; it’s inaccurate to say they’re looting … You’ve read the piece, if you’re criticizing it ‑‑ is that a statement of fact, that he said that the Filipino battalion drove past armed looters and did nothing. Is that false or is that true?
Spokesperson: Let’s be very clear, Matthew. What I’ve said is, that this is one report, one person’s column -- it’s entirely up to every journalist to write what they see fit. That’s not the point that I’m making. The point that I’m making is that, clearly, the senior leadership, from the Secretary-General on down, were fully engaged right from the start, right from the very beginning, and have worked non-stop since then to ensure that aid is coordinated; that work with troop contributing countries is continued; that the Security Council resolution went through in record time. These kinds of things are very clear.
The question about what peacekeepers are doing when they’re patrolling: they’re not, they do not necessarily intervene, because they have other roles to carry out. What has been made very clear is that these incidents -- yes, they are there and they do continue, but they are localized and they are isolated. The criticism that’s been made is that the picture that was being painted at a particular point was that this was right across Port-au-Prince; that was demonstrably not the case. And I’ve seen other reporting, a lot of other reporting, that makes that very clear.
Question: The piece also quotes some survivors saying, criticizing the Secretariat for being slow in providing psychological counselling or trauma services, saying it took up to four days after the event for certain people to be reached. That seems to trace more to New York than… I mean, what’s the response to that?
Spokesperson: Well, I know that, very quickly, as part of this crisis management response, trauma counsellors were in place and were starting to contact the relevant folks -- staff members. Other people were working the phones to contact family members. That was activated. And there’s a very clear, set down structure how that is done. It does not mean that… In the chaos, the initial chaos, some people could have slipped through the net, and that’s entirely possible. You know, everybody is doing their level best to reach everybody who needs help. It’s entirely possible that some did not get it when they needed it. I think that that’s, there’s an inevitability about it, however regrettable that is.
Question: Is the criticism mostly of the headline of the piece, or of the whole… Because it seems like certain facts are not disputed, it’s just--
Spokesperson: Some facts are disputed and I’m dealing with that.
Question: Mr. Choihas said he’s asked for guidance, and I’m wondering what the UN’s policy is -- a [President Laurent] Gbagbo official, who’s on the individual sanctions list, has asked to meet with him. He hasn’t met with the person because he said he’s seeking what’s the UN’s position on the ability of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) to meet with somebody on a sanctions list. I wondered if, you know, it seems like that’s something that should be known -- what is the policy of the UN of meeting with people on sanctions lists?
Spokesperson: Look. Mr. Choihas just been at the stakeout, okay, and I think he can address that himself.
Question: Well, he basically said he’s waiting to hear from OLA (Office of Legal Affairs). So I guess I’m wondering--
Spokesperson: Well then let’s wait and see what OLA says.
Question: Something else that he said. I’d asked your office this; I’d asked your office about two weeks ago, whether Mr. Choi had a relative working in the Côte d’Ivoire for the UN system. You referred me to the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). They told me, essentially, no. They said there was no current employee working for the United Nations system in Côte d’Ivoire. Today at the stakeout he acknowledged that a nephew of his worked in Côte d’Ivoire in 2008 for--
Spokesperson: Seven months.
Question: Yeah. But I mean, I guess what I wonder is why, first of all, why didn’t you just say yes? He’s now said yes. But, I wanted to know whether it complies with UN rules that an SRSG can have… whether or not he brought it about, a relative of an SRSG can work in the same country, clearly that he’s running the UN system of, without it running afoul of what are called the UN’s [inaudible] rules.
Spokesperson: You’ve spoken to Mr. Choi about this at the stakeout, I know.
Question: He’s not the arbiter of the rule, the UN rules, right?
Spokesperson: No, he’s not, but he stuck to the rules. He stuck to the rules. And a UN volunteer does what it says; the person is a volunteer. The structure for recruiting people to be a volunteer is a competitive process, okay? So, the UN Volunteer service, if you like, is separate from the Mission itself. And the Mission has nothing to do with the recruitment of UN Volunteers.
Question: In Liberia, which is a non-family-duty station, the SRSG at the time was able to bring in a close family member through UNV (United Nations Volunteers). Would that disprove the idea that there’s no connection between the Missions and the UNVs?
Spokesperson: We’re talking about Côte d’Ivoire, and I think that’s… As I say, you did have the opportunity to speak to Mr. Choi at the stakeout, I know. I’ve given you those technical details about the recruitment process and I think that’s where we can leave it. Alright?
I think that we’ll leave it there for now and we can catch up tomorrow, or if you have questions for me afterwards, I’m very happy to take them, of course.
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