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

1 March 2010

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

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

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

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

So good afternoon everybody.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Chile

As you know, at 3:34 local time in Chile on Saturday an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter Scale struck off its coastline.  And as you’ll also know, a statement was issued on Saturday morning by the Secretary-General, and in it, we said that he was very closely monitoring developments and that he’d expressed his condolences to those who lost family and friends and he wished those injured a speedy recovery.

And he has also been in touch with the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based in Santiago, for an assessment of the earthquake and information on UN staff.

**Guests at Noon Briefing

And with that in mind, we have with us, by phone, on the line, Alicia Bárcena, who is the Commission’s Executive Secretary.  And Alicia will be able to brief us on what has been happening.  In addition, the UN system in total, through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stands ready to help the Chilean Government and people.

And right after the phone conversation and a chance to ask questions to Ms. Bárcena, we will also have here, at 12:30 p.m., Radhika Coomaraswamy, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  And she will be able to brief you on her recent trip to Afghanistan.

But first of all, I’m just going to check that Ms. Bárcena is indeed on the line from Santiago.

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, ECLAC:  Yes, I am on [the] line.  I hope everybody can hear me.  And I want to say good afternoon to everybody, and thank you, Martin.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Please, do go ahead.  And I think we’ll have about 25 minutes for your introduction and then questions and answers.

Executive Secretary:  Very good.  Quickly, I can tell you that…

Spokesperson:  Please, do go ahead.

Executive Secretary:  The earthquake in Santiago, that hit Chile -- it was, it hit Chile, the whole country -- it was 8.8 magnitude on the Richter Scale.  It occurred at 3:34 a.m.  It was one of the biggest in centuries, and up to now, official reports acknowledge that it killed at least 708 people and destroyed or badly damaged 1.5 million homes, affecting almost two million people.

The country is confronting an emergency, especially in the southern part of the country.  And the epicentre of the earthquake was 325 kilometres south-west of Santiago, which is the area most affected, with the city of Concepción -- which is the [second] largest city in Chile with a population of approximately 200,000 people.  So it’s still difficult to determine the full scope of the destruction and there has been an endless string of after-shocks.  We have been with replicas since yesterday, almost 90 replicas of high scale as well.

The Government of Chile has declared six regions a zone of catastrophe:  Valparaíso, the metropolitan region, Libertador O'Higgins, Araucanía, Biobío and Maule, where almost 80 per cent of the population of the country lives.

The airport in Santiago remains suspended to commercial flights, and it will be reopened probably tomorrow, basically because the building, the terminal building, is the one that is affected, although the runway is still in good shape.  Now, the United Nations system and organizations and agencies, we have no casualties to be reported among our staff and among the families of our staff.  We’re talking about a total of people, that we are looking after, in total 2,635, including staff and families.  On the staff side, we have a total of 987 staff members and 1,648 family members.  So we’re looking after all of them.  And we still have to account for 64 staff members since we haven’t been able to locate them.  But we’re now going to their houses to find out the situation because many houses don’t have electricity or phone connections.  So, we’re sending our group of security to find them.

Now, the other thing is that we, I am the designated official here in Santiago and in Chile.  And I convened a meeting of all the directors of the UN organizations.  We are 22 of us here.  And we had to take stock of the situation, and of course, we’re in very close contact with the Government of Chile through the Minister of Foreign Affairs and through the President, Michelle Bachelet, directly.  And the President and the Government have requested very specific assistance from the UN.  Not the whole, let’s say UNDAC [United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination] mission of OCHA, but only very specific help, which [is] very specific material that comprises mobile bridges; field hospitals equipment; survival facilities; satellite phones; electric generators; structural damage evaluation assistance for hospitals, schools, public buildings; salt water purification systems; and autonomous dialysis centres, field kitchens and restaurants.

So, this help has been also requested not only to the UN, but also to the Governments of the region.  And of course, there are many Governments that are already mobilizing help.  We’re talking here about the Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico; many of these Governments are already sending, for example, field hospitals, very well-equipped -- with personnel included.  Now, of course, we have sent the Government all the areas in which the UN can support.  We are supporting the Government already with satellite phones and also we have, WFP [the World Food Programme] has offered 30 tonnes of food which are ready to be transported from Ecuador.  And we had a teleconference chaired this morning by the Deputy Secretary-General to brief everybody in Headquarters, and to make sure that everybody knows that we are here in Chile coordinating everything from ECLAC headquarters.  Our offices, our buildings, have been a little bit damaged, especially our main building.  But we are now repairing everything and making sure that staff can come back and we’re going to have everybody come back on Thursday once we ensure security for everybody.

This is what I have to say, Martin.  Maybe some questions from the people around there in New York, I’m ready to answer.

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s wonderful.  Thank you very much for that very concise and clear overview.  We have some questions here in the room, and I would ask you to -- not least because it’s a telephone connection -- please if you could say who you are as well as what your question is.  Yes, first of all, Masood.

Question:  Martin, this is Masood Haider from The Dawn of Pakistan.  I want to find out, will you recommend to the United Nations humanitarian organizations to have the same kind of flash appeal that was done in case of Haiti?  And because the damage is so extensive and you have still not been able to assess the damage, and also, in Concepción where the brunt of the damage was, was there any UN personnel over there?  These are my two questions.

Executive Secretary:  Martin, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t hear the questions at all.  Maybe they can come closer to the microphone?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, okay.  Well, I can repeat the question from here, and perhaps we can try to work with the volume for subsequent questions.  But the first two questions came from Masood, who works for The Dawn, a Pakistani publication.  He was asking about whether there would be a flash appeal along the lines of the one for Haiti. 

Question:  Does she recommend one for Chile?

Spokesperson:  And whether you would recommend that to OCHA.  And secondly, were any UN personnel in Concepción, which is obviously where the epicentre, or close to the epicentre, on land for the earthquake?

Executive Secretary:  Well, okay.  In relation to the first question, the flash appeal, we’re waiting for the Government.  This is something that the Government needs to be on board with.  This is a very well-organized -- this is the first thing I want to say -- this is a Government, very efficient, very well-organized, very quick to respond.  So, anything to do with the flash appeal or with OCHA, we have to have the concrete authorization from the Government.  They are aware that OCHA can issue a flash appeal, but we’re definitely waiting for the Government to tell us how to proceed. 

In the second case, UN personnel in Concepción, yes, we had some UN staff in Concepción.  Now we know they are safe.  We have been able to get in touch with them and we had around, let’s say, five people in the surroundings of Concepción because February is a month of holidays here in Chile, similar to August in the Northern Hemisphere.  So many people were spending the last days of their holidays.  But we have been able to account for those people.  Now, we do have 60, as I said before, some 64 people that we are still trying to find out where they are, and as of now, people are going around the city of Santiago looking for them in their own homes.  So as soon as we get a better figure, we will tell you.  But up to now, so far, no casualties have been accounted for in the UN.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Please.

Question: Alicia, Edie Lederer from the Associated Press.  I know that President Bachelet listed a whole specific list of things, which you mentioned.  But the only two things that I heard you say that the UN was possibly, was providing was satellite phones and this offer of food from WFP.  What else can it provide that’s on that list?

Executive Secretary:  The thing is the UN is ready to provide help, but still have not got any confirmation from the Government in relation to the WFP offer.  The Government has concretely requested mobile bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones, electric generators, salt water purification systems, field camps, autonomous dialysis centres, field kitchens and restaurants.  Now, what the UN, what we’re mobilizing as something very quick, is satellite phones.  We’re going to get, tomorrow, 25 satellite phones coming from Geneva and 20 satellite phones coming from New York.  So that we’re immediately giving to the -- there is a special office called here Office of Emergencies and Disaster Management of Chile, ONEMI.  So we’re in close contact with them.  Now, in the case of the field hospitals and the equipment for dialysis centres and so forth, this is being coordinated by the Minister of Health together with PAHO [the Pan American Health Organization].  PAHO is operating in a very efficient way here together with the Government of Chile.  And the rest of the things we’re finding out where can we get them.  For example, electric generators and mobile bridges.  Some countries of the region have offered this help, and they are on their way, by the way.  I think Argentina is sending already two, at least two, field hospitals that will arrive probably today, and, by, in a special flight that is coming from Buenos Aeries, because the other complication here is that the airport is closed, and therefore only [a] limited number of airplanes can land and depart.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much.  The next question.

Question:  Sure.  Matthew Lee from Inner City Press.  Ms. Bárcena, two things.  You were obviously, you know, praising the Government as many do.  It seems like President Bachelet is supposed to leave office, I believe, in like two weeks.  Is there some, one, some, there have been kind of rumblings about maybe that that would be extended in light of the emergency.  I just wondered if you’ve heard that and is, you know, as the UN, whatever, what you think of that, whether you’ve been in touch with the incoming candidate.  And also these reports of looting, just, I guess, you know, it said tear gas, water cannons.  What can you say?  What have you either witnessed or heard about this, and does the UN think that the Government response has been as proportionate and as wonderful as you said?  Thank you.

Executive Secretary:  Sorry, your question was, I mean, I didn’t get the… the bottom line of the question was?

Question:  Okay, the last part was about the reports of looting and the use of tear gas and water cannons.  I just wondered what the UN system has heard of, that if you’re monitoring that, what do you think of it?

Executive Secretary:  Well, first of all, what I have to say is that the Government, the President, Bachelet, and the incoming President, Sebastian Pinera, have been in very close contact.  They had a meeting yesterday, almost for three hours; the incoming team and the team that is departing on 11 March.  They are coordinating themselves quite, quite, very closely.  The other thing is that the head of ONEMI, this office of emergencies, Carmen Fernandez, will probably stay on because the President, the incoming President, is asking her to continue, and I think everything seems to be that she will stay on and help in the next stage.

Question:  [inaudible]

Executive Secretary:  [inaudible] the last part of the question.

Spokesperson:  Alicia, the second question was about looting.

Executive Secretary:  Looting?  What is looting?

Correspondent:  People going into stores that are broken and the police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

Executive Secretary:  Yes.  No, no, no!  What’s happening here is that yes, in certain places of Chile, basically in Concepción and in some other places there has been this kind of situation where in supermarkets and, of course, in the case of again [inaudible] stores, that people are somehow desperate because they feel they are going to run out of food.  Now, what the Government has decided to do is to reinforce the protection and the security, both with the policemen and also with the army.  Now, the army has already been out there.  There has not been any violence.  Probably the only important thing that we have been seeing here is that in one of the places -- El Maule, I think it was El Maule -- there was a prison that was on fire, so 80 of the prisoners were, I mean, they ran out of the prison.  So, that’s the most, I would say the most noticeable thing that has happened.  But there has been, of course, a little bit of, some people are a little bit desperate to get food and so forth.  But now the Government is in total control.  And no, I don’t think there has been any violence between the army and the people.  Not at all.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much.  Amy further questions?  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  So, thank you very much indeed for that.  That was most useful, and we wish you well with the work coordinating down there with the Government of Chile and with the UN agencies, funds and programmes.  And I am sure you will update us when you have more information.  Thank you.

Executive Secretary:  Absolutely, Martin.  And if any of the news people that you have there, or colleagues and friends, if they want to write to us, I am very open to answer any of their questions.  My e-mail is alicia.barcerna@cepal.org.  Maybe you can give them my e-mail and we will be very open to answering any questions.

Spokesperson:  That’s very kind.  Thank you very much indeed.  Thank you, bye for now.

Executive Secretary:  Thank you, all.

Spokesperson:  So, we’ll now be able to turn to Ms. Coomaraswamy, as I said, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  And she is here to join us.  Perhaps you’d like to sit here to avoid a warm seat.  How about that?  So, as you know from what I told you last week, Ms. Coomaraswamy is back from Afghanistan and is able to brief you on that.  So without further ado, the floor is yours.

Special Representative:   Thank you, Martin.

[Briefing by Ms. Coomaraswamy issued separately]

Spokesperson:  Okay.  I have a couple other items for you, and if you have any questions after that, I’ll be happy to help.

**Secretary-General in Los Angeles

As you know, the Secretary-General is in Los Angeles today, where he will be meeting with key players in the creative community to discuss ways that they can help support the UN’s work.

And tomorrow morning, he will deliver an address at the University of California- Los Angeles (UCLA).  And his remarks will focus on mobilizing the people of California to support the goals and mission of the UN, including its efforts to deal with climate change, global hunger and the world financial crisis.

**Deputy Secretary-General/Commission on the Status of Women

In her remarks this morning to the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has designated gender equality and women’s empowerment as priority areas with clear opportunities for progress.

And Migiro said that 15 years after the landmark Beijing Declaration, many countries have achieved gains in the areas of education, development of national laws, policy and programmes.  She said much of this progress can be attributed to the efforts of global, regional and national women’s groups and networks.

The Deputy Secretary-General also condemned the abuse of women’s rights, including sexual violence in conflict situations.  And we have copies of her speech in my office.

** Darfur

While it continues to investigate reports of fighting between Government and rebel forces in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says that it is developing a plan to increase its capacity to monitor the ceasefire signed recently between the Government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The mission says it will do so by setting up mobile monitoring teams, which will liaise with the parties and monitor the security situation and probe reports of violence.  To achieve this, the mission notes that it is crucial that its freedom of movement is not restricted. 

Meanwhile, with the Sudanese elections just weeks away, the mission has conducted training for some 7,000 national police personnel across Darfur.  The training focused on elections, human rights, civil rights and crowd management. 

**Security Council

With the start of this new month, Gabon has replaced France as Security Council President for March.  The Council is expected to hold consultations on its programme of work for the month tomorrow morning.  And then, at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Ambassador of Gabon will brief you in this room about the Council’s work during March.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors began a meeting in Vienna today, and the Director General, Yukiya Amano, updated the Board on the Agency’s safeguards work, including its recent report on Iran.  He said that the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, but it cannot confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is used for peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the Agency with the necessary cooperation.  He requested Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and its other obligations, as a matter of high priority.  And we have the remarks of the Director General in my office.

**Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri, has said that an independent committee of experts would evaluate means by which the Panel’s procedures can be implemented fully.  The independent committee will also examine any changes in procedure that may be required.

And in a statement issued over the weekend, Pachauri said the mechanism by which such an independent review will take place is under active consideration. And he added that details for setting up the proposed independent committee will be shared some time early this month.

**Press Conferences

And just to mention, there is another press conference today at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.  The Organization of La Francophonie will hold a press conference here, on their initiatives to fight violence against women.

And then, as I mentioned, tomorrow at 12:30, the President of the Security Council, Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, will brief correspondents on the programme of work for the month of March.  And at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Dr. Etienne Krug, the Director of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability of the World Health Organization (WHO), will be here to brief you on the General Assembly draft resolution on improving global road safety.  And then at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, will be here to brief you on AIDS and specific needs of women and girls.  Annie Lennox, the singer and HIV activist, and Suksma Ratri of Indonesia Positive Women’s Network will also participate in the press conference.

So, any questions?  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, do you have any reaction to what’s happening in Jerus… yesterday in Jerusalem [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the specific incident you referred to, the Secretary-General is aware of it.  There is no specific response to that specific set of incidents over the weekend.  But clearly the Secretary-General has made his views known, including last week in meetings and through me, that any incidents that stoke tension in the region are really to be avoided, and that particularly the reference to those two holy sites, that needs to be very, very carefully managed.  And the Secretary-General is indeed watching that quite closely.  Yeah, other questions?  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Martin.  I have, actually, I have three questions, but we’ll see.  There is, there’s been reported killings by the Government of Bangladesh in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region -- it’s called Operation Utorang ‑‑ and there was a demonstration in front of the UN today about it.  But also, I mean, there are various human rights groups the have called for the UN to investigate this.  Is that something that the UN is aware of?  And there is some, also calling for the suspension of the UN confidence-building programme in the area that they say is not taking into account Government abuses.  Are you aware of that, and what’s the UN’s response?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of this specific call that you mention.  But let me look into it.

Question:  Okay.  The other one is there have been questions about the Cambodia genocide tribunal, which is a UN-affiliated court, about the Government there sort of, sort of interfering in the court, and there is some discussion that it may be shut down without fully going after other of the perpetrators.  There is an op-ed or editorial, I’m not sure which, in the Wall Street Journal today calling on the Secretary-General to pay more attention to that court, to appoint an Assistant Secretary-General and make it clear that accountability will be, will be had.  Is that… can… what’s the UN’s response there?  What’s the… Who is the Secretariat’s interface with that court beyond Ms. O’Brien of OLA?  And can we get that person to speak to us about the UN and the court?  And what do they think of this call?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out specifically the answer to your question about who the contact person is, who is the focal point, however you wish to phrase it.  But, in more general terms, any of these special tribunals and courts and so on, and indeed the International Criminal Court, are there for a very specific reason.  And that is to ensure that there is accountability, that there is an end to impunity, and that people who have committed crimes will face judgement, if you like, through due process.  That’s as a general point.  I think you understand that the specific question you had, I’ll need to find out.

Question:  And just to finish that one off then.  Maybe just to… it’s a request to have Ms. O’Brien both on this court and on the Hariri tribunal.  Her predecessor, Mr. Michel, used to give some briefings.  It seems this would be a good time to maybe do that; about this one as well.  And then, just finally, and you heard me say to Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy there, I’m wondering whether UNAMA or the Secretariat has any response by this, to this announcement by the Hamid Karzai Government that the press henceforth is not allowed to cover Taliban attacks and could have their television, you know, cameras confiscated and face jail time for covering, you know, military, for covering these attacks without Government permission.  Is that something that… since, given the UN’s presence, obviously in Afghanistan, does that seem consistent with freedom of the press and what does the UN think of it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll need to look into it.  I think, again, the United Nations has been very clear throughout, not specifically in this as I need to find out more about it.  But as a general statement of principle, clearly, freedom of the media, particularly in covering armed conflict, is crucial.  The media have a very important role to play in covering, in a dispassionate sense, what is happening in a conflict -- or indeed that applies to any coverage, not just of a conflict.  But let me find out specifically what has been said and what the response is.  Okay, any other questions?  Yes, Masood.

Question:  On Friday… [interrupted]

Spokesperson:  Could you speak up, because it’s really difficult to hear you?  It’s probably better if you sit in one of the seats with a microphone in front of it.  Come on down, as they say.

Question:  No, I said, on Friday you gave us a briefing on Benazir Bhutto’s commission, what they said in Pakistan.  Could it be possible to ask this commission to at least give one press briefing over here, in New York?  Because, all they have been doing they have given like two or three.  I was there in Pakistan when they were giving all these press briefings.  What is it over here?  I mean, why they are inhibited to speak to the press over here?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you rightly say, we did give a fairly detailed read-out on Friday, and let’s see when they return what’s possible.  But I hear your request and I’ll relay it.

Question:  And also, on [inaudible], if there is any formal request by the Chilean Government to the United Nations to ask for help, could you please let us know?  Because apparently Ms. Bárcena is saying that she is there, she is assessing the damage, but there is no formal request from the Chilean Government for help.

Spokesperson:  There has been a request relayed through the Chilean Mission in Geneva.  And that request, as you’ve heard, is very specific and very detailed.  And clearly the role for the United Nations in this is not simply to provide what’s on the list, but to help to coordinate other players, other countries and organizations in supplying the very specific requests that’ve been made.  And I would point out that the Secretary-General has -- right from very early in the morning on Saturday -- has been working on this.  There was a very prompt conference called with senior advisers, and then clearly right from early on Saturday morning there has been constant dialogue with the Chilean authorities through Alicia Bárcena in Santiago.  Clearly, as also Ms. Bárcena said, the Chilean authorities are well-organized and have an efficient relief operation under way.  And they themselves wanted to asses precisely what their requirements were so that they really were asking for things that they needed most of all.  And that’s where we are right now.

Question:  [inaudible] United Nations formal fresh appeal for that area?

Spokesperson:  If you’re talking about the flash appeal, this is something that we’ll need to talk further with the Chilean authorities, whether this is what they require and how they require it, when they require it.  But clearly, as you’ve heard, there is a very good, close communication there in Santiago, and we’ll be guided by what the Chilean Government is requesting. Okay, thank you very much.

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