|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
Good morning to you.
Welcome to our briefing with Catherine Bragg, who is the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. As you know, Catherine is here to brief you on the situation in Chile, and to take your questions. So, please, over to you.
[Press conference on Chile by Ms. Bragg issued separately.]
Okay. Thank you very much, Catherine. Thank you. I do have a few points that I could add, and I can take a few questions.
In addition to what Catherine has mentioned to you, the Secretary-General spoke with President [Michelle] Bachelet of Chile last night. He again expressed his condolences and reiterated that the UN is ready to help and the UN would do its utmost to make the items requested by the Chilean Government available as swiftly as possible.
In its first consultations for March, the Security Council adopted its programme of work for the month. And then at 12:30 p.m., quite shortly, the new Council President, the Ambassador of Gabon, will here to brief you here in this room about the Council’s work.
**Secretary-General in Los Angeles
The Secretary-General is about to speak shortly 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 United Nations. And he will note that he first came to California as an exchange student 50 years ago -- an experience that opened his eyes to a new world.
And he will talk about the challenges the United Nations faces, particularly the climate threat, the fast-approaching deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the need to empower the world’s women. And he will talk about the UN's work in places from Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti. And we have that speech available in my office.
And as I think you know, the Secretary-General will be returning to New York this evening.
**Statement on Togo
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the presidential election in Togo.
The presidential election scheduled to take place in Togo on 4 March offers a crucial opportunity for the country to continue to strengthen its democratic institutions, and foster national cohesion, stability and sustainable development.
The Secretary-General calls on all political leaders and institutions to ensure that the election is credible and peaceful and reflects the will of the people of Togo. He calls on all segments of society to refrain from any action likely to exacerbate tensions before, during or following the poll. The Secretary-General reiterates the continued commitment of the United Nations to support the electoral process in Togo.
**Deputy Secretary-General -- Beijing Declaration
Addressing the General Assembly meeting commemorating [the fifteenth anniversary of] the Beijing Platform of Action, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said earlier today that, 15 years after the adoption of that Plan of Action, there have been many good and promising developments in women’s empowerment issues. These include legislative change, sector-specific initiatives and efforts to improve data collection on women.
The challenge now is to expand and apply such gains more widely and systematically. Even so, a big challenge remains how to close the gap between law, policy and aspiration, on the one hand, and the daily realities for billions of women and girls, on the other. And we have copies of her remarks in my office.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS -- better know as UNAIDS -- has launched a five-year action plan to address gender inequalities and human rights violations that continue to put women and girls at risk of HIV infection. The Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV calls on the UN system to support Governments, civil society and development partners in reinforcing country actions to put women and girls at the centre of the AIDS response, ensuring that their rights are protected.
The launch took place at a high-level panel during the fifty-fourth session on the Commission on the Status of Women today, and we have more on this in a press release available from my office and also online.
Just to come back to Haiti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that providing people with waterproof shelter materials is the top priority at present, ahead of the rainy season. And the United Nations and its partners are working to distribute as much plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and tents as possible. OCHA says that, to date, more than 523,210 people, or 40 per cent of those in need, have received emergency shelter materials. An additional 232,000 tarpaulins and 22,000 tents are in the pipeline and will be distributed immediately upon arrival.
And concerning food, since the earthquake, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have provided food assistance to more than 4.3 million people in Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country. WFP is now assisting Government authorities to plan a more targeted food distribution, which is scheduled to start in the second week of March. These distributions will benefit some 300,000 families -- that’s an estimated 1.5 million people -- with a full food basket, including rice, beans, corn-soya blend, oil and salt.
We have an update today also from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about the displacement of Iraqi Christians following recent unrest in the northern city of Mosul.
The influx of displaced Christian families from Mosul city to nearby districts in the Ninewa governorate has slowed down over the past few days. As of yesterday, the total number of internally displaced persons is now about 4,320, an increase of about 200 people since Saturday.
There are protection concerns for the Christian families remaining in Mosul, including unconfirmed reports that they are confined to their homes out of fear for their safety; Christian university students are reportedly not attending classes and workers are not attending their places of work.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, today called on the Egyptian Government to immediately order its security forces to stop using “lethal force” against unarmed migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai desert. Her call came after the latest in a series of some 60 fatal shootings over the past two and a half years. Pillay also called for an urgent independent inquiry into those killings by State security forces and the wounding and disappearance of dozens more people on the Egyptian side of the Sinai border with Israel since July 2007.
I was asked yesterday about our reaction to the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of Bangladesh. I can tell you that the United Nations system in Bangladesh is closely monitoring the situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and hopes that all will unite to help the recovery from this tragedy in a spirit of peace for the greater good of the nation. And the United Nations stands ready to provide targeted assistance to those in need, in close collaboration with the Government.
I was also asked about who the focal point is on the Cambodia Tribunal. It’s Patricia O’Brien, the Legal Counsel. And we’re aware of the requests for someone to be available for a briefing, and we’re looking into how we can do that.
**Press Conferences Today
And just briefly, a couple of press conferences. Just to remind you that, at 1 p.m., the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a press conference about the General Assembly draft resolution on global road safety.
At 2 p.m., there will be a UNAIDS press conference about AIDS and the needs of women and children.
And then at 3:30 p.m., the Chief Traffic Police Inspector of the Russian Federation will be holding a press conference, also about road safety, specifically in the Russian Federation.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, who is also the Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform, will be here to brief you.
And at 12:30 p.m., Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, will be here to brief you on events planned for International Women’s Day, which this year will mark 15 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
At 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) will hold a press conference about a new publication called The World Map of Women in Politics 2010, which is a joint publication by IPU and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.
I also see that Jean Victor has joined us. So, I’ll try to be brief in answering questions so I can hand the floor to you before we then have the briefing by the President of the Security Council.
So, I’m happy to take any questions you might have.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you specify the trip by Mr. Secretary-General to Los Angeles to talk with Hollywood to mobilize, to try to talk about global issues? Can you specify exactly the details about that? Is it like, “I want Steven Spielberg to make a movie about this issue or the other”, or talking about the UN, or doing some filming here at the UN, I don’t know exactly, or appointing more actors as Ambassadors?
Spokesperson: Well, I think it was very wide-ranging and difficult to encapsulate in a brief answer. It’s part of an outreach project to ensure that there is a good link, a very solid link between the United Nations and the work that it does and the values its stands for, and the work that Hollywood is doing -- obviously, an industry that can reach many millions, or billions, of people in a very persuasive and effective way. So, the conversations that the Secretary-General has been having with various people, whether it is directors or producers or actors, other members of the community there -- the entertainment industry in the broadest sense -- it was a chance for him to spell out what it is that the UN’s priorities are in its work, and how the Secretary-General sees the relationship between Hollywood and the UN. This is not about the UN saying: “Make a film about this.” Clearly that’s not how it works. But it is important for Hollywood, people who are already very much engaged in many different ways on lots of the different topics that the UN deals with -- it’s a way to engage with them in a more direct way. And as you’ve also heard, the Secretary-General is speaking at the University of California- Los Angeles (UCLA), and his remarks there will give you an indication of what has taken him to LA, as well. I think that that would help you to give an overview. Okay, so, other questions?
Question: Hizbullah issued a statement today in reaction to the report of the Secretary-General on implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), stating that the Secretary-General was biased towards Israel. What is the Secretary-General’s reaction or response to this?
Spokesperson: Well, no immediate and specific reaction to that response. I would simply say that the Secretary-General’s report is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s a detailed report that is required under resolution 1701 (2006). It’s very detailed and it does not go beyond what has been said in the past in that sense. But we don’t have any specific reaction to what you‘ve just mentioned.
Question: Can I follow up on that?
Question: In the report, he said that the shepherd who was kidnapped near Shaba’a Farms was kidnapped from territory which is not known to the UNIFIL [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]. Did UNIFIL really conduct a thorough investigation on that? And did they establish that this shepherd was not in Lebanese territory?
Spokesperson: Well, two things. One is that the report has gone to the [Security] Council. In due course you will be able to see it. I don’t think you will have read it just yet necessarily. And the second point is that on this specific case, I’d need to get back to UNIFIL to find out more about that.
Question: But it’s mentioned in the report, which I have read already, that the investigation is not finished, although, according to the Lebanese Army, they have established, and they said in their report which was conveyed to the Secretary-General by a letter from the Representative of Lebanon, that the investigation which was conducted by both the Lebanese Army and UNFIL have found out that it was Lebanese territory where he was kidnapped. And it’s striking that there is a conflict between the report of the Secretary-General and what the Lebanese Mission’s letter sent to the SG.
Spokesperson: As I said, I’d need to go back to UNIFIL to find out more about that to be able to answer you in greater detail.
Question: Martin, is there up-to-date news reports and so forth on Chile? Maybe I missed it, I was late. Was there a formal request from the Chilean Government to the Secretary-General for help?
Spokesperson: I guess, Masood, yes, you did miss it, in a sense. We had a briefing with Catherine Bragg, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. And as was mentioned already yesterday, a letter was sent, not just to the United Nations, but the United Nations did receive this letter. It also went to many national Governments, as well. This was the very specific request for very specific items. And that’s where we are. And I also mentioned before you came into the room that the Secretary-General did speak to the President of Chile, that was yesterday evening, and reiterated the UN’s readiness to provide assistance if requested by the Chilean authorities.
Question: That request has not come through?
Spokesperson: Look, they have made a very clear request for very specific items. And as Ms. Bragg made also very clear, the Chilean Government is coordinating the relief effort on the ground. It’s a very strong Government and a very effective Government that’s experienced in dealing with earthquakes. So, we are working with Chile to the extent that they require our assistance, and we’ll help them in whatever way they require assistance, in whatever way they ask us to help. And that’s the form it has taken at the moment.
Question: Sure. I have two questions, on MONUC [the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and Sri Lanka. About MONUC, 50 Congolese human rights groups and Human Rights Watch have written to the Government there saying that Colonel Zimulinda, or Zimurinda, should be prosecuted for war crimes in Shalio. And they have also raised separately a concern that the UN’s Amani Leo operation that’s about to begin in the Congo will somehow, may work with Colonel Zimulinda’s unit. I’ve asked DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations], but I am not clear on their answer. Is MONUC… does it hear the call of the groups and does it preclude working with Colonel Zimulinda, or would it consider working with him on Amani Leo?
Spokesperson: Well, there are a number of questions there. Do we hear the voices of different NGOs? Clearly, we hear lots of voices out there, including the Security Council, which laid down very strict parameters on what is admissible and not admissible in the way that MONUC conducts operations with the forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That would be very strictly adhered to. In other words, if there is evidence that anyone has been involved in atrocities, crimes against humanity, the UN, MONUC, is not going to be working with those people. And that’s very clearly spelled out, and that’s what’s being looked at, as you quite correctly said, this follow-on operation has not yet started, and it’s precisely because MONUC is very carefully looking at the contingents that it will be working with.
Question: I would follow up, except I know time is limited. So, I wanted to ask you the question about Sri Lanka, if I could. It has been… the President there, [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, has extended emergency rule even though this is months after the internal war is supposedly over. He has extended emergency rule. Former UN spokesman Gordon Weiss has been quoted in an Australian TV programme that just aired as saying essentially that the Secretary-General was lied to by the President. What he says, and it seems important to nail this down, he says, for months the Secretary-General was told by the President, of heavy weapons: “We are not using them. There are no heavy weapons used. When one leader speaks to another you speak in good faith and accept assurances. If you are told a barefaced lie, it is very difficult to work against that.” What I am wondering is, given that the Secretary-General has said he’s considering appointing some panel for accountability, he was considering, I believe, if I understand you correctly, in February, sending Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe there. Where do things stand, particularly given the UN’s own former spokesman for Sri Lanka saying that the UN was lied to, essentially?
Spokesperson: Where things stand [are] where they were before, and what I mean by that is that, firstly, the Secretary-General has indeed made it clear that he is looking into the possibility of there being an independent commission to help [advise the Secretary-General and] the Sri Lankan authorities to look into the allegations that there are. The second is on Mr. Pascoe’s announced visit, as it were. We’re still waiting to find out exactly what the dates are for that.
Question: Is there any response to what Gordon Weiss has said, that the communication to the Secretary-General turned out to be patently false?
Spokesperson: I am not going to comment on that. There is one thing I did want to… It was just handed to me.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Nigeria
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nigeria.
The Secretary-General continues to follow political developments in Nigeria closely. He recognises the challenges currently confronting the country as it continues to develop its democratic system and encourages Nigeria’s leadership and institutions to work together in the greater national interest, respecting the rule of law and ensuring adherence to the country's Constitution.
The Secretary-General sends his best wishes to President [Umaru] Yar’Adua during his continuing convalescence. At the same time, the Secretary-General wishes to encourage all Nigerians, their leaders and institutions to continue to support the efforts of Acting President [Goodluck] Jonathan and the Government which he leads to help the country overcome its current challenges.
Okay, so, that’s what I have for you. Thanks very much.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Yesterday the President of the General Assembly H.E. Ali Abdussalam Treki met with the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Mr. Michel Sidibe, to discuss the Organization’s efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. Mr. Sidibe emphasized that combating HIV/AIDS is key to achieve Millennium Development Goals. Mr. Sidibe stressed the need for African countries to coordinate their national efforts to improve the fight against HIV/AIDS, further promote prevention and provide treatment and care. The President of the General Assembly commended UNAIDS for its important efforts. He supported the call for regional regulatory framework to ensure affordable treatment.
Also yesterday, president Treki met with H.E. Mr. Crispin Gregoire, Permanent Representative of the Commonwealth of Dominica, and Chair of CARICOM committee for the commemoration of the international day of remembrance of the victims of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He also met with H.E. Raymond Wolfe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica and Chairman of the permanent memorial on slavery committee. Ambassador Gregoire discussed with President Treki the framework for the 2010 commemoration, which will take place on 25 March. Dr. Treki reiterated his full support for this important initiative. Ambassador Wolfe briefed the President of the General Assembly on the status of the permanent memorial project. Dr. Treki expressed his full support for the project.
That’s what I have for you today. Questions? No. Thank you, and good afternoon.
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