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

4 March 2010

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

4 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.

Good afternoon; welcome to the briefing, with a slight delay.  I realized that the US Ambassador was at the stakeout and thought I would wait until that was over.

**Secretary-General’s Trip to Chile

As you have heard already, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Chile this evening.  He wants to express solidarity and sympathy with the people and Government of Chile following the earthquake on 27 February.  He will also assess the humanitarian assistance effort and the scale of the disaster for himself.

The Secretary-General is expected to meet on Friday with President [Michelle] Bachelet and President-elect [Sebastián] Piñera, as well as senior Government officials in charge of national disaster and emergency humanitarian assistance.  He will reiterate that the United Nations system, through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is committed to assisting the Chilean Government and people in any way required, both in the immediate and long term.

During his visit, he is also expected to visit the city of Concepción, one of the cities most affected by the earthquake, and to meet with the staff at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and other UN agencies and programmes which have a presence in Chile.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in a meeting this morning, heard an update on the sanctions placed on Iran under resolution 1737 (2006) by the Chairman of the Council’s sanctions committee dealing with that resolution, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan.  Among other things, he noted the work that the Committee has done to try to obtain more information about arms-related materials from Iran that were found on board two ships, the Hansa India and the Francop.

The Council then continued its discussions in closed consultations.  Under other matters in those consultations, Council members heard the incoming Special Representative for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, and discussed sanctions on Sudan.

**Advisory Group

The Secretary-General has selected the members for the new High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing that will work to mobilize the financing promised for climate change during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December.  You’ll recall that the Secretary-General announced the launch of the Group on 12 February.

As you know, the Group will be co-chaired by Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.  The Group consists of 19 experts.  I have a full list of the members of the Group in my office.  And tentatively, the Group is scheduled to hold its first meeting on 29 March in London.

**Cyprus

The Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders met at the UNFICYP [United Nations Force in Cyprus] Chief of Mission Residence in Nicosia today.  And speaking to the press after the meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Alexander Downer, said that there was substantial discussion about the economy.  The leaders’ next meeting is going to be on 16 March.  At that meeting, it’s expected that there will be more discussions on the economy, as well as European Union matters.  We have a transcript of Mr. Downer’s encounter with the media available in my office.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide gave his farewell press conference today as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan.  He told reporters in Kabul that this year will be the most challenging that Afghanistan has faced since the fall of the Taliban.  He said that it is a year where negative trends have to be reversed, or they will become irreversible.

Eide emphasized that a successful transition strategy depends on a change of mindset in the international community and among Afghan authorities, in which the Afghan people take greater control over their own future.

He was asked about potential peace talks with insurgents, and responded that “it is high time that we get into this kind of a political process”.  Eide said that the reconciliation and peace process, whatever shape it takes, should get underway as soon as possible.  And we have the full transcript of that press conference in my office.

** Lebanon

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, met today with the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, and they discussed the Secretary-General’s recent report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).

Williams said afterwards that the report highlights that, despite recent rhetoric, the situation along the Blue Line has remained relatively stable, and all parties have continued to reassure the United Nations of their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).

**Human Rights

This morning in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, introduced her Office’s annual report to the Human Rights Council.

On Sri Lanka, she said the opportunity for peace and reconciliation continues to be marred by the treatment of journalists, human rights defenders and other critics of the Government.

Pillay added that she remained deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, where there has been a violent crackdown on dissent, and by the wave of executions in Sudan.

On Egypt, she said an urgent and independent inquiry into the killings of migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert must be conducted.

The High Commissioner also stressed that the United States should conduct thorough investigations into allegations of torture at the detention centres in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram.  Her full address is available in my office.

**Gender

I was asked earlier about the new gender entity ‑‑ or gender architecture.  Last December, the Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly an important reform proposal outlining his vision for the new gender entity. And it is now up to Member States to take decisive action on this long overdue reform process.

The Secretary-General has been urging Member States to expedite matters and take this up in the General Assembly as a priority.  The Secretary-General looks forward to a swift decision by the General Assembly and stands ready to appoint the senior official who will head the new entity.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

A couple of press conferences; at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by the NGO “Equality Now” about international laws that are meant to protect women against sex discrimination and the progress of implementation of these laws since the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995.

And at 11:30 a.m., Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, the Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, will be here to brief you on the situation in Chile.

So, that’s what I have for you.  I’m happy to take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to ask you ask you a question about the Congo.  On Tuesday, you’d said, in response to a question, that Operation Amani Leo hadn’t begun yet.  But now it seems that it did begin the previous weekend and that they’re working with some 18 battalions of the Congolese army ‑‑ they’ve put that number ‑‑ in providing logistical support.  I guess I had wanted to know, given all the human rights issues that have been raised about the previous support to units that Philip Alston has said burned down villages and killed people.  Will the UN list which battalions it is working with, these 18 that Mr. [Alan] Doss has mentioned, and can you describe what the logistical support consists of?  Does it involve moving ammunition for these units?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would ask you to speak to MONUC [the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] about some of these details; for example, the exact list of the battalions.  What I can say is that a lot of planning goes into these kinds of actions, and that’s mandated indeed by the Security Council:  that there must be sufficient planning that goes into any of these actions that take place.  And that is particularly important to ensure that civilians are protected.  And that’s why this planning has been under way for some time.  The Operation Amani Leo itself, officially, if you like, officially started on 1 January, but not in an operational sense ‑‑ that the planning needed to be done.  And that’s why we’re now getting to the phase where you can begin specific actions, specific operations.  On the kind of support that is provided, it is primarily logistical support, and it’s limited to the duration of the particular operation that is taking place.  And it would include, for example, providing rations and water and fuel.  And it also includes evacuating people who have been wounded and it also includes, if rebels surrender, that they are also taken away from the area where the operation is going on.

Question:  The reason I’m asking about battalions, and I’d ask you to ask them, given that the amount of reporting by Alston and Human Rights Watch and others, they list battalions that they say have committed war crimes.  So, it seems, I haven’t seen MONUC come out and say, and they’re keeping these assurances that they won’t work with units that have a problem.  But it seems like ‑‑ I’m just asking whether they can list the battalions.  And then the groups can cross-reference it with their records of crimes.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  Well, I think as we’ve said from here, and as MONUC has consistently said, in this planning stage the intention was precisely to look at the commanders and the battalions to ensure that they weren’t people who had been involved in previous violations of human rights in previous operations, and that planning for each of these specific operations would involve doing those checks.  So, if an operation has started in a particular area, as we now know is the case, then the battalions taking part will have been through that screening process.

Question:  I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were going to answer that way.  That’s why I kept asking, are they willing to work with [Colonel Innocent] Zimulinda?  Maybe you feel that you’ve answered that, I just couldn’t get it, yes or no.

Spokesperson:  Look, units commanded by Zimulinda are not receiving any assistance from MONUC.  Very straightforward.

Correspondent:  I appreciate it.

Question:  There is a high level of violence taking place…

Spokesperson:  I will need you to sit forward a little bit so that I can hear your answer in the microphone.  Thank you.

Question:  There is currently a lot of violence taking place in Iraq just prior to the elections this Sunday.  There is talk that these elections may be delayed.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about this?

Spokesperson:  The elections, as far as we understand it, are on track.  Some voting, as you know, for special groups already began today.  And the main voting is on Sunday.  The key thing is that the Secretary-General has appealed in the past for these elections to be carried out in such a way that all those people who wish to vote can do so in a safe manner.  Now, clearly, there has been violence in the run-up to the elections.  The key thing is that people do have a right to vote and should be able to exercise that right.  Further questions?  Anything else?

Question:  Sure.  There’s been an interview by Mr. [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Representative on Somalia, though not in Somalia, in which he urges UN agencies to return to Mogadishu.  But the article says UN Headquarters in New York will not allow Ould-Abdallah to relocate his office because of safety fears.  So, I wanted to somehow square…  One, is it true that he’s been, as reported, that he’s been barred from returning?  And, if he is barred, which UN agencies is he asking to go back and how would they not be barred?  I don’t understand that?

Spokesperson:  That’s a good question; I’ll need to find out the answer to that.  The key thing is, as we have heard, security is indeed extremely difficult in Somalia, and not just in Mogadishu.  However, equally, there is an important job to be done, a humanitarian job to be done.  Squaring that circle clearly is not easy.  But to answer your specific question, I’ll have to get back to you.

[The Spokesperson later added that Somalia has been at the highest level of security risk since the mid-1990s.]

Question:  And also, is there any way to know ‑‑ there is a lot of talk of the WFP [World Food Programme], but also the rest of the UN system, being unable to operate in southern Somalia given either threats or attempts to take money by Al-Shabaab.  Is there any update on that?  Are any UN services being provided in those areas and has there been any moving forward in the negotiations, I guess with the United States, on them providing aid to those agencies?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t got an update for you on that.  But I would note that Peter Smerdon, the WFP spokesman in Nairobi is available, and probably has an up-to-date picture for you.

Question:  [inaudible question on proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians]

Spokesperson:  Again, it’s really difficult to hear you if you’re sitting way back there.  But I did hear your question, just about.

Correspondent:  I can repeat it.

Spokesperson:  That’s okay, I did hear it.  I did hear it.  As I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General is going to be going to Moscow to take part in the Quartet talks, or meeting, I should say.  Clearly, any movement of this kind is welcome.  For these proximity talks to be able to start, that’s a welcome development, certainly.

Okay, thanks very much.  Thank you.

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