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

15 March 2010

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

15 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, everybody.

**Secretary-General in Haiti

The Secretary-General returned in the early hours of this morning from a visit yesterday to Haiti, where he met with President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive in Port-au-Prince and he also visited a camp for displaced people in Petionville.

Speaking after his meeting with the President, the Secretary-General praised the Haitian people for their courage and sense of solidarity in these difficult times.  He said that, even though time has passed since the January earthquake, the world would not forget Haiti.

He noted that the revised flash appeal for the year, totalling $1.4 billion, is 49 per cent funded.  The challenge, the Secretary-General said, is to maintain the spirit of solidarity with Haiti through the forthcoming donors’ conference and beyond.

He highlighted the progress made in supplying emergency food and water.  And meanwhile, tents and tarpaulins have been supplied to approximately 60 per cent of the 1.3 million people in need, with the aim of reaching everyone by the end of April.  We have his remarks to the press in my office and online.

**Timor-Leste

The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) expressed its sorrow at the untimely death of the Mission’s Deputy Special Representative, Takahisa Kawakami, who passed away overnight, of natural causes, at his residence in Dili.

Takahisa Kawakami, a Japanese national, had served as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in Timor-Leste since September 2008.  He had also served in UN missions in Afghanistan and Cambodia.

A press release from the Mission is available in my office, and we’ll also have a statement from the Secretary-General a little later.

** Afghanistan

Staffan de Mistura has taken up his duties as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, arriving there on Saturday.

He said on his arrival in Kabul:  “Whatever the United Nations will be doing in Afghanistan will be done to assist both the stability and the socio-economic improvement of the Afghan people.”  That effort, he added, will be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) also announced today that all UN staff who had temporarily moved following the attack on a guesthouse in Kabul last October, have now returned to the country to resume their duties.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

** Chile

And in Chile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that three inter-agency teams ‑‑ composed of members from various UN programmes and partners, such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and the European Union ‑‑ completed assessments of the needs for the regions of Biobío and Maule last week.

The teams identified the following key needs:  shelter; water and sanitation; education and epidemiological control; and access to health services.  Based on the assessments and coordination meetings in-country, the UN agencies and partners are now finalizing the project proposals to apply to the Central Emergency Response Fund ‑‑ from which, as you may recall, the Secretary-General has authorized the release of up to $10 million.  And we have more on this in the situation report available in my office.

**Water Report

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have released a new report on the world’s progress in providing access to sanitation and drinking water.

In it, they say that 87 per cent of the world’s population ‑‑ or approximately 5.9 billion people ‑‑ now use safe drinking-water sources.  The world is on track to meet or even exceed the drinking-water target of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

However, almost 39 per cent of the world’s population ‑‑ or over 2.6 billion people ‑ still live without improved sanitation.  And if the current trend continues unchanged, the international community will miss the 2015 sanitation goal by almost 1 billion people.

We have more on this in a press release available from my office, and you can find the report online.

And while on the subject of water, we do have in my office the Secretary-General’s message for World Water Day, which is next Monday.  And on the question of the MDGs, just a reminder that at 10 a.m. tomorrow, here at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General will brief Member States about “Keeping the Promise” ‑‑ his report laying the groundwork for the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, to be held here in September.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

And I’d like to remind you that tomorrow, at 12:15, the Secretary-General will hold a press conference here in this room, just after he has finishes talking to the General Assembly about progress in implementing the Millennium Development Goals.

The Secretary-General will also talk to you about his forthcoming trip to the Quartet meeting in Moscow, which will be followed by his visit to the Middle East.  And he’ll also discuss his just-concluded one-day visit to Haiti in advance of the donors’ conference at the end of this month.

The Secretary-General will be holding bilateral talks with the Russian leaders before the Quartet meeting in Moscow.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Matthew, welcome back!  We missed you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I’ve got a few questions.

Spokesperson:  Hope you haven’t lined them all up from the previous week.

Question:  No, no, no, these are all fresh, believe it or not.  One is, did Vijay Nambiar travel to Myanmar?  There are some reports that the letter described by the Secretary-General some time ago at his stakeout was in fact delivered by Mr. Nambiar.  Can you confirm or deny that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I have seen one report, not some reports.  I’ve seen one report, and I have been in touch with Mr. Nambiar, and he says it’s not true.

Question:  Okay.  Can I also, I wanted to ask…  This came up on Sri Lanka…  There is a quote, maybe you’re going to say, maybe this won’t be true either, but, quoting Farhan Haq of your Office, speaking to the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka, saying that in fact there may be… that the panel that the Secretary-General says that he, you said that the Secretary-General told President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa that will be set up, may in fact not be set up anytime soon.  That there is a reconsidered… that there is a lot of thought about it in terms of mandate, and some say that this NAM [Non Aligned Movement] letter has caused the Secretary-General to rethink setting up a panel.  Does he intend to go forward, and when?

Spokesperson:  Well, he hasn’t yet appointed a panel of experts, and this would be, as I’d mentioned to you here, to advise him on accountability issues as they might apply to Sri Lanka.  And he is still considering such a panel’s terms of reference, and is in contact with his advisers, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on this.  No persons have been suggested to him as experts yet.  And it’s unlikely that such a panel will be actually established very soon.

Question:  So, who will be suggesting these people, and when you say not soon, he’s informed the president he’s going to do it, so I guess it’s, to me, it seems fair to say:  when is he going to do it?  A month, two months?

Spokesperson:  It’s a fair question, you’re absolutely right.  And the Secretary-General has said that he intends to appoint a panel of experts.  But he hasn’t said yet exactly when.  And as I’ve just said to you, it’s unlikely that that would be established very soon.  And as for who is putting forward names, as I’ve just said, the Secretary-General is in touch with his advisers, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  Martin, the Israelis are showing no lenience now; they’re proceeding to build the new settlements in East Jerusalem.  Is there anything the Secretary-General is going to suggest on the Quartet, in order to put more pressure or apply anything to make the Israelis come to order and concede with the request of the Quartet?

Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen first off that the Secretary-General put out a statement last week, and there was also a statement issued on Friday by the Quartet itself, that condemned Israel’s decision to advance planning for these new housing units in East Jerusalem.  And the Quartet, which, as you know, will be meeting in Moscow on the 19th at the principals’ level, which means including the Secretary-General, has agreed to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground.  And as I have also mentioned here before, the aim of the Quartet will be to take full stock of the situation when it meets in Moscow on the 19th.

Question:  On the continued blockade of Gaza, will that issue be raised in the Quartet meeting as well?

Spokesperson:  This is an opportunity for the Quartet to look across the horizon at everything that’s out there and any unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and they will not be recognized by the international community.  The Secretary-General has been very clear on ‑‑ and you’ve heard John Holmes here as well ‑‑ being very clear on what needs to happen with regard to access to Gaza.  Further questions?

Question:  Okay, Somalia and then internal justice.  On Somalia, there was this Law of the Sea filing, filed by Somalia but with a Memorandum of Understanding with Kenya about Somalia’s off-shore rights, and [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah coordinated it.  There was some controversy about it some months ago and now, I think on Friday, the UN’s website now says, now acknowledged that the MoU with Kenya was voted down by the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] parliament and is non-actionable.  What I’m wondering is what, since this was a UN, given the UN’s involvement in trying come up with this joint Kenya-Norway funded plan, what now?  Is there any response by whatever the office is, Ould-Abdallah’s office in Nairobi, to the rejection of his action by the TFG parliament?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen any.  But let’s ask.

Question:  And also, there was this case, I believe it was Thursday, maybe of last week, there is a case in the UN Dispute Tribunal in front of Judge Adams.  I think its Bertucci v. the United Nations, in which he issued a couple of orders saying, ordering an official to come before his court and produce evidence, and the OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] person said that she’d informed her bosses, but they hadn’t said who the person that he was speaking about was, and the person never came.  He said this is kind of an abuse, that it undermines the rule of law for the Secretariat to disobey his orders.  Now, I’m wondering what the Secretariat’s reasoning is for not complying with an order of its own internal Dispute Tribunal.

Spokesperson:  Again, I’d need to find out about that.  I don’t know about that in detail.  So, I prefer to seek some guidance on that, okay.

Question:  There is a story today that the Yemeni authorities have seized an Iranian ship off the coast of Sumatra.  Do you have any information about that or any…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, no, I don’t have anything on that, no.

Question:  Martin, still any comment on that new date for the exit strategy for the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia], apparently for 2014?

Spokesperson:  This is not something for the Secretary-General, is it?  This would be something for the Security Council.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment, opinion on that, as of course they were talking before [about] 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and now 2014?  It seems to me that they are moving silently forward; and beside that the mandate is absolutely in the hands of the Security Council, does the Secretary-General have anything to say on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, precisely because it’s a matter for the Security Council, that’s why the Secretary-General would not want to prejudge anything that they would have to say on the matter.

Question:  One question on Somalia ‑‑ I apologize if this was asked on Friday ‑‑ there was a report of the French and the Somali pirates, suspected Somali pirates to the authorities in Puntland, which of course is not a recognized part of Somalia, and I wondered if that was congruent with advice that the Office of Legal Affairs has given this Somali contact group, piracy contact group, because previously it seemed like they had settled on Kenya as being the prime location.  Not a question for immediate answer, if it’s something that needs to be looked into.

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, any question is for me to answer if I can.  In this case, this sounds like something to ‑‑ of course, I can check with OLA on the advice that’s been given in the past, but this sounds like it’s something that you need to ask the French about.

Question:  On Sudan, I think you will have something on this, but there may be a follow-up.  There is this controversy about the April elections in which one of the main opposition parties has actually… they’ve criticized the UN and the Government and the National Elections Commission for printing ballots, shifting a contract they had in Slovenia to one in Sudan, which they say is a Government-contracted printer of ballots, and they say this is somehow both a waste of money and may undermine the fairness of the elections.  I understand that the UN has tried to say it has no role in that; but given, they’ve asked for UN investigation of this and the UN does have this big UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] peacekeeping mission, what is the UN’s role with regard to the elections, and what does it think of this shifting of the printing of ballots at much higher cost to a Government-affiliated printer in Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have seen, there is a statement from, or a press release from, the Mission, from UNMIS, they’ve put out a press release, and I would refer you to that.  It’s quite detailed.

Question:  I know.  The only reason I’m asking it here is that the Umma party has said that “this requires an investigation by the Secretary-General”.  So, I just wanted to know whether, at the Secretariat level, given the importance of this election to all that the UN has been doing there for years, there is something… basically, the press release of UNMIS says we have no role in this substantive thing, we only provide technical assistance.  But it seems like, if this is something that’s caused doubts about fairness in Sudan itself, I just wondered, the UN’s just going to stand behind UNMIS’ statement and, therefore, the election?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, it’s not a question of standing behind the statement if UNMIS is part of the United Nations, and UNMIS has a very clear mandate.  And it’s very specific what it said in that press release, and that’s the first thing.  And the second thing is that they are the people on the ground, and they provide the guidance back to the headquarters and this is the guidance that’s been received.  And these people on the ground know what they’re doing.

Question:  I guess, and this will be the last thing, I just wonder… I mean, sometimes it’s either a Member State or in this case an opposition party, if they have some kind, if they feel that the UN on the ground is not operating fairly, and they say, we want the Secretary-General to look at it, I guess sometimes the Secretary-General does and sometimes doesn’t.  Is that fair to say or…? I don’t think it’s always the case that, whatever the UN does on the ground, Headquarters says, we stand behind it.  So, they’ve asked, their request wasn’t to UNMIS, it was to the SG, that’s why I’m pursuing this.

Spokesperson:  Look, if a specific missive of whatever kind has been directed very specifically at the Secretary-General, then I’m sure there will be some response.  But I’m not aware of that.  Okay.

Question:  Martin, I just wanted to know, maybe you’ve talked about this earlier.  This in regard to this UN Commission on the Benazir Bhutto investigation.  Have you heard from the Commission that they’re going to delay this process, because they’re supposed to give a report at the end of this month?  I believe that they have been given more evidence and they’re sending a team back to Pakistan.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  As far I know, they’re still on track for the end of this month.  But let me find out.

Question:  So I heard, but then I also heard that they’re now aware that they have some more evidence that is to be presented to them; they’re sending somebody back to Pakistan, and…

Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, maybe you’re ahead of me.  I’ll see what I can find out.  [The Spokesperson later added that the Commission said that it has not asked for an extension past the end of its current mandate.]

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, right.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, and hope to see you this afternoon, thank you.

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