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

22 March 2010

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

22 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.  Right after this briefing, at 12:30 p.m. today, the President of the General Assembly will hold a press conference about World Water Day.  Oqil Oqilov, Prime Minister of Tajikistan, and Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly, will also participate in that press conference.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General returned to New York early this morning, having completed his visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory over the weekend.  Yesterday morning, he visited Gaza, where he saw the problems resulting from Israeli closures, which he said cause unacceptable suffering.  He added, however, that the Israeli Government has recently approved a United Nations request for a number of humanitarian projects that will include 150 housing units in Khan Younis, inside the Gaza Strip, an area he actually visited on Sunday.  He said this was a welcome first step, although he would like to see more.

The Secretary-General also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials yesterday.  At the meeting with the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General told the press that he believes that proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians should lead to direct negotiations between the two concerned parties.  He added that he would report to the Security Council about his visits and last Friday’s Quartet meeting in Moscow, which he also participated in.

On Saturday, he met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and told him the UN was committed to work together with the Palestinian people and help their cause to complete negotiations on a settlement of all core issues within 24 months.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) until 23 March 2011.

After that, Council members heard a briefing from Michael von der Schulenburg, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Sierra Leone, about the Secretary-General’s latest report on the country.  He spelled out several major challenges, including the need to fight youth unemployment, the problem of illicit drug trafficking in the region, the effort to combat corruption and preparations for the 2012 elections.

The Security Council continued discussion of Sierra Leone in closed consultations.

** Darfur

The Joint Special Representative for the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, was in Paris this weekend for peace consultations with Abdul Wahid Mohammed Al-Nour, the leader of a key splinter group of the Sudanese Liberation Army, a one-time rebel alliance fighting Sudanese Government forces in Darfur.

According to the UN-African Union mission, Gambari encouraged Al-Nour and his alliance to join the peace process.  He also asked for greater cooperation on the ground between Al-Nour’s forces and the UN-African Union peacekeepers.  Gambari urged Al-Nour to help ease humanitarian agencies’ access to those in need.  Gambari also met with high-level French Government officials, including the top diplomatic UN and African affairs advisers to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

On Sunday, Gambari spoke at the International Donors’ Conference for the Development and Reconstruction of Darfur, which was held in Cairo.  And we have copies of his address available.

**Water Day

As I mentioned, today is World Water Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General stresses the vulnerability of water resources and says water is connected to all United Nations goals.  He says the world has the know-how to become a better steward of water resources.

And this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General opened the General Assembly’s High-level Interactive Dialogue on Water.  In her remarks, she also said that the sustainable management of water resources was vital for economic growth, safeguarding essential ecosystems and achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.

**World Urban Forum

We also have in our office the Secretary-General’s message to the World Urban Forum, which opened today in Rio de Janeiro.  In it, the Secretary-General says that conditions in slums are a violation of human rights.  He says that helping slum-dwellers to reclaim their rights will do more than improve the lot of individuals:  it will strengthen society as a whole and protect our shared environment.

**Press Conferences

And finally, just to mention a couple of press conferences tomorrow.  At 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, the Prime Minister of Tajikistan will hold a press conference on the Millennium Development Goal Awards and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Tajikistan.

And at 1 p.m., the Coalition for the International Criminal Court will hold a press conference about the resumed session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and pressing issues to be debated.

That’s what I have for you.  I am happy to take questions, and then, as I mentioned, at 12:30 p.m. there will be a press conference with the President of the General Assembly.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Regarding the visit of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to Gaza.  There have been accusations that Mr. Ban Ki-moon took sides with regard to the conflict.  Also, he has been accused of not taking anything symbolic with him to Gaza like bringing two trucks of humanitarian aid, the same thing like he did in Chile.  Also Mr. [Mahmoud az-]Zahar accuses him of meeting only selectively the representatives of the Palestinians.  Mr. Fayyad, whoonly has two MPs, was met by Mr. Ban Ki-moon, whereas others who have more than 80 per cent of the votes were not met, like Hamas, for example.

Spokesperson:  The visit was extremely even-handed and extremely intense.  There were meetings with a wide range of people.  This has to be seen in its correct context.  It is an extremely critical time, an extremely critical moment for the Secretary-General to be visiting.  He was coming from the Quartet meeting, which had issued an extremely clear statement, and he was then able to meet representatives of the Palestinian Authority, including, as you mentioned, Prime Minister Fayyad, and he was also able to meet people on the ground in Gaza. 

He went there; he did not bring things in his hands or bring trucks with him, but he did bring an announcement that five projects have been agreed to by the Israeli authorities, by the Israeli Government, and we will be working to implement them as soon as possible.  That includes being able to complete 150 of the housing units in the complex where the Secretary-General was yesterday.  I was with him, I saw this.  This is an enormous complex.  When completed, it will house hundreds of people.  And the emphasis here has to be on being able to complete this project.  It is a first step, and the Secretary-General made clear in all his public pronouncements and in his meetings with Government officials that this is a very welcome first step, but we need to do much more to be able to address the clear suffering and deprivation that there is in Gaza. 

And finally there were, as I said, there were very wide-ranging discussions and the Secretary-General made it very clear what needed to be done, and was extremely clear also in pointing to the need for these proximity talks, which are a very important development once they start.  These proximity talks should lead to direct talks between the two parties.

Question:  Since today is the Water Day, did Mr. Ban Ki-moon raise the issue of water with the Israelis, who are denying the Palestinians water for a long time, especially in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  Well, interesting that you should mention that.  One of the projects that has been authorized is to help to establish a number of sewage treatment works.  This is very directly related precisely to this point.  Okay, more questions?

Question:  I have a few questions.  One is, there are two controversies, well there’s probably more than two, but there are two controversies about blocking of broadcasts I wanted to ask you about.  One involves Ethiopia -- the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, on the record blocking Voice of America broadcasts, calling them “destabilizing” and saying that they are similar to the radio in Rwanda.  And also Iran; there is a controversy of Iran blocking the BBC and the Voice of America.  I’m wondering if the UN, the Secretary-General, has any response to these, particularly since Ban Ki-moon appointed Meles Zenawi as the head of finance for climate change.  What does he think of this blocking of broadcasts?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I’m struggling to see the connection between climate change and barring radio stations.

Question:  Really, concerning that post, do you think it is an honour, number one, and it is a statement on leadership, so I’m just wondering?

Spokesperson:  I still don’t quite see the connection, I have to say, Matthew.  I’ll need to look into precisely what the facts of the matter are here.  You’ve talked about a controversy.  You haven’t really spelled out exactly what this involves, but I think the Secretary-General has made clear in the past, and will continue to do so in talking freedom of the media, that it is everyone’s right to have free access to information, however that information is delivered, and radio is one of the ways that one can deliver information.  And in particular, in some parts of the world, where other forms of media are less readily available, it is even more important.  Next question?

Question:  The next is, there is, as I’m sure you know, a big report in the Wall Street Journal today about the failure of UN peacekeepers to be disciplined for sexual abuse and exploitation.  Two things:  it is reported that in the case of the Moroccans in Côte d’Ivoire, despite extensive evidence, there is no evidence that anyone ever was disciplined.  And in the case of the Sri Lankans in Haiti, it said that only three of 23 found to be involved were in fact disciplined.  So since we have heard “zero tolerance” so much, what is the explanation in these two high-profile cases for such a lack of discipline, and how does it square with the zero tolerance statements?

Spokesperson:  Well, it squares very easily with the Secretary-General’s zero tolerance policy, which DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and DFS [the Department of Field Support], they continue to work to ensure that it is fully implemented.  So the reason why I say this is because, as you well know, the accountability in such cases lies with the Member States.  It is up to the Member States to ensure that justice is delivered.  And the article in the Wall Street Journal flags concerns which are shared by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Support, and that is there needs to be indeed an increased transparency and also that we need to continue to engage Member States to ensure that there is the accountability I just talked about.

As you know, cases of sexual exploitation and abuse and indeed other misconduct statistics are now on a public website and they’re being updated, as you’ve heard.  And on accountability, both Alain Le Roy, who is the Head of Peacekeeping, and Susana Malcorra, who heads Field Support, both of them have and will continue to impress upon Member States the importance of addressing this and combating impunity.  Both of them will be giving a briefing soon to talk about all kinds of aspects of the work that they deal with in peacekeeping operations.

Question:  Seems like, and this is just one follow-up, it seems like the main thing the article raises is that it was not the UN that disclosed that there was no discipline in the case of the Moroccans, it was the reporting by the Wall Street Journal.  So in terms of transparency, there is a website, it does list overall numbers, but there is no nexus between being repatriated and any reporting of discipline done or not.  And I think that, I guess I’m wondering what is, if you use the word transparency, what is the UN’s rationale for not itself disclosing what discipline is meted out or not?  Even if it can’t mete out discipline, it can report when it happens or doesn’t happen.

Spokesperson:  Well, because often the information that is supplied is partial, I mean not complete.  So it is a question of how you supply that information.  If you wanted to give a complete picture, then you need all the information and often that is not the case.  Next question?

Question:  If I am correct, the United Nations has regretted the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban political prisoner who died on hunger strike, as you remember.  Right now there are other political prisoners on hunger strike, too.  My question is, beyond regretting, does the UN consider Zapata’s death as a violation of human rights?

Spokesperson:  Look, what I’ve told you already, and I said it very clearly, is that the Secretary-General joins others in regretting the death of Mr. Zapata and that is all I have to say on the matter.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General raised any other questions on the Gaza situation?  I have a specific question on the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] office in Tel Aviv.  Has Mr. Ban got any word from the Israelis that they will accept to open the office in Tel Aviv?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that particular subject being raised.  I am not aware of that.  Many other topics were raised, as I mentioned to you.  It was a chance to give a readout on the Quartet meeting and to convey the messages that were very clearly articulated in that statement to both the Palestinians and to the Israelis.  It was a chance to hear from people on the ground how they view things, both Israelis and Palestinians, and indeed in Gaza, to hear from people on the ground and from the UN staff who work there in quite difficult conditions to help people living in difficult conditions.  And it was a chance for him to be updated on all of those.  I did not hear, as far as I recall, any mention of that.  That does not mean it was not discussed, but I am not aware that it was.

Question:  Do you have an updated report or an update on the situation in Haiti in relation to the food distribution, as well as a cracking down on the sexual violence targeted at women?  There have been reports on this going on and the situation is not as desirable as we generally see.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any updated readouts on food distribution and so on, but I think that, again, this is something that can be addressed later when we have a briefing by Mr. Le Roy and Ms. Malcorra.  And we can also, of course, get more details from the Mission there.  I am aware that there are patrols that are carried out by UN police and Haitian National Police, patrols that are carried out 24 hours a day, so at night as well.  And this is clearly a part of efforts to try to address the clear problem that there is.  In addition, I know that when the Secretary-General was in Haiti for the second time and visited one of these large IDP camps, internally displaced people, he spoke out again very, very clearly about the need to tackle this.  And furthermore, I also know that local people are organizing themselves, including men, who are organizing themselves to try to help women and girls in these camps to feel more secure.  It is something that we take extremely seriously.  And I know that the UN is doing its best to work with the Haitian National Police to try to ensure that people can feel safe where they are in obviously difficult circumstances.

Question:  Martin, this is in relation of the visit of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to Gaza and the Occupied [Palestinian] Territory.  By calling repeatedly that the Palestinians should go to proximity talks and then to direct talks, whereas the United Nations has not been able to enforce [Security Council] resolution 1860 (2009) with regard to lifting the blockade on Gaza, doesn’t that augur on behalf of the Israelis, who want to force the people to negotiations under duress, under siege?  Doesn’t that seem as imbalanced by the United Nations to take this side?

Spokesperson:  This is not about taking sides; this is about a difficult peace process.  It is about very difficult circumstances and many years of efforts to try to bring the sides closer together.  There have been ups and downs through that process.  No one is saying that this is going to be easy, least of all the Secretary-General, and he has simply made clear that there is no alternative in the end to direct talks.  Proximity talks are not an end in themselves; they are a route to direct talks.  And he did not hear anything on his trip from Palestinians or Israelis to suggest that they did not concur with this assessment.  And indeed, obviously everyone realizes this is difficult but they also realize this is a critical moment and it is time to give this a try.

Question:  The case is that these are these people who are under occupation, under siege; they have been denied their rights for many years, especially in Gaza.  They have been under blockade for over three years now.  And the United Nations has resolutions.  Shouldn’t the Secretary-General focus more on implementation of the resolutions of the United Nations and Security Council?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General spoke out very clearly when he was in Gaza and when he was meeting Israeli officials about the need for this closure to be lifted, for crossing points to be opened, for there to be free access for materials and for people.  He has made that very clear.  There was a first indication that there is the chance of an easing of that, because the Israeli authorities authorized these projects, which will involve taking materials in to cover the projects that I mentioned.  It is also another example where clearly it is not easy but the Secretary-General went to Gaza to be able to meet people on the ground, to be able to empathize with them and to explain to them what the UN is trying to do and what the UN is doing, day in, day out on the ground.  The Palestinian people, the Gazans he met, were extremely appreciative.  They know they need more and they said they needed more, but they were very appreciative of the efforts of the UN, particularly of the people who work on the ground with them every day to help them with education and all kinds of other areas of work that is going on there.  I think the notion that the Secretary-General is not speaking out about this is not correct.  He was extremely vocal about it.

Question:  Do we expect that more trucks are going to enter Gaza very soon?

Spokesperson:  We expect more to be done and we have asked for more to be done.  And I know that this will be something that is addressed by people on the ground, and the Secretary-General will also continue to bring this up.  As you know, he is in frequent contact with leaders in the region.

Yes.  This is the last question because I have the President of the General Assembly waiting.  Okay?  One last question.

Question:  As I’m sure you know, Kai Eide has been quoted over the weekend describing his talks.  He says…

Spokesperson:  It was last week actually, Matthew.

Question:  Yeah, with the Taliban.  There’s an article; this is what I wanted to ask you about, and this is what gives rise to this question.  There is a quote in the Pakistani newspaper The Nation, quoting a UN diplomat saying:  “This is personal, you see.”  Of Kai Eide, “he met Taliban in personal standing.  The UN does not subscribe to the personal initiatives of individuals they take outside their offices,” and he said that the UN might issue an official statement in this regard, expressing disassociation with Kai Eide’s comments.  So I’m saying that has been reported.  So what I’d like to know is what is the UN’s position on what Kai Eide said?  Did, as this says, as some un-named UN diplomat says, were his contacts in his personal capacity or in his role as the Head of UNAMA?  And also Susan Manuel, also on Afghanistan, the Spokeswoman for UNAMA, has been quoted as describing a pull-out of UN staff from Kandahar in advance of the proposed…

Spokesperson:  That is already two questions, Matthew.

Correspondent:  No, they’re all in the same country.

Spokesperson:  No they’re not.  There are two questions.  I will answer the first one, okay?  Because I cannot keep the President of the General Assembly waiting.  The former Special Representative of the Secretary-General was expressing his personal view and opinion, and we do not have any further comment on that.  I would simply note that contacts on the ground are at the discretion of the Mission and its leadership.  And at no time was Kai Eide instructed to speak to the Taliban.

Question:  His comments were personal, but were his contacts not personal?  I mean, I just want to…  He has contacts.

Spokesperson:  His contacts on the ground are at the discretion of the Mission and its leadership.  At no time was Kai Eide instructed to speak to the Taliban.  What he said in his interview with the BBC last week, he was expressing a personal view or opinion and we don’t have any comment on that. 

Okay, thanks very much.  To be continued, I’m sure.

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