|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
We’re very pleased to have with us this afternoon as guests a group of visiting German journalists, who are here with us today. Welcome to the noon briefing. Willkommen.
Secretary-General Arrives in Turkmenistan
The Secretary-General has begun his travel to Central Asia, and he will arrive later today in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Tomorrow, he will meet with the Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, and he will also visit the Office of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia.
Before leaving for Central Asia, the Secretary-General and the other co-chairs of the Donors’ Conference on Haiti spoke to the press yesterday afternoon, and the Secretary-General announced that donors had pledged $5.3 billion for the next two years and $9.9 billion, in total, for the next three years and beyond.
Now, he said, it comes down to implementation, delivery on our promises, transparency and accountability. He said that we must make sure Haiti gets the money it needs when it needs it, and we must guarantee that it is well-coordinated and well-spent.
The Secretary-General added that the plight of Haiti’s people requires immediate action, including dealing with the difficult living conditions in the camps for the displaced and, in particular, reports of sexual violence against women and children. He said that he will soon dispatch the Deputy Secretary-General to Haiti to survey the situation in the camps, assess the steps that have been taken and explore areas for further action. And we have his remarks available online.
Today, Japan assumes the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of April. We expect the Council to hold consultations next Monday on the programme of work for the month. After that, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, the Council President for April, will hold a press conference to brief you on the programme of work in this room at 12:30 on Monday.
Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council issued a press statement in which Council members congratulated the Iraqi people and Government for holding successful elections.
Council members called for the political entities to respect the certified election results and the choices of the Iraqi people. The members of the Security Council also urged Iraq’s political leaders to avoid inflammatory rhetoric and actions and looked forward to the formation of the new Government, in a spirit of cooperation and respect for national unity.
Afghanistan is not only the world's biggest producer of opium, but it is also a major producer of cannabis. These are the findings of the Afghanistan Cannabis Survey, the first report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on cannabis in Afghanistan. The Survey estimates that between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis plants are grown in Afghanistan every year.
Meanwhile, UNODC says that the astonishing yield of the Afghan cannabis crop also makes Afghanistan the world's biggest producer of hashish. It is estimated to produce between 1,500 and 3,500 tons of hashish a year. The Survey is available on the UNODC website.
Last, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, has condemned the killing of two radio journalists in eastern Honduras last Friday. The latest murders bring the total number of journalists killed in Honduras in March to five.
According to press reports, José Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juárez were ambushed by gunmen on 26 March as they were driving back from hosting a radio programme in Catacamas.
“Such despicable crimes against media professionals undermine the fundamental right of freedom of information, cornerstone of a democratic society,” Ms. Bokova said. She has also called on the Honduran authorities to make every possible effort to arrest the perpetrators and put an end to this unprecedented and intolerable wave of violence. We have more on this in a press release available from the Spokesperson’s Office, as well as online at UNESCO’s website.
The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We’ll also have available in the Spokesperson’s Office the “Week Ahead” feature for next week. As you may know, tomorrow will be a holiday at UN Headquarters and the Headquarters will not be open. And there will be no noon briefing. The noon briefings will resume next Monday.
Do we have any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, in terms of the electoral monitors inside Iraq, the UN electoral monitors, how long are they planning on staying there? Is their job finished? Did they feel that the election is over, regardless of debate and political back and forth, questioning?
Associate Spokesperson: The UN actually did not have its own electoral monitors in Iraq. What we did was provide technical assistance to the Iraqi authorities and to the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq. And we do not, as a rule, monitor the elections that we provide such assistance to. So, there were other forms of outside monitors. The sort of electoral staff that we have had assisting our Iraqi counterparts, some of them will begin finishing up their work. But in terms of monitoring, that has been the responsibility for both local and national groups, and then some other non-UN international groups.
Question: Right, but I know that the UN has supported these groups, these independent bodies. And now that there is a lot political arguments going on and debate about those elections results, in what way is the UN going to continue to support those bodies?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as far as that goes, we are still on the ground at this stage. We do have electoral staff there, and we are continuing to provide advice, including technical advice, to our Iraqi counterparts. As far as discussions about the follow-up and how to deal with electoral complaints goes, those are in the hands of the competent Iraqi electoral bodies.
Question: Yes, Farhan, yesterday the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has criticized the Tribunal’s investigations and accused them of bias and fabrications. Is there any response to these accusations, serious ones?
Associate Spokesperson: I would refer you over to the Tribunal itself -- to its officials, my colleagues Peter Foster and Radhia Achouri -- for any comment about that. We don’t have any specific comment to make about what Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said. Of course, the United Nations and the Secretary-General have repeatedly affirmed our support for the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Question: Sure. I have a couple of questions. First, is the UN, can the UN confirm, and does it have any comment, or is it going to do anything about, the reported arrest of the Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau by the Government, and apparently his subsequent release? Given the UN’s involvement in that country, what does it have to say about this?
Associate Spokesperson: You’re right, we do have an office on the ground, the UN Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), and our Representative there, Joseph Mutaboba, is providing regular updates. As you may know, the situation on the ground has been changing virtually by the hour. So, we are trying at this stage to get a clear picture of what’s happening there, and we may have more to say on this once we have gotten a clear picture of exactly what events have transpired in recent hours.
Question: Sure, okay. Well, then I’ll keep posted for that. In terms of the Secretary-General’s trip through Central Asia, I’m wondering, various groups, including Human Rights Watch, have said this is an opportunity for him to address issues such as, in Uzbekistan, the failure to prosecute anyone for the Andijon massacre, as well as the abuse of political prisoners, religious minorities and others. What is the place of the issue of human rights in the Secretary-General’s trip, and specifically, is he going to raise Andijon while he is in Uzbekistan?
Associate Spokesperson: I’m not going to get ahead of the Uzbekistan portion of the trip before it happens. What I will say is: it’s always clear whenever the Secretary-General visits countries that human rights, international humanitarian law and other norms are always part of what he discusses with his interlocutors. He certainly plans to do that over the course of his trip to Central Asia. And one of the things that he is going to do in the various countries that he visits is to reach out to civil society. As you know, civil society organizations have been developing in many of these countries. We will provide you with the details of those visits as they transpire. There is nothing really to say about them just yet.
Question: There are fairly high-profile, what are called political prisoners, although the Governments disagree in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and I am wondering, does he have, when he says he’s going to reach out to civil society, can you say whether he’s actually asked to meet any imprisoned political figure?
Associate Spokesperson: I wouldn’t give the itinerary, the precise itinerary, of his meetings just yet, but we’ll provide those details as they arise. But certainly, he will be meeting with civil society, and the sort of concerns he brings on all of his trips he will also bring on this one.
Question: Farhan, in the case of Benazir Bhutto’s Commission [of Inquiry], now it’s said that it’s closed; that nobody will see the report until 15 April and so forth. Is there a possibility that the report will be opened to include some of these things that the Pakistani spokesman has suggested, that two Heads of State will not be included, were not interviewed by the Commission?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, certainly the Government of Pakistan is free to provide any further information if it believes it is worthy of consideration. However, on the basis of what the Commissioners have informed us, so far, they believe their work is done. In other words, they have not seen anything that would compel them to revise the report. The report is finished, from their perspective. But yes, any country could, in theory, provide further information and it would be up to the Commissioners to consider it at that point.
Correspondent: The presidential spokesman had said that two Heads of State who had warned Benazir Bhutto that her life might be in danger were not interviewed; at least that’s what their contention is.
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t know how they could possibly describe a report that has not been seen by them. Certainly, the Secretary-General, as you know, has also not seen the report. It won’t be presented now until 15 April.
Question: Just to update, a follow-up to that: the mandate is ended on 31 March for the Commission. So are they going to create a new mandate to revise the report? How is that going to happen?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, because of the delay in the presentation of the report -- although, as we made clear the Commissioners have informed us that they’ve finished their work -- any extension now to take into account the delay in presenting the report is purely a technical one. So there is in essence a technical extension because of the delay in the presentation.
Question: So technically the Commission is still working?
Associate Spokesperson: There is a technical extension of the mandate because they haven’t yet presented the report. What they have said in terms of their work -- no, their work is complete.
Question: But technically they’re still in session, right?
Associate Spokesperson: There’s a hypothetical possibility, certainly, but we don’t get into those sorts of hypotheticals. As of right now, the work that they have seen, the evidence that they have accumulated, they have conveyed that. It is complete.
Question: Who gave them the mandate? I thought it was the Secretary-General’s mandate, not another group, so it doesn’t matter, does it?
Associate Spokesperson: The Secretary-General did devise terms of reference after, as you know, considerable discussion with the Government of Pakistan.
Question: Yeah, but it’s up to his office to… It doesn’t seem such a difficult thing to extend any mandate, no?
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, no. But at this stage what we’ve made clear is, any mandate extension is purely a technical one. We’re not anticipating any further work for them.
Question: Sure, two more questions. One is on Afghanistan, where [President] Hamid Karzai has said that the electoral fraud -- he put it at the foot of the UN, Peter Galbraith, Philippe Morillon, the European Union’s election observer, and said that foreign forces bribed Commission officials by offering them armoured vehicles. It’s sort of, it’s a pretty… it’s a broadside against the international presence in the elections, and I am wondering what the UN’s response is to these comments?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage I don’t really think we have any further comment to make, beyond what we have already very, very extensively said over the latter part of 2009. As you know, we have a record of what we have said and done in response to allegations of fraud in the Afghan elections. We stand by that record, and I think throughout our briefings to the Security Council, our reports, the things that we have said in this room, we’ve made clear the efforts by the United Nations to determine and to deal with allegations of fraud. And we stand by that.
Correspondent: This is a question both about Kenya and about, it’s a question on behalf of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association], believe it or not, the second part of it, first is that -- you will see how they’re related.
Associate Spokesperson: A question on behalf of UNCA?
Question: You’re going to see how they’re related. The first is, Kenya has announced that it’s seeking to give six months’ notice to terminate its agreement with the UN to prosecute Somali pirates that are caught by nations. And here is the UNCA part of it, is that UNCA -- and I am saying this as authorized by the annual meeting and by a recent meeting -- Patricia O’Brien, who is the head lawyer of the UN, travelled to the region and is obviously involved in the process. She was asked in writing by UNCA, in a letter, to come and give a briefing on that topic, the [Rafik] Hariri Tribunal, matters of general interest that she works on for the UN, and there has been no response to the letter at all. Two others that were invited have come: Helen Clark and Kim Won-soo. So I wanted, UNCA has voted to reiterate to have Ms. O’Brien come.
Associate Spokesperson: Our Office has been in touch with Ms. O’Brien, who has often expressed her willingness to speak to the press. So we will try to talk to her again about when such a meeting can be scheduled. That shouldn’t be a problem. As for Kenya’s bilateral agreements with a different country, I wouldn’t have any comment on those.
Correspondent: No, this is with the UN. This is described, at least it’s reported in the Kenyan press as being a UN, at least UN-coordinated. I can read you the quote, it says…
Associate Spokesperson: UN-coordinated is not the same thing. I am well aware that Patricia O’Brien travelled to the region to talk to neighbouring countries and provide a certain amount of advice about how they could approach the issue of piracy on the high seas. That’s not the same thing as us making these agreements. These sorts of agreements are made by Governments, and I wouldn’t have any comment on any bilateral agreements.
Question: Can I have one more? I guess this is a follow up. Earlier in the week I asked about a Darfur rebel leader, Mr. [Al Tijani] Al-Sissi, who is described as the head of the Liberation and Justice Movement that signed an agreement with Omer Al-Bashir’s Government and is purporting to represent people in Darfur, and asked whether he was a UN staff member. This morning the head, a senior UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Operation in Darfur] official confirmed to me absolutely, he was a UN staff member -- UNECA [United Nations Economic Commission for Africa] in Addis Ababa. So what I want to know is, now that it is established that he was a UN staff member, can you state how it’s possible to be simultaneously a paid UN staff member and a rebel leader [interrupted]…?
Associate Spokesperson: First of all, I don’t believe… You’re making an inference here, “simultaneously”, I don’t believe that he is saying that the person was a current UN staff member.
Question: What I asked at the beginning of the week is on what day did he stop being paid by UNECA? And it is my understanding it’s quite recent. And so one doesn’t become a rebel leader in three days, presumably.
Associate Spokesperson: I’m not aware that anyone who has simultaneously… as you know, there are clear rules and regulations about UN staff being involved in any such other sorts of political groupings like that.
Question: Given that it was asked factually earlier in the week, can we just get the date on which Mr. Al-Sissi was last paid by UNECA?
Associate Spokesperson: Yeah, we’ll certainly try to find any sort of facts about this. But let’s not make any inference at this stage whether it was simultaneous. I don’t believe that we have any information to that extent.
Correspondent: I think there was a complaint filed by Mr. Hamdo, that works at UNECA, about precisely this matter, and nothing was ever done. That’s my understanding.
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll check with UNECA, then. And with that, have a good extended weekend.
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