Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

20 April 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

20 April 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 afternoon, everybody.

**Guests

My guest at the Noon Briefing will be here shortly.  This will be Carlos Castresana, who is the Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  And he will join us immediately following my briefing.

And he is accompanied by Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Laureate, Eduardo Stein, former Vice-President of Guatemala, and Gonzalo Marroquin, Director of Prensa Libre newspaper and also the Vice-President of the Inter-American Press Association.

And Jean Victor Nkolo, the spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you today after my guests.

**Secretary-General’s Nominations

The Secretary-General has transmitted to the General Assembly his nominations for the posts of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

In both cases, he has re-nominated the incumbents for a further term.  This means he is nominating Mr. António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres of Portugal as UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a further period of five years; and Mr. Achim Steiner of Germany as Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme for a further four-year term of office.  And both appointments would become effective 15 June 2010.

**Volcanic Ash

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that, at the moment, there are no effects on health from the spread of volcanic ash, except for people in the vicinity of the volcano in Iceland.

There, says WHO, the very coarse particles are causing a lot of irritation and people have to take precautions, including using goggles and masks and remaining indoors as much as possible.  The World Health Organization adds that in the rest of Europe, the pollution has not arrived at ground level.  So far, air quality in European cities is within normal range.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has also issued a question and answer press release on the spread of the volcanic ash, and you can find that in my Office.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will meet with the Secretary General and the President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  The Organization has nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres across the world.  The Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Mr. Raymond Benjamin, will be available to talk to you at the stakeout position on the second floor of the North Lawn Building, around 5 p.m.

**John Holmes

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, is expected to begin a visit to Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal on Friday.

He is expected during his visit to Niger to gain first-hand impressions of the poverty, food insecurity, and population growth that are affecting millions of households in the region.  He will also meet Government officials, UN and NGO (non-governmental organization) staff involved in the relief efforts.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Holmes will visit a number of the towns most affected by the instability there and its attendant problems.  He will also assess the UN’s and other aid agencies’ humanitarian work.  Holmes also has meetings planned with both Government and humanitarian officials.

** Afghanistan Earthquake

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is carrying out assessments of the damage caused by the earthquake, measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale, which hit Afghanistan’s Samangan Province on Sunday.  The Office says that it has received reports so far of seven deaths and more than 30 injuries, with an estimated 2,000 houses damaged or destroyed.

OCHA adds that emergency shelter is required.  Other key needs include water and sanitation, food, veterinary support for injured animals and transport and warehousing.

** Afghanistan Board of Inquiry

I was asked some questions yesterday concerning the way that the United Nations sets up boards of inquiry, such as the one that we established in January concerning the October 2009 attack on a UN guest house in Kabul, Afghanistan.  We distributed the answers yesterday evening to correspondents, but let me repeat them here.  It is standard procedure to convene a board of inquiry in cases such as this.  And this particular board was convened under the authority of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Field Support, and was composed of external and internal senior personnel with relevant backgrounds and Afghanistan expertise -- including in security; investigations; and agencies, funds and programmes.  It was led by a former senior Australian Federal Police Officer.

The procedure for the conclusion of the Board of Inquiry is, as follows:  the Board finishes and submits the draft report for legal comment.  The report is then given back to the Board for further action as required.  Once the report is signed off on by Board members, it is considered finalized and it is presented to the convening authority, in this case, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, for further action, as warranted.  The actual Board of Inquiry reports are not made public, in order to protect the confidentiality of the investigation.

**Uruguay-Argentina

Today, in The Hague, the International Court of Justice delivered its final and binding judgment in the case concerning the dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over pulp mills on the Uruguay River between the countries.  And we have the full text of the ruling in my Office.

Thank you very much.  Okay, I can take a few questions before we then invite our guests to join us here on the stage.  So, please, questions.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just would like to make some corrections into the transcripts of the Spokesperson’s briefing of 15 April, when I spoke about issues, outstanding issues following our movement from the third floor to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.  In the transcript they wrote “telephone conduction”; it’s actually “telephone connection”.  And they also wrote that I addressed two letters regarding this issue to the head of the Management in the United Nations.  Actually, I addressed these two letters to the chief of MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit].  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Thank you.  Any questions?

Question:  Sure.  Actually I have some questions, but the thing that you read about the Board of Inquiry into the death of Louis Maxwell and the other staff members -- I had wanted to know whether, I asked you this yesterday by e‑mail, but I’ll ask it -- some of those questions have been asked.  One is:  you’ve said that it won’t be made public.  Will this report be shared with the Afghan Government, given that it seems to be an investigation into whether the Afghan national forces are responsible for the death of Louis Maxwell?  And will it be shared with the United States FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], with whom you’ve said the UN is cooperating?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first, we have already said that the United Nations is liaising with the Afghan authorities on this, and clearly, if it is warranted, the findings of the inquiry warrant it, then clearly those findings would be shared with the Afghan authorities.  That seems fairly logical.  And the other point is, of course, that even if the report itself is not made public, that doesn’t mean that key findings are not going to be made public.  That will depend at the time on the assessment of the convening Under-Secretary-General.  But the past practice has shown that key findings of such inquiries have been made available to the public.

Question:  Can we assume that if, in fact, it is found that the Afghan national forces played a role in the death of Louis Maxwell and the others, that it will be made public?  Or is that in the discretion of Under-Secretary-General [Susana] Malcorra?

Spokesperson:  Let’s wait and see.  The Board of Inquiry’s report, as you have heard, has gone for legal comments, has come back to them and is now being finalized prior to being given to the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  And at that point, further action, if required, will be taken.  But I don’t want to prejudge that now.

Question:  I wanted to, there are some other questions that I sent you by email…

Spokesperson:  I know, Matthew, that’s right, you sent 11 questions 41 minutes after I sent out the answers to the first two questions.  Right, thanks.  Any other questions?

Question:  This is on something that the Secretary-General said.  Kyodo has reported that the Secretary-General, in meeting with Foreign Minister [Katsuya] Okada of Japan, urged him to give humanitarian aid to North Korea, and Mr. Okada said “no”, because there is no assurance that it would reach the people.  Is that an accurate description of what went on, and what other Government has the Secretary-General asked to grant humanitarian aid to North Korea?  And what safeguards are in place to make sure that the Kim Jong Il Government doesn’t take the aid?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General meets many leaders and has mentioned to many of the people that he meets the humanitarian requirements in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  That’s clear.  Not just with the Foreign Minister of Japan.  As to what the Japanese Foreign Minister replied, I would ask you to ask the Japanese Foreign Ministry, not me.  And as for the assurances on the delivery of UN assistance in-country, we have a team in place, and that is the whole aim, to ensure that through the UN, the assistance can be delivered to the people who most need it.

Question:  On the Sudan elections just last one?  There is this…

Spokesperson:  This is turning into an interview.

Question:  These things happen.  The UN sponsored, I mean, I am happy to ask them after.  I’d much rather we have the Guatemala press conference.

Spokesperson:  Let’s do that; let’s do that, okay.  Thanks very much.  So, I would like to invite my guests to come and join me here on the podium here, and I’ll take a seat over to this side.  Thank you very much.

[Press conference by the Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala issued separately.]

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  I have two short items of news for you today.

**Meeting with the President of the Security Council

Yesterday, 19 April, the President of the General Assembly met with H.E. Mr. Yukio Takasu, Permanent Representative of Japan and the President of the Security Council for the current month.  They discussed several important issues on the agendas of the two organs.  They underlined that the thematic debate on disarmament held in the General Assembly that day was significant and timely.

The President of the Security Council briefed President Treki on the open debates held by the Council during the month, including on the situation in the Middle East and post-conflict peacebuilding, as well as the forthcoming debates on the working methods of the Security Council, an issue of great interest for the general membership, and on women and peace and security.

Referring to the continuing grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, President Treki stressed the need for continuous close watch on the developments both in the Security Council and the General Assembly.  They also exchanged views on the situation in Africa, including Chad and Sudan, and the scheduled renewal of mandates of United Nations missions during the current month.

The President of the General Assembly holds regular meetings with the Presidents of the principal organs of the United Nations, as provided for in the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, to ensure enhanced cooperation and coordination in their work programmes in accordance with their respective responsibilities under the Charter.

**Speaker of National Parliament of Bangladesh

Also yesterday, His Excellency Md. Abdel Hamid, Advocate, Speaker of the National Parliament of Bangladesh, accompanied by a parliamentary delegation, called on the President of the General Assembly.  The Speaker presented to the President a resolution adopted by the National Parliament of Bangladesh on 5 April expressing support on the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

They also discussed important issues on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly, including the forthcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit in September 2010 and the efforts for the revitalization of the role of the General Assembly.

That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  One, just a follow-up thing you said, and then something else.  In his meeting with the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Takasu, given the issues that arose earlier this month about nations that are members of the General Assembly but not the Security Council being in some sense excluded from the new Security Council Chamber, is this something that the President of the General Assembly brought up to President Takasu, and if not so, why not?

Spokesperson:  Not specifically.  I presume that the General Assembly having circulated the letter that he received in copy from the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), that letter is still being circulated.  So, we haven’t received any specific feedback from Member States yet.  I think when and if we cross that bridge, it is an issue that the President will certainly like to take up.

Question:  [inaudible] I mean, that letter had nothing to do with restrictions on the press, not on Member States.  But I am just…

Spokesperson:  I hear you…

Question:  Is there any mechanism… let’s say you hadn’t gotten that letter, how would the President of the General Assembly raise the issue of Member States of the General Assembly being excluded from this…?

Spokesperson:  For an issue to be raised in such a way, it would really have to come from a Member State or from regional groups, although the President has a keen interest in making sure that the press works in the best possible environment.

Question:  I’m not at all asking about the press question.  I’m talking about, in the past, Member States that were not members of the Security Council could go into what they called the quiet room, and I guess make their views known to Council members, and it’s been said that now, that’s no longer the case in the basement, that the Member Stats should sit outside the whole suite of rooms.  So, not the press, nations.

Spokesperson:  I hear you.  It’s about Member States also…

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  …and what I’ve said is that since Member States have now received the letter that has been circulated, we have to wait for their own reactions since it affects them, as you say.  So, we still haven’t received a specific feedback on that. 

Question:  Okay.  The other thing is did the Foreign Minister of Georgia, when he was here, he mentioned, he did a press conference when he was here yesterday and said, and talked about that they have no more hope in the Security Council because of Russian, you know, essentially veto of the Peacekeeping Mission or Observer Mission in Abkhazia.  And he said that our only hope is the General Assembly.  So, I’m wondering, did he meet with President Treki?  Has President Treki, are they aware of any requests by Georgia to take up the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

Spokesperson:  There was a courtesy call to President Treki, but this is a question for the Security Council, really.  You have to put that question on the…

Question:  No, he said, the Foreign Minister said they have no, they don’t believe they can accomplish anything through the Security Council, and that they are putting their, they’re resting their eggs in the General Assembly basket.  So, I am just wondering, does that mean -- if he didn’t raise it, he didn’t raise it -- but did the Foreign Minister of Georgia raise the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to President Treki?

Spokesperson:  For the issue of Georgia to come to the General Assembly it has to be along, it has to come in line with the procedures that will make it an issue befitting the proceedings of the General Assembly.  So, this hasn’t come up yet.

Question:  So, you [inaudible] in kind of limbo, because it’s on the agenda of the Security Council, but they haven’t discussed it in quite some time, and they are not going to.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s your own appreciation.  It wouldn’t be mine.  But I think that this is, I think the courtesy call was just a few days ago.  But let us wait.  If a Member State takes it up, or if it happens to come to the General Assembly, which has not been the case yet.

Question:  [inaudible] the Council…

Spokesperson:  Can I come back to you in a second?

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  Dr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  As you indicated, the President of the General Assembly met with the President of the Security Council and discussed some aspect of the reforms of the Security Council.  Are there any presently, are there any discussions or negotiations on the Council reforms or are they anticipated discussions?

Spokesperson:  Oh, very much so.  Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin is working very hard on the Security Council reform.  And some weeks ago he reached a stage where input from Member States and regional groups regarding their respective views have been received by Ambassador Tanin.  I think that we may well ask him if he would like to brief you soon, where we stand now with regard to that.  In his discussion with the President of the Security Council, President Treki addressed the whole question of the method of work of the Council.  But this is an ongoing discussion that the President has with the President of the Security Council as well as with the Presidents of the principal organs.  There is this very important question of the reports, submitted to the Council, and the general membership is very keen in seeing the work improve and the interaction between the Security Council and the General Assembly reinforced.  Matthew you had another question?

Question:  No, no, I simply wanted to say maybe we can get a readout of whatever the, of the communication between the Foreign Minister of Georgia and the President of the General Assembly.

Spokesperson:  I promise to have one for you…

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …by tomorrow.  I’ll get you a readout.  Thank you very much, and have a good afternoon.

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