|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.
The Security Council is holding consultations today on the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, known as MINURCAT. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed the Security Council on recent discussions with the Governments of those two countries to extend the mandate of that Mission. The Security Council, you will recall, extended the mandate of MINURCAT until 15 May. The United Nations has made clear its preference for the Mission’s mandate to be extended beyond that date.
Also on the Council, the Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security is out as a document today. And the Council will discuss it next Tuesday.
The Secretary-General, in a report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004), says that the formal parliamentary endorsement of the Government of National Unity in Lebanon last December, six months after the parliamentary elections, is an important achievement. He says that Lebanon is currently witnessing its longest period of domestic stability and all Lebanese must continue to work together in a spirit of coexistence and democracy to safeguard the achievements they have made since 2004.
The Secretary-General adds that progress in Lebanese-Syrian relations was evident in Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri’s visit to Damascus, and is a positive trend for the sake of regional stability and prosperity.
However, he adds, the presence of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continues to pose a threat to the stability of the country and the region. The Secretary-General calls upon the leaders of Hizbullah to complete the transformation of the group into a solely Lebanese political party. The report is available online.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, arrived in Senegal today on the first leg of his mission to West Africa. Holmes will meet Senegalese Government officials and representatives of humanitarian organizations, and discuss the main challenges affecting the region. He will also explore means to strengthen cooperation among the various actors who provide humanitarian interventions in West Africa.
On Sunday, the humanitarian chief will travel from Senegal to Niger to assess the human impact of the food crisis that is affecting some 7.8 million people.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is alarmed by the large numbers of women who continue to be affected by sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNHCR says that in the first three months of this year, 1,244 women were sexually assaulted throughout the country, that’s an average of almost 14 assaults each day. The agency adds that the real number could be much higher, since many victims keep silent for fear of being ostracized.
According to UNHCR, more than a third of the recorded cases are in the North and South Kivu provinces in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a region that hosts some 1.4 million internally displaced persons. In the camps it runs, UNHCR says it has put in place prevention measures, such as providing firewood so that women need not venture beyond safe areas. The Agency is also working to follow up on rape cases by providing counselling, medical treatment and legal advice.
Lamberto Zannier, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, remains concerned about incidents of harassment targeting the returnees to the area of Zallq/Žac, where stones were thrown at tents housing returnees on several nights.
Zannier welcomed the Pristina authorities’ strong condemnation of the attacks and similar statements from a wide range of stakeholders in the returns process. He adds that a sustainable solution to the issues surrounding the return of displaced people to Zallq/Žac -- and to other parts of Kosovo -- can only come about through open and honest dialogue between the communities that must live side by side.
**World Health Organization
Tomorrow, the World Health Organization (WHO) will simultaneously launch immunization campaigns in 112 countries and territories. These Immunization Weeks will take place in the WHO regions of the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean and Europe. The goal is to expand immunization coverage and raise awareness about the importance of vaccines. We have a press release on this in my office.
We are in the process of briefing the Government of Afghanistan and other key parties about the findings of the Board of Inquiry that looked into the 28 October attack on a UN guest house in Kabul. That process is still under way, but we are arranging for you to have a briefing by a senior United Nations official about the Board of Inquiry’s findings on Monday. I will let you know further details about that briefing, which is likely to be at noon on Monday, once I have them.
So I am happy to take questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. Just, I had some other ones, on Congo and Sudan, but I wanted to ask about… Thanks in advance for this briefing on Monday on the Board of Inquiry report. Since yesterday’s news briefing, I became aware of this interview by Mr. [Anthony] Banbury with NBC News, in which he said that Louis Maxwell was “murdered”. I just wanted to be sure, because there has been some disagreement, I think, in this room about whether that’s the right word for what happened. Is that the UN’s position, that Mr. Louis Maxwell was in fact murdered?
Spokesperson: Matthew, I know you have a lot of questions, and I really understand that many other people have a lot of questions, too. And I also know that people are extremely interested to hear more about this, and I appreciate that. But I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to wait until Monday for the briefing when you will be able to ask these questions. Okay?
Question: Can I ask one more? I just want to see, because it’s not related to, I don’t think… It’s more procedural than…
Spokesperson: You’re very welcome to, Matthew; that’s what I am here for.
Question: Just, maybe you will answer this, because, even in the run up to it, the idea that it’s been decided in advance that the text will not be released. Who made that decision?
Spokesperson: That I can answer as a principle. As a general principle, the report of a board of inquiry is generally -- I cannot say categorically always -- generally not made public, for the reasons which I think I outlined a couple of days ago. I can’t remember which day it was this week, but I said that the reports are not generally made public, the reason being to protect those who provided information during the course of that inquiry. That’s the way it has been with previous boards of inquiry. But what I have also said, and what I am saying here again today, is that it is not unprecedented for there to be briefings on those findings for the media. And that is what we have worked hard to make happen in this case too.
Question: No, I definitely appreciate it. I just wanted -- this has nothing to do with Louis Maxwell -- there seems to be a GA [General Assembly] report that says approximately, that in 2007 there were a hundred and some, 150 maybe, I have the number, boards of inquiry done -- pretty high numbers. And at least since I have been here, I have, it’s pretty rare to actually get a briefing on one, which is why I am grateful for it. But I just wonder, is that, does that strike you as, I think you’d said earlier on this process that it was inappropriate to call it a cover-up, of course there was going always to be a briefing -- boards of inquiry generally result in briefings -- and it doesn’t seem to square with what I am finding as I look into what these boards of inquiry are. Does that surprise you, or what can you say to that?
Spokesperson: As I said, there is a briefing that’s being arranged for Monday. I am not privy to this General Assembly report. I can look at that as well. I simply would say that it’s clear that where there is overriding public interest, that briefings have been provided and will be provided.
Question: I am sorry, this is kind of a transition question, but in that, the incident that took place in the airport in northern Congo where the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces] retook the airport earlier this month, there is one peacekeeper, one civilian employee of the UN, staff member, and one contractor also died in this. One, I was wondering, have boards of inquiry been convened on any of those three, or on the staff members’ death or not?
Spokesperson: I will find out.
[The correspondent was later informed that a board of inquiry would be formed, in accordance with the usual administrative procedure.]
Question: There are these reports of 50 civilians killed in South Darfur that I am sure, I believe, the UN has probably seen. There are also, it’s reported that Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé was told by JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] that they believe the Government is about to begin another military assault in Darfur. What’s the UN doing, just as an update? Has it gone to Jebal Marra? Is it trying to investigate the death of civilians? And can you confirm JEM’s concerns?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s not for us to confirm JEM’s concerns, of course. On the second part, UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] has also received an unconfirmed report, but the mission has not received any reports that confirm signs of an imminent attack by the Government, or indeed the presence of the JEM in east and North Darfur. So, that’s the first bit, that we’ve heard these unconfirmed reports. We cannot, we have not received any reports that would confirm signs of an imminent attack.
And as for the violence in South Darfur that you are referring to, according to UNAMID, and you may wish to ask them for more details, but from what I understand, this was an incident on 20 April, and it involved inter-tribal violence, the details of which are a little sketchy, I would say. But its result, from what we know, according to UNAMID [is] 15 people killed, 24 injured. This also included Sudan border guard police, who were, according to UNAMID, ambushed in the course of this inter-tribal violence that I referred to.
That’s pretty much what I have for you there. As I said, it may well be that UNAMID could provide you with more details. But that’s what I have for you. Anything else?
Question: Yes, I just wanted to know if there is any official UN response. There is an editorial in today’s New York Times, it’s entitled “Mr. Karzai might even agree”, but it seems it has a line in where it refers to the “shockingly” weak United Nations oversight of aid-financed projects in Afghanistan and suggests that other agencies should take over that role. I am assuming the UN disagrees, but is there, does it believe, that it should have a greater role? What does it say to this criticism from the paper of record, so called?
Spokesperson: I guess in this business we should never assume anything. I have seen that editorial as well, and indeed I have asked for guidance on it; I don’t have it. All right, anything else? No? In which case, I wish you a very happy weekend, thank you.
* *** *