|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.
So, good afternoon.
**Secretary-General’s Trip to Canada
As we already announced, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Ottawa on Wednesday, 12 May, to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Governor General, the Minister of International Cooperation and the Minister of Finance.
The Secretary-General will take this opportunity to discuss a range of global issues that are central to the work of the United Nations. And these include the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the forthcoming MDG Summit in New York; the UN's work in promoting Maternal and Children's Health; climate change; the UN's support to Haiti, Sudan and Afghanistan; and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review under way in New York. This working visit will also provide an opportunity to discuss the forthcoming G8 and G20 summits.
**Secretary-General’s Trip to Istanbul
The Secretary-General will travel next week to Istanbul, Turkey, where, on 22 May, the United Nations and the Government of Turkey are co-hosting a high-level international conference on Somalia. That conference is intended to advance the Djibouti peace process and its objectives of political stability, security and reconstruction. The conference will also focus on combating piracy off the Somali coast.
Later this week, we expect to have the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, and Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, give a press briefing on the topics that are expected to be discussed at the Istanbul conference. We expect that Ambassador [Ertuğrul] Apakan of Turkey will also participate in that briefing.
As you will have seen, we issued a statement last night in which the Secretary-General said he is encouraged by the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks and commends the United States initiative in this regard. The Secretary-General hopes that the parties are able to make progress and move towards direct negotiations.
Charles Petrie, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Burundi, briefed the Security Council this morning, saying that this is an historic moment for Burundi and the region, with the country now on the verge of a transition from one democratically elected Government to another. He said that the UN Office in Burundi (BINUB) will help assist the Burundians in the forthcoming Presidential and local elections. And he also noted the social, economic and security challenges that Burundi will face after the elections.
Following an open meeting on Burundi, Petrie continued his discussions with Council members in closed consultations. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, will also talk to Council members in consultations, to discuss his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on which he briefed you last Friday.
Also, the Council President intends to read a press statement on Burundi following the end of consultations.
Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, is in Addis Ababa today, along with officials from the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur, also known as UNAMID. And those officials include the Joint Special Representative, Ibrahim Gambari, and they are attending the eighth meeting of the Tripartite Mechanism on UNAMID.
With UNAMID’s deployment now standing at 87 per cent, the meeting’s focus was expected to be on the protection of UNAMID personnel and the implementation of its mandate. Other issues for discussion included the provision of a radio broadcasting licence for the Mission in Darfur. And we expect to have more on this in a press release later today.
**Press Conference Today
There is a press conference at 1 p.m. here on the challenges facing Small Island Developing States. That’s for today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do you know when this briefing on the Conference on Somalia is going to be held in Istanbul? Will it be held here?
Spokesperson: It will be held here later this week. We’re trying to figure out exactly when; but I would think that it will be in the middle of the week. And as I said, it will include Mr. Pascoe and Mr. Ould-Abdallah, and probably also the Ambassador of Turkey, the Permanent Representative.
Question: Has the Secretary-General made any comments -- I am sure he has and I probably just am not aware of them -- about this worsening financial [situation] with Greece and Portugal, and Spain and so forth, and how it’s going to affect the developing world? I know there was a large conference on the matter last year, but it seems to be worsening.
Spokesperson: Well, clearly, the Secretary-General keeps a close eye on many developments, including those related to the euro-zone and to Greece in particular. And as we’ve also mentioned here in recent weeks, there have been shortfalls in funding to a number of UN appeals that deal with parts of the world, including Pakistan, for example, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where the need is quite desperate. I think everybody, including the Secretary-General, understands the competing demands and requirements at a time of economic crisis, and I think that the Secretary-General has, as have others, including, as you heard last week, John Holmes, called for appeals to be funded to the extent possible because the need is so great.
Question: Sudan and then Sri Lanka. One, in Sudan, first, there are reports over the weekend of more clashes and civilians dead in West Darfur. Some are saying it’s just tribes clashing, but the question is: is UNAMID present, what does UNAMID know about this and what’s being done? And there is also a call by the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] in South Sudan for UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] to do more; they’re claiming that the Government is arming militias and trying to destabilize the South, to problematize the referendum. Is UNMIS aware of this call to do more, and does it think it’s doing enough or is it going to do more?
Spokesperson: On the first, I have seen, as I am sure others have, like you, the reports on further clashes and we’ve asked our colleagues to see what they can come up with to tell us whether they have any further information. I don’t have anything further just at the moment. On the second; we’re also aware of that report. And clearly, UNMIS works within its mandate to do the best possible job that it can. And if I have anything further on that, then I will let you know. Okay.
Question: Hopefully, there will be more on that. There is a report in Sri Lanka that the visit of Lynn Pascoe has been delayed by the Government; that the request was made that it be in mid-May. The Government said no. Now dates in June have been proposed, and this article in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka seems to link Pascoe’s visit with the appointment of this Panel of Experts to advise the Secretary-General on accountability -- meaning they wouldn’t be named until his visit. And now the visit, according to this, has been put off to June. Does the UN disagree with this portrayal? What is the connection between his visit and the naming of the panel? And is the visit not, in fact, going to take place in May despite the wheels that you described being motion?
Spokesperson: Well, thank you for prompting me; the wheels are still in motion on both the visit by Mr. Pascoe…
Question: Does the Government have the brakes on your wheels?
Spokesperson: Well, that’s for you to ask the Government of Sri Lanka. What I can tell you is that the UN wheels are definitely turning, and they’re well-oiled. And what they’re turning towards is, one, a visit by Mr. Pascoe, and, two, for the Panel of Experts that we’ve discussed many times here.
Question: This article says that there are some connections between the two; that that the panel would not be named before the visit is made. I have been told by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka that, given changes on the ground there, no panel is needed and he predicts that no panel will be named. So, is there any connection at all between Mr. Pascoe’s visit and the naming of the panel that’s now been delayed more than two months? Or not been delayed; it’s been two months since it was announced it would happen.
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think that we should draw a line between the two or to see this as cause and effect. The visit and the composition and naming of the panel -- these are two separate matters.
Question: You were just saying that the United Nations is getting shortened with funds, especially you mentioned Pakistan. Do you have an update on that?
Spokesperson: No further updates. To my knowledge, the situation remains the same, as regards the funding. But I am sure that our colleagues in Islamabad and also from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will be able to help us, and we’ll see what we can get after the briefing.
Question: Martin, there is a report, which is also on the internet, on Palestine, which basically asked the Palestinians to devise a strategy for economic integration and to promote territorial contiguity and all these things, and then establish a council also to monitor these things. All these things have been sought in the report of the Palestinians, but there is no suggestion as to how to achieve them in the absence of any cohesive government, either the Hamas government in the occupied Gaza or over there in the West Bank.
Spokesperson: Well, I am not exactly sure which report you are referring to, Masood.
Question: There is one report today. It’s on… which is on the internet right now.
Spokesperson: From where? From the United Nations?
Question: From one of the agencies.
Spokesperson: Okay. Well, I will need to find out about that because I am not familiar with exactly what you are referring to. Clearly, an important factor here is that, for many of these initiatives to take effect or to get traction, you also need to see progress in the peace process. And that’s why it’s important that the indirect so-called proximity talks have started and why the Secretary-General believes that it would be good to see progress in that, so that we could move to direct negotiations. That whole process would help to unlock many other areas, some of which you have referred to.
Question: In Darfur, whenever there is an attack on UNAMID or on civilians, we have “armed gangs” or “armed men”. Is it at all possible eventually or immediately to say who, whether it’s Janjaweed, whether it’s JEM [Justice and Equality Movement], whether it’s bandits, eventually the UN must know there. And it seems to be always kept a secret, and I am not sure why.
Spokesperson: Well, that’s your phrase, not mine. I think it’s dependent on the information that our colleagues in UNAMID have. I would note that there are media reports which we’re trying to confirm that officials, security forces have apprehended people who may have been responsible for the attack on Egyptian peacekeepers last week in which two Egyptian peacekeepers were killed, as you know. And so, obviously, we’re trying to find out, one, whether we can confirm that that is indeed the case, and two, to ensure that this goes through the right legal process. And part of that would indeed be to establish precisely who they are and who they represent. It’s also, I am sure, something that Mr. [Alain] Le Roy, who is in Addis today, would be able to look at, too. As we mentioned, one of the key focuses was to protect UNAMID personnel. And so, that’s clearly an important aspect. We have all said consistently that our colleagues in this joint UN-African Union mission need to be able to carry out their mandate. And if they are repeatedly coming under attack, that makes it extremely difficult for them to do the job they need to do. Other questions?
Question: I may have missed something. The two Egyptian peacekeepers; was Evelyn’s question, who killed them or…?
Spokesperson: No, Evelyn, as I understood it -- I don’t think I am a spokesman for her -- but my understanding was that Evelyn was intrigued by who is responsible for the attacks; and that was what my answer was based around.
Question: Do you know who killed these peacekeepers?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t, no, we don’t. I have seen media reports, colleagues have seen media reports, including in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], and we’re trying to establish from our colleagues on the ground whether they can confirm this or not.
Question: There were some UN personnel withdrawn from Kandahar recently. What was the reason they were withdrawn, and have they been returned to there?
Spokesperson: I can’t answer the second part of your question because I don’t know at this point. What I can say is that there were security concerns that have been clearly articulated by our colleagues in the UN Mission in Afghanistan -- security concerns that meant that some international personnel were withdrawn. This is a temporary measure, and beyond that I don’t think I can really comment much further.
Question: Just a follow up to Masood’s question, and on the proximity talks statement issued yesterday. What requirements, what steps Mr. Ban Ki-moon wants each party to take in order to move to the stage of direct negotiations?
Spokesperson: Well, clearly, this is something that has been long in the making, the arrangements for these proximity, these indirect talks, long in the making. And it’s a credit, obviously to Senator [George] Mitchell and to the Palestinian Authority and to the Israeli Government that we’re now at the point where these indirect talks have started. The different steps are not for me to spell out right here. This is something that is in the process of… well, it is a process that involves the Palestinian Authority and it involves the Israeli Government, and as you know, Senator Mitchell is shuttling between the two. So, there is not much more that we can really say on it at this point, except to say that those talks are extremely important and it is a very welcome step, of course, that the indirect talks have started. But as we have consistently said, and the Secretary-General has consistently said, this is not an end in itself. The place we would like to be, and, I am sure, others too, would be at direct negotiations; direct talks.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask; the two readout questions from Friday. One is, and I saw this sort of generic readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with [Bolivian President] Evo Morales and his group. But it has come up today that after that meeting, Evo Morales in this room said a number of things about the Copenhagen process and also this UN-REDD programme, reducing emissions in some way in which there is a carbon trading as to forests. The Cochabamba Accord denounces that programme, which is one that the UN generally supports. I understand that the topic was climate change between the two. But what does the Secretary-General think of the critiques made by the Evo Morales and his group and the Cochabamba Accord of the Copenhagen Accord, of the REDD programme and of things they laid down, markers for the choosing of a new UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] head?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the Secretary-General believes it’s important that there should be as wide as possible a discourse on this topic. And that’s precisely why he met not just with President Morales, but with representatives who had attended that Cochabamba conference that you referred to. So he is clearly open to listening to many points of view on this subject. I think that’s a hallmark of how the UN approaches the UN climate change discussions. That this is something that affects everybody and therefore many points of view should be heard. That’s the first thing. The second is that, on the details, clearly the main imperative here is that all these different threads and strands of discussion belong ultimately in one place; which is in the UNFCCC. This is a universal framework that allows different points of view to be brought together.
Question: Maybe you wouldn’t know it off hand -- I just wonder, does the Secretary-General support this UN-REDD which Evo Morales and his group were saying is something that is bad for indigenous people, that it doesn’t require prior or informed consent and that somehow commodifies the forest. I just wondered, since, just because it’s a big issue, maybe there is some way to know what the Secretariat’s position is on that.
Spokesperson: I am sure there is, and I will find out.
Question: And the other one was, I know that he met with the acting Secretary General of Amnesty International. And I didn’t see a readout. Maybe you don’t give a readout of meetings like that, but I wonder if you can, I know that a number of human rights issues were raised to him. I know that the Sri Lanka issue was raised to him. But I think, also I wonder if he is aware of this controversy around UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], which I understand he doesn’t control, but it has UN in the name and it’s given a name to a $3 million prize for the current controversial leader of Equatorial Guinea, as a quality of life prize. It’s given rise to a lot of concern in the human rights community. Coming out of that meeting, does he have, is there anything that he is going to do different? Were there human rights issues he was unaware of? Because I have heard some criticism by Amnesty International and others of his performance. And I wonder what came out of this meeting.
Spokesperson: Well, I think that there three things that I would want to mention. One is, that there was, you didn’t miss a readout on the meeting. There wasn’t one that I am aware of. If there is interest, clearly we can try to get one. The second is that the Secretary-General has been consistent in speaking out about human rights. He has done so on many topics in different parts of the world. And I think that, again, as we were talking about with President Morales and some of the NGO [non-governmental organization] groups who were with him, clearly there are going to be different views. The Secretary-General is always interested to hear what those views might be, and he reaches out to non-governmental organizations as well as to representatives of countries and Member States. That’s natural. That’s what he does. And the third point, on the particular topic you raised about UNESCO, I think it’s for them to answer that question.
Question: Is that the readout of the meeting or are we going to, can we get a readout of the Amnesty International meeting?
Spokesperson: No, my first point was that if there is interest we’ll seek a readout.
Spokesperson: Okay. Thank you very much. Thank you.
[The Spokesperson later provided the following readout of the meeting: “The Secretary-General expressed his deep appreciation of the work of Amnesty International. A range of issues were discussed: the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Gaza; protection of civilian issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and the status of the proposed Panel of Experts on accountability issues in Sri Lanka. Also, the Secretary-General highlighted the importance of mobilizing support for the Millennium Development Goals this year.”]
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