|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.
I understand we have a number of international journalists joining us today from the New York Foreign Press Centre. So, welcome to you and welcome to everybody else at the briefing.
**Press Conference and Stakeout Today
A couple of press conferences today, immediately following Security Council consultations, Ad Melkert, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, will speak to correspondents at the Security Council stakeout position. And then at 12:30 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference on the launch of several campaigns to combat violations of children’s rights.
This morning, the Secretary-General marked today the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with UNICEF’s new Executive Director, Anthony Lake.
The two Protocols — one on prostitution and child pornography, the other on children and armed conflict — have been endorsed by two thirds of all Member States so far.
The Secretary-General urged all countries to adopt these instruments within the next two years in order to provide children with a moral and legal shield. He said that in too many places children are seen as commodities, treated as criminals, instead of being protected as victims, and that in too many conflicts, children are used as soldiers, spies or human shields. We have his full remarks in my office.
And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will address the pledging Conference for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. And that’s at 3 p.m., in the ECOSOC Chamber of the North Lawn Building.
The Security Council heard a briefing by Ad Melkert this morning — that’s the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq. Melkert told Council members that the recent elections and the Government expected to be formed based on the election results offer a new opportunity to strengthen Iraq’s sovereignty. It will also allow Iraqis to move with greater determination towards reconciliation. He added, however, that a host of challenges remain, including the continued violence across Iraq, which so far this year has claimed 2,000 lives and wounded 5,000 civilians.
The Council is now in consultations on Iraq, after which Melkert intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout position. We have copies of his remarks to the Council in my office.
And following the consultations on Iraq, the Security Council will hold an open meeting on the situation in Chad, the Central African Republic and the subregion.
The Secretary-General sent a message today to the UN International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, which is being held in Istanbul under the theme “Ending the Occupation and Establishing the Palestinian State”.
The Secretary-General’s message was delivered by Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, the Secretary-General expressed his satisfaction that, after a prolonged period of delay and setbacks, proximity talks are finally under way. He also encourages the parties to avoid provocations or breaches of the Road Map or international law. He welcomes the modest progress that has been achieved, with the Government of Israel facilitating a number of priority projects and widening the list of commercial goods allowed into Gaza. We have copies of his message in my office.
And separately, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that Gaza’s agriculture sector is being hit hard. OCHA says that more than 60 per cent of Gaza households are now food insecure, a situation that agriculture could have helped redress. However, Israel’s import and access restrictions continue to suffocate the local agriculture sector and directly contribute to rising food insecurity. There is more in a press release from OCHA in my office.
We have an announcement from the United Nations Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.
President [René] Préval and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, have agreed to establish an independent commission to investigate the incident in Les Cayes Prison on 19 January. The Commission will be a joint United Nations-Haiti effort. Further details on its composition and mandate will be soon provided by MINUSTAH.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
A couple of press conferences for tomorrow: at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference to launch the updated 2010 United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report. And at 12:30 p.m., Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sports for Development and Peace, will hold a press conference about the upcoming 2010 FIFA Football World Cup in South Africa, to take place from 11 June until 11 July, and the activities of the UN system around this event. And finally at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador David Balton, the Chair of the Review Conference on the Fish Stocks Agreement, who will brief on efforts to strengthen international action to manage and conserve fish stocks on the high seas.
**Secretary-General on Africa Day
So I can also tell you that today is Africa Day, and in a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General says that this year’s celebration has particular significance as it marks the fiftieth anniversary of independence of several Francophone African States and Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation.
The Secretary-General also notes in his message that by consistently reminding the international community of its responsibility to the most vulnerable, and affirming that we are all members of a global family of nations, Africa has helped to reshape the global agenda.
So questions, please. Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: A couple of questions. One, yesterday the Secretary-General announced that he was going to Nigeria. Do you have more details as to when he is going to go and, apart from the President, who else he is going to be meeting? Then secondly, on the issue of child rights, I see that the Secretary-General has spoken about that already today. There is a senator in Nigeria who just married an Egyptian 13-year-old girl. I was wondering whether the Secretary-General will say something about that?
Spokesperson: The second, I didn’t quite get that.
Correspondent: There is senator in Nigeria…
Correspondent: …Senator [Ahmad Sani] Yerima, who just married a 13 year old Egyptian, and I was hoping that the Secretary-General will say something about that.
Spokesperson: Well, on the first question, which is the precise schedule for the Secretary-General’s trip to Nigeria, we don’t yet have the precise layout and the full itinerary. But we will let you know as soon as we do. But it will be after the trip to South Africa. As the Secretary-General mentioned, there is then a leg of that particular trip which takes him to South Africa, to West Africa, I beg your pardon, and Nigeria is part of that. But exactly where, at what point in the schedule hasn’t been fixed yet. So we will let you know as soon as we can. On the second, I don’t think I need to say more than has already been stated about the rights of children. I think the Secretary-General has been quite clear on that. So, Masood.
Question: …specifically about this particular senator, I know that he has made comments. I want to know whether the United Nations considers itself as having a moral voice, you know, to speak, you know, when such violations of something that it thinks is important to talk about when there is direct violation even by the people who have the power. Doesn’t the Secretary-General mean to raise the moral voice against such things?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General’s moral voice on this question is very clear. But that doesn’t mean that we have to comment on the specific cases. But I have stated what the general principle is and so has the Secretary-General. And I think that that’s a fairly clear answer. Yes, Masood.
Correspondent: Talking about the moral voice, the disclosure yesterday in the newspaper in London that Israel offered South Africa nuclear warheads in exchange for certain things, and how is that going to impact the nuclear negotiations going on over here at the United Nations on NPT, which Israel refuses to join nor was it disclosed how many weapons it has. So the Secretary-General was asked this question yesterday, which he did not answer, I mean [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General did answer the question yesterday, and I have no need to elaborate on what he said.
Question: But in his… So what you are saying is it will not have any impact whatsoever on the NPT and the negotiations over there? Or [inaudible crosstalk]
Spokesperson: What will have, not have an impact?
Question: …Middle East nuclear-free zone that he has been espousing?
Spokesperson: It’s not just the Secretary-General that’s espousing this. This is an agreement that goes back quite some way. And it’s not simply the Secretary-General’s voice on this. That’s the first thing. The second is that the Secretary-General spoke out very clearly yesterday about what’s required of the States parties who are taking part in this Review Conference; that there are people, everybody is watching; the world is watching, and that it’s clear that it’s not easy to reach an agreement. And it’s clear that there are complications that you are alluding to. But that doesn’t mean that the countries who are taking part in this Review Conference shouldn’t focus on making their best effort to reach a deal. That’s what the SG, the Secretary-General, was talking about yesterday. And I think that there is not much more that I can add to that. Further questions? Yes.
Question: Yesterday the Secretary-General in his press conference mentioned that he wanted to make this building the greenest building possible. I was wondering if there was a clear plan, for instance, regarding the cafeteria, because it seems to me that even now it could be made much greener than it is. Not using disposable cups for instance; there are no real glasses, real cups and many people of course it means like hundreds and hundreds of beverages every day. So is there a clear plan or will there be one? Maybe it’s a question for Mr. [Michael] Adlerstein, but I just wanted to hear you on that.
Spokesperson: I’m pretty sure you are right that that is a question for others, not specifically for me. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t find out, try to find out an answer to it. But what’s important here is that the idea of transforming this building into a green building is one that will take some time to realize. We’re not there yet, as everybody knows. In the meantime, measures can always be undertaken to try to improve the environment or impact that everybody here, whoever it is and whatever we’re doing. So there is always room for improvement. So I am sure that folks in the relevant section, the relevant department, can look at measures that could be taken. Okay. Yes, Matthew.
Question: I just wanted to find out…
Spokesperson: I said Matthew, and then I’ll come to you, Masood, again. Sorry?
Question: Okay, and then I, you can, then I’ll pass it back to you, Masood. Unless you’re going environmental?
Spokesperson: Yeah. Are you going environmental? Are you going green?
Correspondent: Go ahead, Matthew.
Question: Okay. It’s reported that in South Sudan the UN has pulled its staff out of Jonglei state due to unrest. Is that the case, and what can, what does the UN, doesn’t UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] have a protection of civilians mandate? I mean, are they, what’s the relation between it being too dangerous for civilians staff, or are military personnel of UNMIS going to this location?
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll try to get further guidance on this. We’re aware of the reports and we’ll try to get further guidance. This is always a difficult balancing act here — to get it right, to balance the need to be on the spot, to help the people you are there to help, but at the same time to balance that against your duty of care to the staff you have sent to do that job. So it’s sometimes a dilemma to do that. But that’s as a general principle. I don’t know the full details of this particular case and we’ll try to find out more. Masood. What’s you question, Masood?
Question: Okay. What I am saying is, IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has now got this thing from Iran. Now, how will that impact the negotiations over here if it keeps a point of report that Iran in fact is on its way to comply, as the Brazilians and the Turkish people, Turkish [inaudible]. How will that impact the negotiations over here?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, as the Secretary-General said yesterday, he spoke to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mr. [Yukiya] Amano, and the communication that was received from the Iranians is being analysed and assessed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. So we still don’t know what it said precisely, and we still don’t know precisely what it means. And therefore it’s difficult to assess what impact it might have on Security Council consultations that are going on. I’m sure that members of the Security Council, if you ask them, would have their views on it. The Secretary-General has made clear two things: one, that this is in general in the hands of the Security Council; and the second thing, that the proposal or the deal struck between Iran, Turkey and Brazil would represent a positive step if combined with the full compliance that the international community expects of Iran with existing Security Council resolutions. Matthew.
Question: Sure, on Sudan, I wanted, actually, two questions, both about sort of related to yesterday’s press conference by the Secretary-General. One was this question of both Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari and Mr. [Haile] Menkerios going to the inauguration of Omer Al-Bashir, given his International Criminal Court indictment. Was there some — and I have gone over the Secretary-General’s answer a number of times — had, did, particularly for Mr. Menkerios, who is solely a UN not AU employee, was this, did the Office of Legal Affairs, who essentially sort of authorized what seems to many to be a change of policy, even going back as far as, I mean, to have UN officials engage with an indicted, someone indicted for crimes of war is something new. And who signed off on that?
Spokesperson: It’s just not true that it’s new. It’s just not true. The point is that both these gentlemen, Mr. Gambari and Mr. Menkerios, are appointed by the Secretary-General under a Security Council mandate to carry out a job in Sudan — in the case of Mr. Gambari jointly under the African Union, as you pointed out. Their job is to interact with the Sudanese Government. That’s their job, to ensure that the missions, the important missions, the large missions trying to do the work that you mentioned in the previous question; they interact. That’s obvious. And as the Secretary-General said yesterday, this is no more, no less than their participation in an event that carries political significance as well as being a ceremony. It has political significance, but crucially, they have a mandate to be there and to interact with the Sudanese authorities.
Question: [inaudible] keep contact at the high level such as the Secretary-General, I would assume Mr. Menkerios to a minimum necessary to carry out the operational functions, because, I mean, Human Rights Watch has said this is legitimizing, or really, minim… making a mockery of the fact that if somebody is indicted for war crimes and yet can meet openly and be celebrated by UN officials. Is that, what’s the Secretary-General’s response to that?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, Human Rights Watch are entitled to their view, and they do extraordinary work. The second thing is they have a job to do, large missions to run. They need to be able to interact with the Sudanese authorities and they have a mandate to do so.
Question: To follow up on that, you say there is no change in policy, but were there any precedents before of such top-level UN officials coming close to someone who was indicted by the ICC?
Spokesperson: Of course, when it’s been operationally necessary with President Bashir, that’s the case. But when it’s been necessary for the operational reasons that we’ve talked about here before. Yeah.
Spokesperson: I don’t think I need to repeat again — I already did once — I don’t think I need to repeat again what the Secretary-General said yesterday. Okay. Other questions?
Question: I have a follow-up?
Question: I’m sure you know that it’s a rather tough issue, but we have to ask the question. Do you think by allowing those two top UN officials to go and be part of that inauguration, simple question, do you think that undermines the work of the Tribunal?
Spokesperson: Absolutely not. No. The fact is Mr. Bashir was elected by the Sudanese people as the President in the recent elections. That’s a fact. And there is an inauguration. That’s also a fact. It’s a political event as well as a ceremony. It involves the swearing-in, the inauguration of the Head of State of that country where we have two sizeable missions, with people doing difficult work to help the people of Sudan. And that’s the reason why they are there, and that’s the reasons why the need to interact with the Sudanese authorities.
Question: Last Monday, about eight days ago, when this International Crisis Group report came out about Sri Lanka, you’d said that the UN would study it and would have some response to the report, particularly to the part that said, that called for an investigation of the UN’s own actions pulling out of Kilinochi, ineffectively calling for a ceasefire and funding internment camps. Is that response, is, when can we expect the responses, particularly the factual ones of just how much money was spent on the camps. Is that ready?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: [inaudible] I wanted to, maybe, this goes back to yesterday’s press conference by the Secretary-General. I was, I’m still trying to understand, I sort of recited the, this, the critique of the ICG. And he seemed to say, I totally reject it. That…
Spokesperson: No, I think, Matthew, that’s wrong. What he was rejecting was the catalogue of allegations that you listed that were not in the ICG report.
Question: There was only one that was additional. So that’s the one that he… he was only rejecting that one?
Spokesperson: Go through the list and maybe you will see what I mean.
Question: But I want to, I am going to ask you about that allegation, because I want to know what he rejects about it. Philip Alston has said that a number of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders who were, came out to surrender after having spoken with Vijay Nambiar, the Chief of Staff, were in fact — he believes, Alston believes — summarily executed by the Sri Lankan Government. So the question is, and it’s a question that Alston himself has raised, at least in the corridors, what was Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar’s role in encouraging them to come out? No, I don’t know what the role was, but it seems like it’s a fair question to say should there be an investigation to find out whether the Chief of Staff either, you know, God forbid, knew they would be killed or had reason to not tell them to come out if in fact they were killed. So, what’s he rejecting about that, I guess, that’s the factual question? And what’s the answer? What did Vijay Nambiar know when he told them to come out?
Spokesperson: The Chef de Cabinet has talked about this publicly and made clear that this was, that he had no direct contact with the people who were being asked to surrender. He had no direct contact with them. He spoke to the Sri Lankan leaders and was conveying a message that was relayed to him not by someone from the Tamil community. I will be able to give you the exact ins and outs if you need it, but he has spoken publicly about it.
Correspondent: [inaudible] I really try to cover it very closely. I’m not, I’m not…
Spokesperson: Yes, yes he has. He did so quite recently in an interview with Al Jazeera.
Question: Can we get, I guess…?
Spokesperson: Well, you can ask Al Jazeera.
Question: Maybe, get, I mean…?
Spokesperson: Have a look at what he said on Al Jazeera. That’s probably not a bad idea.
Correspondent: Actually, Al Jazeera is no longer shown in the UN. It used to be on UNTV, but that’s not…
Spokesperson: Now look, let’s not go down this road.
Correspondent: No, I understand, but…
Spokesperson: Do you know at the moment I can’t see any TV channels at the moment, Matthew? In my office I can’t see any TV channels because of the technical work that’s going on in the building. There are difficulties. So we don’t need to go down that route.
Question: Can I get a transcript of what he said? I am assuming that the UN kept a transcript?
Spokesperson: Just watch Al Jazeera, okay? You can ask them, I’m sure they can help you.
Spokesperson: Other questions? No? Okay. All right, we have our guests waiting for us. Thank you very much.
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