|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. I’m not sure I can top all the excitement all of you had until the small hours of the morning this morning.
The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York after his planned trip to the Africa-France Summit in Nice was cancelled due to an aircraft mechanical failure. Before leaving Kampala, he had a series of phone conversations with world leaders onthe situation in Gaza and the aftermath of the Israeli raid on the aid flotilla. I’ll have more on that after I recap his weekend trip. Yesterday, he spoke at the opening of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Review Conference and called for universal ratification of the ICC Statute.
Before visiting Uganda, the Secretary-General was in Malawi, where he visited a Millennium Development Goals pilot project and met with the countries leadership, including President Bingu Wa Mutharika who pardoned two Malawi homosexual men who had been sentenced to prison because of their sexual orientation. The Secretary-General applauded that decision, calling it courageous. Later, in his address to Parliament, he called for the repeal of laws restricting sexuality wherever they might exist around the world.
**Secretary-General on Gaza
As I mentioned, prior to his departure from Kampala, a short while ago the Secretary-General was on the telephone this morning discussing the flotilla incident and the way forward with several leaders, including the Palestinian President, the Turkish Prime Minister, Israeli Defence Minister, the Israeli Foreign Minister, and the French President, as well as with his High Commissioner for Human Rights.
His Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, meanwhile, has been in touch with other Quartet representatives in an effort to advance the implementation of the points made last night in the presidential statement adopted here at the Security Council. This includes the delivery of the assistance on the ships to their intended destination in Gaza.
Quartet envoys have also been in close touch to coordinate positions and work together, bearing in mind the need to fundamentally alter the situation in Gaza and to advance the proximity talks.
As I mentioned, the Secretary-General is on his way back to New York where he will be discussing the future course of action, including an investigation, with Arab, Turkish and Israeli officials, as well as with members of the Security Council and other world leaders.
Obviously, the most pressing issue is the release of the detainees, return of the deceased and care for the wounded.
The next issue before us is carrying out the call by the Security Council for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation. The Secretary-General has been discussing this issue today and hopes to decide what is required after his return. The Secretary-General takes his responsibilities in this regard very seriously and will consult closely with members of the Council.
As he has stated repeatedly, the boycott of Gaza must end. He has called on the Israelis to allow the free flow of goods and people to Gaza.
And, also on this issue, the Human Rights Council is meeting on it in Geneva as we speak and we have copies of the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ remarks to that meeting available in the Spokesperson’s Office.
Just two things to flag for you before we have Jean-Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, who is here to brief you.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
At 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, we have Claude Heller, the President of the Security Council and the Permanent Representative of Mexico, who will hold his monthly press conference here about the Council’s programme of work for this month of June.
Before I hand over to Jean-Victor, any questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: While he was speaking in Kampala at the ICC Conference, Ban Ki-moon has been quoted as calling on African leaders to convince President Omer al-Bashir to turn himself in to The Hague to face justice. I’m wondering, given his call, did his two envoys to Sudan, [Ibrahim] Gambari and Haile Menkerios, have they urged Mr. al-Bashir to turn himself in to The Hague? And, separately, just factually on Sudan, the reports of Government-aligned militia of the camel brigades burning down [inaudible] IDP camps, is that something that UNAMID can comment on or is aware of?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to take all those questions. I don’t have anything from the Secretary-General on that.
Question: But how can he call on African leaders to tell Mr. al-Bashir to turn himself in?
Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, I said I have to take those questions.
Question: The comments on the investigation, that the Secretary-General is still making his decision. Has there been any discussion about preserving the evidence? The boats, for example, are in Israel now. If there’s going to be an investigation or it’s yet to be decided, if it’s going to be conducted by the Israelis, by the UN, or by some other body? Has there been any discussion about sort of preserving the crime scene, as it is?
Deputy Spokesperson: Right now I just gave you the most up-to-date information that I think I could have gotten, which is why I was a few minutes late. I got you a readout of basically all of the Secretary-General’s calls before he left Kampala. I mentioned to you who he spoke with, who he intends to speak with. Tomorrow, he will be returning very early in the morning and he has a whole day of meetings lined up here, precisely to discuss the future course of action. So, let’s wait until this plays out before we comment further on that for now.
Question: I’m following up a point my colleague just asked you. Firstly, the Secretary-General’s statement from Kampala, he said that he was shocked by the killings and also called for a full investigation to determine how the work had taken place. Secondly, he said Israel must provide a full explanation. What is the format here in mind with regard to the investigation?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I just answered that question. My lengthy briefing at the beginning was trying to explain to you that he has begun discussing the incident and the way forward with world leaders. I mentioned to you who the leaders were. I also mentioned to you that upon his return, he intends to speak with Arab, Turkish and Israeli officials, as well as with members of the Security Council and other world leaders to discuss the future course of action.
Question: Is the UN playing any role in the release of the detainees aboard this ship?
Deputy Spokesperson: Again, the Secretary-General has said the most pressing issue is the release of detainees, the return of the deceased and care for the wounded. On the ground, as I mentioned to you, we have his Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, and Filippo Grandi, [Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)], working very actively on the ground.
Question: There were requests made by Member States to the UN. My question is whether the UN was following up and trying to secure the release of these people?
Deputy Spokesperson: It is a top priority and further details of that I just don’t have right now at my fingertips.
Question: I heard that this morning three ships more were going to Gaza. Is the United Nations going to take any responsibility or do anything for these three new ships?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?
Question: I learned this morning three ships are going to Gaza. Is the United Nations going to get any responsibility or trying to ensure the Israeli Government’s cooperation?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think we’re talking about the same press reports. We understand that there are press reports, that there may be other ships heading to Gaza. We’re obviously closely following these developments. In light of what has happened yesterday, we reiterate our call to all concerned to act with a sense of care and responsibility, and for a satisfactory resolution. And the United Nations has raised its concerns about this with international partners and with the Israeli authorities and all parties should act in accordance with international law and avoid provocation at this sensitive time.
Question: Just as a follow-up to that, regarding the shipments that are ongoing, what mechanisms — I guess, what our colleague is also trying to ask — what mechanisms is the UN putting into place to ensure the safety of those future shipments?
Deputy Spokesperson: Again, I mentioned at the beginning of the briefing that the Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Robert Serry, as well as the head of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi, are on the ground working on this. And the latest update from Mr. Serry’s office is that he has been in close touch with the Quartet representatives, including in ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination, as called for by the Security Council. And the Quartet envoys are working very closely together on this.
Question: There was a report in the New York Times today that the elections in Georgia were a solid victory for the President, Mikheil Saakashvili, and a report from the OSCE called them professional, transparent and inclusive. Will the Secretary-General be issuing a statement on the elections in Georgia since it has international significance?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing on Georgia today for you. I’m sorry.
Question: Does the UN since the incident yesterday have figures of exactly how many people were killed? Some are saying 10, some are saying 15, some are saying 20? And, how many people are currently incarcerated in Israeli jails? Is there a figure there available and of that, how many are Turkish nationals, how many are nationals of other countries? Does the United Nations have that figure available?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, we do not have first-hand information on that. And I know that Mr. Taranco, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Council yesterday in an open meeting and I don’t have anything beyond what he’s reported to the Council on the incident.
Question: So, you don’t have anything on exactly how many?
Deputy Spokesperson: No. As I said, and I repeat, the pressing issue of the need to release these detainees and return the deceased and care for the wounded is a top priority for us.
Question: One of ships that seems to be also going to Gaza now is called the Rachel Corrie, and it says that former UN official Denis Halliday is on board. Is that something that you can confirm?
Deputy Spokesperson: I cannot.
Question: Who has taken over for Alan Doss in MONUC, one of the UN’s largest peacekeeping missions? Who is in charge as of today of that Mission?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to look. Usually, there is an Acting Representative whenever the Representative is on leave or out of the country or for whatever reason. So, obviously one of the deputies must be the Acting Representative. I don’t have the name.
[The reporter was later informed that Alan Doss is in charge. Otherwise, Leila Zerrougui, the Deputy Special Representative, would be officer-in-charge.]
Question: Last week, I asked a number of questions about Alan Doss. It seems four or five days have gone by. Are there going to be answers to those questions?
Deputy Spokesperson: If there are, I would give them to you. I don’t have any.
Question: Also, on Haiti, I wanted to ask this. The prison, what they call a massacre, is being investigated. It took place in January, where there were the Haitian National Police. It’s being raised that the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the massacre, Sylvester Le Rock, later became the warden of the national penitentiary, but that MINUSTAH continued to deliver prisoners to the national penitentiary under him. Is that something that MINUSTAH, after following the 19 January events — and it was said that they were aware of what had happened but didn’t have time to investigate it — did they take any steps to make sure that they weren’t turning over prisoners to the same leadership that had committed or been allegedly involved in the massacre of January?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything, Matthew, beyond what we’ve already said on that matter last week. But if there’s anything more, I’m sure DPKO will let us know and we’ll pass it on to you.
If there are no other questions for me, we have Jean Victor, the General Assembly President’s Spokesperson, here to brief you.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
I would like to recall that yesterday the President of the General Assembly H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki joined international condemnation of the Israeli storming of the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has resulted in killing of more than 10 civilians and injuries to scores of others. The President of the General Assembly is deeply shocked over this inhuman and totally unacceptable aggression and use of force against humanitarian personnel from around the world and which is a flagrant violation of all principles and rules of international law. Calling for an end to impunity, President Treki underlined the need for immediate and independent investigation into this grave incident to ensure accountability of all those responsible. The President of the General Assembly offers his deepest condolences to the families and Governments of those individuals who have lost their lives. He emphasizes that the international support and solidarity for the people of Palestine will only strengthen in the face of this tragedy. He calls for an immediate lifting of the siege of Gaza.
That’s what I have today. I hope to have tomorrow a readout on the President’s travel. He is now in Doha. He has been attending the tenth Doha Forum. He will be leaving Doha tomorrow to Saudi Arabia on an official visit.
Questions? Yes, Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just one question. After the Security Council meeting yesterday, does… do you think that any Member States are now calling for a General Assembly meeting on the situation as it is, because, the resolution as some of the Arab States is not enough? A resolution [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: We will monitor what developments might or might not happen with regard to the General Assembly, and we will let you know. For the time being, I have no specifics really to report on that front.
Question: Also on that Security Council, you remember the Security Council expansion, Ambassador Tanin was supposed to come and brief us, is there any progress on that at all?
Spokesperson: There is. There is indeed progress. I am happy to report that Ambassador Tanin has agreed to brief you, probably this week. So, I will tell you, I will let you know tomorrow. I think some time this week, at least in the beginning of this month, a briefing will take place. He has agreed to do so. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Friday, I believe was the last day of the Budget Committee of the General Assembly, the Fifth Committee that’s meeting on peacekeeping. Can you give, I mean there was, you know, several billion dollar proposals being voted on late on Friday. One of them has to do with the Department of Field Support’s general service centre, which is, there is a lot of controversy about, among troop-contributing countries. Do you… Does… As General Assembly Spokesman, do you have any readout what happened in the Budget Committee and what, which proposals were approved and which were not approved?
Spokesperson: This is a very important technical question. I will go back to the Committee people and I will get a response for you some time this afternoon.
Question: Okay. And also, you heard Marie just now say, give the Secretary-General’s position on the law in Malawi under which two individuals had been imprisoned for homosexuality and then were released while the Secretary-General was there. He praised it. He said that these laws are, you know, should be taken off the books. Malawi has said the laws remain on the books, this was just mercy for two individuals. What’s the General Assembly President’s position on that, on that law in Malawi and laws banning homosexuality more generally?
Spokesperson: I do not know whether the President has a specific position on that development that really regards one country among all the other Member States. But the President abides by all the rulings of the General Assembly on this matter and if you will like to have a specific pronouncement of the President on that specific issue, I will go to him. He is away. He is out of the country, and I will find out.
Correspondent: That would be great, thank you.
Spokesperson: No further questions? Thank you very much, and have a good afternoon.
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