|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Our guest today is the director of the Alliance of Civilizations, Marc Scheuer — and he’s here to tell us about the outcome of the Alliance’s third forum, which was held in Rio de Janeiro last week and which the Secretary-General attended and spoke at. Too bad Mr. Abbadi isn’t here since he’s the one who had requested the briefing.
And also today at the Security Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-Jin, will speak to correspondents at the stakeout following consultations this morning.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo — High Commissioner for Human Rights
And we are expecting a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the death of one of the top human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I don’t have it yet, but we do have two statements, one issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has expressed shock and sadness over the death of Mr. Floribert Chebeya Bahizire. Mr. Chebeya’s body was found on the outskirts of Kinshasa on Wednesday. Human rights organizations in Kinshasa reported his disappearance after he was summoned to police headquarters the previous day.
Along with her statement, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the DRC, Alan Doss, is urging the DRC authorities to promptly investigate Mr. Chebeya’s death and to spare no efforts to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
She’s also deeply — this is now back to the High Commissioner — she is also deeply concerned with the growing trend of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents, as well as victims and witnesses in the DRC. Pillay sees Mr. Chebeya’s death as confirming an extremely worrying development which she had noted in her last report on the DRC. And there is more available in those press releases upstairs. And as I mentioned, we should have the Secretary-General’s statement on this in a short while.
**Secretary-General on Gaza
And just to recap, the Secretary-General, as you know, back from his Africa trip, yesterday discussed with all of you his consultations with concerned parties about the way forward on an investigation following the deaths during the Israeli operation on Monday. He is discussing with all parties, including the Security Council, the options for a prompt, credible, transparent and impartial investigation. The full transcript of those remarks, as you know, are also out and available online.
Today, his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that he was deeply concerned at reports from Gaza that Hamas has broken into a number of non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) offices in Gaza City and Rafah in recent days, and closed them down, confiscating their materials and equipment in the process.
Serry said that this targeting of NGOs, including UN partner organizations, is unacceptable, violating accepted norms of a free society and harming the Palestinian people. The de facto authorities must cease such repressive steps and allow the reopening of these civil society institutions without delay. And that’s a statement available for you upstairs.
And as I mentioned earlier, the Security Council this morning is discussing Côte d’Ivoire and heard a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Choi Young-jin. And his briefing is available in the Spokesperson’s Office for you. The Council has continued its discussions on Côte d’Ivoire in closed consultations.
It is also expected to hold consultations on the humanitarian situation in Chad and Sudan, which is a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes.
Once consultations on Côte d’Ivoire have ended, Mr. Choi will come to the stakeout to talk to you.
And just to flag for you, as our guest is already here, the guest tomorrow at the noon briefing will be John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. And he will be briefing you on his recent mission to Chad and Sudan and take your questions on the subjects. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah, Marie, do you have any reaction, the Secretary-General’s reaction to Israel’s rejection, outright rejection, of any international investigation into the incident…?
Deputy Spokesperson: Masood, on this matter I think the Secretary-General’s transcript from yesterday still stands. He said he would be engaging in consultations, he had begun that process already while he was in Africa. He continued that yesterday and he asked, I think when he spoke to all of you he said that these consultations will be ongoing, that it may take a while before getting back to you. So, no, he will not be commenting on all the news reports that you read about the subject.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Democratic Republic of the Congo
Before I take your question, I have to read this statement that came in on, this is the SG’s statement on the death of the human rights activist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
[In an earlier statement, it was mentioned that Mr Chibeya’s driver was also dead. Since that statement was issued, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was informed by the Police Nationale Congolaise that the earlier information provided by the authorities had proven to be incorrect and that the driver has still not been found.
The statement was therefore corrected to read as follows:
The Secretary-General was deeply shocked to learn of the death in Kinshasa of Floribert Chebeya, President of La Voix des Sans Voix (The Voice of the Voiceless). Mr. Chebeya was a well-known and widely respected human rights defender in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His reputation as a champion of human rights earned him the respect and admiration of his compatriots and of the international community. His work will be remembered as a tribute to Congolese perseverance.
The Secretary-General has noted the statement issued today by the Congolese Minister of Interior ordering the State security services to investigate the troubling death of Mr. Chebeya in unclear circumstances. The Secretary-General stresses that investigation of this and all such cases should be thorough, transparent and independent, with full respect for due process and rule of law. The United Nations, through the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), is prepared to assist such an investigation, if requested.]
And that’s just out from the Secretary-General. I’ll go back to you, but, Erol.
Question: Marie, I was not here yesterday, but I was watching carefully what Secretary-General, over the live TV, what he has said. And when you just mention prompt, and he said that yesterday. What does it mean? What is his feeling of urgency, beside the public, strong public condemnation statement that he issued, etcetera? Is he willing to go a little bit more forward and have something more personal, calling the Prime Minister of Israel and asking him for lifting the siege, I mean the blockade, of Gaza, and then follow up on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think all of those issues were addressed by the Secretary-General when he spoke to you and your colleagues at the stakeout yesterday. I mean, he has been continuously calling for the lifting of the blockade; that is a known fact. Yesterday, in terms of the investigation, I think he told you that he had begun consultations the minute he got off the airplane from Africa. He met with, he started with, you know, telephone calls. He talked with the United States Secretary of State, he met with members of the Security Council, including the President of the Security Council, he met with Israeli and Turkish Ambassadors and the entire Arab group. And when he was asked numerous times at the stakeout about the way ahead, he said that this is a process that he would not be able to talk about openly and that, you know, he wants to make sure that, given the decisions taken by both the Human Rights Council and the Security Council here, that he has to continue talking with the concerned parties to come up with the best way forward. Yes?
Question: Thanks. Today, the Secretary-General had a meeting with Chun Young-woo of South Korea. I was wondering if you had any readout on that meeting. And second, I would like to ask about today, soon after that meeting, out of Geneva, the DPRK ambassador there said that they’re close to war, or there is a lot of tension. Has the Secretary-General spoken to any of the representatives of the DPRK here in New York or over the phone in the past couple of days over this issue of the Cheonan?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I am not aware of that, but again, as I mentioned to you just a short while ago, the Secretary-General only got back to New York yesterday and had been engaged most of the day until he spoke to reporters about the Gaza issue. The readout of the meeting he had, I can try to get that for you. But on the Secretary-General’s latest remarks, public remarks on the situation on the Korean peninsula, I refer you to his remarks he made last night at the Korea Society, which has been posted on the website.
Question: A follow-up on my question [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: Marie, in the mean time, while Secretary-General was speaking to my colleagues, we have also reports that the Israeli Prime minister is calling these calls for lifting the blockade hypocrisy. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is saying that these Israeli policies are unsustainable. What is his feeling, the Secretary-General’s feeling, on this?
Deputy Spokesperson: Erol, again, I have nothing beyond what the Secretary-General said to you yesterday afternoon on this. Talk Radio?
Question: Marie, just a request, could we get — considering this is a follow-up to the South Korea — could we get someone to speak to us at some point, and not at the Korea Society where it’s a closed meeting, but where we could actually hear from the South Koreans on what is taking place? Just as a request, because it is something that is very pressing, and since that call was made in Geneva today that they’re basically declaring near war, it would be important to get someone here to tell us exactly what’s going on besides just a readout from a meeting the Secretary-General had. And the follow-up question that I am having about the Gaza situation is that I heard recent reports that, this morning, that certain food products are being allowed into Gaza and the Israelis are actually preventing other food products from getting in. Is there an update on that? Has UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] made any specific statement about why certain food products are allowed to get in and certain items are not?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s something that we can certainly, you can address directly to UNRWA. We have asked UNRWA as well as UNSCO [Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East] for an update on the humanitarian situation, because, as you know, the Secretary-General again mentioned this to you yesterday, but both Mr. Serry and Mr Grandi have been tasked, in addition to their regular duties on the ground, they have also been tasked to see how they can get the humanitarian aid from the flotilla out to Gaza. And that is something that they are undertaking. And again, I would refer you to the remarks by the Secretary-General on that issue in which I think he makes pretty clear about that his envoys are working on this, but that they will, this aid needs to get to its destination without any strings attached. So, this is something that they are working very hard on the ground.
Question: Just a follow-up. Food was never an issue, I mean, food was never, like Israelis allowed the food to get in, it was other equipment…
Deputy Spokesperson: On that issue, as I said, we will follow up with others.
Question: Okay. Now they’re implementing…
Deputy Spokesperson: I just want to paint the bigger picture of what they’re working on in addition to their regular, that would be part of their regular duties dealing with what can and what cannot go into Gaza.
Question: I’m just trying to see if there is a connection between the investigation on the flotilla and now eliminating certain food items from getting in, because that was never…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you can also ask the Israelis what they’re letting in and what they’re not, in addition to UNRWA. Yes, in the back?
Question: Marie, the Secretary-General made first remarks to the Israeli attack to the ships on, when he was in Kampala. And he said he was shocked, and used very negative terms in regard to this raid, middle of the night. Now, yesterday’s press conference, his tone was smoothed down and then he was calling the raid as that, even a few times. Was he urged by someone, by some power to [inaudible] his statement in regard to the raid?
Deputy Spokesperson: I cannot hear you very well, but I think if you’re referring to what his remarks about his position regarding Gaza is concerned, I really do urge you again to look at his statement and how he appeals again on many fronts. But…
Deputy Spokesperson: But he says, for example, this tragedy only highlights the serious underlying problem. The long-running closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is counterproductive, unsustainable and wrong. It punishes innocent civilians. It must be lifted by the Israeli authorities immediately. He is looking at… on many levels. If you look at his statement, I am sure that what you are saying is not substantiated. Yes?
Deputy Spokesperson: It’s really hard to see you, because you’re right under the eclipse here.
Question: Oh, sorry. I have a question. I am wondering if the Secretary-General has comments on the report by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. In his latest report he says [inaudible] to move the responsibility of the drones and drone action, if you will, from the CIA to the military. And I am wondering, what is the Secretary-General’s position on that. Also, the concern of Mr. Alston that it could create precedence and that other countries could also buy drones and imitate the US strategy.
Deputy Spokesperson: Mr. Alston, as you know, is a Special Rapporteur, and thereby he is independent of the Secretary-General, and his full report is available online. And that stands. As for what you’re saying about what the Secretary-General’s views are, what I can tell on that is that the Secretary-General, along with his senior officials, have repeatedly underscored the need by armed forces on the ground to do everything they can to minimise civilian casualties. And, as a result of the contacts that we have had with the relevant military officials, concrete steps have been put in place to keep civilian casualties to a minimum, and we trust that they will make further efforts to this end. And of course, this is in the context of Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Matthew?
Question: Marie, just a follow-up?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, yes.
Question: Does the Secretary-General in any way share the view of Mr. Alston that, if these drone attacks are not stopped, then other countries will take, follow, US American lead and do the same things?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything beyond what I just said about the Secretary-General’s views on this. Yes?
Question: A couple of quick questions. Gaza, [inaudible] and Rwanda. You keep, I mean I understand that you’re saying look at the transcript, I understand what the Secretary-General meant. I want to ask a very specific question. He was asked, what should happen with this ship that’s steaming towards Gaza, the Rachel Corrie, because it seems like it’s an important thing to, he said that he, all parties should act responsibly, with caution. So, I guess what I want to know is, what does he mean? Should the ship turn back or should Israel not board it with commandoes? It’s not clear from the transcript what, who, you know, what caution would mean in this case of a ship of humanitarian aid heading towards Gaza.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think what he’s saying is very clear. He is saying everything must be done to prevent another incident of this kind. All concerned should act with a sense of care and responsibility, and in accordance with international law. At this sensitive time, it is essential to avoid provocations. And the United Nations has raised its concerns about this with international partners and the Israeli authorities.
Question: So, it’s clear, does he mean that the ship approaching Gaza is a provocation?
Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, I have read to you what he said.
Question: I know. But it’s not clear. I guess that’s what I am saying. It’s not clear at all. It’s not clear, what is a provocation? Is Israel boarding a ship a provocation? Or is the ship going to Gaza a provocation?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think it is intentionally phrased this way as his general views on the situation now.
Question: I wanted to ask about Sudan. There is a report that the JEM rebels have said that they have shot down a Sudanese Government helicopter outside of Nyala. Also, in South Sudan, the South Sudanese army says that 87 civilians have been killed, and blames all this on the Khartoum Government. So, I am wondering what the two missions, two of the UN’s largest missions, what do they say about this renewed fighting and death in Sudan?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not received any update today from UNAMID or UNMIS on those incidents. So, I’m sure that the Peacekeeping Department is listening. If there are updates they will send them to you.
Question: [inaudible] I mean, on Rwanda, there is a case of a criminal defence attorney representing a defendant in front of the ICTR in Arusha, Peter Erlinder, that’s been arrested by the Government is a fraud, essentially providing criminal defence. He’s been charged of being a genocide denier by the defence he has put in Arusha. So, a lot of human rights and other sort of due process, rule of law people are saying it’s a problem if a person in a UN-affiliated court can’t actually defend a client without being arrested. What’s the UN, does the Secretariat or OLA have any comment on the detention of a criminal defence lawyer in a UN-affiliated court?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information on that, but I’ll take your question and we’ll get back to you. Okay, if there are no other questions for me, let’s…
Question: I do have one.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes?
Question: Marie, as a follow-up to that story [inaudible]. Is the Secretary-General, he, I didn’t get an answer whether the Secretary-General ever has written the letter to Mr. Hasan Nuhanovic responding to his letter. I got the answer that, indeed, there were a few letters that were received, but did the Secretary-General, this one or his predecessor, really responded to Mr. Nuhanovic on his request that the day of 11 July should be used to put UN flag to the half mast? And I need to have an answer.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think our Office has been looking into this for you. So, we’ll follow up again to see if there is anything on that.
Question: Just to put on the record, it’s a little bit too slow, if, bearing in mind all these current issues, we could have a little bit pronto.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we can only get what we get. So, I am sure that Ari has been working very hard on this for you and he’s been trying to get you answers. So, as soon as we have them, I’m sure he’ll pass them on to you. Okay? All right, thank you very much. And now we’ll turn over to Mr. Scheuer, who will talk to us about the Alliance of Civilizations.
* *** *