Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

15 June 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

15 June 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Just a few quick points.  I believe the crowd from the previous press conference is clearing out.  So, I’ll just get it started.

**Secretary-General on Kyrgyzstan

The Secretary-General spoke separately by telephone today with Roza Otunbaeva, the Chairperson of the Interim Government of Kyrgyzstan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In his call with Ms. Otunbaeva, the Secretary-General said the United Nations was closely coordinating with other organizations and players to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the south of Kyrgyzstan.  The Secretary-General expressed his condolences for the loss of life.  He said he took the situation very seriously and was closely following developments.

In his call with Minister Lavrov, the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned by the violence, especially given the inter-ethnic character of the unrest.  He said he appreciated Russia’s efforts to address the alarming humanitarian situation.

He told both interlocutors that his Special Representative, Miroslav Jenča, would continue to coordinate closely on the ground in Bishkek.  He noted that UN agencies were working to help Uzbekistan respond to the influx of refugees.

**Security Council on Kyrgyzstan

Yesterday afternoon, B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in the south of Kyrgyzstan and its humanitarian impact.  In light of the security situation in the south, Pascoe said the creation of a humanitarian space or corridor in Kyrgyzstan for the UN and others to deliver assistance to people in need is an urgent necessity.

In [remarks to the press] after the briefing, Council members expressed their support for the Secretary-General’s efforts and called for a restoration of calm and the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan.

**Kyrgyzstan United Nations Agencies

The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency operation to provide logistics and feed civilians caught in Kyrgyzstan’s humanitarian crisis.

At the same time, it’s calling on all sides to allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian supplies, particularly in the country’s second city, Osh.

WFP is working with local authorities to distribute food in Osh, where shops are reported to be running out of supplies and people have arrived at a WFP warehouse asking for food.

WFP currently has 3,000 metric tons of food — mainly wheat flour and oil — prepositioned in Kyrgyzstan.  That’s enough to feed 87,000 people for two months.

Meanwhile, UNHCR — the UN refugee agency — is focussing on the shelter and protection needs of internally displaced people.

The first of six planned Ilyushin-76 cargo planes, each carrying 40 tons of UNHCR relief supplies, is scheduled to take off from Dubai early tomorrow morning, arriving at Andijan airport in Uzbekistan later in the day.

At the request of the Uzbek authorities, the first UNHCR-chartered flight will be loaded with 800 lightweight tents to meet rapidly growing shelter needs.  According to the Uzbek Government, more than 75,000 refugees have arrived from Kyrgyzstan since last Friday.

And we have more in press releases available in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Security Council on Middle East

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council in an open briefing this morning that there is now a welcome international consensus on Gaza.  It is fully agreed by the Quartet that there must be a fundamental change to the situation.

The basic principle that should guide the policy on Gaza is clear, Serry said: Everything should be allowed into Gaza, unless there is a specific and legitimate security reason.  Israel should therefore move from the current policy — where only about 116 items are approved to enter Gaza — to a policy in which all goods and materials are able to enter Gaza unless there is a legitimate security rationale against it.

Serry added that the Secretary-General has proposed an international panel to look into the 31 May incident — one that is under the aegis of a third party seen as impartial and in which both Turkey and Israel actively participate.  The Secretary-General’s proposal is not incompatible with domestic inquiries, and his proposal, accordingly, remains on the table.  We have his briefing notes, and Mr. Serry will speak to you at the stakeout once he has finished in the Council.

**Secretary-General in Sierra Leone

The Secretary-General is in Sierra Leone on the last day of his latest Africa trip.

He held talks with President Ernest Bai Koroma and his cabinet.  They discussed Sierra Leone’s peacebuilding successes, the challenges facing the country, UN-Sierra Leone relations and the Millennium Development Goals.

The Secretary-General also attended the official launching of the independent Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, which is a merger of the State broadcaster and the UN’s own radio station in the country.  The Secretary-General described the launch as a milestone on the country’s march to progress.  The Secretary-General met the diplomatic corps in Freetown and will also be meeting representatives of political parties, civil society and UN staff.

And the Secretary-General will return to New York overnight.

**Refugee Update

Some 43.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution since the mid-1990s, according to UNHCR’s annual 2009 Global Trends report, released today.

Major conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, show no signs of being resolved, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.  “Conflicts that had appeared to be ending or were on the way to being resolved, such as in Southern Sudan or in Iraq, are stagnating.  As a result, last year was not a good year for voluntary repatriation.  In fact, it was the worst in 20 years.”  And we have more information from UNHCR.

**Secretary-General on International Criminal Court

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the outcome of the First Review Conference of the International Criminal Court, which concluded last Saturday morning in Kampala, Uganda.

The Secretary-General also welcomed the historic agreement on the definition of the crime of aggression in the Rome Statute and on the conditions under which the Court is to exercise its jurisdiction with respect to that crime.  The compromise text is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity and towards an age of accountability.  And that full statement is available online.

** West Africa

On West Africa, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that the UN Humanitarian Aid Service will cease all flights into Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia starting tomorrow.  And this is due to a $2.5 million funding shortage.  Without the air service, WFP says many of its operations in the region will not run as efficiently as required.  One of the smaller services of the UN air service, the West African Coastal Service has been providing air transport for an average of 500 UN aid workers, among others, every month.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And for press conferences tomorrow, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, the Permanent Representative of Bolivia will hold a press conference on climate change negotiations.  At noon, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Hilda Johnson, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, will be the guests at the noon briefing.  And they will brief you on the release of a Nepalese girl by the Maoists.

In the afternoon, the Foreign Minister of Mexico, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, and Ms. Coomaraswamy will hold a stakeout on children and armed conflict.

And at 3:30 p.m., the Foreign Minister of Mexico will hold a press conference on climate change negotiations.  And that’s all tomorrow.

That’s it from me.  Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, Farhan.  There are varying accounts of how many people have been killed in Kyrgyzstan.  There is 170 [as an] official number and then Save the Children says it’s 500, and the Red Cross says several hundred.  Since you described all this extensive UN presence on the ground, what is the UN’s estimate of how many people have been killed so far?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a death toll attributable to the United Nations to share.  As you know, as you just mentioned, a number of other organizations are compiling their own tolls.  We’ll certainly keep abreast of what their tolls are as well as those of the Government.  But we don’t have a UN toll to give at this point.

Question:  It’s reported that some of the ethnic Uzbek seeking to flee and then being stopped at the border claim that Kyrgyz authorities were assisting ethnic Kyrgyz people and killing them.  I’m wondering if that is something that the UN, does it reject that — does it see, is it concerned about any possible role of the very Kyrgyz authorities it is speaking with in some of the killings?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re certainly in touch with all of the parties on the ground and trying to get them to stop any violence.  In terms of the cause of the violence, I’d refer you over to comments that were made by my Human Rights counterpart, Rupert Colville, in Geneva, where the human rights office suggested that there were certain initial attacks that may have provoked the ongoing fighting.  Some of those details are available in the press briefing notes out of Geneva.

Question:  Who among the ethnic Uzbeks, in the sense of who are the targets here and fleeing — who is the UN in contact with, when you say all the parties on the ground?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a list of all the people that Mr. Jenča has been in touch with, but certainly he is in touch with people, and we’ve been in touch with people, in Kyrgyzstan, also in Uzbekistan, and we’re trying to deal with a range of authorities.

Question:  One last question on this.  Is the UN calling on Uzbekistan to open its border, given that people fleeing the violence were unable to cross the border?  Does the UN think it would be good for Uzbekistan to open the border?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think there are contradictory reports about whether the border is open or not.  Certainly UNHCR has always called for open borders that would allow people who are fleeing a crisis to travel onward.  And they would do so in this case.  I don’t have any confirmation that the border is not open.

Question:  How far along is the Secretary-General in setting up the international investigation on the sinking of the Turkish ship in the flotilla?  And what is his position on going forward with setting up an international investigation commission if Israel continues to reject such an idea and proceeds with its own investigation with international observers?

Associate Spokesperson: Well, as I just said a few minutes ago, the Secretary-General has proposed a panel that would be under the aegis of a third party, seen as impartial, in which both Turkey and Israel actively participate.  He believes that his proposal is not incompatible with domestic inquiries, and his proposal therefore, remains on the table.  If you have any further questions, Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator, is going to speak on the Middle East at the Security Council stakeout once he is done with the Security Council.

Question:  I understand that, but the Secretary-General has taken it upon himself to take the lead in setting up this panel, and we have indications that Israel, at least, is proceeding on what it considers to be its definitive investigation with international observers, and has rejected the idea of a UN-sponsored international investigation.  So, what is the Secretary-General’s thinking if Israel stays out of this panel?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, from our contacts, from the contacts that we’ve had with Israel, we do not believe that the door is closed on an international inquiry, and so we’re proceeding on that understanding.

Question:  Today is the tenth anniversary of the 15 June joint declaration between North and South Korea, and I just wondered if the Secretary-General has some statement on that important day.  And then the second question is, there was a letter submitted by the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to the Security Council on, I think it was 8 June, and it still hasn’t been made available, and this is already 15 June.  And when I asked the Security Council — the President’s press secretary — he says it’s up to the Secretariat.  So is there some way that somebody can look into that and find out why that’s not available?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check when it’s being turned into a document.  As for the agreement, no, we don’t have any statement to share with you on that.

Question:  Farhan, a follow-up to his question, if the Secretary-General is involved in this [inaudible] that he is saying that he has, he believes that the independent third party and so forth, how would Robert Serry be second-guessing the Secretary-General and saying that this is what he believes, so and so can be on the commission?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, it’s not Robert Serry’s statement only.  The Secretary-General himself has made it very clear that his proposal is still on the table, and he is hopeful for a positive Israeli response.

Question:  As you said, you understand that Israel has not closed the door.  Do you still, do you continue to believe that Israel, after having rejected that, has still not closed the door?

Associate Spokesperson:  We do not believe that the proposals that have been made for a national investigation are incompatible with an international inquiry.  As Mr. Serry said to the Security Council, and as we made clear yesterday, we believe that those proposals could be complimentary.

Question:  Yes, thank you, Farhan.  I’m sorry if this question has been asked already.  I missed part of the briefing.  On Kyrgyzstan, on sending troops over there, there have been calls by the various parties on the ground asking for the Russians to play a role, and send troops there.  Has the Secretary-General been in contact with the Russians on that specific topic?  And to take the question further, is it something that the Secretariat… I know it belongs to the Security Council, but is this something that’s discussed at all, the idea that maybe some sort of peacekeeping force could be sent to the region?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the questions of peacekeeping, those, as you know, are matters for the Security Council to consider.  So it would be up to them to decide whether something like that would be appropriate.  As for the Secretary-General’s contacts, at the very start of this briefing, I mentioned that the Secretary-General was in touch with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, and among other things, he told Foreign Minister Lavrov that he appreciated Russia’s efforts to address the alarming humanitarian situation.

Question:  The Palestinian [Authority] President [Mahmoud Abbas] said that the establishment by Israel of a commission of inquiry disappointed him and he doesn’t think that the result will be objective.  Does this lend support to, and reinforce, the effort of the Secretary-General in trying to establish an international commission?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly, the Secretary-General has made clear that he believes that an inquiry that has a strong international component would be vital to ensuring that you would have an investigation that would be seen as credible, impartial and thorough, which are among the things that the Security Council requested in its 1 June presidential statement.

Question:  As a follow-up to Matthew’s question on Kyrgyzstan, the United Nations is still unable to verify any figures at all — conflicting with what the International Red Cross is saying, what some of the groups are saying — on how many people are killed, some are saying thousands, some are saying hundreds.

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, we, the UN, do not have a death toll that we have put out at this point.  If we have one, I’ll certainly share it with you down the line.  At this stage, UNHCR is on the ground.  They have been trying to get information from the Uzbek authorities and the Kyrgyz authorities about the numbers of displaced.  And as I mentioned just now, that number is at about 75,000.  In terms of the death toll, we’ll have to try to see what the best information we can get on that would be.

Question:  Yesterday there was meeting of the Security Council at the new building, and there were maybe a hundred journalists there, many with cameras. And to begin with, one the delegates came and he was followed by maybe 50 journalists, and it was a very dangerous situation.  And I just wondered if there is some way, I don’t know whose responsibility it is — is it the Security Council’s responsibility?  I thought MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] made an effort to take on the problem, but I wondered whose responsibility such a situation is.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, certainly, as much as we can participate through the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, we certainly have been trying.  And I know that from my colleagues in the Media Accreditation Unit that they are trying to figure out ways to make sure that there isn’t any dangerous blockage.

Question:  Yes.  And then the second was that a very important group in South Korea, the PSPD, Peoples in Solidarity with Participatory Democracy, sent a report they did about the Cheonan to the President of the Security Council, and I’ve seen under the provisional rules of procedure that is something that the Security Council has the ability to deal with and the President.  And yet they are being harassed by, I thought there is some clause in South Korea [inaudible] for there to be charges against them.  So, this is very serious.  I wonder if the Secretary-General has had a chance to look into the situation and if he supports freedom of expression and opinion, so that it’s not that somebody trying to do something with the Security Council gets penalized for it.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, you asked this question yesterday, and I really don’t have much more to say.  Certainly, as a general rule, yes, the Secretary-General has spoken out repeatedly in favour of freedom of information.  I don’t have anything particular to say about this incident.

Question:  I have questions on Somalia and climate change, but I want to ask a follow‑up on Kyrgyzstan.  What you were saying, it’s unclear if the border is closed, but CNN, NPR — CNN in particular — on the scene has said that it is closed.  And the Government of Uzbekistan has pretty much said that it is closed.  I’m wondering, is the UN seeking to verify whether the border is closed, and has the Secretary-General or any of his senior staff sought to speak to President Islam Karimov about this?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, on that situation, UNHCR is there on the ground and we’re relying on then to provide us with the latest information about this.

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask you, on Somalia, there is this report of the use by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of child soldiers, and this includes quotes from the UN saying that they’re aware of it.  Since the UN provides training and some funding for the TFG forces, the UN system does, I’m wondering what safeguards are in place that the UN itself has not been either training or funding or otherwise involved in the use of child soldiers by the TFG?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly the United Nations does not approve of the use of child soldiers anywhere, and we would not encourage any of that in its operations.  If I have any further information on the specifics of that, I’ll let you know.  But certainly, among other things, tomorrow, we will have as one of the guests at the noon briefing, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who deals with this issue and you can certainly ask that of her as well.

Question:  Okay.  Christina Figueres, the Secretary-General’s Representative on Climate Change, has said that she does not expect there to be an agreement, final agreement, on climate change in her lifetime.  I’m wondering, what does the Secretary-General think of that?  Is that the Secretariat’s position?

Associate Spokesperson: I think you need to check with her office, with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which she is going to be joining, to see whether there is any clarification of what she was quoted as saying.  I saw the quote in the media, but I don’t know whether we have her clarification of what she meant by that.

Question:  Can I ask one last question about MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo]?  It’s reported the UN staff there are complaining that in the final days of Alan Doss and his chief of staff, Bertrand Coppens, no extensions are given.  As people’s contracts expire, they’re told there will either be no extension, only a six-month, but the ombudsman there has said that written explanation should be given but none was given.  Is the Secretariat and is DPKO aware of that, and when does Mr. Doss pass the torch to Mr. [Roger] Meece in terms of MONUSCO?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, the start date for MONUSCO is 1 July, and we believe that that is when the new team will be in place.  As far as I am aware, that’s the case.  Beyond that, we would need to check about this issue of contracts and we’ll follow up with our colleagues in the Peacekeeping Department.

Question:  And the OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] report on Doss?  I just want to ask you formally, the OIOS report on Alan Doss and the hiring of his daughter by UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], which was described as being a negative finding, where does it stand?  How long can the Secretary-General sit with it on his desk without acting?  And will he act before 1 July?

Associate Spokesperson:  We will certainly let you know once that report is finalized and out.

Question:  One quick follow-up on Kyrgyzstan.  If it would be possible — probably you don’t have these numbers with you now — but you said UNHCR is on the ground.  How big is the UN contingent right now, and how was it before?  What was the UN presence in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan before this crisis?

Associate Spokesperson: I would need to get those numbers.  I need to find out what the numbers are.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Associate Spokesperson:  But certainly the numbers we have are in terms of registration and certainly that number of people that they believe are already gone over the border is about 75,000, into Uzbekistan.  And then there is an additional, roughly 200,000 that they believe may be displaced within Kyrgyzstan.

With that, good afternoon.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.