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

25 June 2010

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

25 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon everybody.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


This weekend, the Secretary-General will be in Toronto to attend the Summit of the Group of 20 leaders, and to hold bilateral meetings with many of those leaders attending that Summit.


And as he told you earlier this week, he will bring the concerns of the developing world and a message of human development with him to the G-20 Summit, and he will call on leaders to strengthen their focus on three areas:  priorities; political will; and partnerships.  Among other things, he will also urge leaders to support the UN’s global action plan on women's and children's health.


And then on Monday night, as he has already announced, the Secretary-General will leave for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He will be in Kinshasa on 30 June to attend the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of that country's independence.


And then the next day he will be in Libreville, Gabon, for an official visit.  And he is expected back in New York on 2 July.


**Secretary-General — Korean War Sixtieth Anniversary


As we hold this briefing, the Secretary-General is at an event to mark the Korean War anniversary, the beginning of the Korean War.  That’s taking place down at Battery Park, here in Manhattan.


And the Secretary-General is telling the veterans and other guests at that event that he was six years old at the time when the Korean War broke out, and can remember the bombs hitting his village and he had to flee into the mountains with his grandfather and family.  And he mentions that the United States and the nearly two dozen other countries that fought under the UN flag paid a heavy price for the Korean conflict with so many lost and so many injured and so many families broken.  He said that their sacrifice would never be forgotten.


** Kyrgyzstan


On Kyrgyzstan, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the situation in Kyrgyzstan is improving — even if it’s still tense and humanitarian workers are finding it difficult to reach all of those in need due to security concerns.  OCHA says the situation in Osh has improved, with many small shops and banks opening up, traffic in circulation and farmers bringing in products.  However, food, shelter, non-food items and hygiene kits remain important needs. 


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that amid the mass returns from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan, its field officers have been visiting groups of returning refugees and displaced people near Osh and Jalalabad.  According to the Kyrgyz authorities, 70,000 refugees have returned so far.


The UN refugee agency says that both refugees and internally displaced persons have expressed to its officers mixed feelings about going back; although they wanted to be reunited with their families, many were worried for their safety and about going back to destroyed, damaged or looted homes.  We have more on this in releases available from my office.


**Piracy


The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) hailed as a major milestone the opening of a new high-security courtroom in Mombasa, Kenya, which will hear cases of maritime piracy and other serious criminal offences.  The court was built by the UNODC Counter-Piracy Programme through contributions of its donor States:  Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany and the United States.


Kenya has taken on the largest number of suspected pirates for prosecution in the region — 123 to date.  The new court in Mombasa is intended to increase trial efficiency in the system and provide a secure, modern environment suitable for piracy cases.


The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has been assisting Kenya in bringing pirates to justice by working with police, prosecutors, courts and prison systems within the country.  This has had wider benefits for the Kenyan justice system, not just piracy trials.


**Torture


Tomorrow will be the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that torture is a crime under international law, and the prohibition of torture is absolute and unambiguous.  And yet, torture is still practised or tolerated by many States, and impunity persists for the perpetrators.  He calls for all States to ratify the relevant UN conventions against torture and to implement them.  We have this message and the one from the High Commissioner for Human Rights available from my office.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


Just a few items from the “Week Ahead”:  On Tuesday, at 11 a.m., here in this Auditorium, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, and Rob Vos, the Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division, will hold a press conference on the launch of the annual World Economic and Social Survey 2010.  The theme of this year's report is “Retooling Global Development”.


And then on 30 June, that’s Wednesday, the UN Security Council will hold a meeting on Afghanistan.


And on Thursday, 1 July at 12 p.m. here at the briefing, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Angela Kane, the UN Ombudsman, John Barkat, and the Executive Director of the Office for the Administration of Justice, Andrei Terekhov, will be my guests at the briefing.  And they will be here to discuss the United Nations new system of administration of justice.


And also on 1 July, as you know, Nigeria will assume the presidency of the Security Council for the month of July.


Okay, questions, please.  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  This latest thing on this, crossings, Israel has reportedly killed two Palestinians at the crossing, apparently today.  Do you have any response to that?  And also…


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that.


Question:  Okay.  And also the Secretary-General had also decried Israel as… the settlers throwing out the Palestinians over there.  The Secretary-General had expressed concern.  Now, has United Nations followed up on this talk with the Israeli authorities except for saying that we do not like it?


Spokesperson:  Followed up on what exactly, Masood?


Correspondent:  On the settlement issue.  If you remember, on the settlement issue the Secretary-General had said yesterday that…


Spokesperson:  That it was unhelpful, this is… in East Jerusalem you’re referring to, the 22 houses in East Jerusalem.  Is that what you’re referring to?


Correspondent:  Yes, sir.


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s something that would be followed up on by our office in Jerusalem and the Special Representative, Robert Serry.  If we get anything further on that, obviously I’ll let you know.


Question:  So is there a further report on that or just [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Not that I have today.  But as I said, it could be that Robert Serry has followed up and that they have something to say from there.


Question:  [inaudible] the crossing is concerned, of course there is the lifting of the road embargo by Israel but the, I mean, the embargo by sea continues.  So do you have anything that Israel is allowing or things to go through by road?


Spokesperson:  By land — as I said yesterday and as the Quartet has said, and the Secretary-General too — it’s encouraging that there has been a shift in emphasis with regard to the list of items that can go in or cannot go in.  That’s obviously encouraging.  However, what’s crucial is to see how that’s then implemented.  And this is still early days.  So we still need to monitor that.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that, as we’ve also said, it’s preferable at this stage to avoid further aggravation or to have any kind of additional unnecessary tension by using sea routes when there are established land channels for assistance.  And clearly the key there is to ensure that those land routes, those crossing points, are used to the fullest extent.  And that’s what we’ve been calling for consistently.


Question:  Because there is another flotilla coming to Gaza from Lebanon?


Spokesperson:  I would be careful about using the word “flotilla”.  I think it’s one ship.  But that’s something that we’re obviously watching closely.  But most importantly, as the Quartet has said, and the Secretary-General has separately and as part of the Quartet, it’s really important to avoid any unnecessary increase in tension at a time when we should be trying to ensure that the established existing land routes are used to the best extent possible.  And of course, importantly, something that tends to get overlooked, that the proximity talks are able to carry on smoothly and without interruption.  So, yeah, let’s bounce it.  I’m not sure it’s going… Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to have a rally as long as we had in that Wimbledon match the other day.  But… Right, okay.


Question:  I want to ask about Kyrgyzstan and Burundi, both elections questions.  One is, I mean, first, in your readout — and I know it’s a UNHCR readout about returning refugees having mixed feelings.  There are some reports that people are being forced to return.  That the Uzbek authorities force people onto buses saying that the Kyrgyz Interim Government wants them to be physically back in the country so that it can be claimed that they agreed to the constitution that will be voted on Sunday.  What does the UN or UNHCR have to say about, are forced returns illegal and have, what provisions are there that these people aren’t being returned against their will?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned, UNHCR is monitoring the returns.  But it’s not in a position to monitor all of these returns.  It’s not in a position to do that.  But what it is doing is trying now to verify the extent to which those returns to the Kyrgyz side of the border from Uzbekistan were voluntary.  Of course, UNHCR appreciates the efforts of both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to find a resolution to the current crisis and to address the needs of the people who were forcibly displaced.  And what’s really important, and to address this point, is that where people are returning, that they are able to do so safely, voluntarily and in a sustainable manner.  And we would also urge that returns should happen to areas that humanitarian agencies have access to.


Question:  Does UNCHR have a presence inside Uzbekistan to view this boarding of buses?  Because there is direct testimony of people saying that they were forced onto a bus.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, we’re aware of those reports and as I have said, the UNHCR has not been in a position to monitor all these returns, including from the Uzbek side of the border.  But they’re trying to verify the extent to which these were voluntary.


Question:  And then, just on the election, it’s been said that the Interim Government has changed the minimum turnout to make this constitution legitimate, or accepted from 50 per cent down to 30 per cent, I guess as an acknowledgement that many fewer people are going to vote.  Does the UN have some, I mean, the UN has said that it should, you know, it should be inclusive.  What’s the UN’s number?  How low could the participation, particularly among Uzbeks, go, and have the UN still somehow claim, you know, say that this is a, has been an inclusive process?


Spokesperson:  I think we’d stick to what we’ve said before, which is that it is a matter for the Kyrgyz authorities, firstly.  Secondly, we’re providing advice, and that advice, as you said yourself, is that it should be as inclusive as possible.


Question:  So, 30 per cent okay?


Spokesperson:  Look, we’re not playing a numbers game.  The important point is that it should be inclusive.


Question:  In Afghanistan, Martin, there are reports that since the increase in violence the United Nations is reducing personnel over there.  Can you confirm that?  And what are the entities which are being affected in [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  It’s really difficult to hear you.  Do you think you could… ?


Question:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I said in view of violence, the increase in violence in Afghanistan, the United Nations has decided to reduce personnel over there.  Is that a fact?


Spokesperson:  No, and I have addressed this in a previous briefing, Masood.  This is, what’s happening is that, first of all, there was a requirement for the Mission to look at security.  This is something that is done regularly, but there was request from the UN Headquarters for the Mission to assess security on the ground.  As a result of that, it was decided that some administrative jobs could be carried out outside of Afghanistan to enable the work in Afghanistan to go ahead, but to be done from elsewhere.  Thanks to the wonders of technology, you don’t actually have to be there to do some of these administrative jobs.  And that, by doing that, you free up secure accommodation for people who do need to be there on the ground to carry out more operational jobs in Afghanistan, in Kabul and elsewhere.  So, that’s what’s happening.  So the overall numbers are broadly the same, and you’re not seeing a cut back in the way that you are suggesting.


Question:  I am just going to do a follow-up on that.  Like for instance in Pakistan, WFP [World Food Programme] and others have reduced their presence because of continuous violence, I mean, which was understandable because a lot of people were being killed.  Now that that has subsided, does the United Nations intend to resume the operations, because [internally displaced persons] still exist; they’re still not resettled, and they create another problem?


Spokesperson:  Well, if I’ve understood your question correctly, we’ve already addressed this quite clearly.  And I don’t really have anything further to add.  I can see if we do have an update from Pakistan that would help you.  But I’ve said what I have to say about Afghanistan, and we’ve addressed Pakistan, I think.  Yes.


Question:  Is there any news about Israel’s inquiry committee, the international one that the Secretary-General was working on nearly one month now?  Any development, any progress?


Spokesperson:  Well, again, we’ve said repeatedly, the Secretary-General has said it repeatedly, and I said it just the other day:  this proposal is very much on the table, and the Secretary-General looks forward to a swift and positive response from the Israelis.


Question:  [inaudible] what is on the table?


Spokesperson:  It means that it still stands.  It means that the proposal that the Secretary-General has made to Turkey and Israel is still available, there to be used.  He wants it to go ahead and he looks forward to a positive response from Israel to enable that to happen.


Question:  And what do we expect [to] happen — that someone is going to pick up whatever [inaudible] on the table and bringing together four people, announcing their names, one from each country, Israel and Turkey, and then two observers; what the Secretary-General told me.  Does he need a green light from someone that he doesn’t want to touch it?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General answered that question already, as you know.  And it may have even been you who asked the question at the stakeout last week, and it’s pretty clear that if you’re trying to have a group brought together that includes a representative from Israel and a representative from Turkey, then you need to have the involvement of both of those parties at the very least.  And so that’s why you do need to have a clear answer from both of those countries.  It’s as simple as that, and we’re waiting for that.  As you know, it’s something that the Secretary-General feels quite strongly about, and he’s pushing it.  Yeah.


Question:  [inaudible] what is so simple?


Spokesperson:  But you seem to be suggesting that it is simple that he can just go ahead without having what you call a green light from Israel.  It’s not about having a green light from Israel, it’s about having Israel involved in it.  That’s what it’s about.


Question:  If Israel is not involved and there is no international committee?


Spokesperson:  There needs to be if this is to be a credible exercise, then that’s absolutely right, yeah.  Masood.


Question:  I just wanted to know, is it an open-ended process?  Is there a timeline to it at all, or no, there is no timeline to it?


Spokesperson:  We said, the Secretary-General has said, that he looks forward to a swift response, okay?  I think, Matthew, you had another question.


Question:  Sure, I have Burundi and Sri Lanka and the gender entity.  On Burundi, there’s a decision by the opposition parties:  not only are they not going to participate in the 28 June presidential election, but they have now said that they will boycott the parliamentary elections on 23 July.  So it seems like you’ll have, there is a one-candidate election coming up [on] Monday, and then with the possibility of a one-party election after that.  Given the UN’s role for so long now in Burundi, does the UN have any response to this, to the seeming breakdown of the democratic process in the country?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General visited Burundi just very recently, and when he was thee he reminded all his interlocutors that the remainder of the electoral cycle, which includes the two parts that you have mentioned, should be as inclusive as possible.  And that’s because it’s important for the people of Burundi to conclude what after all is a critical phase of peace consolidation smoothly.  And I am sure you will also have seen that the Security Council made a recent press statement that points in the same direction.  And I can assure that the Secretary-General is continuing to follow this very closely, not least through his Executive Representative on the ground, Charles Petrie.  And he is working very closely with the African Union and other regional partners and stakeholders in Burundi.


Question:  Is the UN providing any, either technical assistance or other assistance to what’s essentially now a one-candidate election?


Spokesperson:  This is, as we’ve said, our repeated advice… as I said, the Secretary-General was there recently.  We have our Executive Representative on the ground.  They have made it very clear that it’s important for it to be as inclusive as possible.


Question:  Did Mr. Darusman, who is the Chair of the Sri Lanka Panel, has been quoted that, of Sri Lanka’s decision to deny him and the other two visas, that the decision is unfortunate, which seems to imply that he wanted to go there, there would be some benefit to going there in terms of carrying out the work of the Panel.  So when he said that is he, I guess… what does the UN say that the Chairman of the Panel sees a need to go?  You know, yesterday you said, well, they don’t need to go there.  Well, the head of the… You didn’t say it that way… I don’t mean to [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  No, I didn’t, Matthew, so it’s good if you’re going to paraphrase me to do it accurately.


Spokesperson:  Basically what I said was that it is not necessary for them, it is not a requirement that they go to Sri Lanka.  It is not a requirement, and we did talk about how, if they need to be in touch with concerned officials, that they can do, short of actually going to Sri Lanka.  I also said, if I remember correctly, that once those three Panel members get together — which they have yet to do — once they do, they will be able to decide for themselves to what extent to be able to do the job the Secretary-General has asked them to do to advise him; they will be able to decide whether they do need to go to Sri Lanka or not.  And if they do, then they will ask.  But it’s not a requirement for them to be able to do that or to do it. 


Question:  Sure, and I’m sorry, and I didn’t mean to — maybe the tone of the voice was wrong.  But my question was just, does the Secretary-General agree that it’s unfortunate?


Spokesperson:  I think what’s important here is simply to be very clear, that this is an Advisory Panel to advise the Secretary-General.  It’s not an inquiry, an investigation that’s directed against Sri Lanka.  It is not.  What it is, is to advise the Secretary-General.  And as such, visits are not required.  Okay.


Question:  [inaudible] you said they haven’t gotten together yet.  Is there any idea of… Just two things; when they actually will get together to start this four-month timeframe running, and also how their work will be staffed.  How many staff members will there be?  Will there be a recruitment process that will slow down the beginning, or is there already provisions for who, how the group will be staffed?


Spokesperson:  Well, my understanding is that the three of them will be getting together relatively soon, within the coming month.  In other words, in July — I’m not exactly sure at what point.  As to the support that they receive, that will come through the Secretariat, and that’s something that still needs to be worked out, the finer points of that.  Okay.  Anything else?  All right, thank…


Question:  The gender event question…


Spokesperson:  Do you have what?  Sure, of course.


Question:  [inaudible] seems to be a big event in the North Lawn today where there are delegates milling around, and this has been set by the President of the General Assembly, something of a deadline to get a draft done.  So I’m wonder… I understand that the Secretary-General is going to the G-20 and all, but what is the role of the Secretariat?  Not just the Secretary-General personally, but Migiro, you know, the [Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose] Migiro or… What is… Even when the thing is done, I am sure that the Secretariat is going to say, you know, this is a reform that we brought about, this gender entity.  What, in this critical time, what’s the role of the Secretariat in sort, providing I guess, you know, leadership on this gender entity?  There are some outstanding issues, and I just wonder whether the Secretariat is chiming in, in terms of how this entity will deal with the developed world or countries in which there is not a presence on the ground?  And then, you may not think it’s related, but have you found out whose decision it was to close the UN day care centre on two days’ notice?  The issue that arose yesterday?  I see them as related.  Maybe you don’t.


Spokesperson:  Well, starting with the big picture, gender empowerment, gender equality, these are major priorities for the Secretary-General, and for the United Nations as a whole.  Indeed gender empowerment is one of the key priorities of the Secretary-General for this year, not least because he and the Deputy Secretary-General have been pushing extremely hard for this new gender entity to come onto being.  And so, obviously, we’re watching this very closely.  We’re not just watching; I know the Deputy Secretary-General in particular — this is something the Secretary-General has asked her to focus on — he’s very much involved in seeing how this passes through during the course of the day and into next week.  And I would anticipate that the Deputy Secretary-General would want to speak to the media once we have a clearer picture of what happens.  It is a major priority; it’s something that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General have been pushing extremely hard because they believe that it’s essential for us to be able to make progress on many other areas of work, not least, development.  And as for the micro-picture, which is not to belittle it at all, because child care is extremely important, I do not have an answer.  We’ve asked for an answer but we do not have an answer at the moment.  Okay.  Yes.


Question:  There seems to be fragmented communication information…


Spokesperson:  About?


Question:  About Gaza, Israel, West Bank, the different entities.  But I read several press reports that, about a week ago, and the Israelis sent through lots of food, that they didn’t have room for it because their supermarkets were full of food that they got from Egypt.  And they were having a problem, I think UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] was trying to find storage for the [inaudible].  That’s one thing.  The other is people in the West Bank, which is a whole different situation, were destroying food products, I don’t know how hungry their children are, because they heard that the settlers had [inaudible].  So, I wonder about destroying food and hungry children.  And also, there have been some complaints of Palestinians in the West Bank, that if they stop building, there will be hundreds of people out of work, because they’re the workers that build.  So, there are so many ways to look at this.


Spokesperson:  Okay, so what’s your question?


Question:  Have you heard about it?  Has somebody heard about it?  All I hear about is just [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, there is a lot of reporting, of course, in all kinds of detail and from different angles.  And the most important thing here is to ensure that the lead UN agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, does the job that it has to do, which is to help Palestinian refugees in the Middle East region, not just Gaza or the West Bank.  And that’s what they do.  And they keep a close eye on all aspects, including the kind of reports that you have mentioned.  Okay.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend.


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