Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

30 June 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

30 June 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General today attended the ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In an interview with Radio Okapi, the Secretary-General said that the celebration is a historic moment for the Congolese people.  He said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a major role to play in Africa and the world, including on climate change and biodiversity protection.  And the country, he said, has entered a new phase, marked by consolidation and stabilization.

After the ceremony, he just held bilateral meetings with Congolese President Joseph Kabila and with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.  Later today, he is also expected to meet with King Albert of Belgium.

Today is also the last day of the present UN Mission in the country, the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), before it enters a new phase as the UN Stabilization Mission, known as MONUSCO, starting tomorrow.  The Secretary-General will meet with the senior management of MONUC and unveil a plaque for MONUSCO.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

I have a further announcement that the Secretary-General will travel to Jamaica to attend the thirty-first meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which begins in Montego Bay on 4 July.

While he is there, he will deliver the message that the international community must act with solidarity in addressing the impact of the sustained economic crisis, particularly on those most vulnerable.  In addition to discussing the global economic situation, he will talk to CARICOM leaders about the need to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and to keep moving forward in dealing with climate change.  He will also talk about the United Nations’ support to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake in January 2010 and the security situation in the region.

While in Jamaica, the Secretary-General will have bilateral meetings with Heads of Government and regional organizations.

** Afghanistan

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council this morning on recent developments in that country.  He discussed the need to build on the results of the Peace Jirga recently held among Afghan parties and the need to assist the Afghan authorities in providing security.

De Mistura said that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once he is done there.  And Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, the Council President, will also speak to reporters and deliver a press statement on Afghanistan once the open meeting has concluded.

**Security Council

Earlier today, the Security Council adopted an extension of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) until the end of this year.

Later this afternoon, the Council intends to hold consultations on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF), with a view to holding a vote on that mission’s mandate.

This is the last day of Mexico’s Security Council presidency.  And tomorrow, Nigeria will take over the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of July.

** Kyrgyzstan — Humanitarian Update

In Kyrgyzstan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has appealed to the international community not to forget the tens of thousands of people faced with having to rebuild lives and overcome trauma following the violence in mid-June in and around Osh in the country’s south.

Guterres is in Kyrgyzstan to assess operations on the ground; he made his comments while speaking to journalists at a site for returned refugees and other displaced people.  “Entire communities here have been left fractured and embittered,” Guterres said.  “Immediate and sustained humanitarian help is needed to avert a dangerous expansion of grievance and loss.”  We have more on his comments in a press release available in the Spokesperson’s Office.

Earlier today, Guterres witnessed the arrival and offloading in Osh of humanitarian supplies brought over by a 27-truck convoy from Uzbekistan.  The trucks carried supplies from the UN refugee agency, UNICEF and the World Food Programme — they included 150 metric tons of wheat flour, vegetable oil, pulses and beans among other items.  These will be distributed to internally displaced people, returnees, refugees and others affected by the recent violence.  And we have more on this in the Spokesperson’s office.

**Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

A new tool has been launched to help stop the use of sexual violence as a tactic a war.  Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence — an analytical inventory of peacekeeping practice catalogues direct and indirect ways to combat sexual violence during and in the wake of war, and documents the best practices for a more effective response by peacekeepers to women’s security concerns.  The inventory is a collaboration between the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UNIFEM.  And we have more on this in a release available from the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Special Events Today

After this, we’ll have a briefing also by Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, who will be here to update you on the work of the General Assembly.  He is here in the room now.

At the stakeout today, like I said, Claude Heller, the Permanent Representative of Mexico, will speak about today’s Security Council debate on Afghanistan.  And like I said, Staffan de Mistura, will also be there to speak to you at the stakeout.

In terms of special events today, at 4 p.m. today here in the Library Auditorium there will be a UNTV debate on women’s empowerment, development cooperation and culture, moderated by Daljit Dhaliwal as part of the UN 21st Century television series.  The event is being organized by several departments, including DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], DPI [Department of Public Information], UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], on the occasion of the high-level segment [of the Economic and Social Council] and the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And then for press conferences, tomorrow at 12 the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Angela Kane; the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O’Brien; the UN Ombudsman, John Barkat; and the Executive Director of the Office for the Administration of Justice, Andrei Terekhov, will be the guests at the noon briefing.  And they will be here to discuss the UN’s new system of administration of justice.

**Marie Okabe

And finally, I have a note of “hail and farewell” to someone you all know very well:  Marie Okabe, who is ending her time as Deputy Spokesperson to move to Washington, D.C., where she will be the Deputy Head of the UN Information Centre there.

Marie has been the sparkplug of the Spokesperson’s Office for the past decade, and has used her previous skills as a journalist to stay on top of the news cycle.  I still remember the first time I met her, when she called me into her office to get me to correct something I’d written back when I was a reporter here; and sure enough, when I looked back at my notes, I found out that she was right and I was wrong.  From that day on, I learned never to doubt her instincts.  And I’m sure we’ll continue to rely on her wit and wisdom even when she’s in Washington.  And good luck, Marie, and thanks for everything.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, yesterday there was some skirmishes between the people of south Lebanon and the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon].  UNIFIL conducts its manoeuvres also, exercises in towns without any assistance of the Lebanese Army.  What’s the explanation for these exercises if the Lebanese Army is not accepting it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, on that, since Monday evening, UNIFIL carried out activities aimed at checking its own internal capacity for deploying maximum troops on the ground on a regular day of operations.  That exercise is to enable the commander to have a clear picture of the military assets that can be available to him at any given time.  And in that case, particular care has been taken to minimize disturbance or inconvenience to the local population during the operation.

In cooperation with the Lebanese Army, UNIFIL is making every effort to talk to the communities and explain to them the nature and purpose of the activity in order to clear any misunderstandings they may have in this regard.  And the enhanced deployment operations will conclude today.

Question:  But Farhan, they have been unable to convince the command of the Lebanese Army of the exercises, and some reports said that it was one-sided, staging a scenario where there will be an attack by Israel and how to deal with the situation in South Lebanon in this attack, but not in defence of Lebanon, rather in containing the population inside.

Associate Spokesperson:  There are a couple of points there that I want to correct you on.  First of all, the Lebanese Army was fully informed about this activity, its nature and its purpose.  That’s first of all.  And second of all, in terms of whether it has to do with any potential attack, this is not related to any incident or development; instead it is a regular activity like numerous others that are conducted to ensure the readiness of the troops on the ground.

Question:  Why was it not then jointly done with the Lebanese Army as everything else happens?

Associate Spokesperson:  This was an exercise to, like I said, determine the kind of assets that UNIFIL has on the ground.  But certainly, the Lebanese Army was fully informed, and like I said, UNIFIL was working with the Lebanese Army to make every effort to talk to the communities about the activities that it’s conducting.

Correspondent:  Obviously, they did not succeed.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, the Minister of Trade and Development of Finland made the suggestion to the effect that the Group of 20 (G-20) should be integrated in the UN system and that it should be the leading organization for economic, social and environmental issues.  What does the Secretary-General think of this suggestion?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of the leadership within the United Nations on economic and social issues we do have a body, the Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, which handles this.  Any revisions to the structure, to the architecture of the United Nations, whether of the Security Council or ECOSOC or of any other bodies would have to be taken by the Member States.  So, it really would be a matter for the Member States to consider.  And then, of course, for something like this, it would also be a matter for the G-20 members themselves to consider.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Nepal and Sri Lanka.  In Nepal, the Prime Minister, Mr. [Madhav] Kumar [ Nepal], has resigned, and I am wondering, since the UN has a mission there and has been involved in trying to bring about stability, what’s the UN’s reaction or response to this resignation of the Prime Minister?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, we’re still checking with the UN Mission in Nepal, UNMIN, for further details, and we’ll try to get some more information from them about what has happened following this resignation.  But certainly, what we have been hoping to achieve on the ground, through the efforts by the UN Mission and by Karin Landgren, is to see whether the parties can take a step forward to end their political deadlock.  So anything that would help to end that deadlock would certainly be welcome.

Question:  Okay, I also wanted to ask, in Sri Lanka the Minister for Housing and Construction, Wimal Weerawansa, has been quoted as saying, urging the, under the headline “Take UN Lanka staff hostage”, he said, urging the public to surround the UN office in Sri Lanka and trap the staff inside with regard to the panel and any consideration of war crimes in the country.  First of all, what’s the UN’s response to a Government minister saying to keep UN staff hostage, what preparations are being made and what’s your response to it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, on the various levels.  First of all, on the security level, our security officials are aware of these remarks.  They would certainly try to check whether this official was quoted correctly and what he meant by that.  The Government has assured us this is an individual opinion and is not their policy.  Along those lines, we’ve also called in to the UN house in Colombo just to see what the conditions are there.  They have not reported any actual mobilization of people.  Certainly if there was any such activity, though, that would be a cause of concern.  But we’re not at that stage yet.

Question:  And I guess my question is, if a Government minister makes such comments, and I understand you’re going to check to see whether he was misquoted by the Daily Mirror, but if a Government… who did the UN speak to, to somehow distinguish this position from the “Government position” since he is a Government minister?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the UN has a Resident Coordinator on the ground, we have officials there and we spoke to Government counterparts immediately afterwards just to check up on this particular article.  But, like I said, our security team will do their normal assessment as they do everywhere else in the world.  At this stage, there is no particular cause for concern right now at the UN house.  On the general point about any threatening comments, whether by officials or others, obviously we do not condone and do not accept any threats made against UN staff anywhere.  What was precisely said and so forth, that’s something we’d certainly have to determine.

Question:  What do you think this means for the Government actually taking either the advice of the panel or allowing Ban Ki-moon’s panel to travel to the country?  Do you see any…  It seems like this is, goes one step beyond saying they will deny visas.

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t necessarily connect this to that until we have further details on what exactly was said.

Question:  Yes, Farhan, a question on Lebanon, please.  I was wondering there about the [resolution] 1701 report and also did the UN get any reports about Israel’s intention to pull out from Al Ghajar, officially informed about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re checking up on that.  Obviously we are aware of the latest media reports, but as far as the situation in Ghajar is concerned, as you know, our Force Commander General [Alberto Asarta Cuevas] has been working with the respective Lebanese and Israeli authorities to deal with the issue of Ghajar, and we need to find out from UNIFIL whether there is actually any move for a pullout.  Obviously this is something we’ve been working on for several years now.  We would welcome any progress on this.  But we’ll wait to see from UNIFIL what is actually happening on the ground.  As for the 1701 report, we’ll need to check with the Security Council whether they have received it or not.

Question:  So it’s out?  Is it officially out?  Has it been handed to the Security Council members?

Associate Spokesperson:  We haven’t received any indication that it’s out as a document yet.  So we need to check whether the members of the Council have it.  Today is the due date on the calendar, but we need to see whether it’s actually gone to them or not.

Question:  Would it be held up to reflect the tension between UNIFIL and the inhabitants of South Lebanon?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know when the report is going to the Security Council.  It may have already gone, but we would need to check that.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said the report had not gone to the Security Council.]

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Back on Sri Lanka, an organization called the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam has, I understand, written to the UN and it has offered to give the panel of experts first-hand evidence of atrocities committed during the end of the civil war.  We know that the panel is, in the way it was described by the UN initially, is willing to work with Sri Lankan officials.  But is it willing to work and receive evidence from Tamil Diaspora groups?  And have you received the letter?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as far as that goes, issues having to do with how the panel conducts its work ultimately are to be decided by the members of the panel themselves.  We need to find out from Mr. Marzuki [Darusman] or the other panel members what their views are on that.  But they have not made any particular comment about this communication.

Question:  I thought that the 90-some day delay between the announcement of the panel and naming the members had to do with making of terms of reference.  So, I am wondering:  is it entirely up to the panel members or is there a document that’s called terms of reference of the panel, and if so, can that document be released or made public?

Associate Spokesperson:  There wouldn’t be a public terms of reference because this is, as we have made clear, an advisory body to the Secretary-General.  It’s not a body outside of that advisory function; and we’ve made clear what its advisory function is.

Question:  Just by having this term of reference to say, it’s up to the panel members entirely what they do, doesn’t seem to be [inaudible].

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, it’s certainly up to the panel members to determine how they will go about conducting their work of advising the Secretary-General, and so it would be up to them, therefore, to convene and decide how they go about their work.  That’s fairly straightforward.

Question:  Has there been any progress or was there any update on them actually when they will convene?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any date of convening just yet.  We’ll need to find out.

Question:  Has it been stated whether or not the report will be made public after four months?  Or does it just go to the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t know whether necessarily their advice will come in the form of a report or not, in the first place.  But whatever their findings are, those will go to the Secretary-General, and that would be his call to determine how to share that and how to make it public.  That would be at his discretion once he receives whatever the advice takes.

Question:  Farhan, I asked Martin yesterday regarding Kyrgyzstan and the Uzbek Government forcing a number of displaced out of the country back into dangerous territory.  I know you read the UNHCR is trying to assist, but I just wanted to know the percentages, or can they become available, of the number of people that have been assisted that have been forced back into Kyrgyzstan and what the UN is doing to assist those people.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, UNHCR has a policy against what they call forced refoulement, the policy of turning back people who do not want voluntarily to go back.  UNHCR, as we have made clear over the past few days, has people on the Kyrgyz side of the border trying to check on the people returning from Uzbekistan and determine whether they had returned back voluntarily.  And so, they are trying to interview people and talk to them about the nature of the returns.  We don’t have any statistics from UNHCR about this.  But certainly what they’re trying to do is make sure that all of those who are coming back do so voluntarily; otherwise, that certainly would be a cause for concern.  And as you know, as we just mentioned, António Guterres is himself in Kyrgyzstan to evaluate the situation.

Question:  Farhan, I wonder if you have any further information regarding the attack on the UN vehicle in the Afghan capital and the ensuing death of a staff member?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, not at this stage.  It’s still being investigated.

Question:  Kyrgyzstan and Guinea.  First on Kyrgyzstan, on this question there is a UNHCR official called Peter Nicolas who has been quoted by AFP saying that the refugee crisis in Uzbekistan is over now.  I’m wondering is that really, is that the UN’s position — that there is no more refugee crisis, that it’s all resolved?  It just seemed to be kind of a…

Associate Spokesperson:  I think the statement that we have just flagged from the High Commissioner for Refugees, our senior refugee official, António Guterres, speaks for itself and makes very clear the nature of the fact that we still have quite a lot of outstanding concerns about the situation there.

Question:  On the election, I wanted to ask, I’d asked a couple of times and I want to thank your office for giving in Russian, albeit, the Constitution that was actually voted on Sunday and approved.  It seems to say, once translated, that in the Kyrgyz Republic it is forbidden to create political parties on the basis of religion or ethnicity.  So given… the UN may think that is a good provision, given that the Uzbeks were, I don’t know if there is yet any numbers on their voter turnout.  Does the UN have any concern that this would be the new Constitution [inaudible]?

Associate Spokesperson: I think that we gave you a fairly lengthy response about how we regard that language, and I don’t have anything further to add to that, beyond the fact this, of course, is something that was put to a vote.

Question:  Do you have a reaction to the election in Guinea?  Is there any UN statement…?

Associate Spokesperson:  We had a statement on Guinea.  We issued, put that statement out on Monday.

Question:  Seventeen of the 24 contestants to it have said it was filled with fraud and ballot stuffing.  Is there any reaction?  I just want to kind of put the two statements together.

Associate Spokesperson:  We stand by the statement that we put out on Monday.  And certainly, if you look at the wide spectrum of international observers who have filed their own evaluations, you’ll see that, although there clearly were certain problems with regard to the technical conduct of the elections, none of the observers reported any sign of systematic fraud.  So that is the outside expertise that we’ve seen since.  But certainly in terms of our views, those are contained in the statement.  And with that, Jean Victor.  Oh, one more?

Question:  Sorry, I just have one question; it was a bit of a diary check.  But from what I remember, the Secretary-General is at the beginning of next month meant to report back to the General Assembly in relation to the Goldstone Report.  Is that… am I right about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that there is a deadline coming up.  We will let you know more precisely once we’re close to that date what kind of communication he will have.

Question:  It’s supposed to be very close, like the 5th of July.

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s in the first week of July, yes.

Question:  So we could ask you about it on Monday?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, I believe so.  On Tuesday.

Question:  Is he going to present another, like reporting that both parties did not reply?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll certainly let you know as that proceeds.  And, gosh, we’ve been here long enough that I have actually not one, but two more announcements for you.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Haiti

First of all, the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the publication of presidential decrees on elections in Haiti.

The United Nations Secretary-General welcomes the presidential decrees of 24 and 29 June 2010, mandating Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council to organise the upcoming presidential and legislative elections on 28 November, 2010.

The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Haiti, the Provisional Electoral Council, political parties and all Haitians to ensure that the upcoming elections are transparent and credible and serve to reinforce Haiti’s democratic institutions as the country strives to recover from the worst humanitarian crisis in its history.

The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations commitment to provide comprehensive support to the Haitian authorities in the preparation and conduct of the elections.  To this end, MINUSTAH, the UN Mission, and UNDP, the UN Development Programme have already begun putting in place the capacities required to provide security, logistical and technical assistance.

The Secretary-General encourages United Nations Member States, especially those participating in the Task Force on Elections, to ensure that the financial resources required for electoral operations and the smooth running of the elections are made available as soon as possible.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment for Guatemala

And secondly, I have an announcement on the appointment of a new Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The Secretary-General has appointed Francisco Dall’Anese Ruiz of Costa Rica to head the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.  Mr. Dall’Anese will replace outgoing Commissioner Carlos Castresana who announced his resignation on 7 June 2010.  The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to reiterate his appreciation for Mr. Castresana’s excellent work heading the Commission during the first two and half years of its mandate.  The achievements of CICIG during that period have been praised by Guatemalan authorities, civil society and the international community alike.  And Mr. Dall’Anese is currently the Attorney General of Costa Rica, a post he has occupied since 2003.

And we have available a press release on this in the Spokesperson’s Office.

And with that, Jean Victor.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to all.

Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, President of the General Assembly, is in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for an official visit.  President Treki met with the President of the Republic of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.  Dr. Treki also met with the Ecuadorean Minister for Foreign Affairs and other senior Government officials.  During his meetings, President Treki discussed important issues on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly, including the role of the United Nations General Assembly in international peace and security, especially regarding the situation in the Middle East.  President Treki reiterated his invitation to Member States to participate in the high-level meeting in September 2010 to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.  Dr. Treki underlined the importance of broad and strong participation from developing countries.  President Treki briefed President Correa on the reform of the United Nations, including Security Council reform and revitalization of the General Assembly.  President Correa underlined the need for effective reform at the United Nations and reiterated his support for President Treki’s initiatives in this regard.  President Treki will return to New York tomorrow, 1 July.

I would also like to take this opportunity to add my voice, just like Farhan Haq did, about Marie Okabe’s move to Washington, D.C.  I wish her the best of luck.  She is a wonderful colleague.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have any update on the negotiation, I guess finalization of the negotiations, on what is called the gender entity or women’s agency of the UN?  There’s some applause coming out of Conference Room 8 earlier today, but does this indicate that the deal is done?  What can you tell us about this?

Spokesperson:  I am happy you heard applause from a distance.  I was much further away.  So, I may not have heard the same applause.  But I think there is something going on.  Give us a bit of time, we will check and get the news when the news is ready or when the ink is dry.  But there is a process going on.  We should know very soon.

Question:  And on this trip, President Treki’s trip, so this was essentially — he went to Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador?  Is that, those were the three countries that he went to?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  Okay.  How did he select them?

Spokesperson:  Well, he was invited.  He did not select.  He was invited by each individual country.

Question:  Did he receive any other invitations [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  The President receives many invitations.  In this case, he was invited by these three countries.  He is also invited by other countries.  And these invitations are processed in line with his availability and the agenda of the sixty-fourth session.  So, he has to balance his own availability and the need to be in New York or elsewhere regarding whatever he considers to be important at the time.

Question:  [inaudible] either Colombia or Mexico or any other countries in Latin America?

Spokesperson:  I’ll go into the file and check.  Okay.  No further questions?  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Are there any efforts undertaken currently regarding the reforms of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  There is a process going on.  There is a major effort.  A lot of work done already by Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin [ Afghanistan], who as you know is leading this process as the Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations.  So, this process is very complex, extremely important, and efforts are ongoing.  This is not something that is bound to be solved quickly.  So, we have to give it a bit more time.

Thank you, and have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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