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

8 July 2010

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

8 July 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.

** Iraq

Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has condemned in the strongest terms the series of bombings targeting innocent pilgrims during a religious commemoration.  The heinous attacks have resulted in killing dozens of worshippers and wounding hundreds more.

Mr. Melkert described the attacks as “horrific crimes committed against defenceless civilians who were practising their faith”.  He said that the formation of a broadly based Government will be the most effective response in the face of insurgents who are aiming at destabilizing the country.  We have more in a statement in the Spokesperson’s office.

** Lebanon

Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), today put out an open letter to the people of south Lebanon, so that he could speak directly, without any misunderstandings.

He said that UNIFIL is fully aware of the problems that military operations in civilian areas may cause to the people.  He said that the way to deal with those problems is to discuss them directly with UNIFIL, in order to find amicable solutions, not by obstructing the work of peacekeepers.

The Force Commander said that he expects the peacekeepers to act in a fully professional, objective and transparent manner, and give their best effort in ensuring security and protection for the people, and accomplishing their mission without interfering in the daily lives of the Lebanese citizens.  He stressed that UNIFIL troops are required to work in close coordination with the Lebanese Army, and particularly when undertaking any sensitive tasks.  And we have the full letter in the Spokesperson’s office.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), co-chaired by Special Representative for Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura, met today to prepare the ground for the 20 July Kabul Conference, the first major international conference inside Afghanistan.

The purpose of the Kabul Conference is for the Government to set out its priorities and for donor countries to realign their assistance around these programmes to achieve meaningful improvements in the lives of Afghan citizens.  It is not a conference for new promises or funding pledges, today’s preparatory meeting made clear.

De Mistura welcomed the Afghan Government’s leadership in developing 23 national priority programmes in the areas of governance, social and economic development, and peace and security.  He said:  “These programmes are evidence of the transition to Afghan responsibility and leadership.”  And there is a press release on the meeting with more details.

**Secretary-General’s Reports

Two reports by the Secretary-General are now available both online and on the racks.  One concerns Guinea-Bissau, while the other is about the work of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA).

On Guinea-Bissau, the Secretary-General says he is deeply concerned that the influence of transnational crime in some sections of the military and the State apparatus threatens to further destabilize the country.  He notes that April’s political crisis, which saw both the Prime Minister and the Chief of General Staff briefly detained by army troops, has been linked to drug trafficking.  Security sector reform, he says, is, therefore, a crucial condition for stabilization of the country.  He calls for a stronger effort to restructure that sector.

On West Africa, the Secretary-General calls on regional leaders to reinforce national policies to combat cross-border criminal activities and terrorist threats, particularly in the Sahel band.  He also notes that, while an increasing number of countries in the subregion are holding regular elections, there is still room for improving the frameworks in which these elections are held.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has designated Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, his Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, as the Secretary-General of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which is to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2011.

** Nigeria

Concerning Nigeria, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Nigerian Government to contain an unprecedented outbreak of lead poisoning in the country’s north, a result of the processing of lead-rich ore in gold mining.

WHO was part of an international investigation team that confirmed that more than 100 children in the area were suffering from severe lead poisoning, with more than 10 times the concentration of lead in their blood than the levels associated with impaired neurological development in young children.  Lead concentrations that are 250 times higher than the limit for residential areas in the United States and France were also found in the area.

** Haiti

As part of ongoing United Nations reconstruction efforts in Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it is setting in place strategies and coordinated systems to help ensure the country’s long-term food security.  The WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, noted that the agency’s emergency food delivery helped avert a major hunger crisis in the wake of the 12 January earthquake.  She added that WFP is now working with the Government and other partners on programmes mixing food and cash for work and school meals to rebuild Haiti’s food security system.

Meanwhile, a mail processing centre funded and managed by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) opened this week in Port-au-Prince.

**Edward Norton

The Secretary-General has designated award-winning actor and filmmaker Edward Norton as a Goodwill Ambassador for biodiversity, marking the United Nations 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Mr. Norton has a long-standing commitment to mobilizing support for conservation efforts, most notably as a board member and active advocate for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.  Mr. Norton will be introduced to you in a press briefing here at 1 p.m. today, with Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.  And a press release has been issued.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Besides that press event, which, again, is at 1 p.m. here, there will be a press conference at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, here in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, with Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina, Chairman of the First Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, who will brief correspondents on the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty meeting, which will take place from 12 to 23 July in New York.

And that’s it from me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  There is a developing crisis in Central and West Africa threatening 10 million people because of lack of food.  And some 10 agencies, aid agencies, have, as you know, called on the international community to increase its efforts to help with food and contributions, and it seems that this aid is slowly coming.  The agencies have also called on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative to deal with this crisis.  Will the Secretary-General consider appointing such a representative?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, at this stage there certainly is no announcement about a Special Representative to deal with the humanitarian crisis in West Africa.  We do have a Special Representative for the region, namely our person heading the UN Office for West Africa, Said Djinnit, whose report on West Africa is out as a document today.  Beyond that, however, for the humanitarian side, John Holmes has visited the region there, even recently, and has constantly talked about the need to fund the humanitarian programmes in the region.

Question:  Farhan, in view of the letter of the Pakistani Foreign Minister being released today by the United Nations as a document, is there any chance that this particular inquiry can be re-opened, or that’s a closed case as far as the United Nations is concerned?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  We have made it very clear that that inquiry is closed; its work is complete.  And now it’s up to other jurisdictions to follow up on that.  The Secretary-General does intend to respond to the letter from the Government of Pakistan with a letter, which would, among other things, concern his full support for the work of the fact-finding commission.  And we’ll try to share that letter once it goes out.

Question:  When is that letter expected to go out?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know when.  But once it does, we’ll certainly inform you.

Question:  What is the UN’s response to Wimal Weerawansa’s hunger strike outside the UN office in Colombo?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, of course everyone is entitled to peaceful protest.  I do expect, however, that the Secretary-General will have a statement possibly in time for the briefing — although I didn’t want to delay the briefing much longer — or also possibly late in the afternoon, which contains the Secretary-General’s views.  And we’ll share that with you once we have it.

Question:  I want to follow up on that.  We asked about this, that Reuters had first reported this call between Wimal Weerawansa and the Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother.  And now an audiotape has actually been released of the call, as well as a transcript, in which Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatens to fire the police chief if he continues to try to stop the protest.  This, to many, makes it clear that it was a Government-sponsored closure of the UN building.  So I am wondering, given that initially you said it was an individual call, then there had been assurances by the Government, given evidence now that it was a Government-sponsored “hostage-taking” of UN staff, what is the UN going to do?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, I wouldn’t call it a hostage-taking.  But beyond that, we are aware of developments on the ground, and I do expect for us to respond to that in the form of a statement later this afternoon.  If I get it right now, certainly I’ll read it.  But it might be a little while longer.

Question:  May I ask, there have been some troubling revelations about UNITAID, [Philippe] Douste-Blazy’s office.  There is an article in the Financial Times on the 6th saying that UNITAID allocated $22 million to something called the Millennium Foundation, which is also headed by Mr. Douste-Blazy, for this thing called MassiveGood, where for every plane ticket people were going to click.  It was estimated that it would raise hundreds of millions of dollars and, according to the Financial Times, it’s raised much, much less than that.  Given that Ban Ki-moon was the first clicker and used the UN platform to promote this idea, what does he think about the article and of the use of $22 million that should have gone to, actually, antiretrovirals, to pay Spike Lee to do an ad for something that’s raised so little money?  And what is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to do to clean up this scandalous use of funds?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check with our colleagues dealing with this about what kind of response there is on that.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Do you have anything about the meeting between the Security Council and the AU [African Union] Peace and Security Council, which is supposed to happen tomorrow?  And can you confirm that there will also be the first meeting of the Joint Task Force between the UN Secretariat [and the], AU Secretariat on peacekeeping?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm that just yet.  We will try to get some details from the Security Council President’s office once the meetings are scheduled.  But first…

Correspondent:  It’s for tomorrow, so they should be scheduled by now.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, exactly.  They should be put on the schedule shortly, and once we can confirm that we will try to do that.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with his discussions with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu yesterday?  Does he think that he has accomplished something through these discussions towards the Middle East peace process?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is always hopeful that these meetings can be constructive and can help deal with the situation on the ground.  As far as that goes, the only real details we have to share on that meeting is that the subjects raised included the situation in Gaza and the closures, the Middle East peace process in general, and also Lebanon and the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).

Question:  During yesterday’s Security Council debate, the issue of civilian protection was discussed.  However, compensation was raised by four countries and was omitted from both the Secretary-General’s and Mr. Holmes’ statements.  I’m wondering if you can comment on what involvement, if any, the UN is going to be having in reforming the issue of military [inaudible] payments, especially in Afghanistan, and if you can speak more broadly to the issue of condolence payments and comfort zones?

Associate Spokesperson:  On that, as we have made clear in the various statements that were made by the Secretary-General, by John Holmes and also by Navi Pillay, there are a number of issues that the Security Council needs to deal with regarding the treatment of civilians in armed conflict.  And certainly any fair treatment of civilians who have been affected by armed conflict is essential.  I’d simply refer you back to the text of the many things that they said.  And beyond that, of course, the Secretary-General will continue to report back to the Security Council about ways to further the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Before we get to the next question, in response to the previous questions about Sri Lanka, I would like to point out that we have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka:

The Secretary-General finds it unacceptable that the Sri Lankan authorities have failed to prevent the disruption of the normal functioning of the United Nations offices in Colombo as a result of unruly protests organized and led by a Cabinet Minister of the Government.

In light of the evolving situation, he is recalling the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne, to New York for consultations.  He has also decided that the UNDP Regional Centre in Colombo will be closed.

The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to live up to its responsibilities towards the United Nations as host country so as to ensure continuation of the vital work of the Organization to assist the people of Sri Lanka without any further hindrance.

And in terms of any questions about Sri Lanka’s reactions to the Panel, one thing I would like to add is that the Secretary-General has made it absolutely clear that the Panel of Experts he has appointed on accountability in Sri Lanka is advisory and not adversarial in nature.

So that’s it on that.  Yes.

Question:  Actually, just on that statement, does the non-hindrance of the work of the UN include granting?  Is he calling for the granting of visas to these advisers, the advisory Panel, the three members?  Is that included in the definition of the work of the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  What I have is what I have just said.  That’s the sum total.

Question:  What does “work of the UN” mean?

Associate Spokesperson:  The work of the UN means the work that we need to do, however it is defined.  In the case of visas, it’s up to the Panel members themselves to determine whether they need those visas to go about their work.  As my colleague made clear a few weeks ago, that’s not a requirement for their work, but it’s up to them to determine whether they need it.

Question:  But the Chairman, [Marzuki] Darusman, has already said it’s unfortunate that they’ve said that they won’t get a visa.  It seems pretty clear that they want one.  I’m just trying to just, since you’ve just read the statement, understand what it means.  Does he want the visas to be granted?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  What he is asking for is for us to go about our work.  At this stage it’s up to the Panel to determine what they need to do, and we’ll see, we’ll judge cooperation with the Panel as that proceeds.  Obviously what we want is for the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate with all the work of the UN, including the work of the advisory Panel, as needed.  But it’s up to the Panel to determine what their needs are.

Question:  I just wanted to know this, now that he has closed down UNDP offices and other offices, will these people be coming back home or will they be staying there until such time that the crisis is over?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you saw for yourself, I only just got this statement just right now.  I don’t have any further detail about the closure of the UNDP office than what I have to say to you.  At this stage, I do not believe that there is any decision to recall people out of the country.  But we’ll keep you posted on that as that develops.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I would like to go back to my questions on the threatening situation in Central and West Africa, the hunger crisis.  When the 10 leading agencies called on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative for this crisis, they, of course, wanted political leadership to deal with this crisis.  And would the Secretary-General at least consider calling on the international community to surge, as this put it, to contribute urgently to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in this region?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, certainly he would.  The Secretary-General has been very clear about the need to fund all the needed humanitarian activities, not just in West Africa, but throughout the world.  But in West Africa in particular, he and his Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, have been very clear that funds have been lacking for some time and that, regardless of the impact of the financial crisis, there are certain basic programmes that need to be funded.  And he would reiterate that, yes.

Question:  I just want to follow up on this thing of condolence payments.  The office of the Special Envoy on Assistance to Pakistan, does it have any role, does it have, what is its role in helping the Government to arrange payments to families of people killed in bombings in Pakistan?  And also, does it have any human rights component?  I wanted to — we’ve gotten some things but we’re really not able to use it on the record.  I wanted to know, what’s the Secretariat’s understanding, in naming that Special Adviser on Assistance to Pakistan, on if it has a human rights component and its role in arranging, in helping the Government or in arranging or raising funds for payments to people killed in bombings?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, I am not aware of any role that we have in terms of raising funds regarding compensation.  I believe that’s an issue for the Government.  I’ll check whether the office has a human rights component.

Question:  And just one other, something that came up there and I wanted to ask.  Given the Secretary-General’s role in children and armed conflict, it seems many people are saying that in Pakistan there are many children either adopted or used by the Taliban and even some local pro-Government militias.  But it’s not on Annex II of the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict.  I’m wondering, does putting a country on that agenda, on that annex — Colombia is on it, the Philippines is on it, Sri Lanka is on it — does it require the consent of the Government or does the Secretary-General and Ms. [Radhika] Coomaraswamy determine that children are being recruited and put them on?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe that’s a determination that’s made by Radhika Coomaraswamy in her role as the Special Representative dealing with that topic.

Question:  And she is free to put a country on without its consent?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe it’s her determination how to do it.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that Pakistan should be on the list given the UN’s own knowledge of children and armed conflict?

Associate Spokesperson:  The views of the Special Representative, Radhika Coomaraswamy, are the ones that count for this.

And with that, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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