|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.
As we mentioned earlier this week, the Secretary-General is leaving tonight for Madrid, Spain, where he will attend the first meeting of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group tomorrow, Friday.
The Secretary-General will meet with the eminent personalities that make up this Group. He is expected to tell them that they are there to help translate the rhetoric of good intentions into results. He will also stress the need to identify strategic opportunities and build awareness in the fight against poverty and in reaching the Millennium Development Goals. And we will have his opening remarks to that first meeting of the MDG Advocacy Group for you tomorrow.
Joseph Mutaboba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Guinea-Bissau, briefed the Security Council this morning in an open meeting on the situation in that country. In his remarks, Mutaboba said that recent developments in the political and security areas have underlined the extreme fragility of the peacebuilding process in Guinea-Bissau, and its vulnerability to reversals. Mutaboba added that, while these and other challenges are significant, they are not insurmountable if addressed without delay. We have copies of his remarks in the Spokesperson’s office.
Following the open meeting, Council members are continuing their discussions on Guinea-Bissau in closed consultations.
Mr. Mutaboba will speak to you at the stakeout once he’s finished in the Security Council, and we expect that to be possibly within about half an hour from now.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more people have been displaced in the territory of Beni, in the extreme north of North Kivu Province. This displacement is a result of armed confrontations between the national army and the Ugandan armed opposition group, the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF.
OCHA adds that, although relatively low in number when compared to the country’s estimated 1.85 million internally displaced persons, this wave of displacement is significant because it is caused by the activities of a group — the ADF — which was nearly dormant over the last four years.
So far, nearly 38,000 internally displaced persons have been registered in the village of Oicha. The inter-agency Rapid Response to Movements of Population mechanism is assessing needs in order to provide assistance.
**Nelson Mandela Day
This week, the United Nations will commemorate the first Nelson Mandela International Day, designated as 18 July. Various activities are planned at UN Headquarters and throughout the world.
Today, at 6:30 p.m. in the ECOSOC Chamber, there will be a screening of the movie Mandela: Son of Africa/Father of the Nation. Tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be an informal session of the General Assembly in honour of Nelson Mandela. And at 6:30 p.m., South African Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, will open the photo exhibit Nelson Mandela: Man of the People, in the Delegates’ Entrance Lobby. And we also have a message from the Secretary-General on the observance of Mandela Day.
**Press Conference Today
After this press conference at 12:30 p.m., here in the library auditorium, there will be a press conference by Thomas Mayr-Harting, Chairman of the 1267 Committee and Permanent Representative of Austria, to present the new Ombudsperson for the 1267 Committee, Kimberly Prost.
And that’s it from me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just a short follow-up, Farhan. You just mentioned that on 18 July, as I also remember, it’s going to be the day of honouring Nelson Mandela. Yet on the World Cup, they said that on the finale, actually, they couldn’t go — I don’t like to bother any more with this topic, but it’s since you mentioned that — that they couldn’t go to satisfy the request to go with the minute of silence for Srebrenica because it was on 11 July because they were honouring the Nelson Mandela Day. It seems to me that is discrepancy between 11 July and 18 July of seven days. So your comments or thoughts on that one? Any reaction to that?
Associate Spokesperson: This is the World Cup observance?
Correspondent: Yes, they are said that they couldn’t go for one minute of silence, because of the Mandela, but I am wondering…
Associate Spokesperson: We don’t speak for the World Cup, which was held in South Africa. It’s possible that there are other events taking place in South Africa around this. But for the UN, Mandela Day is designated as 18 July.
Question: Okay, Farhan, any reaction to the Israeli pursuit or Israeli chase of the Libyan ship and forcing it to go to El Arish instead of Gaza?
Associate Spokesperson: We don’t have any comment beyond what I had already said. As you know, we have been trying to make sure that we can do all we can to assist, to ensure that all humanitarian aid can get into Gaza. And we will continue with those efforts.
Question: I am asking particularly about the Israeli behaviour of chasing them in the middle of the sea with army boats and all these kinds of tactics — the UN doesn’t have any reaction for that?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any particular comment at this stage. Certainly in terms of the aid, all efforts to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza, we will do what we can to make sure that the aid can get in.
Question: Farhan, for the last two days I have been asking about this situation in Kashmir. Do you have any timeline as to when the Secretary-General will be able to make any remarks, if any, on the situation in Kashmir, which still continues to be as bad as possible?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t. I’ll keep in touch with my colleagues to see when we can say something. But at this stage, I don’t know about any particular comment on this, no.
Question: Also, I wanted to ask you about this Gaza inquiry into this attack on the flotilla, which the Secretary-General had made an effort that eventually the New Zealand Prime Minister will head it or Israel will come on board, but it doesn’t seem to be moving forward at all. What has happened? Why did it stop or stall?
Associate Spokesperson: No, the Secretary-General is continuing with his efforts. I believe in recent days I let you know that he had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in fact, earlier today, this morning, he did speak with the Foreign Minister of Turkey. So he continues with his contacts and his efforts on this issue do continue.
Question: Thank you. On the proximity talks regarding the Middle East, there is some kind of mounting pessimism now regarding a solution. The New York Times this morning speaks about first cheer and now gloom. And Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, visiting Syria this morning, said that it is not sufficient to manage the crisis. There has to be some solutions. And he said he will ask the Arab Summit to prepare at the end of this month to review its position. What can the Secretary-General do at this stage to encourage the process?
Associate Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is doing all that he can to encourage the process of proximity talks, with the ultimate goal of leading towards direct negotiations. He believes that that remains the way forward for the Israelis and the Palestinians. Like I said, he has been in touch with leaders throughout the region, including the Israeli Prime Minister just in recent days. And he will continue with his efforts, both individually and through the Quartet, to strengthen the efforts for that.
Question: I want to ask you about Kyrgyzstan and Guinea-Bissau. In Kyrgyzstan, there is a report in today’s New York Times about abuse of ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan by police, torture and mistreatment while being questioned. So I am wondering, and there seems to be even an acknowledgement by the Government of Roza Otunbayeva that these events take place and that they don’t truly control the security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan. What is the UN, first of all, it’s Human Rights Watch that has done the report, but is the UN and its human rights machinery looking into these matters? And can the UN confirm that the central Government does not control or is not responsible for the acts of the police in southern Kyrgyzstan?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, for that, what we will need to do is check with our human rights colleagues in Geneva. But certainly we are aware of the reports in today’s New York Times and will certainly try to see what our human rights colleagues are doing on this.
Correspondent: And on Guinea-Bissau, can I ask you this? I wanted to ask you, just now at the stakeout, US Ambassador Brooke Anderson issued a statement from the US Government saying about these “drug kingpins” in Guinea-Bissau, one of whom is [José Américo] Bubo Na Tchuto, who was actually put up by the UN in the UN compound in Guinea-Bissau from December, for several months. He was a former coup/navy leader who came in by canoe, if you remember this story, it was in December…
Associate Spokesperson: I am aware of it.
Question: And the UN chose to put him up. He is now, he’s been named a drug kingpin, but I am told that it was known even in December. So I am wondering, I will ask Mr. Mutaboba, but I am wondering, from the point of view of DPA [Department of Political Affairs] and the Secretariat, how the UN responds to the idea that they housed and provided protection to a drug kingpin for several months this year?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as far as I am aware, the office was acting particularly on the basis of one expressed concern that if that this particular individual were to leave the building, there would be a threat to his life. And so that was one of the factors influencing it. But beyond that, I would leave it to Mr. Mutaboba to explain.
Question: If an accused terrorist approached the UN, will they provide protection on that same basis?
Associate Spokesperson: Again, Mr. Mutaboba will be speaking at the stakeout and he would have more details on this. But there was concern about the individual’s life.
Question: Back to the Middle East, please. Any update on the Goldstone Report? Did the Israelis hand their own report to the SG, like the Palestinians did? What does he plan to do next week?
Associate Spokesperson: I believe that the deadline for Israel to turn in its response is next Monday. Once we have received the reply, the Secretary-General, as requested by the General Assembly, would then transmit his own report, which I believe will include all of their various inputs as annexes.
Question: So this means that, even if the Israelis hand it in by Monday, the SG will need some time before he presents his own response to the or is it going to be like last time, cut and paste of the responses of both sides without any assessment?
Associate Spokesperson: We will evaluate the matter at that point, once we have received all the replies. But we do expect the Secretary-General to turn in his reply to the General Assembly sometime next week.
Question: Farhan, do you have to share with us any kind of findings, a few UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo} findings or so regarding the most recent incident in northern part of Kosovo, Kosovska Mitrovica, and then that explosive device that was exploded? Who is in scope? Is anybody accused to be blamed or so?
Associate Spokesperson: Let me just see. I don’t think we have anything particularly recent on this for you. No. Yes, we will check with UNMIK about this.
Question: Farhan, do you have any information about… There is some NGO conference going on, out of which Oxfam was thrown out? Do you have any idea?
Associate Spokesperson: Who was thrown out?
Question: NGO. NGO conference was going on and Oxfam was thrown out of the NGO conference. DO you have any information about that at all?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware of any NGO conference where Oxfam was expelled. Here in New York or somewhere else?
Correspondent: Oxfam, I think it was in London.
Associate Spokesperson: No, we’ll check up on that. I am not aware of Oxfam being thrown out of an NGO conference, but we can check.
Question: I think it’s the Arms Trade Treaty talks that are taking place in the North Lawn Building that Oxfam was, and other NGOs were, ejected from. Even though I understand it’s not the Secretariat, it doesn’t run those talks, given all that the Secretary-General has said about civil society and how important it is, does he think it is appropriate on those types of talks to have NGOs expelled?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, first let me try and get some details from my colleague in the Office for Disarmament Affairs about what exactly happened. [The Associate Spokesperson later added: “We are not aware of any exclusions from the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) meetings in New York. On its first day, the Preparatory Committee agreed on the modalities for participation in the ATT and agreed that NGOs could attend open sessions. NGOs were admitted immediately after the decision was taken on Monday.”]
Question: Does the Secretary-General — this is in regard to this 4:30 p.m. briefing— does the Secretary-General have any position on President [Hamid] Karzai’s appeal for alleged ex-Taliban leaders to be removed from the 1267 list?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, on that we do. First of all, the question of removing names from the sanctions list is a matter for the Security Council and its Sanctions Committee dealing with resolution 1267 (1999), the Chair of which you will have here at 12:30 p.m.
Staffan de Mistura, our Representative in Afghanistan, did confirm this week that the names of 10 people whom the Government of Afghanistan would want to be de-listed are on their way to the Security Council, by a deadline which was extended to 31 July.
Both the 1267 Sanctions Committee team and the Security Council have recently visited Afghanistan after the Consultative Peace Jirga, and that has helped to achieve progress about this particular process.
Question: The Bolivian Mission has apparently sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly containing texts which would declare the provision of clean water as a human right. Does the Secretary-General share that view, that clean water and sanitation are human rights?
Associate Spokesperson: The Secretary-General certainly values clean water and sanitation. As you know, there are Millennium Development Goals that deal with that particular issue. And that is something that he is going to take up just over the coming days, when he travels to Madrid for this meeting of the MDG Advocacy Group. As for whether it needs to be listed as a human right, that is a question for the General Assembly Member States. So he will leave it to them to decide.
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about this MDG Advocacy Group. There is a story in El Mundo today in Madrid saying that Ban Ki-moon initially asked Prime Minister [José Luis] Zapatero of Spain to be a co-chair and then later decided that Paul Kagame of Rwanda would be. And it says that Spain was uncomfortable with that on human rights grounds and urged Ban Ki-moon not to appoint Mr. Kagame. I wonder if, one, if you can comment on that and, two, whether, with the recent beheading of the vice-president of an opposition party in Rwanda, what the UN’s thoughts are of the developments in Rwanda and if a Rwandan Minister is being considered to head UN Women?
Associate Spokesperson: First of all, the nominations for UN Women are continuing to come in, so I wouldn’t have any comment on any particular names on that.
Regarding the El Mundo article, yes, we are aware of that information. We did keep the various parties, including the Government of Spain, informed of the Secretary-General’s choice of President Kagame.
Regarding the selection of President Kagame of Rwanda, one of the points on this is that we believe that committed political leadership from both the North and the South is essential to build support for the global partnership embodied in the Millennium Development Goals. Rwanda has displayed extraordinary commitment to the MDGs and is among the few countries in Africa that have made the most progress towards the Goals. There have been commendable declines in both child and maternal mortality there. The country has also made remarkable progress in reducing the number of reported malaria cases and deaths and has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world. So Rwanda’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals has been outstanding.
Regarding the allegations against President Kagame, it’s clear that the Secretary-General is against all violations of human rights and he strongly condemns any such violations of human rights. At this point, however, President Kagame is the Head of State of Rwanda, and it is not for the Secretary-General to prejudge the outcome of any proceedings or accusations that have been initiated against him. So we would need to see what the results of those are.
Question: Does the UN believe, for example, this most recent killing of an opposition leader should be investigated, and by whom?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, I believe the matter is with the local law enforcement. We’ll see where it goes from there and whether anything else needs to be done.
Question: I have a question about translations. When we have a press conference here and a person speaks another language, we have little gadgets and translations. But on the stakeout, when it’s Arabic, as it was yesterday, about two thirds of the discussion between the Arabic-speaking diplomats, there is no translation. Is there any way to get it?
Associate Spokesperson: It would be difficult logistically to have interpreters for each and every potential language that’s spoken at the stakeout. So I don’t know whether that is logistically feasible. I know a number of speakers have brought with them people who can then interpret their comments into English. And certainly we would encourage anyone who is speaking at the stakeout to bring someone around who can then interpret it to the wider public. But sometimes that may not be possible.
Question: On this Afghanistan situation, on this de-listing of the Taliban and so forth, which you were just earlier talking about, has Mr. de Mistura, given any United Nations positions on this de-listing, or is he just conveying what Mr. Karzai wants at this time?
Associate Spokesperson: He has not presented any UN position because this is an issue that would ultimately need to be decided by Member States, specifically, the Member States who are on the 1267 Sanctions Committee. And we’re not going to make a judgement ahead of what they would say. Certainly Mr. de Mistura has encouraged anything that can move the reconciliation process forward, and he has been very clear on that.
Question: Just a point of information, when would the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and for the General Assembly be back to this room?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Mr. [Martin] Nesirky, as you may know, has just had a child, two weeks ago, a daughter by the name of Hanna; and we’re very happy with that news. So he has some well-deserved paternal leave coming to him. I do expect him back here on Monday. And I think Jean Victor [Nkolo] might be around sometime next week as well.
And with that, have a good afternoon.
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