|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. Welcome to the briefing.
**Secretary-General’s Trip to Afghanistan
The Secretary-General is currently travelling to Afghanistan, where he will co-chair the International Conference on Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai tomorrow — the first international conference on Afghanistan to be held in the country, organized by the Afghan Government for the Afghan people.
He will deliver the opening statement for that Conference, in which he will appeal to the Afghan people to come together to achieve peace through reconciliation and build a future based on economic development and mutual cooperation, with full respect for their nation’s sovereignty. He will deliver a message to the Afghan people to unite in the national interest.
While in Kabul tomorrow, the Secretary-General will also meet with President Karzai and other senior officials attending the Conference. He will also participate in a joint press conference with President Karzai.
**Secretary-General in Geneva
In Geneva this morning, the Secretary-General opened the Third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament. He told the more than 140 gathered speakers that they were the ones who had to act on the great challenges of our times, since they must ratify treaties on climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and economic development, and also fund these commitments. On non-proliferation, he called on them to keep up the pressure for change.
The Secretary-General met with a number of officials on the sidelines of the meeting, including Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Islamic Parliament of Iran. The Secretary-General discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with the Speaker, and stressed the importance of an early resolution to this issue, through dialogue and full compliance with all relevant Security Council resolutions. They also discussed the situation in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Gaza, as well as combating terrorism and drug trafficking.
Speaking to the press, the Secretary-General was asked about the freeing of a number of Cuban prisoners, which he said is “welcome news and encouraging”. He said he expects more measures to be taken by the Cuban authorities to achieve reconciliation.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that many of Iraq’s humanitarian needs remain unaddressed six months after the latest humanitarian action plan for that country was launched. So far, only 12 per cent of new funding has been received from donors to Iraq for that humanitarian plan — so that only $22.3 million has been received, out of the required $187.7 million.
As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that food distributions to 800,000 pregnant and nursing women and malnourished children have had to be suspended. Food distribution to 960,000 school-going children has also been suspended.
Meanwhile, the livelihoods of 500,000 drought-affected people in the Suleymaniyah and Dahuk governorates are threatened, and some people have started to become displaced. We have more in an OCHA press release in the Spokesperson’s Office.
We have in the Spokesperson’s Office copies of the final communiqué of the first meeting of the Sudan Consultative Forum, which met over the weekend in Khartoum. The meeting was co-chaired by the head of UN Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, and the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security.
In its communiqué, the Forum called on the Sudanese parties to urgently work towards an agreement on the outstanding processes of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including setting in place the structures needed to make fully operational the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and the Abyei Referendum Commission.
Overall support for global AIDS efforts from donor nations flattened during last year’s global economic crisis. That’s according to a new analysis of 2009 funding levels from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The study says that, last year, the Group of Eight (G-8) nations, the European Commission and other donor Governments provided $7.6 billion for AIDS relief in developing nations — slightly down from $7.7 billion disbursed in 2008.
Michel Sidibé, the UNAIDS Executive Director, said: “Reductions in investment on AIDS programmes are hurting the AIDS response. At a time when we are seeing results in HIV prevention and treatment, we must scale up, not scale down.”
Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Secretary-General delivered a video address to the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, in which he warned: “Some Governments are cutting back on their response to AIDS. This should be a cause for great concern to us all. We must ensure that our recent gains are not reversed.”
**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
There were a total of 21 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in field missions in the second quarter of this year, according to the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and Field Support (DFS). In eight of these cases, the allegations concerned minors.
DPKO and DFS jointly released these statistics earlier today, noting that there were 24 such allegations in the first quarter of 2010, of which 10 concerned minors. Overall, the number of allegations during the first half of this year is roughly the same as that of the first half of 2009.
The United Nations employs around 120 staff members in the field dedicated to addressing conduct and discipline in 14 conduct and discipline teams covering 19 peacekeeping and special political missions. They handle more than 1,000 allegations per year for all types of misconduct and for all categories of UN personnel — civilian, military and police.
We have copies of the DPKO/DFS press release in the Spokesperson’s Office and on the UN conduct and discipline website (http://cdu.unlb.org/).
**Questions and Answers
Question: Maybe you have heard about the new laws issued by Israel, racial laws preventing Palestinians from the right of a vote in their own land. Is there any reaction to that from the Secretary-General or the Secretariat?
Spokesperson: Simply to reiterate that, at the moment, what we need to see is movement in the right direction. We have the proximity talks; there were some talks, a variation on proximity talks held over the weekend in Cairo, as you know. The key thing here is to avoid any action which could undermine those proximity talks and efforts to try to bring the sides together.
Question: I’m talking here about people living in 1948 Palestine — 25,000 families are probably losing their right of citizenship.
Spokesperson: I understand, and as you know, UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has a key role in helping Palestinian refugees, wherever they may be and whatever their circumstance is. The point I’m trying to make is that any change in status at this time is unlikely to be helpful as we look at the bigger picture, which is proximity talks, leading to direct talks, leading to a settlement that would ultimately help people, like the ones that you mention.
Question: Two questions, Martin, and welcome back. First one, the Goldstone Report. I believe today is the final deadline day for Israel to submit its report to the Secretary-General. Have you received it, and when will the Secretary-General respond or pass on this information to the General Assembly?
Second question was on the Secretary-General’s visit to Afghanistan. You mentioned that he was going to be calling for peace through reconciliation. It has been a long-running thing, but the extent to which NATO and US-led forces should be talking to the Taliban for this kind of reconciliation. We know that Kai Eide was having secret talks. We know what Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura said. But is there a UN position, and what kind of message is the Secretary-General going to be bringing on that issue?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, on Goldstone, the Secretary-General has indeed received the Israeli response. On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s message on reconciliation is essentially the same as the message that came out of the London Afghanistan conference, which is that reconciliation is indispensable and unavoidable, and inevitable. It’s the form that it takes that is obviously very important here, and that means that those insurgents or others who are to take part in any reconciliation process need to make sure that they are going to adhere to the Constitution to foreswear violence and to lay down their arms.
Correspondent: Welcome back and congratulations. I wanted to ask about Sudan and then Afghanistan. About Sudan, Amnesty International has put out a pretty detailed report of what they say is systematic torture of opponents of the Government by the national security agency there. Given that the United Nations has UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] and UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], has the United Nations been aware of these activities, and what has the United Nations done to counteract what they describe as the torture of people who are, for example, opposing the secession vote in the South or involved in human rights in Darfur? What’s the United Nations response to this report, and what are they going to do?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, I think that this is something that there is likely to be a more detailed response on at a later stage from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or from the UN as a whole or from the missions on the spot. The second is that, ultimately, this is the Sudanese Government and a report by Amnesty about the Sudanese Government isn’t… the UN, you’re right, has two missions on the ground, but those missions’ job is not to police the police, as it were. They do have important mandates there and, as I say, there is likely to be some more guidance from DPKO and I’d leave it there at the moment. You have something on Afghanistan?
Question: I did. It’s a smaller part of the larger puzzle. But it has to do with this case of Louis Maxwell. I know that it has been said here that Gregory Starr of DSS [Department of Safety and Security] had gone to Afghanistan and met with them, and my understanding is the Board of Inquiry report calls on Afghanistan to do their own investigation and identify who may have killed Louis Maxwell. I spoke to Mr. Starr and I wanted to ask you, he said it’s difficult; the precise quote is: “The problem is, in many cases, you’re asking the Afghans to follow up on one person. How many thousands of Afghans have died? So you’ve got to be sensitive culturally.” What I’m wondering is this: how the UN views it? Has the UN done less than it seemed that it would do to push the Afghans to actually investigate the death of Louis Maxwell on this basis, and if not, can we get some kind of briefing by Gregory Starr to understand what its role is in pursuing those who killed UN staff member Louis Maxwell?
Spokesperson: On the possibility of a briefing, I am sure he will hear the requests and will respond. More generally, it’s absolutely not the case that we would diminish the death of a UN staff member in tragic circumstances and in circumstances where that person was doing his utmost to save the lives of his colleagues. And we take that extremely seriously, and that is what the Board of Inquiry was about. We certainly would not diminish in any way the efforts to try and get to the bottom of this.
Question: Can we get a factual answer as to whether the UN is aware of any steps taken by the Afghan Government; you are going to say that’s up to the Government. But since the UN’s own Board of Inquiry report called for those steps and the UN has UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] and other things there, were there any…? Mr. Starr also said the Minister of Interior had been fired, and there’s some delay. Has anything actually been done on that Board of Inquiry report?
Spokesperson: Well, as you rightly point out, the Afghanistan Government can speak for itself on what steps it’s undertaken, for sure. I would encourage you to ask them that. But in parallel, we’ll also see if there’s any further feedback from the Mission or within Mr. Starr’s Department.
Question: And just one last question on this. With the Secretary-General actually heading to Afghanistan, do you anticipate him raising this issue or getting a status update, given what he said about the importance of protecting and getting to the bottom of the death of UN staff members?
Spokesperson: I’m not going to prejudge what the Secretary-General may or may not discuss. At this point, if I get a good readout, as I expect I will, I will be able to come back to you. But I’m not going to look into the future at this point.
Question: Congratulations on the baby. I wanted to ask you this question of follow-up over there on the Middle East. The Secretary-General has proposed a commission, and he is apparently still waiting for permission from Israel. Is it going to take forever for that decision to be made that this commission should move forward and how it should be constituted, or do you have anything to tell us new on this commission?
Spokesperson: Nothing specifically new to add to what I know Farhan [Haq] has said to you on a number of occasions in the last couple of weeks when I wasn’t here, and that is that the Secretary-General is very actively pursuing this. As you know, he has met Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, he’s spoken to him on the telephone. He’s also spoken to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mr. [Ahmet] Davutoğlu, about this matter too. So he is pursuing this very vigorously, and clearly, he does want to push ahead with it. But, as we’ve also mentioned on a number of occasions, you do need those key elements in place before you can actually make it happen.
Question: But the foot dragging is on the part of which country? Is it Turkey or is it Israel?
Spokesperson: Look, it’s not a question of foot dragging; it is a question of making sure that everybody is on the same page, to mix a metaphor. It’s not for me to characterize the positions of other countries, or of Member States; they can do that themselves. All I would say is that the Secretary-General is in frequent contact, as I’ve just told you, with the parties concerned, and would hope to have a positive response so that he can then push ahead with this commission sooner rather than later.
Question: How is the humanitarian situation in Gaza? They mentioned they would ease the blockade. How many trucks are entering Gaza every day and what kind of materials are going in?
Spokesperson: Good question, I’ll get some specific answers from UNRWA. But what we’ve said repeatedly is: yes, there is some progress, yes, we’re seeing some movement, but it’s certainly not enough. We need to see far more, and that’s what we’re working towards. But let’s try to get an update from UNRWA for you.
Question: A question about the Central African Republic and then the arms trade treaty. In CAR, there are reports that the rebels, that one of two rebel groups that are there, took over Birão, where there’s a UN, part of MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] peacekeeping, and then the Government has retaken it. It made me wonder, is there any role, what are the 300 peacekeepers of the UN that are in Birão, what do they do during this change of power between rebels and Government and back? And are all of them leaving when MINURCAT… What’s the relation between this fighting and its effect on civilians and the peacekeepers pulling out? Would the UN like to stay there? Is the UN protecting civilians there and what’s been the effect of this fighting?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has consistently said, and so has DPKO, that what their preference was, that we have a new mandate to fulfil and so we need to ensure — and people, including John Holmes, have been very clear about the need to ensure — that in any drawdown and withdrawal, that you need to make sure that the civilians are properly protected and, on top of that, that the aid workers that remain in place can do their job. On the specific point that you’ve raised, I’ll have to find out more about that. I don’t have anything at the moment.
Question: That would be great. Last week there was a complaint by a number of NGOs that they were excluded from substantive meetings of the arms trade treaty negotiations in the North Lawn Building. Farhan had first said that no one was excluded and Ewen [Buchanan] clarified that a decision was made that NGOs could attend all open meetings. I’ve spoken to the groups and, basically, it’s a tautology, any meeting that they are in is open until they are thrown out and then it is no longer open. Their complaint is that the Chairman who spoke from here, the Argentine Ambassador, without any vote by members, just threw them out, starting last week, and now in no substantive sessions are they allowed to attend. I just want to get a clear, it seemed factually from here, they were saying this didn’t take place; and two, whether the Secretariat, in all it says about civil society, believes that it is appropriate that these pretty much expert NGOs who’ve travelled all the way to the UN to participate are being left out in the Vienna Café all day while things take place behind closed doors.
Spokesperson: A couple of things; first of all, any decision taken at that meeting on who can or cannot be in the room at a given point is taken by the Member States present at the Arms Trade Treaty Conference. That’s the first point. The second is that, obviously, it’s important for as wide a range of views to be heard as possible, but ultimately, in this particular context, it’s up to the Member States who have taken this decision to discuss it with you. It’s not up to us to take a position beyond what I’ve said — beyond the general principle that it is better to have a wide range of views on these matters.
Question: Their thought was that it was not a Member State decision, but it was just the Chairman. I understand, maybe you can’t answer for them, maybe Mr. Buchanan can and we’ll pursue it that way.
Spokesperson: I read the traffic, believe it or not, and I do know that Ewen Buchanan sent a fairly clear response. I don’t have anything to add to that. I think that he set it out quite clearly.
Question: There is this humanitarian issue in the United Arab Emirates, where hundreds of Asian labourers are stranded many months — not paid and denied even shelter or any kind of income, even they can’t go back to their country. What is the United Nations doing about that? Are there any contacts with the United Arab Emirates Government to sort out their issues and pay them their rights?
Spokesperson: Let me find out. Thank you for the question. Okay, thank you very much.
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