|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.
**Guest at the Noon Briefing Today
Our guest today was Mark Bowden, the United Nations Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia, who gave an update on the situation in that country.
B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, opened today’s Security Council meeting on the Middle East by saying that we believe we are once again at a critical juncture in the effort to move to serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at achieving a two-State solution.
He noted that, since Israeli’s announcement of its new policy on Gaza, food and other products have entered Gaza and the volume of imports into Gaza has increased steadily. A weekly average of 780 truckloads entered in recent weeks, a 40 per cent increase compared to the weekly average in 2010 prior to the announcement. But, while these are positive steps forward, we hope they can be enhanced to address the deplorable conditions in the Strip.
In the period ahead, Pascoe said, we must work to bring the parties into direct talks without delay on a basis that gives confidence in the possibility of genuine progress on the core issues and on the ground. We must ensure that policy change towards Gaza is fully implemented and followed with further steps. We have his remarks in my Office and the open debate is continuing.
Tomorrow, thousand of children in Gaza will attempt to smash the world record for the number of basketballs bounced simultaneously. This event is part of the “Summer Games” organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), involving about a quarter of a million children across the Gaza Strip.
In a video message recorded specially for the world record, the Secretary-General congratulated the children of Gaza for taking part in this event. He told them: “You are showing the world that, if you are given the opportunity, you can be number one.”
Adding his voice of support, UNRWA’s Gaza Director, John Ging, said: “I have total confidence that the children of Gaza will break this world record. With their extraordinary determination and capacity to rise to a challenge, the children here can do anything.” We have a press release with more information on that.
The UN-African Union Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, has issued a statement saying that the Doha peace talks between Sudan and some Darfur rebel groups are advancing well. Bassolé described the process as inclusive, with Darfur civil society, including internally displaced people and refugees, participating actively and constructively. However, the main Darfur rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid faction, are not participating in the talks.
Bassolé issued the statement yesterday after meeting with Sudan’s First Vice-President, Salva Kiir Mayardit. And during that meeting, Bassolé said he encouraged Vice-President Kiir to help the mediators bring all remaining rebel groups to the talks. He also said that on-going fighting in Darfur is putting at risk the chances for a definitive and stable peace. We have copies of his statement in my office.
**Darfur — United Nations Children’s Fund
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has confirmed the signing today of a Memorandum of Understanding between it and the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The deal, which UNICEF described as a concrete step towards a detailed plan of action, would allow the United Nations access to JEM bases to ensure that the rebel group does not recruit children as soldiers. The agreement would also allow the UN to address more efficiently grave violations against women and children, including sexual violence.
UNICEF said that the negotiations began in mid-2008 in a process that has involved United Nations and African Union Darfur mediators on Darfur as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Government of Sudan has already signed the agreement, UNICEF said.
I’m happy to take some questions, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Now that Palestine and Israel have both turned in their reports to the Secretary-General regarding the follow-up on the Goldstone Report, when do you expect the Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: On time, which means in the coming days.
Question: By Friday?
Spokesperson: On time.
Question: The deadline is Friday the 23rd, is that correct?
Spokesperson: Let me double check. My understanding is it’s the 26th, which is Monday. Let’s double check, but we’re on schedule, we’re on track. As you pointed out, we have the ingredients that we need to put together a package to provide to the General Assembly. [The Spokesperson later confirmed that the due date is 26 July.]
Question: In Rwanda, two prominent journalists have been arrested in the past few days, and this on the eve of the presidential election. Is the Secretary-General concerned about the security situation?
Spokesperson: As you know, the Secretary-General has recently met President Kagame in Madrid, and he spoke very clearly there about his hope that recent incidents would be very thoroughly investigated by the authorities, and I’m also sure that this is also being very closely followed by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], since it involves journalists. Clearly, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that it’s imperative that, in any countries, in particular to advance democratic process, you need to have free access for the media to do their job in an unhindered, unfettered way.
Question: Seeing that Omar al-Bashir is in Chad, what is the Secretary-General doing, is he urging Chad to adhere to their obligations, under the ICC Statute?
Spokesperson: I addressed the question yesterday. First of all, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is not a UN body, so it’s not for the Secretary-General to pass judgement in that way. What the Secretary-General has said is [that] there are Security Council resolutions or there has been some kind of instruction from the Security Council involving individuals [charged by the ICC], that countries should adhere to. Ultimately, obviously, it’s up to the individual countries that are States Parties to the International Criminal Court to live up their obligations as they see fit. It’s not for the Secretary-General to impose his will on them. That’s not his role in this particular case. Of course, and he’s said repeatedly that there are charges that have been put forward by the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, and these charges are very serious.
Question: With Paul Kagame, the Secretary-General spoke specifically of this opposition leader, Mr. Rwisereka, who was recently killed, and said it should be investigated. The Government there now said it’s a financial dispute, and has nothing to do with the Government, although he was quoted as saying that the Government was trying to kill him. Human Rights Watch has said there should be an independent autopsy. I’m wondering, as a follow-up on what the Secretary-General said to Mr. Kagame, does he feel that the Government determining this to be a private dispute about finance and closing the case is appropriate or sufficient, or is he calling therefore for an independent autopsy, [as] Human Rights Watch [urged]? What does the Secretary-General think based on what he said?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has already said that he believes there should be a thorough investigation by the authorities. He urged the President to ensure that happens. And that continues to be his view.
Question: Does he believe the current conclusion of the case by the Rwandan authorities was thorough enough, based on this call?
Spokesperson: He said there should be a thorough investigation and he continues to believe that.
Question: There was an incident at the UN in Vienna, where these artists were putting on a display about weapons, welded five-ton weapons, and it has a display of photographs of victims of gun violence. There were two photographs of Tibetan nuns, and it’s been reported that, based on China’s request, the UN is closing down the exhibit or not allowing any of the photographs to be shown. Do you know about this, or can you confirm that the UN is blocking this disarmament exhibit based on the Tibet issue?
Spokesperson: First of all, this story is some days old, if not more than a week old. And I think, at the time, the Spokesman for the UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], Alan Jones, said quite clearly that the photo exhibit was a temporary exhibit. And its spell in the rotunda, which is part of the entrance area at the UN Centre in Vienna, had come to an end. That’s why the exhibit was removed, because it was of a temporary nature. It was never intended to be there in perpetuity. But if you want more details, I would ask you to speak to him.
Question: I’m only saying that, because the Chinese Mission in Vienna had initially said that they had complained. It just didn’t seem there was any joining of issue, in the terms of the UN confirming or denying that they received a complaint from China, and that played some role.
Spokesperson: Alan Jones and UNODC did speak quite clearly about that, and if it wasn’t clear enough to you, I’m sure that they could help to shed some more light on it.
Question: Yesterday, when the Secretary-General’s plane was coming in to land in Kabul, his plane was diverted, I think, to a different base because of a rocket attack. Do you know anything more about it, like was it a specific attack on the Secretary-General’s plane? Or was it just a general security procedure? Did the rocket go close to the plane, is the Secretary-General okay?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is certainly okay, and he’s on his way back to New York, and he’ll be here later this afternoon. Our understanding is that there was a rocket attack on Kabul Airport. We do not know whether it was specifically targeted or not. What we can say is that the plane was diverted to Bagram airbase, and it landed there sometime later. The Secretary-General was fine, as were the other members of the delegation on this plane. They were then safely moved by helicopter to the conference the next morning. So this didn’t actually happen yesterday, it was on arrival the night before the conference took place. And as I said, they have left safely and are on their way back to New York.
Question: You may have already addressed this in the previous two days. Is there any word about the conference in Madrid, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) advocacy group, because looking through the recent report on the MDGs, it doesn’t look like they are making much progress. It looks like a pretty grim report, so does it look like the advocacy group has accomplished anything or will accomplish anything? Have they issued any statements?
Spokesperson: Let me find out if we have any more details on that. But this was their initial meeting in Madrid at the tail end of last week and, therefore, this was the start of what we envisage as a very active way, involving very high-profile individuals, of raising awareness about specific targets that need to be reached, where countries are falling short and how they can do more to move forward, and those countries that are doing well, to be able to put the spotlight on them, to be able to learn from their experiences. This can be done by these kind of high-profile individuals, individually and then coming together to report back. But this was an initial meeting kicking things off.
Question: [inaudible] as Jeffrey Sachs often says, there is very little progress. He seems to be very frustrated.
Spokesperson: The group was created because it’s imperative for us to reach those goals and for us to be able to do that on time, as well. The clock is ticking, we’re in 2010, the deadline is 2015. So we’re 10 years in, we have 5 years to go. A lot of progress has been made, the Secretary-General has pointed to that, and he’s also said that it’s a mixed progress report. And when you have committed individuals who have a high profile and a lot of energy and expertise, it’s not a bad idea to capitalize on their enthusiasm and willingness to help. The Secretary-General was very keen to engage them and I think this is a very clear initiative as we come to the MDG summit in September here in New York.
Question: Will this advocacy group be an ongoing effort past the September summit?
Spokesperson: I would need to check on that and let you know.
Question: I know you addressed this yesterday, but have there been any additional thoughts or discussions about the memo that was leaked from former Under-Secretary-General Ahlenius?
Spokesperson: I think you are right, that I addressed it at some length yesterday. And I don’t think I have anything further to add at this point.
Question: [inaudible] discussions about this, will it come up?
Spokesperson: I think the most important thing here is, and it’s real important, we want to look seriously, and we are looking seriously at the constructive, substantive elements within that end-of-assignment report. Where there are inaccuracies or misrepresentations, as Mr. Nambiar has said, we will seek to address them, to redress the balance. I think it’s really important to understand that constructive criticism is welcome and necessary to help move forward a large organization like this. As I said yesterday, change is never easy, firstly. Secondly, the Secretary-General recognizes there is still a long way to go with the changes that began before he arrived in Office and which he has continued to push while in Office.
Question: I know you touched on this yesterday, but maybe overnight there has been some progress. How soon can we expect a replacement to be named, [as] that seems to be the key issue right now?
Spokesperson: Very soon. I can’t give you a day or a time of day but very soon.
Question: [inaudible] days?
Spokesperson: I think that that’s probably more likely than weeks.
Question: Two questions, I’d like to know whether the Secretary-General is going to Nigeria in the nearest future, and the second, the Security Council had an open thematic debate last week, presided over by the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, where the presidential statement requested that the Secretary-General should do a comprehensive report on the use of preventive diplomacy in peacekeeping. Is the Secretary-General planning on doing this report?
Spokesperson: This was requested by the Security Council.
Question: [inaudible] the President’s statement that was read after the thematic debate.
Spokesperson: Typically if the Security Council requests the Secretary-General to provide a report, then he would look at it very seriously and doubtless provide it. But let me find out more about that. On the first question about a visit to Nigeria, he was asked about that at a recent stakeout, as I think you’re aware, because there had been plans to go to Nigeria. They had to be changed because of scheduling problems. I think he’s intent on visiting Nigeria at some point, but I couldn’t say exactly when.
Question: Climate change and DPA. On climate change, this meeting that took place with Kevin Rudd that you said was a courtesy call. It’s since been reported by the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald that Mr. Rudd is being considered for a top-level job as an adviser on climate change at the UN. Do you have any response to that?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment. As it was said at the time, it was a courtesy call by a former Prime Minister. It’s not the first time that such visits have taken place.
Question: On DPA, there has been a recent, some say an abrupt change, where the head of the Security Council Affairs Division of DPA, Horst Heitmann, was taken out of the post Friday, leaving the post vacant, which is the main interface between the Department of Political Affairs and the Security Council. Several Council members have raised it as a concern, the mystery of Mr. Heitmann’s removal from the post. I’ve tried to ask Mr. Pascoe, but I guess I’ll ask here. Can it be explained, given some Security Council members’ questions? Can that removal be explained? He’s reappeared as the head of the Middle East and West Asia division, [but] was that post ever advertised? What are the kind of, I hate to say it, qualifications for that important post in the UN system? What’s going to be done to fill the Secretariat’s main interface with the Security Council, what’s going to be done to fill that post and why was this change made with no successor in place?
Spokesperson: Let’s ask DPA.
[The Spokesperson later said that Under-Secretary-General Pascoe informed staff that, with the appointment of Ms. Lisa Buttenheim as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus, he has decided to laterally move Mr. Horst Heitmann to the post of Director for the Middle East and West Asia Division, effective 16 August 2010. His post at Security Council Affairs will be circulated shortly.]
Question: [inaudible] strongly criticized the reports on fighting AIDS. He said there is more money writing the reports, and on travels than on actually delivering AIDS assistance to those who are sick. Has the Secretary-General responded to that in any way?
Spokesperson: I think that plenty has been said in Vienna at this very large World Aids Conference this week. There are all kinds of concerns. The Secretary-General himself has articulated some of them about funding and the need to ensure that funding continues, just when in some areas, for example on clinical research progress is being made. So I think that I’ll leave it there.
I wish you a good afternoon. Thank you.
[**Note to Correspondents Regarding Remarks Made by the Spokesperson Concerning the International Criminal Court
We would like to clarify that State Parties to the Rome Statute have an obligation to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court.
In stating during a recent noon briefing that it is up to States Parties to the Rome Statute to live up to their obligations “as they see fit”, the Spokesperson did not mean to imply that it is up to them to decide whether or not to comply with those obligations or that they are at liberty to decide what those obligations require of them.
The law requires them to live up to their legal obligations and it is the law, too, that determines what those obligations are.
The Spokesperson’s intention was, rather, to give expression to the fact that it is not for him, or for the Secretariat more generally, to say what those obligations are: it is for the States that are party to the Rome Statute and, ultimately of course, for the Court.
As the Secretary-General has previously said, what States are to do when it comes to cooperating with the International Criminal Court is a matter for them to determine in the light of the legal instruments applicable to them. For States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, that is the Rome Statute.
I hope that this clarifies matters satisfactorily.]
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