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

23 August 2010

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

23 August 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations on Darfur today.  Atul Khare, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council members on the work of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes discussed the conditions at the Kalma Camp for internally displaced people.

The UN-African Union mission in Darfur continues to conduct confidence building patrols within the Kalma Camp.  On Saturday, 13 houses for displaced people were burnt to the ground in one area of the camp.  Access continues to be granted to humanitarian NGOs for entry into Kalma by the Humanitarian Aid Commission.  There have been no new population movements reported either within or out of the camp.

Also, after nearly five days, tribal fighting is continuing in the Kass region in South Darfur.  A UNAMID verification mission is under way to provide an assessment on the situation, including the number of casualties.  Atul Khare will speak to reporters at the stakeout following consultations.

** Pakistan

UN agencies are continuing their work to provide relief in Pakistan, even as the floods there continue to affect more than 15 million people.

To date, the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached about 1.3 million people with a one-month emergency ration of food.  But the agency says that approximately 6 million people in all are expected to require food assistance over the next three months.

With large parts of the country still cut off by the flood waters, the World Food Programme has deployed three heavy-lift helicopters to bolster the airborne relief effort.  Some 10 helicopters have been flying daily sorties since the beginning of the month, with additional aircraft promised on Sunday by the Government of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the number of reporting disease cases is increasing.  The World Health Organization has reported more than 200,000 cases of acute diarrhoea, more than 260,000 cases of skin diseases and more than 200,000 cases of acute respiratory diseases in flood-affected provinces.


In a document issued today, the Secretary-General has nominated Mr. Joan Clos ( Spain) for election by the General Assembly as Executive Director of UN-Habitat, at the level of Under-Secretary-General, for a term of office of four years beginning on 18 October 2010 and ending on 17 October 2014.  Mr. Clos would replace Anna Tibaijuka.  The Secretary-General trusts that the General Assembly will elect the nominee.

That’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  There’s reports of pretty much mass rape by the FDLR in the Kivus; up to 179 rapes committed in one attack.  And some questions have been raised about what the peacekeeping — given that, I understand this is a big area, but this is the area where the UN is supposed to be protecting civilians — what the UN is aware of and whether they’re patrolling those areas and what they intend to do about this attack.  What can you say about it?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that in North Kivu province, in Bana Mukiraterritory, a UN joint human rights team verified allegations of the rape of at least 154 women by a group of Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) and Mayi Mayicombatants in the village of Bunangiri.  Victims are receiving medical care and have also been provided with psycho-social care.  MONUSCO, the mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], has a military company operating base in Kibua, which is some 30 kilometres to the east of this particular location, and the FDLR attackers blocked the road and prevented the villagers from reaching the nearest communication point.  I would also point out that 30 kilometres may not sound very far, but in densely wooded areas, this is quite a distance.  MONUSCO continues to support the legitimate Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in accordance with its mandate.   That mandate is made all the more relevant by the recent events in North Kivu province.  That’s what I have for you.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, have any Member States asked the Secretary-General to comment on the controversy surrounding the placement of the mosque, the community centre, Cordoba House, near ground zero?  Or does the Secretary-General, even if not asked to comment, does he have any intention of making any comment with regard to…

Spokesperson:  Obviously he is aware.  He has not been asked for comment and I don’t think he would give immediate comment on something which is within the purview of the municipal authorities in New York.  So, I don’t think that he would be commenting on that specific case.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, with Pakistan, we’ve seen on TV helicopters dropping food to the people and people fighting for the food.  Do you think it’s the best way, or that’s a dignified way to help the people?

Spokesperson:  As we’ve said, and as you’ve just heard from what I was mentioning, there is a severe logistical challenge because the roads have been washed away in many cases.  That makes it rather difficult to get there with trucks and to organize handouts of food.  I’ve also seen — I’m sure you have — TV pictures of that happening, of food being handed out on the ground in an extremely dignified fashion.  So, I don’t think it’s the whole picture to say that helicopter drops are the only way that aid is being delivered, but in those areas where there is no alternative, the priority is to ensure that food is delivered to people who are, obviously, very hungry and desperate.  Clearly, as time goes by, it will be possible to have a better infrastructure in place.  This is something that continues to unfold.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is saying that it has helicopters on the ground, but that it certainly needs more to be able to reach the people.

They’re saying that it still needs at least 40 additional heavy-lift helicopters working at full capacity to get food supplies to the huge numbers of increasingly desperate people.  These are the people that you’ve mentioned.  With more than 800,000 people estimated to be cut off from road access, helicopters are really a vital asset.  And clearly it’s not ideal.  And even with the helicopters that are available at the moment, this is nowhere near addressing the level of need that there is.  So, we’ve mentioned as I said earlier on that nearly 1.6 million people have received a one-month ration.  Obviously there are major obstacles to increasing that number.  But that’s certainly the aim and certainly the World Food Programme and others are working extremely hard to try to address this.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up on all these questions.  Is the United Nations getting any help from the United States?  Because they have a lot of helicopters and they are themselves distributing food.  Are the United Nations and the United States cooperating in that?  And I also wanted to note that the last time the figure of people dying in this has been 1,600 or less.  Has the figure been revised, because lots of people have perished, if not necessarily directly as floods and so forth, but waterborne illnesses.  I just want to know whether that figure has been revised.  And there is a figure being quoted by international news agencies, 17 million people have been affected.  Can that be verified by OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] or is it just still between 12 and 15 million?

Spokesperson:  Well, what we’ve said, if I recall, is that it affects more than 15 million people.  These are obviously estimates.  It’s very difficult to put precise figures on it, indeed, in the same way as it is difficult to give precise casualty figures for those who have died in these floods or have fallen ill because of waterborne or other illnesses.  Let’s see if there is an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or elsewhere, on the death toll.  What was your first question again?

Question:  I was asking you about using the helicopters; is there any coordination between the US and UN?

Spokesperson:  There is close coordination with the Government of Pakistan and of course with countries that have provided relief helicopters for the relief effort in Pakistan, from countries including the United States.

Question:  Concerning the information you had earlier on the situation in the DRC.  When you mentioned a joint UN joint human rights team, that’s UN plus DRC Government people or what’s the joint…

Spokesperson:  It’s the Mission, plus human rights workers from within the United Nations system.

Question:  Okay, so it’s all UN people?

Spokesperson:  Right.  Right.  That’s my understanding.  If it’s something different, I will let you know, but as I understand it, it says here a UN joint human rights team.  So, what you have is the Mission, MONUSCO, plus other parts of the United Nations system, whether it’s the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or whether it’s the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  There are different parts, as you all know, that deal with this topic and they will be working together.  That’s what’s happening in this case.

Question:  You mentioned that the road was blocked.  What is the follow-up?  Is the UN aware of any DRC troops moving into that area?  Is the UN having anybody who has now gotten to the scene?

Spokesperson:  Well, if we’ve been able to ascertain, or my colleagues on the ground have been able to ascertain and verify allegations of rape, and to be able to report that victims are receiving medical care and psycho-social care, it would appear that they have been able to visit the site.  But we can obviously get more details on this.

Question:  Also, has any action been taken or did the FDLR people move away, then, from the area, do you know?  Or is there any action taken against the…

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further details beyond what I’ve provided now.  But clearly we are fully aware of the interest in this story and also of the serious nature of what’s happened.  Clearly colleagues on the ground there are trying to piece together the picture in as complete a way as possible.

Question:  Do you have any more specific timeline for this?  Because the media reports from today say that this occurred between 30 July and 4 August.  What took so long and how quickly was MONUSCO’s response?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned, this is an area that has dense forestry.  It’s not easy to move the company operating base.  The UN presence was some 30 kilometres from where this incident took place.  And as I also mentioned, there is a UN joint human rights team.  They needed to investigate and find out and catalogue and bring together the information which we have now.  That gathering of information continues.  That’s why we still don’t have a full picture.  Once we do, clearly we will be able to provide more details.  And I’m pretty sure we will be able to quite soon.

Question:  Do you know when the medical and psycho-social care began?

Spokesperson:  I do not now, but we will find out and come back to you.  Clearly, if the United Nations Mission on the ground becomes aware of an incident of this nature, it will want to move very quickly to help those who have suffered and also to investigate exactly what happened.  There’s, if you like, a twin track to help those who have been subjected to this incident, been raped, and also to track down, with the help of the legitimate Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the perpetrators, to identify and then to assist, so that the Democratic Republic of the Congo forces can track them down.  Other questions?

Question:  Martin, I just wanted…the reason why I’m asking about the figure, whether it’s 17 million or 18 million, is because obviously, in the ultimate analysis, that is what will matter, when you seek appropriations of money for the Pakistan Fund.  The thing is that the figure that the United Nations continues to quote regularly is between 14 and 15 million.  People say it’s 17 or 18 million; we need to get…  I know it is an unfolding situation, but eventually we need to get a handle on that in order to assess as to exactly how much more money is needed for Pakistan.

Spokesperson:  I hear what you’re saying.  The figures that I’ve quoted to you are the ones that I have available.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t change, because this is something, as you will have seen even last week, the numbers changed, went up, as it became apparent how many people were in immediate need and how many people have been affected overall.  As for the funding, obviously last week’s special session of the General Assembly helped.  There was a strong presence.  That’s a showing of solidarity.  But solidarity, however symbolically important, is not the only thing.  What the ministers and others brought were pledges for assistance and clearly, whether the figure is 15 million or 17 million, or above, the needs are enormous.  We’re seeing a response, an active response, in funding.  We need to see that accelerated still further.

Question:  On the DRC, has the UN reached any even preliminary conclusions of the attack that led to the death of the Indian peacekeepers that was by parties unknown?  In this case, they’ve said the FDLR did it, even though the UN wasn’t, obviously, present.  Is anything more known than was known last week about this attack without weapons on the UN peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen anything further on that.  I would rely on my colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, once they have details, because this was an incident that involved UN peacekeepers.  The other incident that we’ve been talking about earlier did not.  It doesn’t make it any the less serious; it obviously is.  But there would be a different procedure, as we know, a standard inquiry into what happened in the case of the Indian peacekeepers.  I don’t have more at the moment.  Once we have more, we will, of course, let you know.

Question:  Great.  And just now at the stakeout, the new Permanent Representative of the Sudan, among other things, said that they’re proposing to actually close down the Kalma camp and to move it further away into two separate camps. And he used as the rationale for that the safety of UN peacekeepers, that somehow having the camp near a UNAMID facility put UN peacekeepers at risk.  He also said that he believes that the rebels were responsible for the Russian pilot having been taken hostage, and the two Jordanian peacekeepers that were caught and removed.  I wanted to know whether, I understand Mr. Khare will do it, but whether there were some…  What does the UN Secretariat think of these plans to close the Kalma camp?

Spokesperson:  I think you’ve answered the question for yourself.  Mr. Khare will speak at the stakeout.  I’m sure he would be able to answer some of those points.  Where they relate to humanitarian relief efforts, I know that our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would have something to say.  What I can tell you is that humanitarian access remains difficult.  Although, as I mentioned at the start, humanitarian groups are able to get into the camp, but that access remains difficult.  And also, an assessment that’s been carried out, a needs assessment that’s been carried out at that camp, and at the Bilel camp, that assessment indicates that there is a food shortage.  And I can also tell you that, as I mentioned, quoting John Holmes, that the Kalma camp is still quite tense.  And as you heard, there was an incident in which some encampments, part of the encampment, was burned down, 13 properties.  There’s also sporadic shooting reported inside the camp.

Question:  And this is sort of a procedural question, but I just happened to, on Friday, run into the spokesman for DPKO [Department for Peacekeeping Operations] and I said, “What’s up with Kalma?”  And he said that every day, they’ve been providing your Office with an update.  Does this rely on a question being asked to get the update, or is there some…  I’m just wondering what’s the best way to be sure we get information we need on this topic.

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, every day we’ve been providing an update.  We’ve been asked and been providing an update.  It’s absolutely right, because we are concerned about what’s happening.  We know there is a strong interest in this story.  We’ve asked for updated information every day, which, in any case, is there because the reporting is being done every day on the spot by our colleagues and that’s sent back to New York.  The update that we then have is what we’ve been providing every day.

Question:  A further understanding — for example, on the DRC story, it seems clear that the UN, or MONUSCO, has some, I don’t mean to say “explaining to do”, but anyway just as a concern for these mass rapes.  Is that the kind of thing you’d announce in advance or you’d wait for someone to ask a question on?  I’m just wondering.  I’m trying to understand.  The statement that you had about the MONUSCO’s response or inability to respond to those rapes, why is that the kind of thing that would wait for a question to be asked?

Spokesperson:  I guess because we know that the question is coming.  Because it was in The New York Times today, so I think it’s pretty obvious that a question will come, if not from you, then from someone else.

Question:  Okay, fine.  Can I just ask one thing?  There’s a story that the Secretary-General has cancelled a trip he had planned for a world health conference in Australia, and the press there says it’s because of the sort of indefinite outcome of the election there, that he doesn’t want to wade into political chaos.  Is that his reasoning?  Was he going to go?  Is he now not going to go, and if so, why is he not going?

Spokesperson:  A trip to Australia was envisaged.  The timing is still under discussion.

Question:  And is he going to Cambodia in October, as the Cambodian press repeatedly cites?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not responsible for Cambodian media.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that, you know, Matthew, that we generally don’t say when the Secretary-General is travelling so far in advance.  Travel plans, as we just heard with the previous question, can change.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, on the Middle East peace talks, which are now called for, I just want to get a handle on this.  The Middle East peace talks are going on; does that preclude what will happen in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  What do you mean?

Question:  Will they be discussing, between the Palestinian authorities and the Israelis the conflict that is going on, does that include what is happening in Gaza?  Does it include what is happening in Gaza, or it precludes what is happening in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  Well, what we’ve said, what the Secretary-General has said, is that, as you know, there was a statement made on Saturday, in which Secretary-General believes that negotiations are the only way for the parties to resolve all final-status issues, and he calls upon both sides to show leadership, courage and responsibility to realize the aspirations of both peoples and that we should all be aware that this is an opportunity that must not be wasted.  That’s what I can tell you.

Question:  The reason I ask this question is because Israel steadfastly denies to talk about, or allows anyone to talk about Gaza, because it’s calling people in Gaza, or the authorities in Gaza, a terrorist organization.  What I’m saying is, in this Middle East peace talks, would Gaza be figured as part of the Palestinian problem?

Spokesperson:  There are two points here.  One, there was a Quartet statement and I think that speaks for itself.  Also, Senator [George] Mitchell and Secretary of State [Hillary Rodham] Clinton spoke very clearly about this when they announced the invitation to the talks and both parties have accepted that invitation to begin direct negotiations.  I think that both of those statements — the Quartet and what Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell have said — will stand for themselves.  Yes?

Question:  Given the importance that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has attached to global warming and climate change, because that was a major theme of last year’s summit, does he have any concern at this point?  And if so, what steps does he plan to take to deal with it, about diversion of interests from that issue to the summit meeting coming up next month on Millennium Development Goals, waning interest altogether in the press, and so forth, on this issue?  Does he have any concrete steps in mind to revive the UN’s and the world’s focus on this issue?

Spokesperson:  The two are not mutually exclusive.  The Millennium Development Goals Summit is hugely important.  The clock is ticking to 2015.  That is why this is a major event.  Ten years in, five years to go, to harness the leadership, collective leadership, of the world, to try to address this and have a really concrete plan how to get to 2015 and to hit the targets where we’re still falling short at the moment.  But that doesn’t mean that the work to tackle climate change is no less important.  Yes, there was a major focus and there was a summit meeting the same time last year on that topic.  That was ahead of Copenhagen, as we all know.  That doesn’t mean that work isn’t going on.  It certainly is and the new head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Ms. [Christiana] Figueres, is working extremely hard to galvanize world opinion.  The Secretary-General, likewise, continues to believe that it is important to do so.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Martin, just want to follow-up on Masood’s question.  The chief Palestinian negotiator, [Saeb] Erekat, said this morning that if Israel did not renew the settlement freeze on 26 September, Palestinians are not going to take part in the direct negotiations.  Is the SG doing any contacts with the Israeli Government over this settlement issue, particularly that it was absent from the Quartet statement, asking Israel to expand the settlement freeze beyond 26 September?

Spokesperson:  I think I’ve said, first of all, that the Secretary-General made a statement on Saturday.  There was also the Quartet statement.  There were also remarks made by Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Mitchell.  I don’t think I can go beyond that or would want to go beyond that.

Question:  This particular settlement issue — is this a matter of concern for the SG, in light of the Palestinian statements?

Spokesperson:  As I say, as I say, there are, the statements are out there, I think they speak for themselves for the time being.

Question:  On this climate change, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given an interview that’s on Friday or Saturday to some television station, wherein she suggested that climate change may have contributed to what is happening in Pakistan, and because of some issues of flooding and so forth.  Does the United Nations team on climate change also concur with the assessment made by her — that it could have contributed to the tragedy now unfolding in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will come back to you with a more detailed response on that.  I believe that we have something to say on that but I will come back to you.  [The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent:  The devastating monsoons and flooding seen now in Pakistan are consistent with projected trends associated with climate change, as described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report of 2007.  According to the World Meteorological Organization, the world can expect to see more frequent and intense extreme weather events as the pace of climate change accelerates.  While no single event can be definitively attributed to climate change, the extreme weather seen now in Pakistan, as well as in central Russia and north-western China, compares or exceeds previous historical records.]

Question:  I just want to switch back to Darfur really quickly.  We were also told at the stakeout that a request was put in through Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari for UNAMID to hand over the IDPs who are accused of committing the violence allegedly in Kalma camp to the Sudanese Government and my question to you is:  are there any indications that UNAMID will hand them over or, I don’t know, you might be getting some additional information on this, or does the Secretariat have official commentary?

Spokesperson:  At the moment, the position remains the same.  I don’t think that our position has changed from what we’ve said so far; namely that there are concerns for their safety and for due process.  And that’s a key part of the equation.

Question:  So, at the moment, they are still under…

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge that is the case.  Right.

Question:  Can I ask you, there’s reports that Mr. Gambari received an award from Rwandan President [Paul] Kagame, the Umurinzi award.  And I’m just wondering, it’s obviously there are many things he could be given an award for -- what the rules are, in terms of acting UN officials receiving awards, honours or gifts from Governments.  Are there any rules and how do they apply to this case?

Spokesperson:  I think there are rules.  And I think that in other cases you’ve asked the same question.  And I think we’ve given you the answer on awards and other honouree titles, for example.  I think that the rules are there.  But we can give you that answer.  Not a problem.

Question:  At a retirement party of an outgoing USG, a sort of a funny story was told where he said an award, a medal was given to him by a country and he looked to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar and said, “I know this is not proper”, sort of in a joke fashion, but I just wonder what happens in this case with Mr. Gambari, it’s just happened recently.  If the rules do apply, are the medals given back?  Are these rules that are actually carried out by the UN or only honoured in the breach?

Spokesperson:  I would, if there is a rule, which I’m sure there is, related to receiving awards while in office, I’m sure those rules are adhered to.  And let’s, I haven’t heard of this, thank you for drawing it to my attention and let’s see what we can find out.  Thanks very much.  Thank you.

Question:  I just wanted to ask one thing from last week, it has to do with this, the idea of the US Government blocking UN staff members that are nationals of countries that are UN, US sanctions lists.

Spokesperson:  I remember the question.  I don’t have an answer yet.  I haven’t forgotten the question, Matthew.  [The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the United Nations Secretariat has indicated to the United States Government its position of principle concerning the treatment of its staff solely on the basis of their nationality and has requested that all travel restrictions be removed by the host country as soon as possible.]

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